Monuments and Metabolism
Monuments and Metabolism
Kenzo Tange and the Attempts to Bring New Architecture to Buddhism’s Oldest Site
Abstract and Keywords
This chapter looks closely at the life and work of the famous architect Kenzo Tange, especially his vision and later frustration in designing the memorial park and monument to honor the birthplace of the Buddha in Lumbini, Nepal. This site was designed to be an ecumenical park where Buddhists from all cultures could build a culture of peace and mutual respect. However, it has struggled to attract large crowds of Buddhist pilgrims and many building projects have been abandoned. It has been transformed by local often Muslim and Hindu tourists into a place of leisure. Telling the history of its development will show the importance of understanding Buddhist public and leisure culture, the problems with pan-Buddhist ecumenism, as well as provide a clear example of the local optima that architects, even famous visionary ones, have to settle with in their pursuit of building religious sites. This chapter also looks at comparative examples like the Suối Tiên monument to the Vietnamese people, which is an amusement park, Buddhist temple, zoo, and historical memorial all in one, as well as the Phutthamonthon Park in Thailand.
IN 2013 I HAD THE MOST ENJOYABLE research trip of my career. My ten-year-old son, Henry, and I made a trip to a park memorializing the history, religion, and culture of Vietnam. This museum and memorial to the greatness of the Vietnamese people is on the grounds of Vietnam’s largest amusement park, the Suối Tiên Amusement Park, in the suburbs of Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) in South Vietnam. The entrance fees are relatively manageable for a middle-class urban family in Saigon, and foreigners have to pay a slightly higher price. Suối Tiên (Fairy Stream) is not officially a Buddhist amusement park, but many of its rides, stage shows, and picnic areas are surrounded by large statues of Guanyin (Vietnamese: Quan Âm), Maitreya Buddha, or the historical Buddha. Other statues, including the tall man-made mountain overlooking the splash pool and log flume ride, depict Vietnam’s former emperors. Other statues are of Âu Cơ, the mythological fairy from Vietnamese literary history, and Lạc Long Quân, the dragon she marries. A large palace with colorful reliefs depicts the origin of the Vietnamese people. A bronze plaque describes the history of Đinh Bộ Lĩnh defeating local warlords and forming an early South Vietnamese kingdom (Dai Co Viet) in Hoa Lu 968.1 These short history lessons are scattered throughout the park. A plaque placed on-site in March 2002 offers an account (supposedly written by Ho Chi Minh himself) that describes the earliest history of the area called Vietnam today. It recounts the largely imaginary Hồng Bàng family reign, starting with Kinh Dương Vương and his son Lạc Long Quân and his wife Âu Cơ (around 270 BCE). These undocumented mythological accounts are presented alongside well-documented historical ones. All of them emphasize the eternal independence (p.31)
of Vietnam and its religious and cultural diversity. This particular origin story is celebrated annually at the park in a ceremony known as Giỗ Tổ, featuring historical parades and monks and nuns of many different Buddhist schools chanting in unison. Colorful statues of animals important in Vietnamese folklore, like unicorns, turtles, and phoenixes, also abound, as well as dolphin shows, a small zoo, a bat cave, crocodile farm, orchard, laser tag, race cars for children, a skating rink, a paintball fighting arena, a roller coaster, a “dreamy castle,” and countless carnival games, snack stands, and ice cream carts. Local pop bands perform on a stage shaped like a mythological giant frog. A large buddha looks over the front entrance.
My son darted from the crocodile farm (with over two thousand crocodiles) to a show featuring macaques and baboons riding bicycles, playing soccer, and lifting weights. We decided not to take part in the fish foot massage, but instead explored the Mystery of Witch Forest (Vietnamese: Bí Mật Rừng Phù Thủy), which featured spooky music, animatronic skeletons, and an American Indian diorama next to an Egyptian mummy display. From there, we rode a roller coaster through the mouth of a Brahma head modeled after the Bayon at Angkor in Cambodia. I took his photograph beneath the 105 (p.32) foot thousand-eyed and thousand-armed Guanyin and bought a mango ice pop next to the giant rotating statue of the heroic Trung Sisters (Trưng Trắc and Trưng Nhị) on top of a giant elephant. The sisters are believed to have led the liberation of Vietnam from the Chinese in the first century CE. There was an American-style Halloween display, a gold and silver mountain, swan boats, a laser war zone, and my favorite—the Snow Castle, a large refrigerated room in which a snow machine had created a sledding hill. We put on boots and long jackets provided by the staff and sledded on rubber, all while it was ninety-three degrees outside. After emerging, we came upon the center of the park, home to over eight hundred screaming children at the Biển Tiên Đồng (The Beach of the Gods). This giant water park features an enormous wave pool, dozens of fountains, and two giant water slides, all in the shape of dragons. My son and hundreds of others splashed, slid, and certainly did not wait thirty minutes after their ice cream breaks before swimming. At one point, exhausted, he stumbled over to me and said, “Dad, I wish all temples were like this. Can we go to more places like this on your work trips?” I simply nodded.2
I came to this place not simply because I wanted to entertain my son, but because it is a Buddhist amusement park. In the center of the park, shimmering in gold next to the Snow Castle and the Beach of the Gods, is a large, fully functioning Buddhist temple, with nuns and monks performing regular liturgies and paying respects before shrines to the historical Buddha, Guanyin, and other bodhisattvas. Many of the images were donated by the Thai Buddhist Sangha.
I had a chance to read some of the liturgical books and interview a nun (who did not want her name publicized) about the activities of the temple. I was surprised to learn that she was chanting from a Vietnamese translation of a Pali liturgical guide that originated in Thailand.3 It contained the traditional seven parittas (protective chants/Thai: Chet Tamnan) chanted every day all across Sri Lanka, Burma, Cambodia, Laos, and Thailand, but not well attested in Vietnam. The book actually contained Pali (in Roman script), followed by Vietnamese translations, and was promoted by Thích He Tông, a Vietnamese monk who had trained in Thailand. She told me that in addition to Theravada liturgical chants, she also chants to Guanyin/Quan Âm the Chu Mãn Nguyện Đại Bi Tâm Đà La Ni (Fulfillment Wishes Great Compassion Dharani), as well as chanting a collection of ten mantras honoring the ten thousand Buddhas compiled by the Vietnamese monks Thích Nhật Từ and Thích Quảng Tâm.4 I asked her why she chanted from books from different Buddhist traditions, and she said that she wanted to honor all the shrines in the temple equally and make all people feel welcome. Her attitude and this ecumenical liturgy fit perfectly within the schedule of events at the temple, which included a wide array of parades and chanting events dedicated to Buddhist holidays from many different regions of Vietnam and many different (p.33) schools of Buddhism, alongside large rituals conducted by hundreds of nuns and monks for different national holidays and important nonreligious anniversaries. It was a truly one-stop cultural-religious-entertainment temple.
The eclectic nature of this temple and the amusement park around it reflect the way it was built. It was founded by Đinh Văn Vui, who is called the “king of the Vietnam entertainment industry.” He did not have time to meet with me, but I was able to obtain a detailed profile about him and his park from a Saigon business journal.5 Đinh Văn Vui, a longtime member of the Vietnamese Communist Party from the Hậu Giang area, purchased the land for the park (which was largely abandoned fields outside of Saigon) in 1987. He launched a small farm, python farm, and workshop to produce small Buddhist wooden statues for export. These slowly became popular among markets in Singapore and Taiwan. In 1990 he discovered that under neath this land was a natural spring, and therefore he named it Suối Tiên (Fairy Stream). He decided to make use of the abundant supply of water to start an entertainment swimming area for the swelling Saigon suburban population. To raise the capital to build this leisure park, he invested in expanding the farm to grow peppers, longans, and papaya. He also raised pigs, pythons, and, eventually, monkeys, local bears, and even imported turkeys and ostriches. People flocked to see his growing zoo, and he expanded the crocodile farm (perhaps inspired by the growing crocodile and tiger farms in Thailand at this time). He claims that he wanted the people visiting his zoo and farm to have something uniquely Vietnamese as a way to honor local history and foster ethnic pride. His dedication to Buddhism also made him want to promote that aspect of Vietnamese culture. It was a gamble, and he claims to have had many sleepless nights worrying about this massive undertaking. He traveled to Hà Nội (Hanoi), Quảng Ninh, and other places to gather information. He also gained the support of the Ho Chi Minh City council and the Communist Party, which wanted him to celebrate the independent heritage of Vietnam. While he promotes Vietnamese diversity and history, the nuns and monks at the temple promote Buddhist ecumenism. By 2003, he was welcoming over four million visitors a year and today claims that the park is worth 4,500 billion dong (213 million US dollars).6
The crowning achievement of the park was the 2003 launch of the Beach of the Gods salt water park, which he wanted to be like a “blue ocean in the middle of the city.” He also stated that the motto of the park is, “Culture, people, modernity, always innovating.” One of his most recent endeavors has been a wine producing and bottling plant at the park. Now, fewer than one hundred meters from the Buddhist temple, under the direction of the deputy general manager, Huỳnh Đồng Tuấn, it produces Suối Tiên Đệ Nhất Tửu (Fairy Stream Finest Wine) and the Suối Tiên Đệ Nhất Tửu (Underworld Palace Finest Wine). This wine, like the park, is supposed to promote local culture and so is made from herbs and fruits “that gather the sun between 4 and 9 a.m.” from (p.34) the local forests. It is aged eighteen months before release, and visitors can visit the underground storage areas at the park. Huỳnh Đồng Tuấn claims that
this special and legendary product line is very effective, very good for your health, and used to serve valued customers and higher-ups, reserved for worldly guests to use in important banquets that will have effects as soon as you drink it. Drink it before bed or during meals to strengthen your health. … [It] is good for circulation, good for kidneys, virility, strengthen joints, muscles, helps smooth skin, healthy skin, helps in food digestion, prevents backaches, ear tingles, makes your beard and hair black, feel younger, increase in energy, detoxifies, increases longevity. … Drink this cup and it takes you to the skies.7
Although I cannot claim that it took me to the skies, I certainly had a new appreciation for the combination of Buddhist ritual, teaching, and leisure after visiting the Fairy Stream Buddhist temple, the Beach of the Gods, and the under world palace full of wine.
(p.35) The park is still not finished; more rides and games are coming, even though it was approved to begin construction in 1995. When we were there in November 2013, there was a large section under construction, but even unfinished there are plenty of rides and sites to fill many days of fun. As of now, it is a fantastic achievement and part of a wave of new amusement parks being built throughout Asia. However, as far as I know, it is the first place with an image of the Buddha next to a roller coaster. The Suối Tiên Amusement Park might seem excessively irreverent to an American like me, who grew up with a strict separation between church and amusement park, but this blending of leisure and Buddhism is not new or particularly strange in the region.8
Kenzo Tange: The Reluctant Buddhist Architect
The Suối Tiên monument to the Vietnamese people is an amusement park, Buddhist temple, zoo, and historical memorial all in one. It was consciously designed to be a place of leisure, where one can make Buddhist merit and learn culture and history on the way. Kenzo Tange’s park was consciously designed as a monument, but has been transformed by local tourists, often Muslim and Hindu, into a place of leisure. The history of its development illustrates the importance of understanding Buddhist public and leisure culture and the problems associated with pan-Buddhist ecumenism. It also provides a clear example of the local optima that architects, even famous visionary ones, have to settle with in their pursuit of building religious sites. This is the story of Kenzo Tange and his frustration in trying to memorialize the birthplace of the Buddha.
The famous architect Fumihiko Maki, in his speech honoring Kenzo Tange’s winning of the Pritzker Prize (the most prestigious award in modern international architecture), stated that Tange’s “ability to distill the very essence of the modern spirit is wedded to a deep understanding of traditional Japanese culture.”9 Jonathan Glancey, announcing Tange’s passing in 2005, stated that Tange fused “traditional Japanese forms with the very latest in structural daring.”10 Another brief biography states that he “fused the architectural traditions of his native Japan with the contemporary philosophy and traditions of the western world,” and that “Kenzo Tange has become an architect of the world largely because his work is so intensely Japanese.”11 Speaking of Tange’s design of the monumental park to the Buddha’s birthplace in Nepal, travel writer Augusto F. Villalon stated, “The subliminal experience is the essence of Buddhism.”12
These recent comments, among others, identify Tange’s work as “Buddhist” or “Japanese.” However, Tange, designer of the Lumbini Sacred Garden in Nepal, seems to have been a reluctant Buddhist and explicitly rejected “traditional Japanese” architecture in most of his work. He never spoke (p.36) of his designs as influenced by Buddhism or Japanese culture. It seems that Tange could not be honored as simply an architect, but always as a “Japanese” or “Buddhist” architect. But he did not set out to design explicitly Buddhist or even “religious” buildings and complexes. Indeed, a study of his life, and especially his design for Lumbini, shows us the problem with characterizing an architectural project along strictly religious or secular, public, or private lines. Moreover, in this chapter I hope to show how Tange’s efforts to design a park and memorial for the birthplace of the Buddha is not only an example of the creation of a Buddhist leisure and ecumenical space, but a study of the way spaces are complex adaptive systems wherein material and people coevolve over time. Despite Tange’s efforts to enact his vision on Lumbini, a continual series of interruptions, adaptations, and objections took the space away from him. Instead of the site providing a place where visitors could learn something about the history of the Buddha, Buddhist and non-Buddhist visitors transformed it into a non-teleological and nondidactic leisure space defined by distraction. Ironically, this haphazard coevolution says almost nothing about Tange’s “Buddhist” intentions, but has worked to prove Tange’s own ideas about architectural “metabolism.”
Becoming a Buddhist Architect
Kenzo Tange was born in 1913 in Osaka, but his father was from Imabari, a small port town, and his mother was from a semirural part of Niigata Prefecture, both far away from the cultural, political, religious, and economic centers of Japan. As a toddler, Tange moved to his father’s home. Despite growing up in a thatched-roof farm house, he went on to become one of the great international architects of the twentieth century.13 Still, he did not grow up particularly poor, as his father had a middle-management position in a bank. He even traveled extensively as a child when his father was assigned to work in Shanghai and Hankou/Wuhan at branches of the Sumitomo Bank. In Shanghai he resided in a British-style brick home in a neighborhood of mostly foreign residents. After moving back to Japan, his parents wanted more for him than Imabari could provide and sent him away to school in Hiroshima and then to Tokyo’s Imperial University. But it seemed as if young Kenzo was not marked as a future success. Because of low grades in physics and mathematics (not good signs for a future architect), it took him two years to pass the entrance examination for the Imperial University, and he had to enroll in film studies in a lesser-known university to avoid the military draft in the mid-1930s.
Young Kenzo was first interested in astronomy. However, after he saw a photograph of Le Corbusier’s 1931 Villa Savoye, and later witnessed drawings of his design for the ill-timed and never built Palace of the Soviets in Moscow, Kenzo moved away from astronomy.14 Both buildings adhered to (p.37) the five points of architecture Corbusier (pseudonym for Charles-Édouard Jeanneret) promoted and later published as a collection of early essays in Vers une architecture.15 The five points included the use of thin “piloti” columns, roofs that could be used functionally as gardens or terraces, large interior rooms with minimal load-bearing walls, horizontal windows, and subdued facades. The Palace of the Soviets’ design was much more ambitious and included a massive concrete arch and a large arched multipaned window besides the iconic horizontal Corbusier wraparound window bands. The Villa Savoye and other buildings he designed in this period had “floating” second floors and roofs. These images made Tange switch his focus to architecture. Le Corbusier’s use of sculptural concrete and sweeping roof-lines, narrow windows, and open floor plans were revolutionary at the time and would become, through Tange and his teacher Kunio Maekawa, the dominant foreign influences on Japanese architecture for much of the rest of the twentieth century.
Tange found his niche in the Imperial University’s Department of Engineering, where the first professor of architecture was a British architect named Josiah Conder, whose statue stands on the campus today.16 Conder studied with Hideto Kishida and others.17 He was also prob ably deeply influenced by the work of Czech architect Antonín Raymond (who trained with Frank Lloyd Wright in the United States), who had designed many homes and buildings in Japan while living there for many years and had worked with Maekawa as well. Raymond left Japan in 1938 just as Tange was graduating and had landed his first job with Maekawa’s firm.
Tange began to formally explore Raymond and Le Corbusier’s work and design his own projects. However, while Raymond wanted to embrace aspects of traditional Japanese architecture, Tange wanted to create a new tradition and incorporated almost no obvious premodern Japanese elements into his designs.18 Although the notions of wakon yōsai (Japanese spirit combined with Western learning), wayō setchū (the eclectic mixing of Western and Japanese style), and the more formal teikan heigō shiki (Imperial Synthesis Style) had been popular with Japanese architects from the 1890s to the 1930s, Tange rejected this mixing and the very idea of, as one critic stated, “irrationally adding a Buddhist temple roof to a concrete building.”19 For example, Mamoru Yamada was inspired by the curvilinear design of Buddhist temple roofs. Sutemi Horiguchi attempted to combine Corbusier and Raymond’s use of concrete with the architecture of Buddhist monasteries and large Japanese villas, as can be seen in his house designed for Motoaki Kikkawa as well as his design for Seinosuke Makita’s Double-Bell House (Sōshōkyo), but Tange rarely attempted these types of hybrid homes.20 Since his own mother was killed by an incendiary bomb in Imabari on the same day the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, Tange might have had real (p.38) reasons to reject Western styles and technological advances in architecture. Instead, before and after the war, he embraced Western styles and rejected traditional Japanese temple design. In this way he stood outside the Japanese architectural establishment of the time and began to usher in a new way.
