| June 27, 2019

Walk the path

Lumbini as center of learning
As the birthplace of Gautam Buddha—the Light of Asia and indeed the entire world—there could be no better place for Buddhist studies than Lumbini. It already hosts a Buddhist university, which since its establishment in 2004 has greatly aided Buddhist scholarship and produced many Buddhist scholars. So when Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli on Thursday spoke of his aim to develop Lumbini as a center for international Buddhist studies, he seemed to be stating what should be an obvious priority of any government in Nepal. In a way, Lumbini is already such a center. As the prime minister himself put it at the start of the International Buddhist Conference in Kathmandu, “Lumbini is increasingly becoming a heart of attraction for tourists, pilgrims and scholars from all over the world.” He didn’t specify what additional steps are to be taken towards this goal. Here are some things he might want to consider.

One of the old ideas concerns the promotion of joint Indo-Nepal Buddhist circuit, which includes places like Lumbini (in Nepal) and Bodgaya and Kushinagar (in India). But for this to happen there needs to be more trust between the two countries over Buddha. In recent times there have been needless disputes over the origin of Buddhism. The Nepali side claims that since Buddha was born in Nepal, Buddhism, too, originated in the country. The Indians, on the other hand, aver that since he achieved enlightenment in India’s Bodgaya, it is only right that Bodgaya be recognized as the origin of Buddhism. It was partly due to this dispute that some high level Indian dignitaries who were scheduled to attend the Buddhist conference in Kathmandu—including, some rumors have it, Prime Minster Narendra Modi—cancelled their visits. The attempts in Nepal to claim Buddha only for itself and the ones in India to, say, create an alternate birthplace of Buddha on Indian territories, are unfortunate. The source of peace and fulfillment for humankind belongs to all the people on this planet. In fact, Buddha himself renounced such artificial boundaries, choosing to leave his native Kapilvastu and aimlessly wander, hopping and skipping borders, in search of enlightenment. 

We would thus like to see a renewed bilateral effort to promote the circuit before the rest of the world, not the least because that would do wonders for development of tourism for places on the circuit, on both sides of the border. Another idea is to develop Lumbini as a host of periodic international conferences on Buddhist scholarship. But perhaps the biggest step in this direction would be construction of the long-delayed Gautam Buddha International Airport at Bhairahawa. The government has just finished the process of land procurement for the airport. So finishing the project by the 2018 completion date appears highly ambitious. This national priority project must get the attention it deserves for the development of Lumbini as an international hub of Buddhist learning. There is nothing wrong in having noble goals. But that is not enough. As Buddha said: You must also “walk the path”.