International Petition to Protect Lumbini’s Environment

I encourage readers to research this issue and (electronically) sign the petition. There is room for you to leave comments on the petition form if you wish.

https://spreadsheets.google.com/viewform?formkey=dF8xYzkteHFmNi1jTFA2R3J4a28zRWc6MA&theme=0AX42CRMsmRFbUy0wYjVlZjc1Mi00ZmQ1LTQ1YTktOWUyMC05M2IxMzljNTJkOTQ&ifq

Here is an on line document related to the peititon with back ground information that you may find interesting.
https://docs.google.com/View?id=dfmw46k2_0gz4b6sgw

Here is a recent op-ed piece in the Kathmandu Post written by James G. Heller about this issue: http://www.ekantipur.com/the-kathmandu-post/2010/10/25/oped/restoring-lumbinis-integrity/214140/

I hope the Government of Nepal can create more employment and develop industry for the economic prosperity of its people. I can’t see any factories nearby Lumbini on Google Maps. There are many farms nearby. I remember the roads all around are narrow and very poor quality with many pot holes (probably created by cement trucks).

The Nepal Government is already aware of the sensitivity of this area and has responded to international pressure by preserving this World Heritage area many years ago. There has been a lot of international funds (Japanese and Taiwanese etc.) invested at the site and the Nepal Government agreed to move an old Hindu temple that had been built on top of the Buddha’s birth spot. The old carving of Queen Mahaamaaya giving birth to the Bodhisatta was interpreted wrongly by later Hindus as a Hindu goddess so they built a Hindu temple around it. Now the Hindu temple is moved to another location and the birth site preserved as a sacred Buddhist site. Though now it is less sacred than it is an archaeological site, where many Hindu and Muslim tourists pass through every day, laughing and joking.

Most of these Buddhist sacred sites in India and Nepal are preserved as large parks with lots of grass and trees. International funding for gardeners and walls and ticket offices are helping this. Then the locals use these places as recreational parks for family picnics and romance. I saw it with my own sad eyes. There is even graffiti on stupas such as the Dhamek Stupa in Sarnath (Isipitana) where the Lord Buddha set the wheel of the Dhamma rolling with the first Dhamma talk (Dhammacakkhapavatana sutta) to the first five disciples (pancasaavakii) . Foreigners must pay about US$5 to enter these parks while locals pay about 20 cents each.

I went to Lumbini in December 2009. From memory there appeared to be more dust and pollution from deforestation than any factories. There seemed to be a lot of soil erosion in the area. It is not mountainous in this southern part of Nepal, very close to the northern border of India. This whole area was once verdant with forests. Locals use wood for fuel to cook and heat their houses. Hindus also burn wood as part of their rituals for fire worship. Now with massive population increase due to better food and medical facilities (though these are still very bad compared to many other countries), there is great demand for resources.

Image from
http://www.fishtail.org/nepal/tourinfo.php

The column on the left is an Asoka pillar. The white building is a steel framed structure sheltering the birth spot of the Buddha Gotama.  There is a tank in the foreground and behind the photographer is a large Bodhi Tree. The ticket office is outside the frame to the right.  I wrote about my experience visiting this place in December 2009.

I doubt this petition will help the people of Nepal or prevent the decline of Buddhist parks and sacred sites. All these places will disappear sooner or later. It is dhamma – conditioned phenomena. Try not to be too attached to them. It is better to work for your own salvation and the well being of living people. It may be that with some better living conditions and a better environment, Nepalese and Indian people can learn to appreciate their heritage. Maybe not though. Australians don’t appreciate Australian heritage very much. Little is done to preserve Aboriginal culture. Sacred sites are bulldozed for mines and railways. This sort of thing happens in every country.

There is also a danger that instead of taking real world political action, many people sitting at home will feel comforted by signing a petition safely in Australia or Canada far from the suffering of the Nepal and Indian people.  I’m not sure that signing petitions such as this counts as ‘socially engaged Buddhism’.  However, it may be the beginning of a more active involvement.

Even so, I signed the petition and encourage you to also sign. Perhaps if many people sign the petition there maybe change for the better.