His early projects throughout the war were almost all unapologetically in the Le Corbusier style. He stated clearly, “I first decided architecture was for me when I saw Le Corbusier’s designs in a Japanese magazine in the 1930s.”21 He also began to learn from his classmate Ryuichi Hamaguchi, who was an expert on the Italian Renaissance. Kenzo Tange was attracted to the “conversation spaces” that were part of Italian plaza design and that would later have an influence on his design of the garden and park memorializing the Buddha’s birthplace in Lumbini, Nepal.22 These early projects include designs for the ill-fated Far East Memorial Hall in 1942, the Hiroshima Peace Memorial in 1949, and the Kurashiki City Hall (Okayama) in 1958. His only design that departs from clear Le Corbusier influence was the design for the Bangkok-Japanese Cultural Center in 1943. This design garnered Tange his first major architectural award, but many factors prevented its being built, most importantly Japan’s loss of control of Bangkok at the end of World War II.
Kenzo Tange started the planning for the Bangkok-Japanese Cultural Center (Japanese: Bankoku-Nihon Bunkakai) in April 1942, while Japan was still confident in its long-term power in Southeast Asia. By December of that year, the land had been surveyed, soil checked, and meetings held with local construction teams. Tange’s design looks different from every other plan he drew in his early career. As a twenty-nine-year-old working during war time, trying to build a career in a field where winning prizes and high-profile commissions were key to one’s reputation, he gave the government what it wanted—a traditional, clean Japanese monastic compound, with long, covered open-air passageways, overhanging eaves, and several courtyards. The layout is reminiscent of Kyoto’s Daikakuji Shingon monastery/imperial residence, complete with a small lake, but its style is closer to the clean lines, subdued eaves, and lack of ornamentation seen at the seventeenth-century Katsura “villa.” Tange “Thai-icized” the design by adding color drawings that incorporated the orange roofs distinctive to Thai monasteries and palaces. Unlike his other designs, this one makes more use of wood and shows little evidence of sculpted concrete. The only obvious Corbusierian elements are the narrow piloti(s) instead of wide wooden beams. It is similar in its clean style to Isoya Yoshida’s 1968 modern interpretation of traditional palace and monastic halls at the monastery of Naritasan Shinshōji (Chiba).23 Tange’s design represents an open and welcoming place, as a center looking to foster cultural exchange should be, and speaks to the country’s shared Buddhist heritage.24 Of course as Japanese military ambitions in Southeast Asia faded, this center was never built, but the prize he received helped Tange considerably; (p.39) he was able to launch his own firm and earn a professorship at Tokyo University after the war in 1946. Until the park in Lumbini, thirty years later, it would be the last “Buddhist”-style building, if it can even be called that, he designed.
Kenzo Tange went on to win dozens of international and domestic awards through his firms URTEC (Urbanism-Technology) and, later, Kenzo Tange Associates. He formed an efficient working team based on Walter Gropius’s organizational innovations. Gropius, who was one of Tange’s greatest supporters, believed that architecture should be functional first. Therefore he resisted decorative elements and sentimentality. While Tange was not as radically resistant to ornament, he did like Gropius’s neue sachlichkeit (new sobriety) movement, away from sentimentality and tradition.25 He particularly like the attention Gropius paid to cost of materials and efficiency during the design phase of a project. Like Gropius, Tange did not want to build prestige buildings, only for the elite, but functional architecture for the masses. Tange’s Peace Memorial at Hiroshima became world famous, and he gained confidence after meeting directly with Le Corbusier on the construction site of Unite d’Habitation (Marseilles) and discussing that project.26 Between 1946 and 2005 he designed some of the most distinctive public and high-profile corporate buildings in Japan, including the Yoyogi National Gymnasium for the 1964 Olympics, the Kagawa Prefectural Government Building, the Tokyo City Hall, the Tokyo Dome Hotel, the Fuji Television Building, the Hanae Mori Building Aoyama, the Municipal Center in his hometown of Imabari, the Dentsu Building in Osaka, the Shizuoka Assembly Hall, the Tsukiji neighborhood plan, the Sumi Memorial Hall in Ichinomiya, the Children’s Library in Hiroshima, the Foreign Ministry in Tokyo, the famous Shinjuku Park Tower, which holds the Park Hyatt Hotel as featured in the film Lost in Translation, and many others. He was also adept at designing museums like the striking Yokohama Museum and the Sōgetsu Art Center in Tokyo.
He traveled all over the world designing buildings and neighborhoods (some of which were never actually built) such as the headquarters of the World Health Organization in Geneva, the University of Bahrain, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, the Jeddah Royal Palace in Saudi Arabia, the Japanese Embassy in Mexico City, the Fiera Towers in Bologna, the Kuwait City Airport, the Culture and Sports Park in New York, the Baltimore Inner Harbor, the University of Oran in Algeria, and numerous buildings in Singapore, including the Linear Apartments and part of the Nanyang Technological University.
Tange might be best known, though, not for buildings, but for cities and large public projects. Even his senior thesis was the design for Hibiya Park in Tokyo. In his career, he designed four urban transformation projects which, if completed, would have literally created four cities. For example, in 1960, he (p.40) developed the master plan for Tokyo, which, if completed, would have projected Tokyo over the bay and made much of it a floating city resting on man-made islands connected by a network of bridges and latticed walkways. In other designs he developed ideas for large vertical communication shafts, newly designed elevators, and some pedestrian walkways suspended almost four hundred feet in the air. These radical plans have become a mainstay for architectural and urban studies graduate courses across the globe. In 1963 he designed the rebuilding of Skopje (former Yugoslavia) after the earthquake, and South Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City), Vietnam, in 1993. The master city design for Abuja, the new capital of Nigeria, was the only one completed.27
The Tokyo City Plan was the first example of Tange’s personal architectural philosophy, which came to be known as “Metabolism.” He believed that architecture in the past had been functionalist, dealing with the need for human work places, living places, and recreational places. However, he wanted to structure the “process of coupling these functional units.”28 He saw buildings not as isolated monuments or functional structures, but as nodes of energetic couplings, and from early on was interested in cybernetics. Influenced by Renaissance conversation spaces and the idea of the promenade architecturelle, he wanted to design places where informational exchanges can happen whether a person is eating, working, or playing. He also built purposive “voids” into his design to allow expansion and change in the design over time, and he wanted buildings and courtyards to have moveable walls and facades to accommodate change according to occupants’ wishes. Indeed, it was this philosophy, and not Buddhist concepts, that would exert the greatest influence on his design for the Buddha’s Birthplace memorial monument and park in Lumbini, in which he incorporated conversation spaces, zones of activity, and planned open space to accommodate future change.
The point of all of this for our purposes is that none of Tange’s ideas or designs is explicitly “Buddhist.” There is no evidence that he was raised in a particularly serious Buddhist house hold. He actively read Gide, Proust, and Dostoyevsky as a young man.29 He never studied Buddhism formally and did not join a monastery at any point in his life; his own son was not sure what sect of Buddhism, if any, his father belonged to, and Tange’s funeral services were held in Saint Mary’s Roman Catholic cathedral in Tokyo. Tange designed the cathedral, which was built in 1964. I remember the first time I visited the cathedral and attended Mass there in 2010; it is like visiting a futuristic metal city. Anyone who has visited the other Saint Mary’s Cathedral, in San Francisco, will see how Tange also inspired that design and others, like the cathedral in Brasilia. Saint Mary’s in Tokyo it is like a silver rocket with eight massive “hyperbolic elliptic parabolas,” modern stained glass embedded in soaring narrow walls, an abstract baptismal font under a skylight, and a severely (p.41)
geometrical organ box. Even the stations of the cross and donation boxes are hyper-stylized and modern. Unlike other Buddhist architects inspired by Tange, such as Tadao Ando, Takashi Yamaguchi, and Shin Takamatsu, Tange did not spend much time designing Buddhist temples in Japan.
Tange does not claim to have been inspired much by Buddhist architecture and saw himself as a modernist architect and city planner firmly in the lineage of Le Corbusier. Even in his reflective writings, letters, and speeches, he reveals nearly nothing about his thoughts on Buddhism; his 250-page autobiography in Japanese contains no mention of his thoughts on Buddhism or influence by Buddhist thought or art.30 In fact, as Vinayak Bharne notes, led by Kenzo Tange and his design for the memorial at Hiroshima,
Japanese architects, now under the willful embrace of Western modernism, seemed charged like their European and American counter parts to recover the role of the plaza and its traditional urban functions. Attempting to fill a void in the formerly nondemocratic Japanese architectural vocabulary, emerging architects such as Kenzo Tange began developing new public space typologies. His design for the town hall complex of his home town, Imabari, completed in 1959, included an auditorium, office center, and town hall compactly arranged around a public plaza. Tange’s interest in such communal spaces dated back to his university studies of the Greek agora as a place where a citizen moved from the private realm to establish connections with society. … This idea of the Western plaza was an urbanist import alien to Japan’s authentic traditions. In traditional Japan, the labyrinthine tenuous street, not the square, had been the center of civic life. In a stratified social structure with the emperor at its head there was (p.42) no communion in the democratic sense, and in historic Japanese capitals like Heijokyo (Nara) or Heian-kyo (Kyoto), no conscious expression of any formal community space.31
This idea of a central plaza for conversation between people from all social classes, and public buildings like auditoriums and commercial districts, can be seen in his design of Lumbini (discussed below) and has more connections to the notion of the plaza and the promenade than to Buddhist traditional architecture in Japan or elsewhere in Asia.32
This fact is confirmed by Tange’s own assessments of his work. In one of his most explicit published essays on his own methods and inspiration, in the journal Gendai Kenchiku, he focuses on Michelangelo and Le Corbusier, and not on Japanese or Buddhist concepts or traditions.33 In fact, one of his only comments I have read on religion was in response to a letter in the mid-1960s from Pope Paul VI. The pope wrote to Cardinal Doi of Tokyo conveying his gratitude to Tange for the design of Saint Mary’s.34 He expressed hopes that the beautiful building would remain a “House of God in people’s hearts.” Tange commented on that message by stating, “Here we can see that the highest hopes are raised on the architectural space. Of course, it might be impossible for the architectural space to reflect exactly the spiritual world. … We architects have to study hard how to create this kind of spiritual world in a spatial form.”35 This is not exactly the most specific advice and certainly not specific to Buddhism.
Tange did not write a great deal, but he did complete long essays on two particular Japanese buildings—the Katsura Palace and the Ise Shrine—which are included in books he collaborated on with photographers. His studies of these two sites teach us nothing about his views on Buddhism, but much on his views on architecture and public places. The study of the Ise Shrine, a world-famous Shinto shrine, refers to Japanese mythology (especially the tenchi kaibyaku and tenson kōrin, or creation of the Japanese islands and people) and early literature like the Nihon Shoki and Kojiki; natural building materials (especially the sakaki/homorogi tree); the Yamato people/clan; the Yayoi culture; and the techniques for periodically rebuilding the shrine.36
The studies include almost no comments on Buddhist influence on later Japanese architecture or his own work. Tange’s study of the seventeenth-century Katsura Palace near Kyoto does mention that Zen monks were involved in the design, but he trusts other historians, who state that these monks were merely advisers and that Prince Toshitada was the driving force behind the building of this palace. He claims that the philosophy behind the design was based on “personal experience or emotion” mixed with a deep expression of mono no aware (“the poignancy of things”) or the pensive reflection on that (p.43) which is natural but mysterious. This complex literary reference is often used in reference to Heian literature, especially the romance/epic Genji Monogatari. Even though it is also used in reference to the Buddhist concept of impermanence, Tange does not connect it in his writings to anything Buddhist.37 He also saw the palace as a place that blended elite imperial tastes with the “bubbling energy of the masses” that was rising in influence at that time in Japanese history. The major architectural prototype for this palace, he believed, was the Ise Shrine and not Buddhist monastic buildings. He does note the importance of Zen monks during that time, but states that their intellectual culture grew out of the “accumulated energy of the farming class.”38
Tange seems to go out of his way to undermine, although never explicitly, the influence of Buddhism on Japanese architecture and associates Buddhism with imported Chinese styles. He does, though, credit the gardens at Katsura with the influence of the five great Zen monasteries of Kyoto, especially the Tenryūji. Still, he states that these gardens came about through mutual influences from Japanese sense of suki (“taste”) and the “rustic life of the peasants,” which later seemed “beautiful to Zen priests and tea masters.”39 In an ironic twist, it may be that Tange was actually copying Gropius’s views on Zen art rather than expressing his own. Several years before Tange wrote these lines, Gropius, in a 1955 article on Japanese architecture (an amateurish piece written as a type of travel journal after his first trip to Japan), wrote that Katsura was “deeply influenced by the Zen sect, which started in China as a Buddhist sect and was influenced by Confucianism and Taoism, creeds which overlap in Asiatic countries without creating much antagonisms to each other. … Zen is not a religion, but is a human ideal of self-education by Spartan means.” Later in the article he theorizes, as did Tange in 1972, the combination of the natural energy of the rural and impoverished classes and its influence on the philosophy of Zen, initially embraced only by the elite. Perhaps Tange was learning his Zen history from a German architect with no experience studying Zen.40
Tange was no nativist, though; he was always most explicit about his debt to Le Corbusier, Antonín Raymond, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, and other European architects. Furthermore, the idea for the book may not have been Tange’s. In 1954, it seems that his friend Walter Gropius, while on a Rockefeller grant to Japan, encouraged Tange to undertake writing a commentary on the palace based on the photographs of Yasuhiro Ishimoto. Gropius wrote the introduction to the book. Later, with Gropius’ encouragement, Tange was given a visiting professorship at MIT for one semester. In his introduction, Gropius observes that “the Western mind, in its restless desire to seek new horizons in the physical world, would do well to learn a lesson in spiritual intensification from the Oriental mind.”41 Near the end of that introduction he states, “So deep was my impression of the Japanese architecture of old, that, (p.44) to the surprise of my Japanese colleagues who knowing me as a rebel and innovator expected me to act accordingly, I implored them not to discard the great spirit of their traditional architecture. … A vigorous modern Japanese architecture should boldly progress without sentimentality. Its growth, however, needs all the live elements of the past. … Japan is still blessed with the most precious heritage of the past—an integrated cultural entity kept cohesive by the subconscious habits of the people.”42 Tange apparently rejected this lesson himself. Indeed, Tange openly criticized some aspects of Buddhist design of the past in Japan. As one architectural historian writes,
Japanese architecture, according to Tange, reflected an essentially passive appreciation of natural phenomena viewed always as something “to be contemplated.” Tange berates the “self-emptying” attitude of Zen Buddhist art that draws the Japanese away from reality and causes them to lose themselves in an all-encompassing vastness of thought. … For Tange, the sense of openness in Japanese architecture and “the transient, inconstant and feeble expression accompanying it” failed significantly to “comprehend reality as something dynamic.” … Japanese buildings give no impression of unity because they are unable to combine the “functional and the expressive, the material and the artistic” as the Western tradition has consistently worked to do.43
Although he didn’t have the money to visit the West until his career was well established, Tange seemed to romanticize Western architecture, starting with Michelangelo, and saw himself deeply within the Western lineage of Corbusier. He later taught in the West, wrote in English, and corresponded about architecture and urban studies with Lewis Mumford.44 Even though Western architects like Raymond designed “traditional” Japanese homes for themselves, Tange’s own home (the only residential structure he ever designed) in the southern Tokyo suburbs has as many international style elements as Japanese elements (tatami mats, shoji doors). The Graduate School of Design at Harvard even has an endowed chair named after Tange.
Conspicuously absent from all Tange’s work and writing is reference to an influence from Buddhism; in the end, he was not trying to use Japanese Buddhist or Japanese traditional architecture. He commented near the end of his life that “architecture must have something that appeals to the human heart, but even then, basic forms, spaces and appearances must be logical. Creative work is expressed in our time as a union of technology and humanity. The role of tradition is that of a catalyst, which furthers a chemical reaction, but is no longer detectable in the end result. Tradition can, to be sure, participate in a creation, but it can no longer be creative itself.”45
For most of Buddhism’s history, relatively little emphasis has been placed on the supposed birthplace of its founder, Gotama Siddhartha (the historical Buddha). I often wondered why such a long-lasting and influential religious tradition, a “world religion,” would grant so little importance to the birthplace of its founder. I was also fascinated by the fact that Lumbini had been confirmed by scholars as the birthplace of the Buddha only at the turn of the twentieth century, and archaeological research was still not complete at the site one hundred years later. Many of the major holy sites of Judaism, Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, and even of smaller religious traditions like Shinto, Sikhism, and Jainism, had long been built up as beautiful monuments and sacred centers visited by millions of pilgrims every year. Other Buddhist reliquaries and religious pilgrimage destinations throughout Asia, such as Wutai Shan, the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, Todaiji, the Shwedagon, Wat Doi Suthep, Ajanta, Borobodur, and even Bouddhanath and Swayambunath in Nepal, had been much better maintained and more visited despite political and economic difficulties in their respective locations. Why not Lumbini? After all, it was the birthplace of the Buddha.
