Category: Lumbini.

Enlightened by love

By Chularat Saengpassa
The Nation Nepal

Lumbini and its Sacred Garden is a destination that every Buddhist should try and visit at least once

Hundreds of thousands of Buddhists visit the Nepali town of Kapilavastu near the India border every year on a pilgrimage to Lumbini. The sacred site, the birthplace of the Lord Buddha, is home to many temples and for the last 15 years, the Royal Thai Monastery Lumbini – the only Thai temple in the country – has been welcoming about 50,000 Thai visitors every year.

According to the chief abbot, Phra Rajrattanarangsi, Lumbini is a must for all Buddhists, as it was here that Queen Mayadevi gave birth to Prince Siddhartha, the founder of Buddhism.

“Lumbini is to Buddhists what Mecca is to Muslims and the Vatican City is to Catholics,” he says.

Buddhists usually stop here first before continuing their pilgrimage to the three holy sites in India: Bodh Gaya , where the prince attained his enlightenment, Sarnath, where he gave the first sermon, and Kushinagar (where he died).

Indian Emperor Asoka paid an imperial visit to Lumbini in 249BC and was followed by other important nobles but the site was left largely ignored for several centuries. It was rediscovered in 1896 but Lumbini has only really developed since being listed as a Unesco World Heritage Site in 1997. Most of the Buddhist monasteries were constructed between 1993 and 2008.

Lumbini today consists of three main parts: the Sacred Garden, which is the focal point and marks the Buddha’s birthplace, the monastic enclave and the new Lumbini Village where some tourist facilities are allowed. The Thai temple is in the east monastic zone, reserved for temples in the Hinayana (Theravada) School of Buddhism.

Built in 1995 with funding from the Thai government and devoted Thai Buddhists, the 13-rai Royal Thai Monastery was initiated to celebrate the 50th anniversary of His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s accession to the throne. Marking the construction was His Holiness Somdet Phra Nyanasamvara, the Supreme Patriarch of Thailand.

The temple usually sees heavy traffic between November and March when weather conditions in Nepal allow for easy travelling.

The temple houses 10 monks who stay there permanently, plus novices and a few nuns. Each year, it welcomes 50,000 visitors, 30,000 of whom come through the Indian border.

Phra Rajrattanarangsi says the monks do their best to accommodate the visitors, preparing food and accommodation. The monks sometimes have to prepare bedding, as most of the visitors are old and wish to visit at least one of the four holy sites in their lifetime. Some pilgrims have to stay longer than expected due to illness and receive no assistance from tour agents.

“For that reason, the embassy sought approval from the temple to establish a consular office here. Now, the monks, particularly the abbot, take care of everything. The office would be regularly manned during the high season. It should open this year and the abbot has promised to pay for a permanent assistant for the office,” says Maris Sangiampongsa, the Thai ambassador to Nepal.

Maris understands why many Thais want to come here. He brought his mother to Lumbini not long after taking office.

“My mother is in a wheelchair. I pushed her around the Sacred Garden and showed her the attractions. The Bho tree marks the place the Buddha was born and the pond is where his mother washed,” says the ambassador. Khunying Sudarat Keyuraphan, chairwoman of Thai Pheung Thai Foundation, came here last year with her family. This year, she returned with her paralysed father, Sompol.

“I wanted to bring him here the first time but that wasn’t possible,” says Sudarat. “This is a special place and we want to share it with our loved ones. I never thought that I could endure a long meditation like this. My mother has passed away but while I was here, I prayed to her, thanking her for my life.”

Donations from pilgrims allow the temple to launch charitable projects to benefit the locals.Maris says that of Lumbini’s 41 temples, the Royal Thai Monastery offers the most to the community.

“We want to emulate the old times when temples were place of hopes for all,” says Phra Rajrattanarangsi. In conjunction with the Thai Embassy, the temple runs a regular physical check-up programme for local people and performs cataract surgery in a room inside the monastery. By offering Buddhist courses to international students, the temple is also able to also maintain a nursing centre for sick mothers and children. The dedication of the temple paved the way for the signing of memorandum of understanding between Unesco and the Thai Pheung Thai Foundation for the restoration of the Sacred Garden, which is visited by millions of Buddhist visit every year. Under the agreement, the walkway will be covered by bricks as prescribed by the Unesco master plan. The foundation will also erect accommodation buildings and toilets for pilgrims. The project will be officially launched next month, to mobilise donations from Thai Buddhists.

Sudarat hopes that when the Sacred Garden is restored to its original beauty, more pilgrims will feel encouraged to bring their elderly and ailing parents to Lumbini. “It is, after all, the Lord Buddha’s birthplace. Without this, there would never have been the other three holy sites,” Phra Rajrattanarangsi concludes.

Give a little

>> On Wednesday at 8am, Lumbini Development Trust (LDT) vice-chairperson Acharya Karma Sangbo Sherpa and LDT senior archaeology officer Basanta Bidari will join a press conference to announce the project to restore Lord Buddha’s birthplace in Nepal at Wat Saket in Bangkok. Chaipattana Foundation’ secretary general Sumet Tantivejkul and Culture Minister Nipit Intarasombat will also present too.

>> You can support the Sacred Garden renovation by making donations to Thai Pheung Thai Foundation: Lumbini Sathan Fund savings account number 0472559164, Siam Commercial Bank Lat Phrao Soi 10 branch.

>> Lumbini can be accessed through a 45-minute flight from Kathmandu Airport, via Yeti Airlines and Buddha Air. The bus from the airport to Lumbini takes 30 minutes.

>> Admission to the Sacred Garden costs 200 Nepalese rupees (Bt100)

Source link

Category: Lumbini