I quote below half of a sutta from the Sutta Nipaata with a reference to Lumbini as the birthplace of BuddhaGotama. I don’t quite like the style of the translation – it is a bit archaic and may be difficult for ESL people to understand. I changed a few phrases but tried not to interfere too much. The numbers in square brackets refer to the verse number.  The published translation also included Paali text in Roman characters that I have not reproduced in this blog.
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Naalakasutta The Discourse to Naalaka in the Sutta Nipaata, translated into English by N. A. Jayawickrama [alternative translation by Ven. Thanissaro Bhikkhu]

The seer Asita saw at this noonday rest the shining ones of Taavati.msa (together) with Inda and the deva (clad) in immaculate clothing, overjoyed  and delighted, exultantly singing praises, clutching their garments; [679]

Seeing the deva with joyful hearts and intent, showing due respect, he said therat: ‘Why are the shining ones in such high festive appearance and for what reason do you take garments in hand and twirl them?'[680]

When the war was on with the Asuras and victory  was with the deva and the Asuras were defeated, even then there was no hair-raising (merriment) such as this; seeing what miracle are the deva delighted?’ [681]

‘They whistle, sing, play instrumental music, clap hands and dance; I ask you, O dwellers on the summit of Mount Meru, soon dispel my doubt.’ [682]

(The deva)
‘That Enlightened One-to-be, the noble treasure beyond compare, is born in the human world for (their) weal and welfare, in the village of Lumbini, in the territory of the Sakyans; therefore are we pleased and in such high festive appearance.’ [683]

‘He, the noblest among all beings, the highest individual, the mighty bull among men, the noblest among all creatures, like the roaring lion, the mighty king of beasts will set in motion the wheel (of the Dhamma) and forest grove named Isi.’ [684] [“Isi” refers to Isipitana, also known as Sarnath, near old Benares which is now known as Varanasi]

Then listening to that word he hastily descended and went to the abode of Suddhodana; seated there he told the Sakyans: ‘Where is the prince? I too wish to see him.’ [685]

Then unto him named Asita did the Sakyans show their son, the prince, like blazing gold fashioned by a skilled craftsman in an open forge, in all glory and splendid appearance. [686]

Seeing the prince, like a crested flame all ablaze, clean as the spotless moon, the lord of the stars, the sky roamer, and shining like the sun in the autumnal sky free of clouds, he, overjoyed, gained immense delight.[687]

The sky deva held aloft a parasol (of state) with countless ribs and a thousand tiers, and yak tailed whisks with golden handles fanned but the bearers of the whisks and parasol were not to be seen (invisible deva were doing the work). [688]

When the matted hair ascetic the sage named Ka.nhasiri saw him who was like a golden ornament placed upon a woollen blanket, with the white parasol of state held above, he with heart intent, and pleased in mind received (the child).  [689]

Receiving (in his arms) the bull-like male, (son) of the Sakyans, he (Asita) who had gained mastery in the lore of signs (of a great being) and the (Vedic) hymns, as he investigated, with gladdened heart cried out: ‘Unsurpassed is he, the noblest of men.’ [690]

Then calling to mind his own departure (from this world) he shed tears in unbecoming manner. The Sakyans seeing the seer weeping said to him: ‘Let there be no danger for the prince!’ [691]

Seeing the Sakyans saddened the seer said: ‘I call to mind no harm coming upon the prince, nor will any danger befall him; he is not an insignificant man, be comforted in heart. [692]

This prince will attain the highest enlightenment, he, the one who visions the supreme purity, with compassion for the many folk for their welfare, will turn the wheel of Dhamma and the holy life (proclaimed by him) will be widespread. [693]

‘And what is left of my life here will not be long and before that my death will take place and such as I am I will not hear the teaching of him of unique endeavour, therefore am I afflicted, overcome by calamity and distressed. [694]

Arousing immense joy to the Sakyans, he who led a life of celibacy (Asita), set out from the royal court and with compassion for his own nephew stirred him  in the teaching of the one of unique endeavour. [695]

‘Immediately you hear someone say the (word) “the Enlightened One” (Buddho) and that with perfect enlightenment (Sammaasambuddho) attained he travels the path of Dhamma, go there, and asking him about the teaching, lead the holy life under that Exalted One (ask for ordination as a bhikkhu). [696]

Being counselled by him of such benevolent thoughts, by him who had seen for the future the highest purity (for him), that Naalaka [Asita’s nephew] with an accumulation of a vast store of merit, with faculties guarded, dwelt (as a recluse) awaiting the Conqueror. [697]

‘Hearing the report of the Supreme Conqueror’s turning of the wheel of the Dhamma, he went up to him and gaining favour on seeing him, the mighty bull among seers, asked the great Sage about the highest way of life of a sage when the message of him named Asita came true. [698]
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The rest of this sutta refer to Ven. Naalaka’s conversation with the Blessed One.