To answer these questions and try to understand the role of architects in the creation of Buddhist leisure and public culture in Asia across the last century, I visited Lumbini. I had put off the trip for far too long. I already had accumulated a large number of documents, photographs, architectural drawings, eyewitness accounts, and historical studies about Lumbini, but being there and walking around Kenzo Tange’s creation opened my eyes. As I discovered, there are many ways to “see” Lumbini.46
The first morning I was there, I woke up before 5 a.m. and decided to walk to the site from my Japanese-managed hotel. I had wanted to stay in the oldest Japanese-managed hotel, the Hokke, for no reason other than a silly idea that I might “feel” more connected to Tange. However, I was told that this hotel had seriously declined in recent years, with the lack of visitors and change of managers. Instead I stayed at the other Japanese-managed hotel, the Kasai, which also was showing some evidence of decline and certainly a lack of customers, even though it was the height of the tourist season.47
I walked in the slightly chilly early morning mist and fog, out along a dirt road surrounded by fields of weeds, past a downed power line and the Sri Lankan pilgrims’ guest house, which had been abandoned (I was unable to get a straight answer from anyone about whether it would be rebuilt). I was inside the area of Tange’s “master plan,” but the roads were almost all still dirt, and without sidewalks. The evening before, I had met an American traveler who had driven his Royal Enfield motorcycle across India to Lumbini. He asked where Lumbini was. I told him he was in Lumbini. He asked, but where (p.46) are the sites? I said he was within two hundred yards of the entrance to the park. He was shocked that such an important place for the history of Buddhism had hardly any signs or indications of where pilgrims should go. I agreed.
As I walked through the bus parking lot toward the main entrance, I saw trash everywhere, even surrounding a sign that asked people not to litter in Nepali and English. The one public bathroom was in shambles. One family had set up a bonfire in the middle of the parking lot to sleep around. A man was sweeping piles of plastic bottles and food wrappers out of the back of his tour bus onto the street. Several men were sleeping in their rickshaws. Mangy dogs were everywhere. The ticket office had a man sleeping in front of it. I walked into the park past the weeds and trash surrounding the museum, its windows caked with dirt and cobwebs. The fog was lovely, and it was quiet. Surely, it would be better along the “central link.”
Tange designed this central walkway or “link,” which has a canal running down the middle, trees lining each side, and resembles a brick version of the long reflecting pool at the National Mall in Washington, DC. However, it clearly was not well maintained. Weeds were overgrowing its sides, and the signs pointing to the East and West Monastic Zones, Maya Devi Temple, and Eternal Peace Flame were in disrepair.48 A Nepali construction worker was defecating in the water of the central canal, while three others urinated behind a tree along the main path. Another was using water from the canal to brush his teeth. Makeshift tents were scattered throughout and small fires burned to cook morning meals. Despite a planned completion date in 1985, the Lumbini Development Trust, in charge of carrying out the construction of Tange’s plan, was still a long way from finished in 2012. Workers were seriously underpaid and not given even the most basic forms of accommodation, food, or bathrooms. No wonder they did not seem to care about how they treated the site.
As the sun rose, I made my way past the Eternal Peace Flame, which was much smaller than I had imagined and was just ten yards from a manual water well where construction workers could wash their clothes and visitors could hand-pump drinking water. There was an old boat in the canal. I had read of Tange’s plan to have a boat that would take elderly pilgrims down the canal so they could avoid walking. However, even though I saw the boat later that day being used for teenage Nepali tourists, who were having a dance party on it, it looked to me as if it would sink at any moment. A group of temporary stands were being set up, all selling the exact same products: plastic buddha images, clocks with buddha faces, prayer beads, solar-powered Tibetan prayer wheels made for the car dashboard, and hundreds of pieces of women’s jewelry, bangles, hair clips, water bottles, soda, and bags of candy and biscuits. There were no books for sale. Visitors included Korean monks, Japanese (p.47)
women, a group of women from Myanmar dressed in white pilgrimage outfits and sun hats, and three Tibetan women, who did not stop at any of the stands.
We walked across a causeway flanked by a very nice pond. Two Sarus Cranes flew over my head. They are the tallest flying birds in the world and, at almost six feet tall, were an awesome sight to behold as they swooped over the pond. On the causeway a small group of Theravadan monks from Bangladesh accosted me aggressively, asking for money. They ignored the other foreigners, perhaps because they had experience with which types of people gave them money or assumed that I had more money since I was wearing a light sweater and suit coat. Theravada monks are not usually permitted to openly request money, and many Theravadan Buddhists will refuse even to physically touch money. Their request was therefore surprising to me, and I felt somewhat ignorant, since I had so little experience studying Bangladeshi Buddhism. I spoke with one of the monks for a few minutes. His fellow monks had been staying at Lumbini for a few weeks, he said, and had built a shack at the end of the causeway out of old construction material, tires, a few plastic tarps, discarded rice sacks, and cardboard boxes. Their makeshift compound was surrounded by a large trash pile, and they were cooking their own breakfasts (another anomaly for Theravadan monks) on a small bonfire. These monks were clearly desperate for food and income and were making the best of a tough situation. Being right on the main causeway to the central shrine was prob ably a good place to earn money. I was shocked that the guards and Lumbini Development Trust would permit this clearly dangerous and (p.48)
unhygienic camp in the center of the park. I was told by a guard at the ticket office the next morning that this type of settlement was not permitted and that I must have been mistaken. He actually suggested to me that even though I had seen the camp firsthand and could show it to him myself, that my eyes must have fooled me. He said that this type of activity was not permitted and that I could not have seen it or met these monks because they did not exist. Later, the head of the Lumbini tourist campaign called “Visit Lumbini Year 2012” would also tell me I was mistaken. I wondered why the Bangladeshi monks had not simply occupied one of the many abandoned monasteries at Lumbini or asked to stay with the Burmese, Sri Lankan, or Thai monks. I later learned why.
As I entered the most sacred site of Lumbini, I had to remove my shoes. I tried to explain to the guards that I did not have a ticket because the ticket office had been closed when I passed it. They understood me but did not care, and told me that paying was not important. I decided to make a donation to the temple instead. Surrounding the Maya Devi Temple is a relatively plain and poorly constructed building that served as a covering to an archaeological pit that had been excavated to reveal what was thought to be the exact place where the Buddha’s mother gave birth. Inside there is just a wooden walkway around the pit. Although several signs ask visitors to be quiet and not take photographs, a Burmese monk was giving a sermon to several Burmese women. They were not being quiet. Next to them, many young Korean women were meditating, with a Korean man taking their photographs. Two armed Nepali guards were very friendly and offered me a cigarette at the (p.49)
doorway, but did not pay attention to what was going on inside the room. Around the remains of the Aśokan pillar, which marked the site more than two centuries before the common era, were many Tibetan prayer flags and a large glass donation box filled with currencies from around the world. Next to the small man-made pond where the Buddha’s mother was said to have bathed before going into labor was the large tree that she held on to while giving birth. Surrounding the tree were about two dozen Sri Lankan, Bangladeshi, and Korean monks. Later, Thai and Burmese monks would replace them, I was told, as they always got to the site around 8:30 a.m., with large busloads of their lay followers. One young Japanese lay woman sat among them. A sign instructed people not to give the monks money, but two monks were actively asking for money, and one had a large pile of cash on his lap. He asked whether I wanted to take his photograph for the equivalent of three US dollars. I declined, but asked him a few questions. He had moved to Lumbini from Bhutwal (a town not far from Lumbini) and had grown up in a Hindu family. He had “discovered” Buddhism at Lumbini and liked to meet foreigners and practice his English and some Japanese.
As I left the main “sacred garden” and site of the major archaeological finds, I visited the East Monastic Zone, which was the area designated by Tange for “Theravadan” communities. In the original master plan, thirteen plots were assigned there, where foreign and domestic Buddhist schools could build monasteries with private money. Their activities would largely not be interfered with by Nepali authorities as long as they did not bother other groups and maintained respectful decorum. In this zone, monasteries were (p.50)
built by groups from Sri Lanka, Burma, Thailand, the Mahabodhi Society of India (although largely occupied by Sri Lankans), and the International Gotami Nun’s Association, serving nuns primarily from Burma and largely funded by Burmese donors.49
Thailand’s monastery at Lumbini is the largest and clearly the most active. It has a large pilgrimage center for Thais to sleep and eat in, a large garden, a parking lot, and a beautiful temple built in central Thai style. Five Thai monks are in residence, and at any given time over twenty monks are visiting. According to the abbot, they get very few visitors who are not Thai, but lots of Nepali and Indian tourists take photographs of the temple, and some Shan visitors also stay there. It is also hard for them to encourage the Thai monks in residence to stay long because, he joked, they miss Thai food and do not like the climate.
Outside the gates of the Thai monastery, a large group of children were begging and occasionally getting screamed at by the Nepali tourists. Even though the sacred garden was only a few hundred yards away from the Thai monastery, the nuns and the other groups of Thai pilgrims preferred to take the tour bus as close to the site as they could in order to avoid what one person called boriwen sokabrok (“dirty areas”). Not one person I met at the Thai monastery had actually met a Nepali or, for that matter, a Burmese, Korean, Chinese, or other tourist; despite the tourists nearby, I was the only foreigner they had met. Of course, I did not have the same language barrier that the other groups had, but I found this lack of interaction indicative of the (p.51) entire site. In fact, the abbot and his assistant, who had been living in Lumbini for over a year, had had almost no interaction with Buddhists from other countries or with Nepalis unless it was for official business. Christoph Cueppers, the head of the Lumbini International Research Institute, had noticed this problem ten years before and set up a joint chanting session so that every nun or monk from every nationality could participate. This event is held once a month. Even though not every monastery sends a representative every time, he says it is relatively successful and, he thinks, one of the only chances they have to interact with each other.
Lumbini is not a great melting pot of Buddhists—more like a series of distinct galleries in an ethnographic museum, each displaying images and cultural artifacts from only one culture and region. Visitors might briefly walk into these different galleries, but they simply look, take a few photographs, and leave.
The second most active site in the East Monastic Zone, it appears, is the International Gotami Nun’s Temple. Although the abbotess was not in residence when I was there, and only a few nuns and laypeople were staying there, many Nepali tourists took photographs there and had snacks in their Pilgrim’s Rest Cottage. Next door, the Burmese temple also had a restaurant that was popular, and a large bus group was visiting from Yangon. I was able to use my very weak Burmese language skills with a couple of people, but many could speak English, and one spoke Thai well. These Burmese visitors also said they did not visit or fully understand the activities of the other monastic and national groups at Lumbini. However, one Burmese monk said that the other Buddhists he witnessed “acted in nice and good manners.” The Cambodian temple, with its one building in Angkorian style, was still under construction, surrounded by a large trash heap, and had no residents yet. Its construction had been started and abandoned many times over the last few years and no date was set on its completion. The Mahabodhi Society of India was empty when I visited. The Goenka Meditation Center was locked, but at least two monastic cells I could see were occupied. The sign in front had rusted and was falling down.
The West Monastic Zone is much larger than the East Zone. Originally, twenty-nine plots were planned, and to date, seventeen have been used. This does not mean that all seventeen have active centers or monasteries, though. The West Monastic Zone, like the East Zone, has large areas full of overgrown weeds, rough dirt paths, and undermanaged marshes. Trash is scattered visibly about, and a number of the monasteries are locked, abandoned, or barely occupied. I was told by Michael Pahlke, a German scholar of Tibetan Buddhism and a longtime resident of Lumbini, that the area is even less active during the hot and rainy seasons, where the temperature can reach above 120 degrees Fahrenheit during the day in April and (p.52)
May. He also confirmed that several of the monasteries in the West Zone were unoccupied or seemed to be inactive most of the time. These include the South Korean monastery and pilgrims’ house sponsored by the Chogye sect, which is only partly constructed; another South Korean monastery sponsored by the Yong Do Society, which remains unbuilt (even though it was given approval to build in 1993); the Vietnamese Phat Quoc Tu monastery, which is still under construction and not open to the public (even though it was also approved in 1993); the Japanese Sokyo monastery, a very large pagoda that was abandoned in the middle of construction and now stands like a huge empty shell near the center of the West Zone; and the French-Vietnamese Chùa Linh Son monastery, which had its grand opening in November 2012 but was still largely empty and unstaffed when I saw it ten days after its inauguration.
The Mongolian, Bhutanese, and Russian monasteries and two of the Nepali monasteries that have been approved have never broken ground. The Zhong Hua Chinese Buddhist monastery has been completed but was not accepting visitors when I arrived.50 The German Tara Foundation’s Lotus Stupa (p.53)
(discussed below) is complete and active. The Swiss and Austrian monastery sponsored by the Geden International Foundation is also complete. The several Nepalese-sponsored monasteries and centers are mostly run by ethnic Tibetans, Newari, or Sherpas. They are not run or occupied by ethnic groups living in the Terai region of Lumbini and appeared to be barely staff ed. For example, the Nepali Manang Sewa Samaj is complete and has a large and beautiful stupa (Tibetan: chörten) mimicking the design of the famous Swayambunath Stupa in Kathmandu. Although there were no visitors and only one resident when I visited, it certainly seemed like an active center. I was told that many Tibetan Buddhist novice children, most born in Nepal, study there, and I certainly saw many Tibetan novices in the town of Lumbini and around the central link.
The Drubgyud Chöling Gompa was finished in 2001, mostly funded by Tibetan and Nepali Buddhist enthusiasts from Singapore, and has many students in residence. The Nepalese Buddhist monastery (Nepal Vajrayān Mahāvihār) has barely started construction and has only bamboo scaffolding. The Tibetan-Nepali Karma Samtenling monastery is complete and has a lovely garden and grounds. Unfortunately (perhaps fortunately for meditators), it does not get many visitors because it is at the end of a long dead-end dirt road. The Burmese Panditarama International Vipassana Meditation Centre is a Theravada center but is in the West Monastic Zone. It is closed to the public but is open for visiting meditators who make arrangements to stay there on retreat.
Each monastery is in charge of maintaining its own grounds, and although some, like the German Tara Great Lotus Stupa and the Chinese monastery, are immaculate, the grounds around many others are unkempt, (p.54) unfinished, or abandoned. Weeds and trash abound. Mostly Nepali teens play on their cell phones, listen to loud portable radios, and run around laughing and taking photos of each other while pilgrims from Japan, Korea, China, Thailand, Burma, and other places try to avoid them. Even though the entire central part of the site, including all the monastic plots, is three miles long and one mile wide, it still feels quite empty. If not for the Nepali tourists who come to party and the horns of the buses and heavy trucks blaring from the main road running through town, it would be a peaceful place. Indeed, during the rainy and hot seasons, I was assured, it was.
Neither Tange’s plan nor the Lumbini Development Trust (LDT) (discussed below) can be blamed for the success or failure of these monasteries and centers. Indeed, as mentioned in the introduction, “success” and “failure” are subjective judgments, and people define them in different ways. Of course, no matter how you look at it, the abandoned and never-completed monasteries are failures. The residents of the meditation centers prob ably prefer the quiet. The large ritual centers would certainly prefer better attendance, and every person I met complained about the local bureaucracy, the poorly maintained grounds, and the lack of basic infrastructure. Moreover, these monasteries and meditation centers at Lumbini are privately run and dictate their own policies with little interference from the LDT. Their finances and management are their own problem and not related to Tange’s design.
The fact that the directors and visitors of the various monasteries do not interact cannot be fully blamed on Tange either. He may have had an antiquated understanding of the spurious divisions between the “Theravada” and “Mahayana” lineages of Buddhism, but the design of the place forces the monasteries’ residents to be in close proximity to each other. Tange had traveled much more in Eu rope and the states than in Asia. He knew little of the cultural and linguistic barriers between the Burmese and Thai or the Sherpas and the Chinese. He wanted the master plan to create harmony, but history, language, economics, culture, and human nature got in the way. The groups, despite living close to each other, barely interact, and Lumbini, a grand experiment in bringing Buddhists from all over the world together, has been a nearly unmitigated ecumenical failure.
I have related some of my impressions of Lumbini, and we will later return to information I gathered through interviews. Now, it is best to turn back to Tange.
A Burmese Politician and a Japanese Architect Attempt to Build a Buddhist Park in Nepal
Is Lumbini today what Kenzo Tange had envisioned? Two months before I was born in 1972, and forty years before I finally visited, Kenzo Tange was getting his photograph taken on an elephant in Lumbini. He had been chosen by a (p.55) team at the United Nations to design the master plan for the Buddhist park at Lumbini. Tange did not spend much time on-site, as there was not much to see. Lumbini was a relatively sparsely populated set of agricultural villages with no major access road from either India to the south or Kathmandu to the north. It sat in a dry, hot, and relatively featureless plain, surrounded by fields and very few trees, with no major industries and, for outsiders, no established hotels or guest houses. It was off Nepal’s already weak electricity grid, in the middle of a malarial zone, and had no plumbing system, reliable water supply, major schools, hospital, or airport. Much of the year, Lumbini was (and is) unbearably hot. Photographed on the back of the elephant, Tange is barely smiling; it is difficult to tell if he was happy to be there. Of the hundreds of photographs of Tange taken over the years, all of his smiles seem reluctant, as if he does not want to off end the person holding the camera but also cannot either harness a modicum of joy or muster enough energy to be angry.
