The Second World Buddhist Summit proved to be one of the most representative Buddhist Conferences that I have attended anywhere: Buddhists, friends of Buddhism, admirers of the Buddha and his serene teachings and a cross-section of peace-loving people of all faiths.
The participation of the Nepali national leadership led by the king (seen above paying his respects at the Maya Debi shrine), prime minister, ministers, senior officials and spiritual leaders ,expressed by their very presence, the importance attached to this event and the objectives. I have not witnessed such a strong and sustained presence of the national leadership even in countries with predominantly Buddhist populations.
The Summit aptly began with a detailed presentation on the contribution which the teachings of the Buddha, the venerated son of Nepal, have made to world peace, culture and civilization. Delegates were deeply concerned that Lumbini, as the holiest site of Buddhist pilgrimage, had to be better developed and the goals set out by U Thant had to be achieved expeditiously.
My first visit to Lumbini, via Nowgarh railhead in India, was in 1956 riding a seatless, rickety truck, hired at an exorbitant price. My family of seven took hours to reach Lumbini through a harsh treeless terrain. The road was a dusty, sandy, gravel track. At Lumbini itself there was only the Ashokan Pillar with the famous inscription and the Maya Debi Temple in a dilapidated condition. As far as our eyes could see, there were only two trees: the Bodhi tree and the tree by the Maya Debi Temple.
In I969, when I was in Kathmandu on UNESCO business, officials made a valiant effort to get me to Lumbini. Rains had cut off every access to Lumbini. The next year, when I did get there on a jeep from Kushinagar, Lumbini was still deserted but for two monks.
The Lumbini today is a tribute to the persevering dedication of the government of Nepal. Every single tree which makes Lumbini such a pleasant environment was planted and watered by hand. That alone is an achievemant. The master plan is an idealistic grand conception, we need it to direct us to greater action. It has saved the site of Lumbini and preserved the surrounding area in a higher state of ecological balance but it is not set in stone.
Kwaak Young Hoon, on a mission funded by UNDP, has envisioned the evolution (rather than the creation) of the World Peace City of Lumbini, the Biswashantinagar. The adoption of this vision by the Summit and its endorsement by the national leadership of Nepal marks another step in the progress of Lumbini. Such a centre of spirtual, cultural and educational significance, radiating to the world, the wisdom of the Buddha, needs to be very carefully planned with the participation of a wide circIe of national and international stakeholders.
The most pleasing decision of the Summit, heartily endorsed by the national leadership, was to develop the entire region with a special emphasis on Kapilabastu, Devadaha and Ramgram. A comprehensive Buddhist Circuit, connected with the Buddha's life, will invite pilgrims and other visitors to spend more time in the area and help raise living standards of the local people.
There are other ideas: getting local people to craft miniature replicas of the Maya Debi panel and Buddha statues with clay from Lumbini itself as a sacred souvenir that pilgrims can take away. This idea of hotel entrepreneur, Ambica Shrestha, has a lot of merit.
The other immediate measure is to change the entrance and exit to enable pilgrims and visitors to pass through the area between the two existing monasteries and the canal where local traders could sell flowers and incense as well as religious souvenirs. It is now a bajar which the majority of visitors miss when they follow the official entrance and exit.
Ananda W P Guruge used to be Sri Lanka's ambassador to the United States and UNESCO and is Dean of Academic Affairs at University of the West in the US