March 15, 2012
For almost a month now, I’ve posted exhaustive interviews with experts and stakeholders in the development of Lumbini, a topic that has gained increasing international attention since a Chinese-funded development offer came to light in July 2011. The Hong Kong-based organization in question calls itself the Asia Pacific Exchange and Cooperation Foundation (APECF). It’s pedigree is nebulous; even its address and telephone number listed on its website have proven to be phony. Ex-Prime Minister and Maoist Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal “Prachanda” was named Co-Chairman of APECF, a detail that immediately raised eyebrows in regard to the appropriateness of a leader of a ten-year armed struggle taking the reins of a site that universally symbolizes non-violence. In the event, the gist of the controversial offer (now on hold, if not permanently debunked) was to pour an unprecedented three billion dollars into and around the Sacred Garden, where the historical Lord Buddha was born.
Regardless of APECF’s legitimacy, coming to terms with the finalization of a master plan before additional development resumes in Lumbini seems to have been ratcheted up in recent months. Only last week, it was announced that the UN’s General Secretary Ban Ki-moon would visit Lumbini on April 29, at the bequest of Prachanda and his recently-created “Greater Lumbini Development National Steering Committee.” And the three billion dollars, which probably never existed except in the fantasy world of Chinese businessmen – a staggeringly tantalizing sum for a nation in which three billion dollars equals 10% of Nepal’s annual GDP – has opened Nepal’s eyes concerning the very real value, (at least monetarily), of Lumbini as a tourism bonanza.
Experts and stakeholders recently interviewed by me include publisher-author KANAK MANI DIXIT, seasoned diplomat and civic leader KUL CHANDRA GAUTAM, internationally renown tourism consultant LISA CHOEGYAL, Greater Lumbini Development National Steering Committee member MINENDRA RIJAL, UNESCO Representative to Nepal AXEL PLATHE, Vice-Chairman of Lumbini Development Trust (LDT) ACHARYA KARMA SANGBO SHERPA, and long-time Lumbini archeologist KOSH PRASAD ACHARYA.
If there is anything that this esteemed and disparate group seems to agree upon, it is that Nepal – not China, nor any other foreign country or international concern – must take the lead in determining what goes on in the future development of Lumbini. Furthermore, however Nepal decides to act, it must do so with utter transparency.
But what about the Nepali Buddhist community?
Where does it fit, (among these high-powered experts and dealmakers), into the final design and management of Buddha’s birthplace?
Some of the interviewees have intimated that competition, within and among the various Buddhist sects, have, to some extent, hindered forward movement. This may have some validity.
But I think it is important to point out that a growing sense of unity within the Nepali Buddhist community is also evident. Specifically, I’m thinking of an historic meeting that took place in Lumbini in November 2011. It marked the first international Himalayan Buddhist Conference, an event intriguingly analyzed by Gabriel Lafitte:
Now, despite a repressive political scene, with thousands of police mobilized to beat Tibetan pilgrims and refugees, Nepal’s Tibeto-Himalayan peoples are awaking, discovering new space in which they can be both Nepali and Gurung or Sherpa or Tharu; both citizens and Buddhists; inheritors of traditions far older than the Hindu monarchy, going all the way back to the birthplace of the Buddha, which is in Nepal.
For their tentative coming out, they assembled in Lumbini in late 2011, far from the mountains, on the plains bordering India, in a newly built temple financed by Germans wanting the Buddha’s birthplace back on the map. The Himalayan Buddhists, by assembling on the plains adjacent to India, declared their existence, no longer veiled by the nationalist/royalist/Hinduist discourse of a single Nepalese identity. Their confidence is growing, people are getting used to having a voice, and keen to learn from indigenous communities worldwide that have overcome marginalisation and now assert their difference.
In a first for the multilingual Tibetan Buddhist Nepali communities the conference featured simultaneous translation in three languages, 17 members of Nepal’s parliament, the Constituent assembly attended and the Deputy Prime Minister, Vijay Kumar Gacchadhar, a Tharu Buddhist himself becoming the Chief guest. The Himalayan Buddhists have achieved two things: 1. informing the Nepali leaders and the international community that they exist 2. That Buddha was indeed born in Lumbini, and thus in Nepal.
The impact of this is that Prachanda, supreme leader of the Maoist revolutionaries in war and in the present peace, invited the Buddhists for the first time in the history of Lumbini to discuss about the future of Lumbini and agreed to include five Tibetan Buddhists members in the 12 member committee that will develop future Lumbini.