We can imagine that he must have been a bit overwhelmed at the magnitude of the task he had been assigned. He was designated by the United Nations secretary-general himself after being approved by representatives from fifteen nations to create a place for millions of potential Buddhist pilgrims. He was assigned with designing and monumentalizing the birthplace of the Buddha, the founder of the religion of his parents. He must have seen this as a slightly more significant assignment than building a hotel or an apartment complex. He was chosen, however, not for his legacy of designing urban spaces and residential housing, but because of his monument to Hiroshima. Secretary-General U Thant, a practicing Buddhist from Burma, had visited
(p.56) Lumbini himself in the middle of the hottest part of the year—April 1967. He was deeply disappointed that the birthplace of the Buddha was being largely ignored by the government of Nepal. (Mahendra, the king of Nepal, had visited the site in 1956 for the Buddhist twenty-five-hundred-year jubilee, but had not returned and had committed no funds to the site.) Nepal, the only “Hindu Kingdom” in the world, was not known for being a difficult place to be a Buddhist. Indeed, some of the most visited and honored sites in Nepal are the great Buddhist monasteries at Bouddhanath and Swayambhunath in Kathmandu. However, these sites served largely tourists and the Tibetan and Newari Buddhist populations. The dusty Terai plain where Lumbini is located was populated mostly by the non-Buddhist Taru ethnic group and ethnic Indian Muslims and Hindus from Bihar. These impoverished communities could barely afford to build Hindu or Islamic shrines; it is not surprising that they had not built monuments to the Buddha, even though they farmed on the same land that the Buddha’s family had lived on twenty-five hundred years before.
Until U Thant came along, there had not been much pressure on previous monarchs of Nepal to pay attention to Lumbini. Before the tenth century, Lumbini had been a relatively important point along the north–south trading route, or Uttarapatha, between urban centers in present-day North India, like Sravasti to Taxila in Gandhara.51 However, it never grew into a major urban center and was bypassed by most traders and settlers. Besides famous visits to important Buddhist historical sites by Chinese travelers such as Seng Zai in the fourth century CE, Faxian and Yuanjiang in the fifth century, and Xaanzang in the seventh century, most Buddhists in Sri Lanka, India, Siam, Burma, China, Tibet, Japan, and the like did not leave records of visits until the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries.52
The birthplace of the Buddha was simply not a major destination for Buddhists, and combined with the difficult access, harsh climate, disease, and lack of accommodation, it was largely ignored for most of Buddhist history. Even scholars had limited knowledge of this supposedly important historical site. Interest in Bodh Gaya (North India)—the supposed location of the Buddha’s awakening—in the late nineteenth century by foreign scholars and lay Buddhist enthusiasts like Henry Steel Olcott and Angrika Dharmapala, did not necessarily lead to more interest in Lumbini. Furthermore, in the nineteenth century, Nepal’s government restricted access to archaeological teams. It was not until 1893 that archaeologists began to be excited about Nepal, when Jaskaram Singh announced that he had seen an inscription supposedly commissioned by King Aśoka in the third century BCE in Lumbini. The inscription was visited by Anton Führer, and another archaeological team led by Babu Purna Chandra Mukherji a few years later, and, based on records of other Aśokan inscriptions and archaeological remains, Lumbini was determined to be the birthplace of the Buddha.53 It was not until 1956 that the royal (p.57) family of Nepal acknowledged the importance of the site. However, it was not promoted in tourist guides to Nepal until well after that date. For example, the royal family produced a tourist guide to their country in 1959; Lumbini is not mentioned at all.54 King Birendra Bir Bikram Shah Dev, who succeeded his father in 1972 just as Tange was beginning his work, did not support the development of the site in any significant way. He certainly did not stand in the way, but committed very little funding. Rampant rumors of excessive graft and corruption abound, though, and certainly many government officials gladly took their cut of funds from the United Nations to develop the site.
Only after Tange’s design started to be implemented in Lumbini did it begin to be considered a possible place of pilgrimage by Buddhists throughout the world, and it was not until the early 1980s that it started to receive a regular stream of international visitors and pilgrims. This was good timing, as Nepal was developing a road system (although it is still one of the least developed transportation and road systems in the world) and becoming more than just a place for bohemian or hippy tourists traveling on the Kabul, Delhi, Kathmandu, Bangkok circuit in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Lumbini grew, as Nepal grew into a more feasible destination for international tourists, and foreign aid and volunteer organizations like the Peace Corps began establishing long-term programs throughout the country.
In order to receive large numbers of visitors, Lumbini had to become something more than it was. U Thant had a three-member UN team, led by the Japanese scholar Susumu Kobe, make an initial assessment of the site in 1968.55 Then in 1970, he established a committee of representatives from thirteen nations (two more were added later), charged with choosing an architect, developing a funding source, and overseeing the initial plan before handing it over to a development trust under the government of Nepal. This committee comprised representatives primarily from South Asian countries like Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, India, and Pakistan, as well as regional, mostly Buddhist, nations like Cambodia, Bhutan, Laos, Thailand, Burma, Singapore, and South Korea, among others.56 Choosing an architect to design a monument and pilgrimage center for Lumbini was their first task—a difficult one, since they were not improving a known pilgrimage center, but creating one.
UN documents contain some telling statements that might have given Tange some pause.57 R. K. Basu, a member of the UN team report notes the lack of water and the lack of visible monuments, accommodations, and so on. Then it states, “Lumbini presents the architect with a formidable challenge. Almost nothing exists today. Even the Sal trees have retreated. Every thing has to be created there, and created in such a way to reveal the universality of the Buddha’s message and its significance to the modern world.”58 An earlier report by Allchin and Matsushita in 1969 contains a similar warning when speaking directly about trying to choose an architect:
(p.58) The Lumbini project … raises a peculiar challenge. The successful design must incorporate in itself something of the spirit of Buddhism, including its international and universal aspects. And yet, it must be firmly rooted in the soil of the Nepal Tarai [Terai], and be interlocked with the local countryside and population, and with its regional development. The subject matter, it appears to us, is in some ways, very difficult to clarify. For all these reasons, the choice of an architect or planner is peculiarly important. Whoever is selected, must be able to form a very strong concept of the intangible aspects of the project, so that the design as a whole will realize them in creative form. Our experience suggests that an open competition is sometimes not the best way of choosing an architect, particularly in circumstances such as these. We answer that there are two preferable solutions, either to hold a limited competition, or to select a principle architect of high reputation and to associate with him a number of juniors, chosen internationally, as far as possible.59
They chose the second path, as Tange was chosen by U Thant and the committee without a competition or the submission of competing designs. Tange certainly was an architect of “high reputation,” but, besides being Asian and born into a Buddhist family, there was little reason to think he could incorporate the “spirit of Buddhism” (what ever they thought that was exactly) into the design or understand the “local countryside and population.” Tange had never traveled in Nepal or South Asia, had never studied Buddhist history seriously, had never gone on a Buddhist pilgrimage as far as I have been able to determine, and did not actively practice Buddhism. He did not have any experience working on religious sites up to that point and had built, although successfully, only one memorial site, Hiroshima. Furthermore, in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Tange had focused his energy primarily on mass urban design and high-density transportation, industrial, and residential design. These skills and interests were of little use in rural Nepal. According to his written records, his autobiography, an interview with his daughter-in-law, and his design firm’s self-promotion, he rarely talked about Lumbini, used it as an example, or even listed it as one of his major commissions. Even Tange’s biographers either did not know about his work on the site or chose to ignore it because it never was completed and Tange himself seemed to care little for it. Tange’s family also had nearly no record of his work on the site and do not remember him discussing it much; they sent me all their materials on the site in Japanese and English, and it did not amount to much. Tange might have been honored to have been chosen by the United Nations and the first Asian (p.59) secretary-general of the international body, but he soon realized that working in Nepal would not be easy and that his vision did not match the site.
Takefumi Kurose, an assistant professor at the Urban Design Lab of the University of Tokyo, and Professor Yukio Nishimura, director general of the Research Center for Advanced Science and Technology at the University of Tokyo—and one of Kenzo Tange’s collaborators on the Lumbini project and adviser to UNESCO today—were very helpful in my research. They confirmed that Kenzo Tange had no formal training in Buddhist history, architecture, or art, and had not studied the history of Nepal extensively. They noted, however, that Sadao Watanabe, another planner for the Lumbini project, informed them that Tange, after getting the Lumbini commission, consulted with Buddhist studies scholar Hajime Nakamura. Tange’s family and colleagues had no record of what Nakamura told Tange, and the two did not have a sustained working relationship. Since Tange had never designed a Buddhist site before, he wanted to get some basic information about the history of the religion from Professor Nakamura. Kurose and Nakamura believe that it was not only Tange’s building of the Hiroshima monument that might have brought him to the attention of U Thant, but also his work in 1965 and 1966 designing a major urban planning project in Skopje, Macedonia, sponsored by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). Lumbini was organizing administratively in similar ways at the UN as Skopje. Therefore, the same UN administrators would have been in communication with each other.
Professor Kurose emphasized that Tange was indeed frustrated working on the Lumbini project, because it was supposed to be finished in 1985 and was not even close to being complete then, even though the planning had started between 1969 and 1972. Kurose says there is no evidence that Tange visited Lumbini more than once, but he could not confirm that from internal records. Also, no surviving documents record, and he and Professor Nishimura had no recollection of, conversations with Tange about any Buddhist teaching, artwork, or style of architecture that had particularly influenced his design for Lumbini. The only evidence they found connecting Buddhist inspiration to the design was a 1970 brochure made by the UN Committee for the Development of Lumbini, which stated that
Every thing has to be created there, and created in such a way as to reveal the universality of Buddha’s message and its significance in the modem world as well as to express the early life of Buddha and the events leading up to the Great Renunciation. … The whole design should be animated by a strong and clear-cut concept devoid of any narrow sectarian bias. It should, in fact, express the spirit of the host country of Nepal, whose population embraces (p.60) both the Hindu and Buddhist faiths, living together in harmony. … The essence of the design should be to create an atmosphere of tranquility, universality and clarity consistent with the idea of the birth of Buddha. All planting and landscaping would reflect this aim and all structures would have to be built to highest standards of design.
This vague statement obviously does not reveal much about the influence of specific Buddhist or Hindu teachings, but does show at least some recognition of the needs of the local Nepali population. Finally, when I asked Kurose and Nishimura about Tange’s religious life, the response was similar to those of others who knew him. Kurose stated, “I don’t know much about his daily life. One fact is that, he designed one of the most important Catholic churches in Tokyo and was planning project in Muna near Makkah. I don’t think he was a very religious person in his life. However, he studied cultural, religious and rural background carefully, especially when he had a project outside of Japan.”60
The project seemed to start off well, though. Under U Thant, the UN promised to commit up to one million US dollars (USD). Phase I of the master plan for the site was approved by 1973, and funding from the United Nations Development Programme flowed in. In 1973, 54,000 USD was provided to Tange’s URTEC firm. By 1978, over 764,000 USD was requested by the UN for Tange to complete the design for phases II and III. The estimate for the implementation of the master plan was 5.6 million USD, which included building the “sacred garden” around the tree where the Buddha was born, preparing the land for over forty future monastic compounds, and developing the reserved “green areas” and a “pilgrim’s village,” which was supposed to include a police station, tourist shops, health center, accommodations ranging from luxury to “pilgrim class,” and a tourist office (which, as we will see below, was never completed), as well as installing plumbing, electricity, and an access road connecting Lumbini with the much larger town of Bhairawa about twenty kilo meters away. The costs of developing the Bhairawa airport and building local schools, a museum, and a research center were not included in this estimate. The cost of building between forty and fifty monastic buildings by private Buddhist sects was estimated at around twenty million USD. This, of course, would bring much employment and liquid cash into the region. The design also included a “buffer zone” and tree planting to separate the park from industry, major commerce, and residential settlements.
While U Thant was still in office, until 1971, there was a flurry of activity planning Lumbini. The assessment of the three-member team and a separate on-site assessment by a UN team were very thorough.61 Issues of electricity (p.61) and water supply and the costs of bus and air travel were taken into serious consideration. Dozens of interviews and meetings with experts and important officials from Sri Lanka, India, Japan, Germany, and many other places were conducted, including with members of Nepal’s finance, planning, and foreign ministries and ministers of tourism and economics from India, Thailand, Germany, and Japan. Ambassadors from many different nations sent letters of support and promised to help raise funds. The king and prime minister of Thailand pledged their support for the project.62 Students from Drew University were offered as interns for the project, and the Sri Lankan government made several requests to be a part of the design team and offered technical assistance and management from Justin Samarasekara, an architect from Sri Lanka.63 A series of meetings was held in Kathmandu, New Delhi, Tokyo, and New York.
The UN did their due diligence, and their assessments were not particularly optimistic. They predicted many problems, and when Tange’s firm was chosen, they provided him with a thorough set of recommendations and warnings. These problems included the lack of access for tourists, the lack of trained staff in Nepal, the lack of funds provided by foreign donors and the Nepali government, and a general lack of “initiative from Nepal.” The assessment noted that the government of Nepal was not taking the lead in the plans and that meetings with government officials had been “more formalistic, only reporting minor activities.”64 Consistent assurances from the government of Nepal reiterated that tasks would be completed, but the UN internal reports indicate a general level of mistrust. Members of the UN team also stated clearly that they would not support the project unless it was part of a larger development of the region’s infrastructure, education, health, and political transparency. They emphasized that their vision for Lumbini included two main elements. First, they wanted to promote the development of this region of twenty-five hundred square miles and five hundred thousand inhabitants: they wanted the government of Nepal, with their assistance, to ensure that agriculture, forestry, and agro-economic industries would be supported in order to not only make Lumbini accessible to tourists, but also develop the region and not allow income from tourism and pilgrimages to be held completely in foreign hands. Second, they wanted to develop the much smaller park and monument for pilgrims and tourists. The funding for both was largely envisioned as coming from private donations and income from foreign visitors. However, it was noted that the government of Nepal had not made “any serious effort” toward, or given details of, providing financial support. They did commit to providing the small sum of 10,000 USD to set up an advisory office that would be charged as an overhead cost in their fund-raising activities. They also agreed to cooperate with members of the government of India. R. K. Basu’s UN report of October 5, 1971, states that the observer “got the impression (p.62) that the Government [of Nepal] now realizes that the Lumbini project should not be considered only a religious project but the justification for economic and social improvement of the region and overall tourism benefit would warrant a strong support including maximum financial outlay from the countries’ own resources.”65 This support never seriously came. Indu Nepal, writing in the Nepali Times, interviewed many people in Lumbini who complained that the tourists really do not add any economic benefit to the region, that the people of the region “remain mired in poverty,” and that
Lumbini, the birthplace of Gautama Buddha, is a study in contrasts. Inside the three-mile by one-mile compound are a cluster of newly built monasteries ranging in style from Thai wats to Manange stupas. This is a part of an ambitious plan outlined by Japanese architect Kenzo Tange in 1978 to transform Lumbini into an international pilgrimage and tourism centre. … The result is a mix between a giant construction site and Disneyland. This massive endeavour seems to have brought meagre benefits to the locals who live in the periphery of the compound in mud huts, toiling on fields for landlords. The construction itself is 14 years behind schedule, and the villagers who were displaced at the time are increasingly frustrated. … [Tourists] rent cars in India, use their own guides, stop over for a few hours and return to hotels in India. … “Getting them to extend their visit is our biggest challenge.”66
Tange himself immediately ran into problems. The same UN report prepared by R. K. Basu states that Tange “has been the centre of all actions in trying to enlist government and non-government support for the project. He has, however, found considerable difficulty particularly in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Junior officers in the Ministry have advised the higher authorities that this is not an economic development project but one that has been promoted because of a personal interest of the Secretary general, U Thant. … I felt that there was stubborn resistance to recognizing any economic value of this project and it may be necessary to deal with this matter at a higher political level.” In order to raise the 5.6 million USD needed to complete the project, Tange tried to raise funds in Japan from private and public donors. However, these donors, Tange reported, were reluctant to give funds if they did not have some control over where the money went. Tange and the donors, of course, knew that many of the donations would not reach Lumbini and would end up in the pockets of Nepali government officials. Tange’s report also notes that the government of Japan was growing weary of this project and the lack of support by the government of Nepal. The Department of Tourism in India wanted to help Nepal in this project, but had trouble raising funds themselves because of lack of public support in India for Buddhist tourist projects.67
(p.63) The decision was made to concentrate on raising private funds for the project outside Nepal, in the United States, Japan, and Thailand. The advisory committee sent appeal letters to fifty major philanthropic institutions, but the response was “not satisfactory,” and they considered hiring a professional public relations firm. They also felt that institutions and individuals were not donating because they did not know enough about Buddhist history.68 In 1971, UN Chef de Cabinet G. V. Narasimhan drafted a letter to David Cowell of Drew University about his efforts to raise funds. He stated that the “American people, by and large, are generous and dedicated to charitable causes. … However, unlike Japan and Thailand, most people in the United States do not know much about Gotama Buddha and his teachings. When they contribute, they have a right to know what they are contributing for. It is for this reason that we could in some degree acquaint the American people about the Lumbini project by way of speaking engagements. Such questions as: What subject did the Buddha Teach? What is the basic message of Buddha-dhamma? … What is nibbana (nirvana)? … What were the Buddha’s last instructions?”69
These efforts did help a little, and during the 1970s, funds were raised, ground was broken, and facilities started to be built. A 1980 Lumbini Development project report, written by the government of Nepal and introduced by King Birendra, states that the Bhairawa Road was completed, conservation work on archaeological remnants was undertaken, trees were planted, and some (temporary) electricity had been provided. There was also a tourist information center built in Bhairawa. The water supply was not complete, drainage was not fixed, and hotels, schools, and other buildings were not even at the design phase. They had raised funds, though. The Lumbini Development Committee received 377,467 USD from various private and public donors. The New York Office for Lumbini Development had received 16,668 USD. However, it was the Reiyukai Buddhist sect of Japan that raised the most funds by far—1.7 million USD to build Tange’s vision for the cultural center, library auditorium, and museum.70 The local contribution in Nepal, a severely impoverished country in comparison with Japan, Thailand, and many other Asian nations, contributed only 7,968 USD.
