September 12, 2013

Nepal battles misconceptions over Buddha’s birthplace

Vishal Arora

(RNS) Quick: Where was the Buddha born?

To hear many Indians talk, you’d think it was India, where he attained enlightenment and gave his first sermon.

But the people of Nepal know better—and they are eager to correct misconceptions about the Awakened One, one of the world’s most revered figures.

Next month, Nepal will circulate a new 100-rupee note with the imprint, “Lumbini: The Birthplace of Lord Buddha.” The currency is part of the government’s most recent effort to correct the record.

It comes amid protests following a promotional video on the private Indian channel Zee TV, which claimed the Buddha was born in India.

Zee TV corrected the error, but Nepal Cable TV Association blocked the channel when the new series on the life of Buddha premiered on Sunday (Sept. 8). The association’s chairman described the move as a way to prevent possible unrest in the country, which is predominantly Hindu but proud of its Buddhist heritage.

“We believe it was a mistake by Zee TV,” said association Chairman Sudhir Parajuli. “The official stand of the Government of India is that the Buddha was born in Nepal, but a few people, not having sufficient knowledge, proclaim that his birthplace is in India.”

Most scholars agree that Buddha was born in the sacred area of Lumbini, located in the plains of southern Nepal. An inscription on a pillar erected by the Mauryan Emperor Ashoka in 249 B.C. testifies to it.

Still the misconception persists.

In 2010, Indian-American journalist Fareed Zakaria, host of CNN’s flagship foreign affairs show and editor-at-large at Time magazine, sparked protests in Nepal for stating in a book that the Buddha was Indian.

And just this Monday (Sept. 9) at a Buddhist function in Delhi, the state’s Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit referred to the Buddha, saying, “India has been fortunate that he was born here and today we find that his message spread to millions of people brings them solace and comfort all over the world.”

In April, a former TV journalist from Nepal, Rabi Lamichhane, returned to his country from the United States determined to clear the record. He did so by staging a marathon talk show that lasted 62 hours and 12 minutes titled “Lord Buddha was born in Nepal.” The marathon was certified by Guinness World Records as the longest talk show.

—Vishal Arora

Read more on Lumbini in "The Buddha's Birthplace" and "Pilgrims, Peace, and Politics.

Image courtesy of Flickr/Gerrigje Engelen.

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MaryJ's picture

Buddhist economics is a spiritual approach to economics. It examines the psychology of the human mind and the anxiety, aspirations, and emotions that direct economic activity.

Lizzie Woon's picture

Dear Brothers & Sisters of this Earth

Please kindly Discuss and share the differences in views and findings with wisdom and gentleness but please lets not turn this into a "war" amongst dharma brothers and sisters. Then where is the Truth in the Dharma.? There is already enough of chaos and trouble in the World.
We really need to cultivate more love, care , harmony, respect and concerns towards each other even if there are differences in views and findings, it is fine.

Wishing Everyone Gradual Working towards Genuine Kindness towards others,
lizzie, Singapore

wilnerj's picture

The dharma is always true regardless of our doings.
I bow respectfully to your entreaty for peace and goodwill.


Tharpa Pema's picture

I second that!

Dolgyal's picture

With all due respect, Lizzie, I suggest you google the term 'idiot compassion.'
"Compassion is wishing that beings be free from suffering. Idiot compassion is avoiding conflict, letting people walk all over you, not giving people a hard time when actually they need to be given a hard time. It’s “being nice,” or “being good.” It’s not compassion at all. It ends up causing us pain, and it ends up causing others pain."

In this context, Buddhists ought really to think about the future of Lumbini, before corporate interests turn it into a commercial theme park. As i stated the Chinese intend to extend their railway from Lhasa to Shigatse to Kathmandu and right into Lumbini. If there is a time when it is appropriate to not be passive and silent, this may be the moment.

Dolgyal's picture

A Phayul reader writes: "Things in Nepal are only going to get worse. If a Tibetan values his/her freedom, now would be a good time to start making plans to get out of Nepal voluntarily. You have to look at the Chinese history of repression and atrocity, and then note their recent incursions into Nepal. If that doesn't make you uncomfortable and desirous to leave, you may be foolish. Personally, I'd rather leave behind my home and business than risk losing my freedoms. The day may not be far off when you aren't allowed to have pictures of HH the Dalai Lama in Nepal, either. I was in Nepal in 1999, around 2003, and in the past few years. The deterioration in these time periods is amazing. Nepal used to be a fabulous destination (1999). Now, it's a pretty miserable feel to it over there. I will become like China. If you aren't religious, and you don't care much for your freedoms, things are just fine. But if you're not in that group, watch out!"

Dolgyal's picture

UNESCO has a vision for the preservation and development of Lumbini, but the People's Republic of China have their own designs on the site: airports, theme parks, parking lots and shopping malls. Who will prevail? One need only look north to recent developments in Lhasa: the Barkhor has been destroyed, the Tsangpo drained and diverted and the ancient stupa west gate to the holy city called Pargo Kaling demolished. Imagine turning Vatican City into a concrete condo development, it simply should not happen!

