Local children near the Tilaurakot Palace archaeological site
Devotees at the Buddhist stupa of Boudhanath
Archaeological site of the Ancient Tilaurakot Palace of King Sudhodhana where Lord Buddha lived as a prince
The Sacred Garden
On the way to the Sacred Garden
Maya Devi Temple
Buddha Air
Lambini, Nepal
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The plan for a sanctuary reinforces the message that the best way for people to help Nepal is to go and visit

On the day marking Buddha’s birthday, 25 May 2015, His Eminence Shyalpa Tenzin Rinpoche, a Buddhist lama, laid out his vision to build the Mahasiddha Sanctuary for Universal Peace.

Simply called and referenced as “Rinpoche”, a title of honour for a religious teacher held in high regard, he was born in the foothills of the Himalaya Mountains. As a child, his family recognized him as holy, and he began training as a lama from the age of four. Rinpoche attended Buddhist University in Sarnath, Varanasi, India and lived in the US for over twenty years. He founded Rangrig Yeshe, a non-profit that organizes teachings and retreats; the Himalayan Children’s Fund, to provide for and educate underprivileged children; and the Wencheng Gongzhu International Foundation, to support his compassionate activities. Rinpoche also established the Shyalpa Monastery, Nunnery, and retreat centre in Kathmandu, which houses over a hundred monks and nuns and hosts students from around the world.

He laid out his plans while touring in Lumbini – listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage site and recognized as “the birthplace of the Lord Buddha” Siddhartha Gautama, born in 623 BC.

Lumbini, near the Himalayas, was recognized as the birthplace of the Lord Buddha from as early as 249 BC and had been the site for Buddhist pilgrimages for many centuries until the fifteenth century AD. After this time, the site fell into ruin until it was rediscovered in 1896.

It has now again become a focus as one of the great pilgrimage sites with more than 400,000 Buddhist and non-Buddhist visitors, many from India and China, coming every year.

The area is being actively promoted and developed as a Buddhist pilgrimage centre by the local and Nepalese governments. Lumbini is rich with archaeological remains associated with Lord Buddha’s birthplace, his former palace, and the development of Buddhism in general. The sites include the Sacred Garden of Lumbini, the Maya Devi Temple and the Ancient Palace of King Sudhodhana, where Lord Buddha lived as a prince until age twenty-nine.

Surrounding the area of the Sacred Garden are monastic zones where different countries have built temples and monasteries depicting different sects of Buddhism. Monuments and temples have been built by China, France, Germany, Japan, Korea, Thailand, Mongolia, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, and Vietnam.

After the devastating earthquake in Nepal struck, Lumbini was largely unaffected as were most all the heritage sites. Hence, Rinpoche’s priority was to rescue, help and provide aid to the victims. Immediately afterwards, his organisation in Kathmandu assisted those affected. His monks and staff provided tents, tarps, food and provisions to those affected in Nepal, while Rinpoche, who was abroad at the time, took to fund-raising amongst his supporters in Hong Kong. This fund-raising effort allowed him to personally hand over a substantial cheque to the Prime Minister of Nepal for continuous aid to those in need.

Exactly one month post-earthquake, with visitors numbers having fallen dramatically and disastrously for the many Nepalese who depend on tourism for their livelihoods, and with a renewed sense of urgency, Rinpoche refocused his efforts to promote the vision he had been working on for several years – to rejuvenate and to reinvigorate the birthplace of Buddha with the development and the building of the Mahasiddha Sanctuary for Universal Peace.

Rinpoche said, “The concept for the Sanctuary for Universal Peace came about four years ago. I had not originally thought of building it in Lumbini. There were other sacred sites that I considered. I was looking around, but I couldn’t find land of a suitable size in a place acceptable. One day, his friend who was on the board of directors of Lumbini development trust at that time suggested, ‘Why don’t you think of doing something in Lumbini?’”

In 2013, His Eminence Rinpoche was entrusted with the development of a plot of land, an area roughly the size of New York’s Central Park, near the Sacred Garden of Lumbini and the Maya Devi Temple.

“They thought I would be the best one to entrust this land too. There are many other temples near there and they wanted me to do something special. I want to create a place that would provide people with a refuge,” he said.

Thousands attended the ground-breaking ceremony, and a formal launch ceremony took place in Hong Kong in 2014. While standing at the future site of the Mahasiddha Sanctuary for Universal Peace, Rinpoche showed the recently finished architectural design for a lotus shape sanctuary.

Rinpoche said, “I thought the lotus could be a universal symbol of peace. The lotus is pure. It grows in the mud, but it isn’t stained by it. Inside, the sanctuary will not be cluttered like in many churches, temples and monasteries.”

His vision is to provide a world-class place that will attract people to come for a short time – a day or two – to connect with this beautiful place, the birthplace of Buddha. Then for visitors who can come and stay for several weeks, months and years, courses will show them how to meditate and to learn the way of peace. It will be an inclusive sanctuary, not just for Buddhists, but for everyone.

“There will be teachers, meditation halls, teaching places, seminar places, a library and a museum with art primarily related to meaningful, compassionate and a spiritual way of living. It will be an amazing place. This universal centre for peace will take a lot of support and creativity, and I want to extend an invitation to the world to help us create this place together,” he said.

Of course, being mindful of recent events, Rinpoche confirmed that the sanctuary was designed to be and will be built earthquake-proof. The architect and engineer understand this is now one of the standard considerations for new structures in Nepal.

Rinpoche has set a target date of 1 November 2015 to introduce the fundraising phase for the sanctuary. “We will hold a celebration for the Mahasiddha Sanctuary for Universal Peace in the birthplace of the Buddha, Lumbini, Nepal, and I want everyone to take ownership. Anyone who advocates peace can contribute and can attend.”

Lumbini has already started building Nepal’s second international airport, which will be able to take flights from all over the world. Two five-star hotels are being built next to the airport, and more facilities are being planned. Rinpoche is working in tandem with political and tourism leaders to create the infrastructure to support the sanctuary and the anticipated and hoped for additional visitors to the area.

His plans emphasise helping to rebuild Nepal in a meaningful and sustained way. “We need people to return as tourists to visit and to use the country’s hospitality.”

The best way for people to help Nepal is to go and visit.

Text & Photos Cammy Yiu