March 9, 2012
Acharya Karma Sangbo Sherpa is a fully ordained monk of Thrangu Tashi Choling Monastery. Currently, he is Vice-Chairman of Lumbini Development Trust (LDT) appointed by the government of Nepal. Mr. Sherpa is also an advisor to Nepal Sherpa Association, Pasuvali Nisedha Chetana Abhiyan and several other related organizations. He is also a selection committee member of the International Gautam Buddha International Peace Award.
Minutes before I interviewed Mr. Sherpa, he announced to the press that Ban Ki-moon would be visiting Lumbini April 28-30, 2012.
DUNHAM: Just as I was coming into your office this morning, the local news media was swarming the entrance of your office. Prachanda, Minister of Culture Gopal Kirati, former Minister Minendra Rijal and the other members of the Greater Lumbini Development National Steering Committee were just leaving the building. Was this your fourth meeting since the committee was formed?
DUNHAM: Can you tell me what this meeting was about?
SHERPA: His Excellency Secretary General of the United Nations will be visiting Lumbini in April, so we had a good discussion about how to manage from the government side, Lumbini Development Trust [LDT] side, as well the National Steering Committee side.
Also, we agreed to have a follow-up meeting after four days, because we couldn’t finalize it all today. So after four more days, we will have one more meeting and all the other decisions will be made.
DUNHAM: I know that Prachanda, Minendra Rijal and the Minister of Culture were in the meeting. Who else attended?
SHERPA: Dr. Mangal Siddi Manandhar was here. He is a member of parliament [and a member from the UML party and ex-Minister of Education]. And another was Manoj Bahadur Shrestha [Chairman of Himalayan Bank Limited (HBL)]. And the Secretary of the Prime Minister’s office was here. So we are seven persons at the meeting.
[Acharya Karma Sangbo Sherpa is the seventh member of the National Steering Committee.]
DUNHAM: Will people from all over the world be invited to the Lumbini visit in April?
SHERPA: No, we will not be inviting people from around the world because His Excellency Secretary General will be visiting at that time. It is an official visit. We will organize and mange his visit. We will also have to coordinate the meeting with the UN here in Nepal and UNESCO. We will have a meeting with the Secretary General and discuss about the UN’s organization, the International Committee for the Development of Lumbini.
At that meeting, we will not invite people from around the world.
DUNHAM: You will be meeting in Lumbini. Is the idea behind having it there to increase visibility about Lumbini development? It seems like a great way to spread the word.
SHERPA: Definitely. But this meeting is different.
The government of Nepal had announced, this year to be “Visit Lumbini 2012” year. “Visit Lumbini 2012” means that we welcome visitors from all around the world. That is a different matter.
But this meeting of the National Steering Committee is different, because this is called “Greater Lumbini”. We have a master plan now, which was prepared by Prof. Kenzo Tange. At that time the involvement of the UN was fully there. And still the UN is one of the stakeholders of Lumbini with their International Committee for the Development of Lumbini.
So the core master plan is already there in the implementing phase. But with the Greater Lumbini project, we will make a greater master plan that will include three districts: Kapilvastu, Rupandehi and Nawalparasi.
But that master plan of Greater Lumbini will be only on how to manage. I hope such a master plan will be created. The National Steering committee was created to exist for a certain period – only for five years. It will create, only, one Greater Lumbini plan. Then, maybe, LDT will be implementing those plans.
DUNHAM: Let’s talk about the Greater Lumbini development plans. I’ve hear some very exciting news about Tilaurakot –finding significant evidence that Tilaurakot was, in fact, where the historical Buddha spent his first 29 years. How is the data-gathering coming along?
SHERPA: This is the technical part. We have had excavations in Greater Lumbini for a long time. And all the evidence and whatever things we have found in Tilaurakot, those things show that Tilaurakot is the exact location of the Buddha’s youth. My archeological chief in Lumbini, Basanta Bidari, he’s fully involved in the excavations and he can better explain the significance all the evidence that he has gathered.
DUNHAM: When do you expect that you will be able to make an official statement about Tilaurakot?