Dolgyal's picture

Please inform yourself and consider what can be done to halt proposed inappropriate development in Lumbini, for example signing a petition:
The petition in full:
We are writing to enlist your support in an international petition to protect the environment of Lumbini, the Birthplace of the Buddha, from degradation caused by heavy industry that has located in the Lumbini region of Nepal.
The environmental pollution caused by cement and steel plants in this area is degrading local ground water and air quality and has already impacted local agriculture and public health. Needless to say, it is also impacting Lumbini's sacred space.
The Industrial Promotion Board (IPB) of Nepal's Ministry of Industry issued 4 decisions in late November 2009 to restrict industrial activities in the area. However, no action has followed and the situation continues to deteriorate.
A local, national, and international initiative has been launched to protect Lumbini's sacred environment and the health of its community. This initiative is now led by the Lumbini Environment Protection Alliance (LEPA), an international alliance that includes the Lumbini Development Trust (established by the government of Nepal to oversee this World Heritage Site), Lumbini Institutions (all the Buddhist monasteries in Lumbini), and the Lumbini Stakeholder Committee, comprising numerous Buddhist and non-Buddhist organizations as well as individual supporters from around the world.
The full petition prepared by LEPA with complete background information is viewable at . The petition to be signed and submitted by individuals can be found at the following address: .
We are writing today to plead for your support in this international effort. If you would add your name to this petition, it would add immeasurably to the significance and value of this initiative to restore the integrity of Lumbini's sacred space for current and future generations of humanity.
With much gratitude for your hoped for support,
LEPA (Lumbini Environmental Protection Alliance)

David Gould's picture

Communist China always has an agenda and the colonisation of post-monarchy Nepal is probably on the agenda. India needs the support of the world to assist it to hold the line on the line of control, as the Chinese Red Army gets more aggressive, incident by incident.

Dolgyal's picture

Not only Nepal but Sikkim, Bhutan, Darjeeling/Kalimpong District, Arunachal Pradesh and large parts of Ladakh are claimed and increasingly encroached upon by China. Since they are fouling their own air and water, the natural resources of the Transhimalayan area are just too valuable for China to resist, not to mention Lithium, Uranium, gold and so forth.

Dolgyal's picture

Nepal has another giant neighbour–to the north–proposing massive infrastructure redevelopment of Lumbini, including a railway line, theme park, airport, highways and parking lots.
According to the Nepali publication,The Republica, "Luo Sang Jiang Cun (Chinese name of Lobsang Gyaltsen), chairman of the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) assured Nepali officials visiting Tibet that China would expand a rail service to Nepal, once the train reaches the southern city of Shigatse.
Gyaltsen made the commitment during a meeting with the visiting Nepali Chief Secretary, Leela Mani Poudel in Lhasa.
The Nepali delegation had come to participate in the '14th Nepal-China´s Tibet Economic and Trade Fair - 2013' in Shigatse.
The Nepali delegation requested China's help for the construction of a line from Kathmandu to Lumbini, the birthplace of the Buddha near the Indian border.
Quoting Lobsang Gyaltsen, Hari Basyal, the Nepalese Consul General in Lhasa elaborated: "Feasibility study is underway for expanding rail service between Nepal and Tibet. We will immediately commence the process for implementing the plan once railway line reaches Shigatse from Beijing."
Gyaltsen expressed China's commitment "to extend a meaningful support to Nepal for achieving the common goal of socio-economic development."
Chief secretary Poudel asked the Chinese government's help to develop trade infrastructures which are instrumental in promoting bilateral trade.
Later Poudel and Ding Yexian, the executive vice-chairman of TAR inaugurated the Economic and Trade Fair 2013.
Incidentally, Ding Yexian is a Chinese cadre born and educated in Tibet. His father served in the 18th Army in the fifties and later settled in Tibet.
One could say that Ding is Han Tibetan or a Tibetan Han.
Interesting case!
For Nepal, there is no free meal, Poudel had to reiterate Nepal's policy of not allowing anti-China activities in its soil.
What could Poudel do?
He had to request the Chinese officials to increase the economic cooperation in the field of infrastructure development such as dry port facilities and expansion of road and railway networks as well as in crucial sectors of economy such as construction, energy, manufacturing, tourism and agriculture in Nepal.
Ding Yexian said that bilateral trade fairs would be an important forum for enhancing trade and commercial interaction between entrepreneurs of both the countries. He expressed China's willingness to help Nepal for its socio-economic development and emphasized the need for joint efforts to fully operationalize the agreed border points between Nepal and China.
According to the organizers, more than 200 representatives from 70 business enterprises, 36 observer business enterprises, and representatives of Trade and Export Promotion Center are participating from Nepal in the biennial fair. Similarly, around 200 participants from Tibet are showcasing their products in the five-day event.
In the present circumstances, it is doubtful if the training camp in Mustang will remain open for long.
But more worrying for India is a Chinese railway line to Lumbini, a few kilometers from the Indian border."

Dominic Gomez's picture

Political gamesmanship? Possibly, considering that present day India's and Nepal's boundaries were only established within the last 200 years. The actual country (more accurately kingdom) in which Shakyamuni was born no longer exists.

T N Args's picture

Yes. I agree with this view.

It seems, from the amount of debate, that his birthplace is uncertain. Are we not happy to accept that, pending new evidence?

Dominic Gomez's picture

Fitting, considering the universality of dharma. From its place of origin Buddhism was adopted by at least three different spheres of major cultural influence.