Conspicuously absent in the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s and 1990s was activity and involvement from Tange. His master plan was approved by the UN and the royal government of Nepal in 1978 and was scheduled for completion in 1985. As of 2012, it is still not complete, and Tange died disconnected from the project and its outcomes, although the UN and Lumbini Development Trust websites, officials, and documents consistently refer to him.71 The UN has maintained a relatively low level of engagement. Kurt Waldhiem and Javier Pérez de Cuéllar each visited the site once during their tenures as general secretaries.72 The UNDP contributed a total of 1,805,916 USD for the design and implementation of the master plan; the last contribution (p.64) was made in 1988. Today the site is supported by private donations to the individual monastic compounds, entrance fees, and donations to the Lumbini Development Trust, which was formed in 1985 when Tange discontinued working on the site.73 After 2010, more formal support from the Japanese government has come through the Japanese Funds-in-Trust (JFIT), which operates in connection to UNESCO’s Kathmandu office.74 The JFIT is focused primarily on archaeological preservation and not on the development of the larger site, town, or region. The International Scientific Steering Committee (ISSC), which includes representatives from various Nepali ministries, UNESCO, and the government of Japan, oversees this archaeological work.75 A few general meetings have been held at the UN or in Lumbini itself about the site; however, in July 2012, the committee met and recommitted to finishing Tange’s master plan, as well as exploring the possibility of expanding its work into other regional sites of historical importance. One member of the ISSC, Yukio Nishimura, has been particularly active. He was a student of Tange, a city planner in Tokyo, and has succeeded Tange as a professor at the University of Tokyo. Now in his early sixties, he is reviewing Tange’s plan and advising people on the ground in Lumbini.76
Tange certainly lost interest in the project after 1978 and almost completely after 1985. Though slated for completion by 1985, the site was less than 10 percent constructed by that time. By 2001, less than 20 percent had been completed. Tange must have been frustrated, and he clearly knew that the project would not be completed in his lifetime. Tange is not solely to blame; no architect ever works alone. Nevertheless I, like other scholars of architecture who enjoy writing biographies of famous architects, am also perhaps contributing to the myth of the lone visionary. Tange liked working with others, though, and readily acknowledged his influences and collaborators.77 The actual drawings of the initial master plan were done not by Tange, but by Kazuyuki Matsushita. The contributions of assistants and consultants did not change the fact that Tange did not know much about Buddhist archaeology, art history, or architecture; most of his assistants did not either. He designed Lumbini as he would design other sites—there was nothing particularly Buddhist about it. Despite this, several descriptions of the master plan refer to the eternal Buddhist message of peace that the gardens of the master plan represent. Others wax eloquent on the spiritual nature of the park. For example, one visitor, Augusto Villalon, wrote that Tange’s design was “central to spiritual experience” and should be appreciated for the way it invokes the sublime aspects of Buddhism. He writes,
The walkway is central to the spiritual experience elicited by the Tange plan, a subliminal and unexpected experience open to all but, as experiences go, unnoticed by many. … The journey, done (p.65) on foot, which begins at New Lumbini Center through the Monastic Zone leading to the Sacred Garden, is a journey that happens on two levels. It can be a purely physical experience, a long two-mile walk that gets the pilgrim from one point to another, or from the entrance to the Sacred Garden. However, the subliminal effect of this journey is what gives spiritual value to Lumbini. It is the understated, fine quality that is the core of the Lumbini experience, setting this shrine apart from all other Buddhist shrines. Public perception of architects is that they build structures, but that is only part of what they do. The success of any architect lies in the reaction elicited from people as they experience the modulation of space and light while moving through his work. In a subtle, sophisticated manner, the Tange master plan puts into motion a sequence of spaces that are revealed subtly, as pilgrims experience on foot a pro cession of events designed to awaken spirituality. The entire experience takes place on a mile-long, brick-paved outdoor walkway running in a straight line from New Lumbini Center to the Sacred Garden. Walking between a navigable canal and row of trees planted equidistantly from each other, the mundane drops away the farther the pilgrim walks from New Lumbini Center. The sky and trees reflect on the canal, sounds of leaves in the wind, birds and the occasional jackal howl pierce the quiet. By the time the pilgrim has walked past the monasteries and arrives at the eternal flame marking the entrance to the Sacred Garden, he has forgotten the mundane, and is at peace and ready for the Buddha. At this point, the walkway ramps down, compresses between high brick walls as if to squeeze the last of the mundane from the pilgrim’s consciousness, and becomes a causeway crossing an artificial lake where at last the Sacred Garden at the center of the lake comes into view. The Sacred Garden is open to the sky, visually bound by the Himalayan foothills in the distance, serene, totally connected to the Buddhist universe, and a place of peace and unity. Tange sequences spaces along the walk, to achieve the experience of peace upon arriving at the Sacred Garden. This subliminal experience is the essence of Buddhism. This subliminal experience is misunderstood by many who feel that the Kenzo Tange master plan is irrelevant to Lumbini today, without realizing that this is an outstanding work of 20th-century architectural heritage.78
This is a beautiful reflection, and I am sure numerous visitors to Lumbini “feel” something similar when they are there reflecting on the fact that they (p.66) are maybe walking on the same ground that the Buddha once did. I certainly felt relaxed and at ease at 5:30 a.m. as the mist covered the central canal and the sun slowly rose over the pond next to the Maya Devi Temple. However, by 7:00 a.m., the piles of trash, the blaring horns, the makeshift illegal campfires next to Nepali tour buses, and the Indian and Nepali pop music blasting from car radios and low-quality speakers had ended that feeling of peace. I did not see any more spiritual quality to this park than any other park I have been to. There was nothing particularly “Buddhist” about the pathways, canal, or poorly maintained landscaping.
Tange himself contributed to the idea that his park was somehow rooted in Buddhist teachings when he wrote that his master plan was based on Buddhist symbolism of geometric shapes and the path to enlightenment.79 According to Tange, “The form of a circle enclosing a square is a mystical universal symbol of purity and simplicity. Architecturally no built structures are to be added to the garden except the essential forms like offices, meditation cells, utility blocks and restoration of Mayadevi Temple.”80 This is, to be frank, ridiculous. There is nothing particularly Buddhist about the circle enclosing the square unless one wants to make a vague connection to a Hindu or Buddhist mandala shape. Furthermore, the entire site is not a mandala; only one section could be interpreted that way. The rest is a long path with East and West Monastic Zones (which are really just practically designed plots of land used for monasteries after the design was submitted).
Tange’s design is actually closer to other designs he drew for non-Buddhist places; in fact, it is close in design to his city plan for the capital of Nigeria, Abuja. His design for the city of Abuja, which was built in the 1980s and is a much more successful project in terms of completion level than Lumbini, follows the design of a long central thoroughfare with a series of squares and circles at one end, similar to the aerial view of the master plan for Lumbini. Since Abuja’s central district was also designed by Tange to house the Nigerian National Mosque and the Nigerian National Christian Centre, I doubt that the Nigerian government would agree that their design was based on the Buddhist “form of a circle enclosing a square is a mystical universal symbol of purity and simplicity.” Tange’s design for the Tokyo Metropolitan Building includes as one of its prominent features a “citizen’s plaza” next to the main walkway, nearly identical to the planned but not yet fully realized crescent-shaped plaza he designed next to the main central link canal and walkway as an entrance to the “Theravada” monastic zone in Lumbini. Indeed, Tange’s unrealized plans for the redesign of the city of Tokyo also have a central thoroughfare with squares and circles projecting off it, built over bodies of water (the Tokyo Bay). These ideas must have contributed to his plans for Lumbini, as he was working through them in Tokyo when he was commissioned for Lumbini by U Thant. Tange’s master plan is not “Buddhist,” it is Tange-ist.
Although not much about the Lumbini master plan can be called particularly “Buddhist,” and Tange might have been frustrated with the lack of progress at the site over the years, in many ways what happened at Lumbini from 1985 until the present is the perfect expression of Tange’s philosophy of “metabolism” in architecture. While many who visit Lumbini might see it as a failure, and the master plan as inappropriate for the setting or the religion, it actually proves Tange’s ideas about architecture and public culture correct. Let me explain.
First, if we measure the success of an architectural plan by its completion and by the reviews it gets from other architects or powerful funders and patrons, then Lumbini is a complete failure. Most of the reasons for this failure fall squarely on local politics and irresponsibility. The master plan was not particularly ambitious, and the terrain is easy to clear, but bureaucratic inefficiencies, graft, work stoppages, major changes in the Nepali government (including the Maoist insurrection and subsequent takeover, and the still-controversial and mysterious murder of nearly the entire Nepali royal family in 2001) were certainly contributing factors to the delay. More generally, labor strikes, student unrest, infrastructural inadequacies, and a massive “brain drain” of the country’s best young engineers, scholars, and business people have contributed to the lack of development throughout the country despite the funds it receives from foreign remittances, aid, and tourism.81
However, most of these serious political issues have occurred from the early 1990s until the present. The early 1980s was a stable time politically and saw a major uptick in tourism. Furthermore, Japanese, European, and American travelers were eager to visit Nepal at that time. Despite these factors that would point toward success, there was never much support locally, perhaps because less than 5 percent of the population of the Terai region was Buddhist, but also because it was far from the political and economic center in Kathmandu and the main tourist sites of Pokhara and Solokumbu (Mount Everest region). Tibetan and Newari Buddhist communities are concentrated in the Kathmandu, Patan, and Bhaktapur regions, and not near Lumbini.82 Many of the workers assigned by the government to work in Lumbini did not remain there for long, as being outside Kathmandu separates them from more ambitious career tracks. Indeed, two officials I discuss below who work at Lumbini told me of their desires to leave and find other positions.83 Moreover, the UNESCO office and many other funding agencies are based in Kathmandu, which for a long time did not have easy flight connections to Lumbini, and the harsh road conditions made the trip a difficult eight hours by car. Lumbini’s location also discourages Buddhist pilgrims. D. P. Dhakal (p.68) notes that the three major Buddhist pilgrimage sites in India (Bodh Gaya, Sarnath, and Kushinagar) receive many more visitors annually.84 And although it has gotten easier, the visa process has in the past made overland entry from India difficult for many foreigners as well.85
The problems with Nepali bureaucracy and corruption have been well-documented elsewhere.86 Other problems include local resentment that seven villages and over a thousand people were forced to move from their homes to clear the way to build the sacred garden and the central link and canal, and to reserve spaces for the private monasteries, many of which have never been built.87 The jobs, water supply, and electricity many of these displaced villagers were promised have not been realized. Even the high school that was supposed to be built near the site was not completed.88 The lack of work has been compounded by the influx of ethnic Nepali refugees who were forced to leave Assam (India). The Lumbini bazaar, which used to be in the area of the sacred garden, was removed, and many shopkeepers were not able to restart their businesses elsewhere. Furthermore, as we saw above, foreign visitors often come to Lumbini by tour bus from India and stay for a few hours before returning to India, and thus do not create a wealthy clientele that would support restaurants, hotels, and shops. Many of the tourists who do stay overnight stay at their respective monasteries, bring their own food, and even produce their own souvenirs. The money from foreigners that does stay in Lumbini stays in the privately owned monasteries or goes to nonlocal, often Indian, tour companies. For example, the Thai community with whom I was able to conduct interviews has amulets made in Thailand that they give to Thai visitors. They have over two hundred beds where Thai pilgrims can stay for free (most offer donations) and they operate their own library and supply their own meals. Today, Thai pilgrims are one of the largest groups that visit Lumbini annually, but other ethnic groups also stay together and do not contribute much to the local economy.
As CK Lal, in his 2002 article, “The Prince of Peace,” for the Nepali Times writes, “The fascination of the Nepali power elite with the Buddha and his birthplace is on display in the excesses of the Lumbini Development Trust, where a new set of bosses takes over after every change of government. … Besides the usual accusations of cronyism and nepotism that continue to undermine the efficiency of the Trust, the rapid turnover of its key personnel in the last twelve years has also been a factor in its stagnation. A growing discontent is also festering amongst the locals that development works are confined within the walls of the Master Plan, and that they have not received a share from the developments being undertaken, resulting in a lack of emotional attachment. There is no doubt that long term conservation of Lumbini and its sustainable development can be achieved only by considering the economic empowerment of the communities living in its immediate surroundings.” (p.69) Rachana Pathak, in a highly critical article in 1995, called Lumbini a “Disneyland” and decried the irresponsible archaeology, graft, and Tange’s plan. He also speaks extensively about how managers and donors from South Korea, Japan, and other places ignore the rules and build what ever they like. He laments Buddhist commercialism, but ends his article with a self-reflective “U Thant would still weep today, and Nepalis have to blame only themselves.”89 Furthermore, according to Maksood Ali, head of the Visit Nepali Year 2012 campaign, most foreign visitors to Lumbini do not return. They make their pilgrimage, take their photographs, make offerings, and leave. There is not much to see at the site (all the monuments and archaeological sites can be seen leisurely in a few hours, or less if you hire a rickshaw). The museum is largely empty, with many items already stolen. There are not many things to buy, and the souvenirs sold at Lumbini are largely identical to those sold in souvenir shops in Kathmandu, Bodh Gaya, Sarnath, and the like. Unless a person is an archaeologist or a serious practitioner who wants to spend time meditating and chanting at the site (which is a small group), there is no reason to return. The idea of visiting the birthplace of the Buddha attracts Buddhists, but Lumbini, as a place, does not attract them back. Buddhists, unlike Muslims, have no real religious requirement to make pilgrimages to the places their founder lived and taught. Most Buddhist will never visit Lumbini, and those that do will prob ably go only once. But there is more than one way to measure success.
If we measure the success of an architectural space by how it allows change and flexibility and fits its local environment, then Lumbini is a success.
(p.70) The site may not be complete, and foreign Buddhists might not flock to it, but it is very attractive to Buddhist and non-Buddhist Nepali and Indian tourists. Although the UN stated that it would focus on attracting donors and visitors from the United States, Japan, and Thailand, they did not account for the excitement the master plan would create for regional and domestic tourists. As described above, the local families, teen agers, young adults, newly married or honeymooning couples, and families from North India who visit Lumbini far outnumber the foreign pilgrims and tourists. Thai, Burmese, Japanese, and, increasingly, Chinese, Vietnamese, and Korean tourists and pilgrims arrive in large buses, stay for a few hours or one night, and leave. They stay in their own monasteries or in the Japanese-managed Hokke or Kasai hotels. While individual backpackers do visit Lumbini, they are of a limited number. The local tourists arrive in private cars or motorcycles or on inexpensive local tour buses. They stay for the whole day (usually on the weekends) and return at night. Since the vast majority of these local tourists are not Buddhist, they visit the site, many told me, because it is a rare open and public space where they can have picnics, stroll freely (often away from their parents and grandparents), eat free meals at different monasteries, watch tourists or foreign Buddhist monks and nuns in their strange clothes, flirt, and, most importantly, pose for photos in front of large and foreign pieces of architecture such as the impressive Royal Thai Monastery and gardens; the Mahabodhi Center; the Myanmar Golden Temple; the International Nun’s Temple (which has a “pilgrim’s rest house” and a nice sculpture garden and pond to sit around and enjoy cool drinks); the Manang Sewa Samaj Stupa, with its golden stupa that rivals the great stupa of Swayambunath; the World Peace Pagoda; the Greek Revivalist style Mother Temple of the Graduated Path to Enlightenment, built by the Rabten Foundation of Switzerland; Karma Samtenling monastery; Drubgyud Choeling monastery; and what seemed to me to be the most popular temple at Lumbini, the Great Drigung Kagyud Lotus Stupa, which is directed by the German-born Ferdinand Stange and sponsored by the Tara Foundation of Germany.90
The well-maintained gardens, sculptures, fountain, and beautifully painted murals and images at the impressive Great Drigung Kagyud Lotus Stupa aren’t like anything else seen in Nepal or North India. The colors, the flowers, and the lack of motorcycles and trash are all very noticeable. Hundreds of Nepali and Indian couples, teenage school groups, families, and close friends on weekend trips take turns posing for photographs in front of the stupa and the gardens. I was recruited as a photographer one morning to snap dozens of photographs for people—at one point, a group laughed at me because I had seventeen cameras dangling from my arms and neck. Each time I would be given someone’s camera to take a photo, several more people would hand me theirs. Then I was asked to pose in photographs with lots of children. While (p.71)
taking and posing for photos, I casually interviewed as many people as I could; not one was from a Buddhist family and not one cared about or seemed to even know what lineage or teaching of Buddhism the Great Lotus Stupa represented. Even monasteries at Lumbini that are abandoned, unoccupied, or unfinished—which is more than half of them, like the locked Vietnam Lumbini Buddha Bhumi Vihar; the newly finished but still largely empty and unstaffed Linh Son Buddhist monastery (sponsored by a French-Vietnamese group); the abandoned shell of the Sokyo monastery; or the unfinished Korean Mahabodhi Society monastery—provide good backdrops for photographs. The Japanese, Korean, and Vietnamese architecture is unknown anywhere else in Nepal and North India. Its popularity among locals can be compared with the attraction generated by exhibitions of foreign cultures at world’s fairs and world expositions in North America, Japan, and Eu rope, places like the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford, the Ethnologisches Museum in Berlin, or even the World Showcase part of the Epcot theme park at Disney World in Florida. Lumbini is the only place in Nepal that a local tourist can experience firsthand the art and architecture of many different cultures in one place, and this display of world architecture has been one of its major attractions. While Buddhist pilgrims are concerned with seeing the spot where the founder of their religion was born, local tourists are interested in seeing the (p.72) Buddhists who have come on pilgrimage, and taking photographs in front of their monasteries. The teaching or books inside are not important for non-Buddhist local tourists because they are in foreign languages.
