United Nations Secretaries-General and Lumbini

Dag Hammarskjöld
Lumbini visit: March 1959

“Like glittering sunbeams
The flute notes reach the gods
In the birth grotto.”

Excerpt from A Reader’s Guide to Dag Hammarskjöld’s Wayward, which is a compilation of Dag Hammarskjöld’s journal entries that were found in a manuscript in his New York apartment after his death.  The manuscript was originally published in Swedish, which was translated to English. This excerpt is taken  from  a poem or haiku he wrote titled “Far Away” which captured his visit to the birthplace of Buddha in Nepal.

U Thant
Lumbini visit: April 1967

King Mahendra with UN Secretary-General U Thant at the Royal Palace in 1967.
Photo: UN/Marvin Bolotsky

Visit to Lumbini was “one of the most important days of my life”.

From U Thant’s 1977 memoir, View from the UN.

“Since early 1968, various phases of development works have been carried out both by the Government of Nepal and by United Nations Organizations and the project has now reached a stage where financing from voluntary contributions will be needed before it can become a pilgrimage center with adequate facilities for pilgrims and tourists. In this connection I would like also to express my personal appreciation to the Government of Nepal for the initiatives they have already taken. May I also express my sincere hope that both interested governments, individuals and private groups will make generous contributions in cash or kind to help in the implementation of what I consider to be a most worthy project”

U Thant’s speech during a 1970 meeting of the International Committee for the Development of Lumbini (ICDL).

Kurt Waldheim
Lumbini visit: February 1981   

UN Secretary-General Kurt Waldheim with King Birendra during his visit to Nepal.
Photo: UN Archive

“Through the efforts of the Government of Nepal and with financial assistance from the United Nations Development Program, a Master Plan has been completed by the Japanese architect Kenzo Tange. However, a necessary is to make these plans a reality. It is my hope, therefore, that government, private institutions and individuals will make generous contributions towards this most worthy undertaking.”

Source: Lumbini Development Trust.

Javier Perez de Cuellar, who was the Under Secretary-General of Special Political Affairs at that time, accompanied Kurt Waldheim to Lumbini. 

Javier Perez de Cuellar
Lumbini visit: March 1989

Prime Minister Marich Man Singh with UN Secretary General Javier de Cuellar.
Photo: UN Archive

“Lumbini, where Gautam Buddha was born in 623 BC, is one of the most sacred places for Buddhists. Worldwide attention is focused on Lumbini not only because pilgrims and tourist come from all over the world, but because for all mankind Lumbini has special meaning as a place of meditation and spiritual renewal, a center of culture exchange and a symbol of peace.

Buddha's message of compassion and devotion to the service of humanity is more relevant today than at any other time in history. Peace, understanding and a vision that transcends purely national boundaries and imperative of our insecure, nuclear age.

The United Nations is proud to have whole-heartedly supported this project from its inception. I wish to take this further opportunity to state that it will continue to play its parts in support of this undertaking which relates most closely to the spiritual and cultural heritage of humanity."

Javier Perez de Cuellar spoke those words during his visit to Lumbini, as reported in The Rising Nepal.  

Boutros-Boutros Ghali

UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros Gahli.
Photo: UN Archive

“The implementation of the Lumbini Master Plan is still in progress. I should therefore like to call on the international community, governments, private institutions and individuals to consider contributing to the cause of preserving the tradition of the Buddha-that of compassion and devotion to the service of humanity.”

Source: Lumbini Development Trust.

Kofi Annan

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan is welcomed by King Birendra Bir Bikram Shah Dev of Nepal at Narayanhity Royal Palace.
Photo: UN/Eskinder Debebe

“As the most sacred place of pilgrimage for the world’s Buddhists, Lumbini provides yet another illustration of the inter-connectedness of all people, across borders and across time.  As a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage site, Lumbini reminds us how much the world’s religions can teach us, Buddhists and non-Buddhists, believers and non-believers alike. And let us applaud the commitment to tolerance that allows a Buddhist summit to be held in an officially Hindu country. The world couse many more such examples of religious harmony.”

Kofi Annan sent this message to the first World Buddhist Summit that was held in Lumbini on December 1998. The message was delivered on his behalf by Henning Karcher who was the UNDP Resident Coordinator in Nepal during that time. 

Ban Ki-Moon
Lumbini visit: November 2008   

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon visits Lumbini.
Photo: UN/Mark Garten

“I am awestruck by the beauty and profound significance of this site, the birthplace of the Lord Buddha. Being here, I am reminded of his amazing life journey from sheltered prince to founder of one of the world’s great religions. And I am moved by his example of voluntarily leaving behind comfortable circumstances to confront the painful realities of life and to help others overcome them. Above all, as Secretary-General of the United Nations, I am all the more inspired to work for peace throughout the world. I sincerely hope that we can learn from his lessons, from his teachings and his philosophy to bring peace, stability, harmony, reconciliation and friendship among people of different beliefs, different religions and cultures. This is exactly what human beings should promote and pursue for a better world, a more peaceful, more prosperous world.”

Source: The Rising Nepal



2 November 2008. UN support to peace to continue: Ban Ki Moon. The Rising Nepal

8 March 1989. UN Support for Development of Lumbini Encouraging: Prince Gyanendra. The Rising Nepal

Erling, Bernhard. 1987. A Reader’s Guide to Dag Hammarskjöld’s Wayward. Minnesota, St. Peter.

Lumbini Development Trust. Message from UNSG. Articles. www.lumbinitrust.org/articles/view/96 (Accessed 5 September, 2012)

Thant, U. 1978. View from the UN. New York, Double Day.

United Nations. 30 November 1998. Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s message to the World Buddhist Summit. Press Release SG/SM/6812.

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