SHERPA: We are still under excavation now. But we have already found the eastern gate of Tilaurakot. There is lots of evidence. In ancient times, 2500 years ago, at that time – if we talk about how kings were living then – and there were lots of kings back then – one of the best ways to talk about them is their security systems. It’s my understanding that the kings dug canals, they filled them with water, and they filled the canals with crocodiles, to protect themselves.
And, according to the archeologists, we have found that kind of evidence in Tilaurakot. And the conclusion is that this was the palace of Siddhartha’s father. After he became enlightened, he was call the Buddha. Before he was enlightened, he was called Siddhartha.
DUNHAM: And the dates match?
SHERPA: The dates match.
DUNHAM: In terms of the original Kenzo Tange master plan, what will you be concentrating on in the next several years? What are your priorities?
SHERPA: We are still giving priority to the implementing of Prof. Kenzo Tange’s master plan, except that practical concerns also have to be managed.
As you may know, we have an agreement with Durham University. So we have on-going activities with Durham University. We are also involved with UNESCO. And we have a Japanese Funds In Trust (JFIT) – UNESCO, which has been working in Lumbini for three years and, hopefully, that will be extended for a few years.
Our priorities are to complete the master plan by Prof. Kenzo Tange, while also making a plan for other Buddhist sites, including Tilaurakot, Gotihawa, Nikhlihawa, Kudan, Ramgram, Kapilvastu, etc.
DUNHAM: What are your main challenges in moving forward?
SHERPA: Actually, the world, itself, is one of the challenges. There are lots of challenges. I don’t know which challenges I should mention. How to best manage Lumbini …
I used to say that everybody is a pilot here in the world. And the world is cloudy. And you have to fly through it. And the pilot has to face all kinds of weather: whether it is cloudy, windy or rainy. The world, itself, is a challenge.
But to complete the master plan, the biggest challenge we have is the financial challenge.
DUNHAM: In terms of getting financial support, are you reaching out to the international community in any specific way?
SHERPA: People may live by hope. So everything, the committees, they are all living on hope. So let’s see what happens tomorrow.
DUNHAM: In the meantime, is the development of the land outside the core zone on hold until you can complete the master plan?
SHERPA: All of your questions are good and this is a very good one. According to Prof. Kenzo Tange, the master plan of Lumbini is five miles by five miles. But he finalized the core zone in terms of what kind of activities should be there. We have a three-square-mile core zone. One is the Sacred Zone, where the Buddha was born. The second is the East Monastic Zone and the West Monastic Zone for the Mahayana community and the Theravada community respectively. And then there is the new Lumbini Village, with connection to the cultural zone. So everything has been detailed, as to what should be included in the three-square-mile zone: What should be done and what should not be done. Everything. I think this part of the plan is a very clear picture in itself – a clear mirror.
But outside the core zone, the only thing he indicates about the master plan is that it should be five-by-five miles, with a restricted zone and a buffer zone. Beyond that, he mentioned that the height of buildings should be restricted and polluting industries should be restricted. But we lack clear norms now.
So my concern, as well as the government of Nepal – everybody – I think we should develop a few norms about what kinds of buildings should be there.
DUNHAM: Establish norms before any kind of development on that property can occur?
SHERPA: Yes. Because right now the land beyond the three-square-mile core belongs to the private sector. As of now, we have no authority to restrict their building. Even the government and the international community could not restrict them, because we lack the necessary norms. Right now, they are free to build what they want.
We do have a metropolitan office there. The builders have to obtain permission from there in order to build. But the owners are the owners and they build what they want.
But, the government of Nepal announced that Lumbini should not build new pollution-emitting factories within the surrounding fifteen kilometers. That norm has been announced. It is restricted now for newcomers.
But otherwise, we don’t have specific norms for restricting the people.
DUNHAM: One last question: What about the pre-existing pollution-emitting factories? Is there any plan to move them?
SHERPA: We only have the government’s announcement that the future factories will not be allowed. Pre-existing factories is something that we still have to discuss.