Local tourists may not be meditating, chanting, circumambulating the stupas, or reading religious material in Thai, Korean, Vietnamese, or Burmese, but they enjoy visiting Lumbini because it is largely free, has foreign and visually impressive buildings, and it is public, so you can dance, play music, picnic, shop, and run around making noise away from disapproving mothers, aunts, or grandparents. Visitors can pose for photographs, exchange flirtatious glances, and chat with or gawk at foreigners. Stands sell soft drinks and chips. Indeed, most of the Buddhist souvenir stands appear to sell a lot more non-Buddhist themed jewelry, stickers, hats, and toys to Nepali and Indian tourists than to Buddhist pilgrims. Regular television reception and Internet connections are becoming more widely available throughout Nepal, but inexpensive vacation and public leisure spaces are relatively rare in the Terai and North India. Lumbini is an easy and cheap vacation if one lives within relatively close driving distance. The Buddhist monastic zones have become attractions for lay non-Buddhists. Tange’s design has provided a space, even if unfinished, for the site to be used for more than was intended. The people have changed the site more than the site has changed the people. This is Tange’s philosophy of metabolism at work.
These conclusions, garnered from my observations and brief interviews with visitors to Lumbini, were confirmed by long-term administrators and residents there. Christoph Cueppers was one of the first people who emphasized to me the number of lay and non-Buddhists who frequent Lumbini, especially for leisure weekend trips. While their visits and support of local merchants are welcome, of course, he did note some problems. Some of the monastic residents and those occupying the meditation centers have complained about the very loud music local tourists play and the amount of garbage they produce. Ferdinand Stange, the director of the Tara Foundation’s Great Lotus Stupa, which appears to be the most popular destination for local tourists, acknowledged the problems with noise and garbage but was very happy that the Great Lotus Stupa was popular as a leisure place for local visitors. Indeed, Buddhist cultures had long employed visual displays to attract, amaze, and encourage people to learn more about the teachings of their traditions. While he noted that most visitors were not very interested in the teachings of his lineage or others at Lumbini, he hoped they left with a sense of respect and interest in learning more in the future. He certainly did not see it as his goal to “convert” anyone, but simply to do his best to provide an educational, artistic, ritual, and communal place for serious students and tourists alike.
Thanks to Cueppers, I also had the opportunity for interviews with Acharya Karma Sangbo Sherpa, the general secretary of the Nepal Buddhist Federation and the vice-chairperson of the Lumbini Development Trust (p.73) (LDT); the effective managers of all non-archaeological activities and endeavors at Lumbini; and Maksood Ali, the chairperson of the “Visit Lumbini Year 2012” campaign promoted by the government of Nepal. The general secretary is from the Sherpa ethnic group and grew up near Kathmandu. He is a Tibetan Buddhist monk and keeps an office in Kathmandu for his leadership of the Nepal Buddhist Federation and an office in Lumbini for his work with the LDT. The fact that he has to split his time makes his ability to manage the LDT difficult, even though he is the effective head of it on the ground in Lumbini. Moreover, he told me that his duties (ritual, pedagogical, and administrative) as a monk take precedence over his work at the LDT. Although he has been working at the LDT for five years, he complained that progress has been very slow.91 His work at the LDT is not his priority, intellectually, religiously, or professionally. When I asked him specifically what he thought about Tange’s master plan, he was very helpful. He said that the master plan deserves respect, but after so many years, it needed to be adapted to meet local conditions, and that is what he was trying to do. He compared the master plan to a naked body that needed clothing: he was skeptical about the master plan ever being finished and said that, when a naked baby grows, its clothes change, and that he needed to concentrate on the clothes and not the naked body any longer. The “clothing” he suggested was not focused on Buddhist pilgrims, which was surprising to me, but on local Nepali visitors. Acharya Karma wanted to add some awnings to provide shade for local visitors in the bus parking lot, a few benches and picnic areas, and a new washroom. The only plan he had for Buddhist pilgrims was to add a large Tibetan prayer wheel to the Maya Devi Temple. These plans had not been funded yet though, and he was unsure whether they would be started before he left his office. When I asked him about the garbage problems and the noise issues, he did not respond other than to say that local visitors were interested in having fun at the site and this did not affect the Buddhist activities. He was hoping the Indian government would fund the U Thant auditorium in the future and that some politicians from Sri Lanka also had interest in funding projects, but there were no definite plans yet.
Maksood Ali was even more concerned with local tourists and even more skeptical about funding and the future of the master plan. But Ali was most skeptical about his own ability and his expertise for his own position. He was chosen to be the head of the Visit Lumbini Year 2012 campaign by the government of Nepal not because he had connections to the site, but because he was part of the Maoist Party. However, he had recently lost a local election in Bhairawa. To compensate for this loss, he was given another government position as a gift. He had never studied the history of Lumbini, and as a Muslim, he stated emphatically, he had never studied any Buddhist text. He said that he enjoyed when “all the foreign Buddhists repeat their slogans,” meaning chanting Buddhist texts, but he did not know what they were saying (p.74) or anything about Buddhist pilgrimage. Indeed, he said he had never conducted a survey with visitors, interviewed any pilgrims, or attended any rituals, sermons, assemblies, or dinners. I found this shocking, coming from the head of the tourist campaign for Lumbini that was supposed to attract foreign pilgrims and funds. He told me that they had promoted the campaign in Beijing with posters and a local radio advertisement in Chinese, and they sent invitation letters to members of the Sri Lankan tourist board. Some Sri Lankan officials did meet with him, but he was unsure how they were promoting the campaign in Sri Lanka, or any other country for that matter. He also was part of organizing a celebration for the Buddhist holiday of Vesakha in May 2012, but only in terms of posters and radio advertisements in Nepal. He was not involved in the arrangements made at the individual monasteries, where he said most of the celebrations took place, not in the public areas of the park. Despite his almost complete lack of knowledge of Buddhist history, archaeology, art, pilgrimage, and languages, he was very engaged with improving the lives of local Nepalis around the park. He wanted them to earn some money from foreign visitors and was very upset that most pilgrims stayed in their own monasteries and did not interact with local people, learn local culture, or patronize local businesses. He had extensive plans to develop a “homestay” program in which foreign visitors would stay and also take their meals in the homes of local Lumbini residents. He was actively trying to get microloans to help interested residents find funding to build one-room additions on their homes with “Western toilets” and “doors that locked” so that visitors could have a private room inside a home and contribute to the local economy and learn local culture. He also said that locals could then learn from foreigners. I asked what he would hope they would learn. He said, “How to be gentle, and how to be neat and clean.” He said he thought foreign pilgrims did not interact with the local population because locals were loud and made the site dirty. Clearly, he was torn in his desire to fight for local concerns and wanting the local to change to accommodate foreign tastes. Like Acharya Karma, though, his plans were focused primarily on local Nepalis. I think Tange would be proud to see his master plan being adapted to local conditions—metabolism in action. Unfortunately, Ali admitted, he had no idea whether he would be at his job for more than a few months, as he could be assigned elsewhere or run for a parliamentary position again.
Tange’s master plan has metabolized to incorporate local influence and changes. This was Tange’s desire for all of his designs. Tange saw architecture not as a blueprint, but as a process. His passion for the free “conversation spaces” exemplified by Italian piazzas and public memorial spaces as seen in his Hiroshima memorial and Tokyo Municipal Building, and his belief in the democratic principles of architecture all are realized in Lumbini despite (p.75) delays in construction, local corruption, and the tendency for different ethnic foreign pilgrim populations to self-isolate. Lumbini also reflects Tange’s intellect, training, and upbringing, in that it is an international center. It is in Nepal. It is the birthplace of one of the founders of a global religious tradition. Before the nineteenth century, it enjoyed documented visits from Chinese, Tibetan, Sri Lankan, and Indian pilgrims. In the late nineteenth century, its significance as an archaeological site was confirmed by Indian, Nepali, German, and British scholars. It was propelled onto the international stage by a Burmese secretary-general of the United Nations. The memorial park was designed by a Japanese architect. It is directed by a Sherpa who was ordained in a Tibetan lineage, and the research institute is directed by a scholar from Germany who invites scholars from all over the world to use his library and facilities. Monastics from Austria, Bhutan, Burma, Cambodia, China, France, Germany, India, Japan, South Korea, Mongolia, Nepal, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Switzerland, Taiwan, Tibet, Thailand, and Vietnam have either leased, built, or been given permission to reside in Lumbini in monasteries they have designed themselves. Although it wants to receive more, it has and does receive pilgrims from all over the world. All the while, the local population of mostly non-Buddhists has metabolized it into a very popular local tourist attraction and public leisure space.
The Future of Tange’s Park
Both the success and the failure of Lumbini have recently made it a target of controversy—and may eliminate Tange’s master plan entirely. In 2011 and 2012, a very serious and aggressive proposal was put forward by a Chinese nongovernmental organization named the Asia Pacific Exchange Cooperation Foundation (APECF) to, basically, purchase Lumbini. APECF, headed by Xiao Wunan, cut a deal with Puspa Kamal Dahal, the director of the Lumbini Development Steering Committee (different from the LDT) to invest over three billion USD to take over the development and management of Lumbini.92 Dahal and Xiao Wunan stated that they wanted the Chinese funding, ostensibly, to create a new “international peace city” and bring stability to this region of Nepal. Many were immediately wary of this proposal when it was publicly announced on November 7, 2012, even though three billion USD would be an almost 20 percent boost in Nepal’s annual GDP. Dahal (also known as Prachanda) is the former military commander of the Maoist forces that fought a rebellion against the government of Nepal for over twenty years. When the Maoists took over the country, he became the chairman of the Unified Communist Party and designated himself the director of the Lumbini Development National Directive Committee of Nepal (LDNDC).93 He signed this deal with Xiao Wunan unilaterally and did not invite the media, the (p.76) LDT, or other government officials to the signing. This immediately caused resentment and suspicion among not only the Indian government, which would now have a Chinese-backed city on its border, but also his colleagues, who wondered whether they would receive a piece of the pie.94 The former minister of culture, Minendra Rijal, was one of the more vocal objectors.95 Investigative reporter Mikel Dunham and Global Post reporter Jason Overdorf noted that this move by the Chinese was part of a longer “battle of the Buddha” being waged between India and China to exert “soft power” in Nepal and culturally influence the larger global Buddhist community, which has powerful economic and political power in East, South, and Southeast Asia.96 Overdorf writes,
In this struggle, India seeks to use its common cultural heritage to overcome China’s ethnic ties to the overseas Chinese in Southeast Asia, and China seeks to limit the damage from its repression of religious freedom in Tibet and its incessant sparring with the Dalai Lama. Bizarrely, for instance, China’s state-run People’s Daily first reported that APECF had inked a deal with the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) to create a “special cultural zone” in Lumbini, only to be forced to retract the story when first UNIDO, then Nepal, denied any knowledge of the pact. Even weirder, it surfaced that not only Prachanda but also the controversial Paras Bir Bikram Shah Dev, Nepal’s former crown prince, held positions on APECF’s board of directors. “This is part of China’s effort to use Buddhism to gain an entry into Nepal, [and] to show to their Buddhists that they’re showing equal attention to Buddhism outside the country,” Jayaveda Ranade, formerly additional secretary for East Asia with the Indian government, told Global Post of the Chinese proposal for the development of Lumbini.
Dunham writes that
even the LDNDC came under fire from the Buddhist community. When LDNDC was created one year ago, Buddhist leaders pointed out that they had not been consulted, adding that … the plan was “an attempt to commercialize the sacred place without their consent.” … APECF and Prachanda keep raising the stakes, hellbent on turning Lumbini, birthplace of Buddha, into a horrid theme park of gargantuan proportions.97
Overdorf and Dunham were not the only international journalists to notice the strangeness of the proposal. In the summer of 2011 China Digital Times (p.77) and Al Jazeera’s Melissa Chan reported that the Chinese wanted to build a premier place for Buddhist tourists. There should be no doubt that despite APECF calling itself a nongovernmental organization, its director, Xiao Wunan, is a member of the Communist Party and “holds a position at the National Development and Reform Commission, a state agency.”98 Xiao Wunan falsely claimed that the UN supported his plan and that he “hopes Lumbini will bring together all three schools of the faith: the Mahayana as practiced in China, Japan, and South Korea; the Hinayana as practiced in Southeast Asia; and Tibetan Buddhism.” However, despite this claim, no members of these Buddhist schools and traditions were consulted, including, most notably, the Dalai Lama.99 The UN had already objected to the Chinese plan. On March 17, 2012, UNESCO announced a formal objection to the plan by the LDNDC to construct the largest Buddha image in the world with Chinese funds, this time not from APECF solely, but with their partner, the Beijing Zhongtai Jinghua Investment Company.100 The statue would be surrounded by a five-star hotel and take over the LDT’s master pan. They would also construct their own museum and research institute (presumably dismantling Tange’s designed research center and museum). They want to turn Lumbini into a “Buddhist Mecca.” One imagines that the Tibetan influence—intellectual, artistic, and ritual—would be severely curtailed under Chinese management. Minendra Rijal, a representative from the Ministry of Federal Affairs, Constituent Assembly, Parliamentary Affairs and Culture (MoFACAPAC), stated, with UNESCO support, that “the plans of the Chinese company … go against the spirit of [Tange’s] Master Plan.”101
Even though the Chinese plan is still on hold and is a point of controversy in Nepal and among international Buddhist communities, there should be no doubt that there will be major changes at Lumbini over the next few years. Lumbini is not the only Buddhist historical site that the Chinese government is trying to control and profit from, of course. Under way now is a massive project to build a Buddhist theme park in Dunhuang, costing over 450 million USD, to take advantage of visitors to some of the most important archaeological sites where Buddhist manuscripts, cave paintings, and murals were produced.102 However, if history teaches us anything, it is that Lumbini has survived many attempts to remove it from its local environment and make it either an international site or a symbol of one Buddhist ethnic group’s ambitions. As for Tange, both he (long before he passed away) and his family’s architectural firm now have washed their hands of involvement with Lumbini. Regardless, his dream of a site that could metabolically change with the times will certainly be realized.
Kenzo Tange is not the only architect and visionary who has run into problems working in the region of the Buddha’s birth. Indeed, over the last century and a half, the creation of monuments in northern India and southern Nepal has been fraught with difficulty. Ever since Edwin Arnold, Angrika (p.78) Dharmapala (Don David Hewavitarane), and other British and Sri Lankan Buddhist “revivalists” started promoting the four great sites of the Buddha’s life—Lumbini (birth), Bodh Gaya (awakening), Sarnath (first sermon), Kushinagar (death/parinibbana)—in the 1880s, these sites have been coveted by competing Chinese, Japanese, British, Tibetan, Thai, and other interests looking to lay claim to the origins of Buddhism. Japanese entrepreneurs have been the most successful at establishing expensive hotels at these sites, while Thai and Korean groups have focused more on building monasteries recently. Many groups have attempted to alleviate poverty by building some semblance of infrastructure (schools, health clinics). However, virtually every nation that boasts a large Buddhist population has produced monks, businesspeople, and pilgrims that want to have some foothold in these four sites. The rise of Bodh Gaya as the premier international Buddhist pilgrimage site in the twentieth century has been well documented recently, and it has become a semipermanent home to Tibetan, Thai, Korean, and other ethnic/national/sectarian monasteries, as well as tour and study groups from all over the world, which regularly hold meditation, history, and ethics courses there.103 While Sarnath has not been as successful in building as large as a following on the pilgrimage circuit, it still receives thousands of visitors annually, and recently there have been rumors of a Thai group attempting to erect what would be the tallest Buddha image in the world at the site of the Buddha’s first sermon. While some construction has begun, little progress has been made in the last decade, likely because of downturns in the global economy and lack of sustainable investment. In Kushinagar, like Bodh Gaya and Lumbini, monasteries, meditation and yoga centers, and small community buildings have been established by various groups from Vietnam, Burma, Sri Lanka, and the like.
In Kushinagar, though, a much more focused effort has been made in constructing another large image, an image of Maitreya, the future Buddha, which would be over five hundred feet tall, thus dwarfing the Sendai Daikannon and Leshan Vairocana (China). This project, started by a Tibetan refugee to India, Lama Yeshe, and his student, Lama Zopa Rinpoche, and assisted by Tony Simmons and Peter Kedge of the Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition (FPMT), has also made little progress over the past forty years. The politics involved with acquiring huge swaths of land and displacing schools and villages is daunting.104 The project has been plagued by controversy, protests, and financial woes. Unlike Tange’s architectural vision, though, the FPMT has a much more focused social and political agenda. In comparison, Tange did quite well in attempting to realize his vision, and if anything, Lumbini is, in the end, a largely public and leisurely place where visitors can meditate, learn some history, conduct research, rent a hotel room rather cheaply, and come and go as they please.
I hope this chapter has shown that leisure is not antithetical to the study of religion. I also hope that it encourages scholars and students of Buddhist and religious studies to pay attention to the ways religious sites have been transformed by tourists, pilgrims, neighbors, and local and international government officials into leisure sites that are open secular spectacle sites (misemono), attracting the devout and the simply curious alike.
