Interview: Sayalay Bhaddamanika

Sayalay Bhaddamanika, leading Buddhist nun at the Panditarama Lumbini International Vipassana Meditation Centre of Myanmar in Lumbini

How did you get involved in Lumbini?

I came to Lumbini in Nepal from Myanmar in February 1999.  Initially, my intention was to stay here for a few months, but I decided to stay longer as the spiritual atmosphere of Lumbini and its uniqueness and serenity hypnotized me.  As a Buddhist, I realized this is the place where one should be staying at by following the Buddha’s way, “For the welfare of many, and for the happiness of many”.

How did others in Lumbini react to your decision to stay here?  And as a leading Buddhist nun, did you face any difficulties in adjusting to Lumbini?

I mostly experienced encouragement and support ever since my arrival in Lumbini in 1999.  The strenuous efforts and encouragements made by other Buddhist nuns and monks who established monasteries in Lumbini and in Kathmandu made my transition here much easier.  

How important do you think it was for Lumbini to have the Kenzo Tange Master Plan?

Kenzo Tange Master Plan was and remains very important and it certainly helped Lumbini to be recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  The renowned Japanese Architect Kenzo Tange had a broad vision, and his master plan was far-sighted and well-organized in laying out a systematic plan to protect the values of the birthplace of Buddha.  The master plan has been an asset for Lumbini tying the philosophy of Buddhism to the World Heritage Site’s status as a place of Outstanding Universal Value.  

What would have happened to Lumbini if the Kenzo Tange Master Plan was not formulated?

Without the Kenzo Tange Master Plan, noise pollution in Lumbini would have been rampant, which would violate the essence of the teaching of Buddha that one can get access to wisdom through quietude and neatness.  The buffer zones in the master plan are designed to protect core areas in Lumbini, including the Sacred Garden, and insulate the site from external noises and disturbances.  In the past, before the master plan was adopted and before the implementation phase began, there were vehicles passing by on and near the core areas in Lumbini disturbing the peace and quietude that are essential in Buddhism.  

What are the priority areas for development in Lumbini that both national and international stakeholders should be focusing on?

There are two priority areas that national and international stakeholders should all be focusing on for the development of Lumbini.  First priority area is protecting the identity of Lumbini as the birthplace of Buddha as well as its spiritual atmosphere and environment, along with the other sites around Lumbini that are relevant to the life and history of the Buddha.  

The second priority is to conduct archaeological investigation and survey in Lumbini and its surrounding areas, especially in the buffer zones within the Kenzo Tange Master Plan.     

What role should UN agencies take on for the development of Lumbini?

UNESCO could establish the International Experts Committee on Safeguarding Lumbini to address issues of conservation, protection and environmental sustainability.  UN’s involvement is particularly needed in protecting the environment of Lumbini.  Environmental protection could include relocating the industries that are polluting the air and damaging the historical sites.  Environmental protection should also be in the form of safeguarding the 5x5 mile area of the Kenzo Tange Master Plan from encroachment, perhaps by helping to establish an environmental protection unit within Lumbini Development Trust (LDT) or the Department of Archaeology (DoA) and /or other national entities similar to the system for environmental protection adopted by the Authority for the Protection & Management of Angkor & the Region of Siem Reap (APSARA) in Cambodia. UN could advocate making Heritage Impact Assessment mandatory in Lumbini.        

UN could also assist by drawing attention to the status of the monasteries in Lumbini as international projects in order to secure the positions of the monasteries including the Lumbini International Research Institute (LIRI).  The monasteries’ status as international projects could be incorporated into LDT’s Act so that it can be part of the by-laws.  For instance, the by-laws can ensure that the international residents in the monastic zone in Lumbini are granted 5-year visas to Nepal.  On behalf of the residents in the monastic zone, we are certainly ready to help regarding this matter in any way we can.

Interviewed on 16 October 2012 in Lumbini at the Panditrama Lumbini International Vipassana Meditation Centre

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