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Lumbini

At 6:30 am Sunday morning (13 Dec), Mr Paras Maurya my driver picked me up from the Shivoy Hotel and we drove northwards towards Nepal. I found out along the way that this was Mr Paras’ first trip to Lumbini. The roads and towns along the way were similar to other roads and towns and even across the border in Nepal, I could discern any significant difference.

I did not take any photographs on the trip to Lumbini. You may find many photos by searching Google and by looking at the many websites about Lumbini including Wikipedia.

The Sonauli border crossing between India and Nepal was chaotic. There were many trucks lined up along the narrow road leading to the border crossing. Many cycle rickshaws, motorcycles, pedestrians, tour coaches, cars, pedestrians and cyclists were competing to try and get to the border first. The lane for traffic coming the other way was frequently blocked by overtaking cars whose drivers may have assumed that everyone would move aside for them. Some reversing and nudging… It really is amazing. The trucks were only allowed to cross between 10 pm and 5 am so they just park on the side of the main street blocking traffic and none of the authorities seem to mind. Everyone seems to accept it and just make the best of this situation. It would not be tolerated in Australia. I admire Indian and Nepali people who are so patient and stoic about all this chaos. I have learned a lot.

As a non-Indian, I had to stop by the Indian Immigration office located inconspicously on the side of the road. The office street sign was partly covered by a traffic speed sign making it harder to notice among the many shop signs along the street. I completed a departure form and had my passport stamped for exiting India. Then we crossed to Nepal and Mr Paras rushed about filling in forms and getting stamps for his pass which cost (me) 800 Indian rupees. I went into the Nepali Immigration office, completed the arrival form, paid US$25 for a 15 day visa (the shortest possible) and got back in the car for the onward journey to Lumbini. 

Lumbini is another typical recreational park set up to collect money from International Buddhist pilgrims.  The car was not permitted close to the site, so we walked about 1000 meters along a path and found the gated park. I paid my fee, paid respect to the Bodhi tree and walked around the building marking the spot where the Bodhisatta Siddhatta Gotama was born.  The building has very thick steel framework structure. I’m not sure why that was necessary. It does not appear to be supporting anything except a simple roof.

Inside the square building, I walked clockwise around the edge, looking at all the familiar red bricks and then walked on the ramp to the centre where there is the image of Queen Maya on a wall and the marker apparently showing the exact spot where the birth took place. I paid respect to the birth place. This is covered by what appeared to be a perspex box, perhaps to protect the marker from tourists dropping coins on it in the same way they like to throw coins at the Asoka pillar outside the building (despite signs saying not to do that).  I was there only 20 seconds when a group of 3 noisy youths, joking and laughing came up behind with a man in a uniform (apparently a guard) who was also laughing and pushed to the front.  It was difficult to retain the sense of religious veneration in this atmosphere. I quickly left and walked back to the touts at the main gate.

I decided at that moment to visit Panditarama International Meditation Centre and pay respect to Ven. Vivekananda. The centre is a 1.5 km walk from the main gate. Mr Paras and I arrived there just as lunch was finishing. We waited with a Nepali lady for a few minutes and then went into the foyer. It was very quiet and peaceful. I felt as though it would be a good place for a retreat. I saw Ven. Vivekananda pass by and paid respect to him with clasped hands (anjali). He spoke with the Nepali lady visitor for 10 minutes and appeared to be explaining the rules for meditating at the centre. I had brief eye contact with him but he did not appear to want to talk with me. After completing his conversation with the Nepali lady he turned and quickly walked away saying nothing to me. I got the impression he did not wish to talk with me. Perhaps he thought I was a tourist and did not want to waste time.  So we left, Lumbini and drove back accross the border, more stamps and traffic jams and then back to Gorakhpur. This is more time in Gorakhpur than anyone would ever want.

Sunday evening (13 Dec) I found a hole in the wall tour operator just accross the road from the Gorakhpur Junction train station operated by Mr Munna Bhai, and booked another taxi to take me to Shravasti for an overnight stay and return to Gorokhpur.

Because I value freedom and being able to make my mind up at the last minute where I am going next, I have to be patient with inconvenience, smoke, dust, crowds, noises, chaotic traffic, smells, flies etc… It might be more convenient to have all my travels organised by a tour group and be whisked from place to place on a large tour coach sitting among Korean, Thai and Japanese pilgrims/tourists. I might make new friends that way too… Anyway, I prefer to have a greater degree of freedom to choose how long I’ll stay where ever I want. However, even that freedom is limited by available hotel rooms, buses, trains and planes etc. I don’t have a teleporter to zap me from place to place and I can’t fly independently yet.