While Kenzo Tange’s Lumbini master plan has never been fully realized, and he and others after him have had to settle at a series of local optima, other Buddhist parks have been better executed. This is not primarily because the creators had a greater knowledge of Buddhist history and art, but because they had more creative and administrative control over their respective sites. However, like Tange’s master plan, these monuments that create public space do not attract only those activities most associated with religion, such as monastic training, supervised meditation and prayer, and ritual, liturgical, and homiletic programs, but also secular leisure activities like exercise, picnicking, and game playing.
For example, Phutthamonthon is a large (2,400-acre) Buddhist park in the suburbs of Bangkok (Salaya) near the historic city of Nakhon Pathom. With the support of the royal family and the elite of the sangha (community of monks), it was designed in 1955 under the directorship of Prime Minister Pleak Phibulsongkhram. Since Phibulsongkhram lost power in 1957, the park’s construction was halted, and it ended up not being completed until the early 1980s. Unlike any monastery in Thailand, it is mostly open space, used for kite flying, jogging, bike riding, and picnicking. No nuns or monks are regularly in residence, and the few buildings are used mostly for administrative offices for the Sangha Supreme Council (Mahathera samakhom) and the Office of National Buddhism of Thailand (Samnakngan phra phutthasasana haeng chat). One building looks like a traditional Thai Buddhist vihāra (hall). It does not serve as a meeting or ritual space, but it holds 1,418 large marble stone steles. On each stone is inscribed (in gold) a section of the Buddhist canon of literature according to the Thai assemblage of the canon in the late nineteenth century. The site is stunning and harkens back to a similar array of stone inscriptions containing Buddhist canonical texts (729 in total) in Mandalay (Burma) at the Kuthodaw monastery. However, in Burma the stone canon is part of a monastery, and the texts receive regular visitors and oblations, whereas at Phutthamonthon they receive few visitors and sit largely in silence in an empty hall.
Phutthamonthon does have some religious activity. A few large scale pro cessions of monks and national celebrations are held there in the parade grounds, but it is largely used as an open park for most of the year. The most (p.80) notable feature of the park, regularly depicted on Thai postcards, is the very tall freestanding image of the Buddha walking, designed by the Italian artist Corrado Feroci. Feroci was born in Florence in 1892 and moved to Thailand in 1923. This Italian national ended up becoming a Thai citizen in 1944, adopting a Thai name; he was given a state funeral in 1962. He is a national hero in Thailand, where he is known as Silpa Bhirasri. Considered the “father of Thai art,” he founded and directed the first professional art school and, eventually, the first university dedicated to the arts in Thailand. He designed many of the prominent statues of the royal family and a number of important Buddhist and national monuments seen throughout Thailand. A statue of Feroci himself stands on the grounds of Silapakorn University in Bangkok.
The walking Buddha he designed in Phutthamonthon is in the Sukhothai style and is almost fifty feet tall. It stands on a large pedestal, and even though it was designed as a monument in the park, it is often ritually given gifts and prostrated to by visitors, as any other Buddha image would be. The image is simple and graceful; surrounding it are several unadorned monuments, also designed by Feroci but completed after his death, such as the seven large plain circular stones representing the seven lotus flowers that appeared in Lumbini when the Buddha was born. (It is said that the Buddha was born walking and talking and, as a newborn, took seven magical steps on lotus flowers that had spontaneously unfurled from the ground.) Near the stones is a large statue of a dharma/dhamma wheel with five stone seats representing the Buddha’s first sermon at Sarnath to his first five disciples, a bodhi tree with a stone seat (Pali: āsana) representing his awakening, and a large stone bed representing the Buddha’s death. Every stone lacks color, and they appear largely ignored by park visitors. These relatively abstract and understated monuments are an anomaly in Thailand, where traditional murals and statuary are rarely subtle and unadorned. No regular Buddhist ritual or counseling services are offered at Phutthamonthon. No regular sermons are held and very little directed meditation, except for an occasional meditator that I have heard about but never witnessed.
Indeed, like Tange’s park, Phutthamonthon is striking not for what is there, but for what is not—no ritual implements, monks, color, or worshippers. It is a park for leisure repose, allowing children to run around and young couples to hide behind trees. Since this area is low marshland divided by highways, industrial parks, and the nearby main campus for Mahidol University, it does not get many people just strolling by. It is a place you need to plan to visit, and religious ritual or education is not the reason to visit. It is a destination for a picnic. It has remained largely untouched since it was completed according to its original design.
Unlike Buddhist museums, amusement parks, gardens, and ecumenical monasteries, Tange’s Lumbini Park and Phutthamonthon are government (p.81) supported and designed to be memorials to Buddhism as a great world religion. While they might have been designed by individuals with certain visions about the proper way to memorialize Buddhist history and teachings, they have been taken over by lay families and turned into places for leisure activity. The same can be said for other sites, such as the Fo Guang Shan Buddha Memorial Center in Kaohsiung, Taiwan. Launched by a sectarian group and built using government funds, it has been transformed into public leisure and tourist sites; it serves lay families on vacation more than monks and nuns in training. Other smaller places, like the War Memorial (honoring Lao and Vietnamese war victims of the American War in Vietnam) in Phonsavan, Laos, and the Geraldine Mary Harmsworth Park in London (which is connected to the Lambeth branch of the Imperial War Museum) are public memorials that include Buddhist shrines and imagery. The former has statues of soldiers alongside a Buddhist chedi (reliquary) and altar for offering candles, flowers, and other traditional Buddhist offerings. The latter has a small mandala, an inscribed column with a message of peace from the Dalai Lama, a garden plan based on the eight-spoked wheel of the eightfold noble path, and a bronze mandala. All these sites have had some form of government oversight and are public. Their architects therefore had to be as ecumenical and open to all forms of Buddhism as possible (or at least appear that way). Often, their explicit Buddhist sculptures and symbols are not objects of direct worship but are ornamental distractions that provide affective encounters for visitors strolling past. In the next chapter, we will see what happens when the design and management of Buddhist sites of leisure are controlled not by the public, or by state or international organizations, but are the creative and idiosyncratic expressions of (often wealthy) individuals. In short, as we will see, it can get out of hand.
(1) Đinh Bộ Lĩnh was given the name Đại Thắng Minh Hoàng Đế. I thank Amy Le for translating this history for me.
(2) I want to thank Hanh Ly Nguyen, Van Chat Nguyen, Bang Anh Tuan, Dang Thi Cam Tu, David Biggs, and Edward Miller for their assistance in Vietnam.
(3) The introduction to this particular book (locally published at the Huyền Không Huế Temple in 2013) was compiled by Thích Siêu Minh and contains instructions on how to perform Theravada rituals, an explanation of the chanting of the triple gem (Buddha, Dhamma, Sangha), and a statement claiming that these are the oldest liturgical chants in the history of Buddhism. Thích Pháp Trí did the translation based on Thích Hộ Tông and Thích Minh Châu’s original work. Thích Viên Minh of the Huyền Không Huế Temple published the guide of chants, which they call dhāraṇī (using the Sanskrit name of protective chants in the Vajrayana and Mahayana traditions instead of paritta). The rise of the study of Theravada Buddhism in Vietnam is beyond the scope of this book. However, Edward Miller and I are undertaking a study of it and of the origins of the Pali library at the Xá Lợi Temple in Saigon and the large number of Thai Buddha images appearing at Vietnamese temples. While there are not many Theravada temples outside the Cambodian border region of South Vietnam, there is a longterm Theravada temple launched by Sri Lankan monks in Hue today.
(4) Thích Nhật Từ, ed., Tủ Sách Đạo Phật Ngày Nay (The Buddhist Bookshelf Today, or simply Buddhism Today) (Ho Chi Minh City: Nhà Xuất Bản Tôn Giáo, 2011). This book is part of a series by Thích Nhật Từ, which includes over one hundred works on Vietnamese Buddhism doctrine and guides to Vietnamese ceremonial chanting. He also produces CDs and VCDs of Vietnamese Buddhist music and traditional Vietnamese folk songs.
(5) I sincerely thank Amy Le for translating this profile for me and for her help in making sense of several liturgical books from the park. See Lưu Vinh and Huyền Chi, “Kinh Doanh—Nước Mắt—Nụ Cười” (Business—Tears—Laughter), in Saigon’s Kinh Doanh & Pháp Luật (Business & Law Newspaper), January 2, 2013.
(6) More information can be found by writing to Suối Tiên Incorporated (Suối Tiên Cultural Tourism Company), 149 Nguyễn Duy Dương, Phường 3, Quận 10. TP. HCM.
(7) Amy Le translated this passage.
(8) There is now another amusement park near Suối Tiên called Dam Sen Water Park. It has larger pools and longer slides, but less particularly Buddhist and Vietnamese historical themed statues, displays, and rides. For an interesting American Christian comparable example, see the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky. The museum—founded by the Christian evangelical group Answers in Genesis, led by Ken Ham, which promotes what they see as a Biblical explanation for existence and wants to provide an alternative to Darwin’s theory of evolution—has Biblical displays, films, games, and rides, and even zip lines. It is a highly politicized site. See http://creationmuseum.org/. See also a critical assessment of the park and its finances by Mark Joseph Stern, at http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/science/2013/11/ark_encounter_finances_obamacare_sank_ken_ham_s_creationist_theme_park.htm. See (p.183) also the sprawling Tierra Santa Christian Theme Park in Buenos Aires, Argentina. It has life-size dioramas detailing Biblical stories such as the Last Supper, the Crucifixion, and the like. http://www.atlasobscura.com/places/tierra-santa.
(12) Augusto F. Villalon, “Walking toward Buddhist Stillness,” Philippine Daily Inquirer, April 30, 2012, http://lifestyle.inquirer.net/45723/walking-toward-buddhist-stillness.
(13) Many Internet sources and a few published sources in English state that Tange was actually born in Imabari (Ehime Prefecture). However, his own autobiography in Japanese states that he was born in Osaka and moved to Imabari. Much of his youth before middle school (back in Ehime Prefecture) was spent in Shanghai, where he attended a Japanese school. See Kenzo Tange, Ippon no enpitsu kara (Tokyo: nihon tosho centa, 1997), 12–19, 233–234.
(14) Le Corbusier did not win the design contest sponsored by the Kremlin in 1931; Boris Iofan’s more bombastic and neoclassical tower won. Construction started on the foundation of a former cathedral, but steel was needed after the German invasion and the superstructure was taken down and used to build bridges and other structures important for the war effort. See Sona Stephan Hoisington, “Ever Higher: The Evolution of the Project for the Palace of Soviets,” Slavic Review 62, no. 1 (2003): 41–68. See also Frederick Starr, “Le Corbusier and the USSR,” Cahiers du Monde russe et soviétique 21, no. 2 (1980): 209–221.
(15) Le Corbusier, Vers une architecture (Paris: Editions Flammarion, 2008 ). There is a new English translation by John Goodman, Towards an Architecture (Los Angeles: Getty Research Institute, 2007).
(16) For a good history of Conder and other Western architects and artists like Ernest Fenollosa, and their work with Japanese artists and architects like Kuki Ryūchi, Okakura Kakuzō, and Katayama Tōkuma, as well as the early development of the study of modern architecture in Japan (especially Kyoto and Tokyo), see Alice Tseng’s The Imperial Museums of Meiji Japan (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2008). She also provides details about the founding of the Imperial University’s Department of Engineering. She shows that it was often Westerners that promoted traditional Japanese architecture while their Japanese colleagues wanted to be creative and work in new designs.
(17) David Stewart, The Making of a Modern Japanese Architecture (Tokyo: Kodansha International, 1987), 170.
(18) Raymond was interviewed by Tange on a radio program in April 1960. There they voiced their opposing views, and Raymond accused Tange and other young Japanese architects of abandoning the “immortal principles” of “true Japanese tradition.” See Stewart, The Making, 168n3.
(19) Ken Tadashi Oshima, International Architecture in Interwar Japan: Constructing Kokusai Kenchiku (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2009), 85, 177, 190, and 277n10.
(20) Ibid., 85, 99. Makita’s Double-Bell House was so named because it stood in the Bunkyō ward of Tokyo, where both Catholic and Buddhist bells can be heard. For more information on this new class of Japanese international scholars and artists, see also Michael Wachutka, Kokugaku in Meiji-Period Japan: The Modern Transformation of “National Learning” and the Formation of Scholarly Societies (Leiden: Global Oriental, 2012).
(21) Quoted in “Architect Who Modernized Japan Dies at 91,” Reuters 2005.0322.
(p.184) (23) See this temple building in Patricia Graham’s Faith and Power in Japanese Buddhist Art: 1600–2005 (Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2007), 236.
(24) I thank Kenzo Tange’s daughter-in-law, Denise Tange, of Tange Associates in Tokyo, and his son, Paul Noritaka Tange, for their help. The former kindly sent me many documents and answered many of my questions. She also sent me a section of Terunobu Fujimori’s description of the Bangkok-Japanese Cultural Center (in Japanese) along with the reproductions of Kenzo Tange’s original blueprints for the design. I thank Masami Tahara for helping me translate one particularly troublesome section.
(25) Many of Gropius’s ideas came from the Dutch De Stijl movement, which emphasized primary colors and geometric design. This is barely mentioned in Tange’s writings and seems to have had little impact on his work. For more information of Gropius’s workflow methods, see his The New Architecture and the Bauhaus, trans. P. Morton Shand (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1965); and Sigfried Giedion’s Walter Gropius: Work and Teamwork (New York: Reinhold, 1954). Early on in his career he developed the “socialist” idea of the Arbeitstrat für Kunst, which was a method of having studios that invited painters, architects, sculptors, and writers to work together on ideas for buildings. This evolved into a broader notion of baubrüderschaften, or building brotherhoods. See Wolfgang Pehnt, “Gropius the Romantic,” Art Bulletin 53, no. 3 (1971): 379–392, esp. 379–380. Pehnt also notes that Gropius, who is most often associated with the Bauhaus, actually had many different phases of his career. Early on he was quite the romantic, who did not eschew all ornament or sentimentality and celebrated art for art’s sake and did not believe that all buildings were designed to be practical. Later in his life he returned to this romantic attitude, especially in writing about his short trip to Japan. Gropius wrote rather romantically about Japanese architecture in “Architecture in Japan,” Perspecta 3 (1955): 8–21.
(26) For an expanded study of Le Corbusier’s experience with Japanese architecture, see William Curtis, Le Corbusier et le Japon (Paris: Picard, 2007), which is based on a colloquium in Tokyo in 1997 on this subject.
(27) Nnamdi Elleh, Abuja: The Single Most Ambitious Urban Design Project of the 20th Century, vol. 5, Architektur der Welt (Weimar: VDG, Verlag und Daten-bank für Geisteswissenschaften, 2001).
(28) Kenzo Tange and Udo Kultermann, Kenzo Tange: Architecktur und Städtebau 1946–1969 (Zürich: Verlag für Architektur/Artemis, 1970), 240–241.
(31) Vinayak Bharne, “Manifesting Democracy: Public Space and the Search for Identity in Post-War Japan,” Journal of Architectural Education 63, no. 2 (2010): 38–50, esp. 40–41.
(32) There could be one tangential influence of “Oriental” architecture on Tange’s work. Zeynep Çelik argues that many of Le Corbusier’s ideas for urban planning actually came from Islamic architecture, especially after Le Corbusier’s visits to Morocco, Algeria, Turkey, and Tunisia. His references to Islamic architecture appear in his work as early as 1915 and can be seen most distinctly in his urban plan for Algiers. Indeed, Le Corbusier was delighted by the way courtyards and quiet family spaces were hidden from view of the main streets in Algiers. He saw these tranquil spaces on family courtyards where the “street [was] abolished” (64) as reflecting the fact that, in his eyes, “Asia [was] forever religious” (63). Therefore, perhaps one of Tange’s inspirations for designing the monastic zones and meditative spaces of Lumbini off of the main thoroughfare was inspired not by Buddhism, but by North African Islamic architecture. See Zeynep Ҫelik, “Le Corbusier, Orientalism, Colonialism,” Assemblage 17 (1992): 58–77.
(p.185) (34) Tange also designed the master plan for the Sacred Heart Catholic University in Taipei, Taiwan, and the Sacred Heart of Jesus International School in Tokyo. Both included chapels. See H. R. von der Mühl and Udo Kultermann, Kenzo Tange (Munich: Verlag für Architektur, 1978), 32–33.
(36) Kenzo Tange and Noboru Kawazoe, Ise: Prototype of Japanese Architecture (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1965). Tange produced an English version of this original study in Japanese on the encouragement of John Burchard at MIT.
(37) Kenzo Tange, Katsura: Tradition and Creation in Japanese Architecture (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1972), forward.
(44) I was fortunate to find two of Tange’s original letters to Mumford in the University of Pennsylvania’s Rare Book and Manuscript Collection, dated June 18, 1961, and July 5, 1967 (part of the larger collection of Lewis Mumford Papers 1905–1987). Both letters thank Mumford for sending his books The City in History and the Myth of the Machine (both classics in the field of urban studies). Mumford had sent these to Tange immediately after their respective first printings. Tange thanks Mumford for work on the philosophy of cities and states that he is using those books in teaching his own students.
(46) Dozens of descriptions and photographs of the master plan are available online. Reliable and relatively up-to-date ones are found on the UNESCO World Heritage site for Lumbini, at http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/666; and a description by the late well-known Nepali scholar, Min Bahadur Shakya, at http://pnclink.org/pnc2005/chi/Presentation-PDF/052-Min-CA.pdf. I thank Professor Shakya for his kindness and help with my project.
