(A reclining Buddha at Wat Po temple in Bangkok April 8,2008/Sukree Sukplang)

 

A Chinese-backed foundation and Nepal’s government plan to transform Lord Buddha’s birthplace in southern Nepal into a magnet for Buddhists in the same way as Mecca is to Muslims and the Vatican for Catholics. The Asia Pacific Exchange and Cooperation Foundation plans to raise $3 billion at home and abroad to build temples, an airport, a highway, hotels, convention centres and a Buddhist university in the town of Lumbini, about 171 km (107 miles) southwest of Nepal’s capital Kathmandu.

The foundation, blessed by the Chinese government, signed a memorandum of understanding with the Nepalese government last month to jointly develop and operate Lumbini, where Buddha was born Prince Gautama Siddhartha about 2,600 years ago. The foundation also pledged to bring communications, water and electricity to Lumbini.

Buddhism was virtually wiped out in China during the chaotic 1966-76 Cultural Revolution when temples were shut, Buddhist statues smashed, scriptures burned, and monks and nuns forced to return to secular life and marry. In recent years, China has become more tolerant of Buddhism, which is considered “traditional culture” alongside Taoism and Confucianism.

(Bodhi tree and the Mayadevi pond in Lumbini, Nepal, November 2006/Bpilgrim)

 

“Lumbini will transcend religion, ideology and race. We hope to rejuvenate the spirit of Lord Buddha,” said Xiao Wunan, a devout Buddhist who is executive vice president of the foundation. The development of Lumbini will also help boost government revenues, create jobs and improve infrastructure in the impoverished corner of Nepal, the two sides said in the memorandum. The town attracts nearly 500,000 tourists each year.

Xiao hopes Lumbini can bring together all three schools of Buddhism — the Mahayana, or “Greater Vehicle” which is dominant in China, Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan; Tibetan Buddhism; and the Theravada or  Hinayana (“Lesser Vehicle”) which is popular in Cambodia, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Thailand.