For Mr. Lafitte’s complete analysis link here: LUMBINI REBORN, NEPAL REBORN, BUDDHA REBORN
Below is the complete Lumbini declaration resolved during the first international Himalayan Buddhist Conference on November 24, 2011:
Whereas representatives from the Trans-Himalayan Buddhist regions, together with international delegates representing Nalanda-Tibetan Buddhist traditions world-wide gathered in Lumbini, Nepal from November 22-24, 2011 to convene the First International Conference on Himalayan Buddhism;
Whereas conference delegates recognize the sacred nature of Lumbini, birthplace of the Lord Buddha, a holy pilgrimage site for all Buddhists, and a source of inspiration for global compassion and peace;
Whereas many Himalayan Buddhists have suffered through generations of marginalization, isolation, cultural loss, deprivation of access to education, healthcare, development and equal participation in civil society;
Whereas Himalayan Buddhists desire to become full and equal participants in civil society and for their ethnic, cultural and religious customs to be protected, preserved and promoted, as guaranteed by respective national legal instruments as well as various international obligations including the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples;
Whereas Himalayan Buddhists wish to strengthen their ties to the international community of followers of the Nalanda-Tibetan Buddhist traditions, to be supported in time of need, and in turn, to offer their support on issues of individual and common concern;
Whereas, delegates to the First International Conference of Himalayan Buddhism recognize the urgent need to create a common international platform to represent the interests of their individual and shared authentic religious traditions and cultural heritage;
Now, Therefore THE FIRST INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE ON HIMALAYAN BUDDHISM Proclaims this LUMBINI DECLARATION as a solemn statement of common purpose and intent for all Himalayan Buddhists and for followers of Nalanda-Tibetan forms of Buddhism as well as adherents to other forms of Buddhism who shall all strive to promote national and international respect, recognition and observance of the cultural and religious heritage of these peoples and their traditions.
Affirms the peoples of the Himalayan Buddhist communities and cultures are entitled to equal rights and full participation in civil society without distinction of any kind based on religions, ethnicity, race, birth status, or gender within their countries of residence.
Affirms their inherent rights as stakeholders to participate fully and proportionately in any decisions affecting their communities and cultural heritage.
Affirms their inherent rights to equitable and proportional resource allocation and policy accommodation to ensure that culturally and linguistically appropriate education is provided to their communities, and that their communities receive equitable and proportional resource allocations for government expenditure for education, healthcare, housing, infrastructure development and other benefits of civil society
Affirms that the long and rich tradition of monastic education provides a level of educational attainment equal in every respect to secular education and resolves that monastic education must be fully recognized by the respective governments, supported by national legislation, incorporated into approved national curricula, and allocated all necessary resources and support;
Declares the Nepali Buddhist communities are the principal stakeholders in the development of Lumbini, a sacred site for Buddhists worldwide, affirms their leadership role in any national or international development of Lumbini, and recalling the UNESCO World Heritage declaration for Lumbini, further affirms the need for Nepali Buddhists to be accorded majority representation on any and all national, regional and international bodies, panels or committees charged with any and all aspects of the management and development of the Lumbini heritage site;
Resolves to convene a Global Conference of followers of the Nalanda-Tibetan tradition; and further authorizes the Buddhist Academic Foundation, the Gandan Tegchenling Monastery and Center of Mongolian Buddhists, and The Conservancy for Trans-Himalayan Arts and Culture, to organize and convene a Global Conference to be held in India, within one year, near the location where the Lord Buddha delivered his first teaching. This will be in close coordination with and supported by organizations and individuals within India concerned about the preservation and development of Buddhism.
The purpose of the Global Conference will be to create a common platform in the form of an international organization that will
PROTECT the living culture and the Bhoti language of the authentic Nalanda-Tibetan forms of Buddhism in all the lands where it has taken root;
PRESERVE important Trans-Himalayan and Indo-Tibetan cultural sites; preserve the environment, with emphasis on the Trans-Himalayan and Tibetan plateau and the Asian landmass impacted by its environmental degradation;
PROMOTE monastic education, training and common standards, including recognition and training of tulkus and lamas; insure equal access to monastic education for nuns; promote the welfare of disadvantaged followers of Tibetan forms of Buddhism through integrated development, employment creation, access to education and healthcare; promote global outreach to deepen exchanges of knowledge and encourage world peace through cultivating active compassion.;
PROVIDE mutual support in balancing Nalanda-Tibetan Buddhist traditions and practices as they encounter 21st century needs; provide a forum for dispute resolution among followers of these various traditions and with those of non-Buddhist traditions; provide greater cultural enrichment opportunities among monastic and lay practitioners; provide a platform for exploring Buddhist perspectives on scientific inquiry, ethical living, care for the environment, equality, peace and other issues of urgent global concern.