(47) Tokushin Kasai founded the hotel, which includes a Japanese restaurant and its own herb and vegetable garden. An award from the Council of Mahavihara Buddhist Monks of Sri Lanka for his philanthropy is displayed in the lobby.
(48) These small zones off of a main thoroughfare are certainly influenced by Le Corbusier’s unrealized city master plan, Ville Radieuse (presented publicly in 1924 and published in 1933). Le Corbusier’s plans for the capital of the Punjab, Chandigarh, and for Algiers also reflect this overall plan.
(49) Especially funded by the family of U Ngwe San and Daw San Hwe.
(50) I was unable to get much information, except complaints from sources (who would rather not be named) that they were causing too much noise and bothering the other monasteries.
(51) Basanta Bidari, Lumbini: A Haven of Sacred Refuge (Kathmandu: Hill Side Press, 2002), 5–8.
(53) Bidari, Lumbini, 83–97. See Charles Allen, who has written general books exploring this discovery and the origins of the idea of Buddhist pilgrimage. See particularly, The Buddha and Dr Fuhrer: An Archaeological Scandal (London: Haus Publishing, 2011), and The Search for the Buddha: The Men Who Discovered India’s Lost Religion (New York: Caroll and Graf, 2002). See also Philip Almond, The British Discovery of Buddhism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 20–22. They show that seeing a visit to the Buddha’s birthplace as an important (p.186) activity for devout Buddhists was largely an invention of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and this, more than the largely unsupported and biased understandings of the deleterious or destructive power of Muslim political and military power in the region, explains why the birthplace of the Buddha was largely forgotten until recent times. There are also a slew of books about travel to Buddhist holy sites by modern pilgrims, including Ajahn Sucitto and Nick Scott, Rude Awakenings: Two Englishmen on Foot in Buddhism’s Holy Land (Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2005); and Swati Mitra, Walking with the Buddha: Buddhist Pilgrimages in India (New Delhi: Eicher Goodearth, 1999). Another archaeological controversy recently affected the Lumbini region with the supposed discovery of the B Buddha’s original home, http://antiquity.ac.uk/ant/087/ant0871104.htm.
(54) No author, A Tourist Guide to Nepal (Delhi: Nepal Trading Corporation, 1959). General scholarly books hardly mentioned it at all. For example, Luciano Petech’s Materials for the Study of Nepalese History and Culture: Medieval History of Nepal (c. 750–1480), vol. 10 of Serie Orientale Roma, Materials for the Study of Nepalese History and Culture, vol. 3 (Rome: Istituto Italiano per il Medio ed Estremo Oriente, 1958) only mentions Lumbini once, on page 81, because of one Aśokan inscription there. The fact that the Buddha was born there is not mentioned. Gitu Giri’s new study of Lumbini tourism has a nice summary of the basic history of its development and social activities, which have attempted to bring together the local community and foreign visitors. I thank Julia Hintlian and Christoph Cueppers for finding this book for me and for Hintlian’s extensive comments on her experience living and observing tourists and pilgrims in Lumbini for two months in 2014. See Gitu Giri, Lumbini Tourism (New Delhi: Adroit Publishers, 2014).
(55) Kobe passed away in 1971. The other two members were Ejler Alkjaer and Silae Brown. Lumbini Development Project Report (Kathmandu: Lumbini Development Company, 1979), 8.
(56) Gitu Giri, Sacred Complex of Lumbini (New Delhi: Adroit Publishers, 2008), 50–53.
(57) These documents were kindly given to me by Christoph Cueppers.
(58) United Nations, “Lumbini: The Birthplace of the Buddha,” United Nations Archives Series 0200, Box 5, File 3 (1968–1970), n.p.
(59) United Nations, F. R. Allchin and K. Matsushita, Report for the Lumbini Development Project, December 1969 (unpublished internal report), 31.
(60) Pers. comm., June 2013. I thank Professors Kurose and Nishimura for their kind assistance.
(61) See Kobe’s Report of the United Nations Mission for the Development of Lumbini, December 18, 1967–January 9, 1968 (unpublished internal report); and F. R. Allchin and K. Matsushita, Report for the Lumbini Development Project, December 1969 (unpublished internal report). The United Nations Archives for this period also include U Thant’s letters and correspondence with the fifteen-member United Nations advisory committee.
(62) A series of cables confirm support by the king of Thailand in 1971 and invitations to the UN team to Bangkok. I thank Christoph Cueppers for providing me with copies of these cables.
(63) United Nations Archives, 15, 74/19, Drawer 6, File 56, 1970–1973. Development of Lumbini in Nepal General Correspondence. Official: Narasimhan.
(64) R. K. Basu, Note for Record, October 5, 1971 (internal report after a meeting with the advisory committee for the Lumbini Project). United Nations Archives Series 0200, Box 5, File 3 (1968–1970), n.p.
(65) Ibid. See also http://tribhuvan.academia.edu/RupeshShrestha/Papers/519675/Lumbini_its_challenges_now_and_then; and http://www.buddhistchannel.tv/index.php?id=9,960,0,0,1,0< Kenzo Tange, 1914—2005.
(68) United Nations Archives, 15, 74/19, Drawer 6, File 56, 1970–1973. Development of Lumbini in Nepal General Correspondence. Official: Narasimhan.
(70) Many successful parts of the master plan have been developed since 1980. The Lumbini International Research Institute was built between 1989 and 1995 in different stages following a striking and creative design by Tange. It is funded by the Reiyukai Foundation. The research facility contains a very comprehensive Buddhist research library with over thirty-five thousand volumes in several important Buddhist languages. It hosts visiting scholars and students and holds regular conferences and seminars. It is run by Christoph Cueppers. I thank him for all of his time and assistance in my research. The museum, next door to the research institute, was also designed by Tange, but has suffered terrible mismanagement and theft, and many of its pieces are missing, have mold growing on them, or are mislabeled. The Maya Devi Temple, which is largely a building built around an archaeological pit where the supposed exact site of the Buddha’s Birth is located, is visited by many people. It was opened in 2003. A wooden path for people to circumambulate, meditate, or chant surrounds the pit. Other small successes include the dedication of the Eternal Peace Flame, the construction of the central canal and walkways, and the grounds around the Maya Devi Temple. Most of the site, though, is unkempt and in a state of disrepair. Bathrooms, garbage barrels, proper drainage, and guards are few and far between. The auditorium that was supposed to be completed in the space between the research center and museum has never been built. See His Majesty’s Government, The Lumbini Development Committee Report (Kathmandu: Babar Mahal, 1980), 13–22.
(71) “Lumbini Master Planner Dies,” Nepali Times 241, April 1–7, 2005.
(72) Waldheim visited in February 1981 and de Cuéllar in March 1989. Boutros-Boutros Ghali and Kofi Annan never visited the site, but wrote letters of support for the project. Ban Ki-Moon visited in 2008. Dag Hammarskjöld was actually the first secretary-general of the UN to visit Lumbini in 1959 and wrote a short haiku about his visit: “Like glittering sunbeams/The cute notes reach the gods/In the birth grotto.” He never instituted any policy about Lumbini though. See http://www.unesco.org/new/en/kathmandu/culture/lumbini-past-present-future/un-secretaries-general-on-lumbini/. See also “UN Support to Peace to Continue: Ban Ki Moon,” The Rising Nepal (November, 2, 2008), as well as Lumbini Development Trust, Message from UNSG (March 8, 1989), www.lumbinitrust.org/articles/view/96; and U Thant, View from the UN (New York: Doubleday, 1978); United Nations, Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s message to the World Buddhist Summit, press release SG/SM/6812, November 30, 1998.
(73) There are no entrance fees for Nepalis. Indian visitors have to pay only sixteen rupees. Citizens from other South Asian countries like Bangladesh or Pakistan have to pay one hundred rupees. All other nationals have to pay two hundred rupees. There are heavy fees for foreigners who want to use cameras, though. They must pay the equivalent of ten USD if they want to use a camera. There are few guards, and one can walk in and out of the site easily. For example, I walked into the site at 5:15 a.m. with some other pilgrims from Korea; no guards were in evidence, and I had to voluntarily track down a person at the ticket office three hours later to pay my fee. If I had not sought out the ticket office, I would not have had to pay, although many, including me, give donations to the Maya Devi Temple and individual monasteries, nuns, and monks. I interviewed many Thai and Burmese visitors who had come in large tour buses. They gave donations to their own monasteries, but did not pay individual entrance fees, as the buses (p.188) bypassed the ticket office and parked directly at the individual monasteries. It was unclear whether the tour bus companies had to pay fees themselves. One of the Thai bus drivers seemed to be unaware of any fee, and so I imagine no Nepali official had approached him to pay.
(75) Y. H. Kwaak and Abelardo Brenes, Lumbini: The Fountain of World Peace: Report for the Vision and Scoping Mission (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2002); Tara Nanda Mishra, “Evolution of Buddhism and Archaeological Excavations in Lumbini,” Ancient Nepal: Journal of the Department of Archaeology 155 (2004): 10–18; UNESCO, Lumbini, the Birthplace of the Lord Buddha (World Heritage List, UNESCO World Heritage Centre 1992–2012), whc.unesco.org/en/list/666/.
(76) From the presentation “Key Concepts of the Kenzo Tange Master Plan,” by Yukio Nishimura and Takefumi Kurose, at the second annual meeting of the International Scientific Steering Committee (ISSC) in Lumbini on July 12, 2011. See also http://www.unesco.org/new/en/kathmandu/culture/jfit-lumbini-project/.
(77) Many members of Tange’s design team worked on Lumbini, including the architects Sadao Watanabe, Atsushi Arata, Nachio Torisu, and several professors of literature and archaeology, such as Chie Nakane (Tokyo University) and Takayasu Higuchi (Kyoto University). They were also advised by K. Takahashi of the Center of Housing, Building, and Planning in New York City, and Chamnong Phahulrat, the councilor of the Thai embassy in Tokyo.
(80) Kenzo Tange and URTEC, Master Plan for the Development of Lumbini: Phase II, Final Report (Tokyo: Kenzo Tange and URTEC, 1978). See also http://www.academia.edu/523789/Lumbini_its_challenges_now_and_then.
(81) An example of the bureaucracy and controversy over the site can be seen here, http://completenepal.wordpress.com/2012/11/06/greater-lumbini-master-plan-a-herculean-task-ahead/#more-3197.
(82) Kate Molesworth and Ulrike Müller-Böker, “The Local Impact of Under-Realisation of the Lumbini Master Plan: A Field Report,” Contributions to Nepalese Studies 32, no. 2 (2005): 183–211, esp. 186. As of 2000, the population of the Terai is 42 percent Muslim, 53 percent Hindu, and 5 percent Buddhist.
(83) I also thank Kesab Shakya, former vice-chair of the Lumbini Development Trust from 2007 to 2009, for providing me with candid information about his work with Tange’s master plan. Not only was he in charge of the day-to-day operations of the LDT, but he was also responsible for the development of seven sites of Kapilavastu and Ramagrama.
(84) D. P. Dhakal, “Status of Tourism and Its Prospects in Buddhist Sites in Nepal, with Reference to Lumbini,” paper presented to the UNDP, September 1999, as cited in Molesworth and Müller-Böker, “Local Impact of Under-Realisation,” 187.
(85) Indian nationals can get three-day visas for Lumbini, but other countries’ citizens have more difficult restrictions and large visa fees.
(86) Thanks to Victor Mair (pers. comm., July 2011), I learned about a meeting and eyewitness report about the poor state of development in Lumbini in 1986. A well-known scholar who had visited Lumbini in 1986, and who wished to remain anonymous, stated,
[The] project had been going for quite a few years, but there was no visible progress. There was a Tibetan temple and a Theravada temple near (p.189) the site. The Nepalis in charge of the project had built themselves a nice bungalow with offices, but that was about it. There was a rusty old sign touting the project, and some desultory excavation going on around the Mayadevi temple. The sign advertised that the project would be completed under the supervision of a Japanese architect on a date that was long overdue. My feeling at the time was that they should leave the place the way it was, barren and desolate. That would illustrate the Buddhist doctrine of emptiness. A few years later, I happened to be visiting Fo Kuang Shan, near Kaohsiung in southern Taiwan, and attended a banquet that Ven. Hsing Yun, the founder of Foguang Shan, was hosting for Tai Situ Rinpoche, a Tibetan lama who has a monastery in the Kangra Valley in northern India.… At the banquet, Hsing Yun justified his reputation as a “power monk” by launching into a tirade directed at the Lumbini project. “We have been donating money for years, and what are the results?” he thundered. “I built the whole complex at Fo Kuang Shan in less time with less money. What is the Nepali government doing with all that money?” Tai Situ smiled sheepishly. “That is the Nepali government,” he said. “That’s the way they operate.” And now the Chinese are getting involved. Just what we need.
I thank Victor Mair and his anonymous source for this information.
(87) K. Pudel, “Waiting for Visitors,” Spotlight 19, no. 4 (2000): 19–25; CK Lal, “Illusions of Grandeur: The Story of the Lumbini Master Plan,” Contributions to Nepalese Studies 4, no. 2 (1999): 365–381; A. M. Tripathi, “Lumbini: Progress in Circles?” Good Governance 1, no. 3 (2003): 4–9.
(89) See http://nepalitimes.com/news.php?id=6399#.URlF5_Ke49U and http://www.himalmag.com/component/content/article/2947-Lumbini-as-disneyland.html. For a more sober reflection on the problems, see http://www.academia.edu/523789/Lumbini_its_challenges_now_and_then.
(90) Michael Pahlke kindly informed me that Ferdinand Stange also founded the Lamayuru Meditation Centre, which is located just next to the Great Lotus Stupa and opened its doors not very long after the inauguration of the Tara Foundation complex in 2004. Every spring, just ahead of the Tibetan New Year (lo gsar) a Yamantaka retreat is executed, with thirty to forty yogins coming from Ladakh, Tibet, and Nepal for this event. During the rest of the year, single practitioners stay in approximately eight small guest houses there. The Meditation Centre is under the spiritual leadership of Stange’s teacher, Drubpon Sonam Jorphel Rinpoche, as is the Lotus Stupa.
(91) http://whc.unesco.org/archive/2006/mis666-2005.pdf. “While the Mission recognized the strong commitment of the national authorities, and LDT in particular, to manage the site and implement the Master Plan of Kenzo Tange of 1979, it also noted how this Master Plan did not provide an adequate guidance for the conservation of the site, and should be therefore accordingly be reviewed.”
(94) Congress leader Karan Singh stated that the Indian government “should remain cautious about it as Lumbini, also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is situated close to the Indian border.… Both India and Nepal can benefit from tourism if we could market the entire Buddhist circuit, including Lumbini, together with (p.190) India’s Bodh Gaya and Sarnath,” http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/india-should-be-cautious-about-chinese-interest-in-lumbini/articleshow/10657991.cms.
(95) In July 2011 the Indian Times reported that the Chinese ambassador to Nepal, Li Debiao, was involved with talks with the Nepal government for a project in Lumbini. The new Chinese ambassador to Nepal, Yang Houlan, visited Lumbini and met former Nepal prime minister Madhav Kumar Nepal and discussed Lumbini’s development. The Indian Times reporter stated that “the growing Chinese interest comes at a time Beijing is trying to bring religious institutions under its control. After appointing a Panchen Lama of its own, it has since then said that all reincarnations of Tibetan Buddhist leaders would have to be approved by the state, raising fears that the dragon means to choose a successor to the current Dalai Lama as well.” See http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2011-07-28/south-asia/29824578_1_lumbini-madhav-kumar-nepal-nepal-government.
(98) http://chinadigitaltimes.net/2011/07/the-lumbini-project-chinas-3bn-for-buddhism/. See also the recent article in Al Jazeera, which traces the various efforts by the Indian and Chinese government to use the “soft power” of Buddhism to attract money, allegiance, tourists, and international goodwill, http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2013/01/2013171148400871.html.
(101) Ibid. For more information, see also http://www.ekantipur.com/the-kathmandu-post/2011/10/21/nation/broader-lumbini-development-plan-on-horizon/227441.html.
(103) David Geary has recently completed a thorough dissertation on the history of Bodh Gaya and its modern development as a pilgrimage and tourist site. I want to thank him for sending me a summary of his book (in progress) on Bodh Gaya, called Destination Enlightenment: From the Hermitage of Shakyamuni Buddha to World Heritage. See also his “Destination Enlightenment: Branding Buddhism and Spiritual Tourism in Bodh Gaya, Bihar,” Anthropology Today 24, no. 3 (2008): 11–14. On the competing visions between Western Buddhist enthusiasts and local concerns in Bodh Gaya, see also Kory Goldberg’s Buddhists without Borders: Transnational Pilgrimage, Social Engagement, and Universal Education in the Land of Enlightenment (PhD diss., 2011, Université du Québec à Montréal), as cited in Hiroko Kawanami and Geoffrey Samuel’s forthcoming edited volume on Buddhism, development, and disaster.
(104) See the recent dissertation tracing the history of this project by Jessica Falcone, Waiting for Maitreya: Of Gifting Statues, Hopeful Presents, and the Future Tense in FPMT’s Transnational Tibetan Buddhism (PhD diss., Cornell University, 2010). For a broad overview of the Tibetan history of pilgrimage to India, especially in the modern period, see Toni Huber’s Holy Land Reborn: Pilgrimage and the Tibetan Reinvention of Buddhist India (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008); and for a study on the reification of ideal Buddhist cultures through the work on pilgrimage sites and museums, especially in regard to Tibet, (p.191) see Clare Harris’s fascinating Museum on the Roof of the World (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012).