Building the Lumbini We Deserve

Jan 07, 2018 |

Text : Shreesha Nankhwa                     Photo : Sanu Raja Bajracharya

“Buddha was born in Nepal” That’s a slogan you’ll find repeated a lot during conversations with friends, Facebook statuses and even on the back of trucks. It’s a fact that we are rather proud of. But more than a nationalistic slogan, Lumbini is a legacy that we need to uphold and preserve.

A few months ago, we talked about the Vajrayana Mahabihar that is currently being built in Lumbini, a monument that exemplifies the Newari Buddhist architecture. Vajrayana Mahabihar is a masterpiece of Nepalese Buddhist architecture that is being built entirely on Nepalese funds. The Mahavihar will not simply be a Nepalese Monastery in Lumbini, but it will also be a lively place where monastic activities will be conducted in a regular basis. It aims to be a Vajrayana institute, a place of religious learning where anyone can come and learn and practice Vajrayana Buddhism.

This ambitious endeavor is still in the works but it shows every sign of becoming a success, not only because of the relentless work of the “Nepal Paramparagat Boudha Dharma Sangh” (Nepal Traditional Buddhist Association), but also the many individuals who have provided material and financial support. We decided to talk to some of these donors and supporters to understand why they believed in the Vajrayana Mahabihar and why they supported it.

The donors for the project come from all walks of life. We have businessmen, craftsmen, NRNs, devout Buddhists and people whose reasons are more personal. But the one thing they all had in common was that they all believed in this Mahabihar enough to contribute towards its creation.

Praniti and her family, on the other hand, decided to donate a Tapagu Tikijhya “Because it is a Nepali bihar, it represents Nepal. We felt we must contribute” She further added, “Whenwe visited Lumbini, every country had a bihar except Nepal, which felt wrong. We felt there must be something of Nepal in Lumbini so we supported this Mahabihar.”

For others the reason was more personal. Many dedicated their donations in memory of their parents. For Raju Tuladhar, a structural engineer from Canada, his donation is in honor of his late parents Mr. Mangal Siddhi Tuladhar and Mrs. Laxmi Shova Tuladhar and his wife’s late parents Mr. Asta Ratna Tamrakar and Mrs. Chini Shova Tuladhar.

Similarly, Karna Shakya, environmentalist, conservationist, hotel entrepreneur, writer and philanthropist and Yogendra Shakya, pioneer entrepreneur of tourism and former president of Hotel Association of Nepal had the main shrine (Kvapadyo- Vairochana Buddha) built and donated in memory of Karna’s late mother and Yogendra’s late grandmother as well as Yogendra’s late father, both of whom were a devout Buddhist. “Naresh guruju made a lot of effort to get the land in Lumbini to build the Mahabihar and then later to build the Mahabihar. He showed a lot of spirit and willpower, and looking at that, me and Karna dai were affected. My grandmother and my father were very religious. They felt that Vajrayana was becoming extinct so they made an effort to educate a new generation of Vajrayana gurujus. That’s how we came to know Naresh guruju. So there was some sentimentality behind that decision.” Says Yogendra Shakya.

Samundra Man Bajracharya, a member of the building committee of the Mahabihar, also donated the Mula Chaitya in memory of his late parents. “As Vajrayani Buddhists, we have ten karmakandas (rituals) that we must complete in our lifetimes and chaityas are central to all these rituals. Because chaityas are so important in our culture, I established the chaitya at the Mahabihar.” He says.

For most doners though, the reason behind their donation was more religious than anything. Byakha Ratna Shakya, who comes from a long line of an artist, is a devout Buddhist. His reason for donating a Vajradhatu Mandal to the Mahabihar was completely religious. “I consider myself fortunate to have been able to place a Vajradhatu Mandal in the birth place of Buddha” He says.

Dravya Ratna Tuladhar, another devout Buddhist who had a history of supporting Buddhist monuments, also mentions that he donated a Sahasrabhuja Lokesvara (thousand arms bodhisattva) Mahabihar simply because of his faith.

Panchavir Tuladhar, the treasurer of the building committee who donated a pair of stone lions mentions, “It is an international area and a place of pilgrimage for Buddhists. As a Buddhist, I was interested in this Bihar. I have supported other Bihars previously, and now I am supporting this Mahabihar with an open heart.”

Gautam Ratna Bajracharya, another devotee, mentions the Buddhist principles that led him to give to the Mahabihar. “In Buddhism, there is an idea that one must win over oneself. So to give with an open heart is a part of your learning when you are raised as a Buddhist. So, when I found out that someone was building a Vajrayana Mahabihar, I decided that I would donate the main gate.” He says.

Raju Tuladhar, who donated in memory of his parents, also felt a sense of moral obligation to offer his support. ”Buddhism is for the upliftment of humanity as it helps to instill kindness & morality in our heart. To preserve Buddhism and related knowledge is very important so that the knowledge is available for our future generations too.”

The building of this Mahabihar was important for many reasons according to many of the donors. According to Raju Tuladhar, “To reap the full benefit of Buddhism it is fruitful to understand the various sects of Buddhism. Theravada philosophy is for those seeking liberation while Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism give profound insight into the divine aspects of Buddha and Buddhism. Lumbini has seen the development of many monasteries but it was lacking a monastery fully dedicated to Vajrayana Buddhism. Building of the Lumbini Mahabihar fulfills this void.”

Byakhya Ratna Shakya says, “400- 500 years ago many bahas and bahis were built in Kathmandu Valley. But since then this is the first time a monument like this is being constructed, especially in Lumbini.” Similarly, according to Samundra Man Bajracharya, in historic times there were hundreds of bihars in the three cities – Kathmandu, Patan and Bhaktapur. But over the time they have deteriorated ”And now we only have a handful of bihars that are still intact but even they are slowly deteriorating. So it is important to show that there are these kinds of Bihar exist in Nepal. The bihars in Kathmandu valley may cease to exist eventually but this bihar in Lumbini will still be there for a long time. So it is very important that this Mahabihar is built.“

Similarly, Gautam Ratna Bajracharya also feels personally attached to Lumbini. “Growing up as a Buddhist, there are four important holy places – Lumbini, Bodh Gaya, Char Nath and Kushinagar. So Lumbini is an important holy place for us and when I visited there I cannot express the joy I felt. “ That feeling was another reason why this Mahabihar was important to him.

Dravya Ratna Tuladhar believes that lately there has been a lot of advancement in Lumbini. However, according to him, “Buddhism was going extinct these days. And since this is the birth place of Buddha, we must do something here.”

But simply building the Mahabihar is not enough according to Karna Shakya, “There must be a sense of ownership for people to conserve it. We have material heritage like old temple and monuments, which is a thing of the past and we have cultural heritage like festivals which is for the present and future. So what we are building is not a dead monument, it is a living monument. And for this, we must understand our history, our identity and our legacy.“

A major conviction while building this monument was that it would be built entirely with Nepalese funds. And many of the donors agree with the idea.

“I feel like if we can do something on our own, it is pointless to ask for help.” says Gautam Bajracharya. According to Byakhya Ratna Shakya, “Since this Vajrayana Mahabihar is an example of Nepalese art and culture, it is important that this Mahabihar is built solely through the offerings from Nepalese devotees. This monument will be there for generations to come.”

“It is important because it is the first time that a Bihar is being built in Lumbini with only Nepalese funding.” Says Panchvir Tuladhar. Praniti agrees with him “As Nepalese we must do things ourselves and not depend on others. “ she says.

According to Raju Tuladhar, this even follows the Buddhist spirit “Building this Bihar completely with Nepalese funding is a great example of practical application of Buddhist doctrine. Buddhism puts a great emphasis on our “Karma” and need to be more self-reliant than depending upon others.”

Others however agree that we must depend only on Nepalese funds. “And the more dependent on other we become the weaker and weaker infact we are not poor. Our ancestors built hundreds of bihar from the money they earned as farmers. We have much more disposable income than they had. So we must not be hesitant to spend on community work.“ says Samundra Man Bajracharya According to Karna Shakya “Our ancestors have given a lot to us. They built 7 world heritage sites on their own whereas we look for foreign aid even to build a toilet near Tudikhel. It has infiltrated our way of thinking that foreigners will come and
build my monuments. For our culture to survive, we must love it and feel attached to it.”

Yogendra Shakya voiced his opinion that we must also think about the long term financial sustainability of the monument “We cannot always depend on donations for regular management, repairs and issues that come up. For the monastery to be sustainable there must be a perennial source of income. I have mentioned it at times and I’m sure the organizers have thought of something.” He adds.

Overall, we are grateful that these donors have seen the importance in building the Vajrayana Mahabihar in Lumbini and are supporting it. The Mahabihar is still under construction and there is still a lot more to be done. SPACES magazine is glad to be involved with the Mahabihar and we will be back with more about the Mahabihar in our later issues

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