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By Ven. Gyalten Samten
The Maitreya Project is an FPMT project to build a very large statue of Maitreya, the future buddha, in Kushinagar and Bodhgaya. Just last week, the project took an enormous step forward, receiving land upon which to build from the Uttar Pradesh state government. Ven. Gyalten Samten was part of a team overseeing aspects of the foundation stone laying ceremony held on Friday, December 13, 2013. She shared with Mandala her experience of the historic event.
On December 13, 2013, history of sorts was created in Kushinagar, Uttar Pradesh, India. On that misty morning, what unfolded could be a scene from a Bollywood potboiler. A helicopter lands, interrupting the peaceful quiet. Lama Zopa Rinpoche, accompanied by Maitreya Project trustee Sanjeev Chaudhry, emerges. We were all in tow, welcoming them in the traditional Tibetan style, with the monks chanting, playing cymbals and gyalings.
Then another helicopter lands and the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, Akhilesh Yadav, enters the scene. More greetings. And a crowd of over 100,000 farmers and locals, Buddhist monks and other dignitaries has gathered, eager to see the holy guru and the chief minister.
Kushinagar, a small non-descript town, is popularly known as the place of the last leg of Shakyamuni Buddha’s journey before he passed into parinirvana. Innumerable precious relics were found after the Buddha’s cremation, which were divided amongst eight kingdoms. The Mallas of Kushinagar built a stupa to store the precious relics of Buddha.
Starting in the 1980s, Lama Yeshe had a grand vision of building a large Maitreya statue in India. Lama Zopa Rinpoche took this vision forward and the project has developed to build a 500-foot (152-meter) statue. One of the first things to do was to acquire land to carry out this mammoth task. The chosen place was Bodhgaya. Due to many factors, the Maitreya Project struggled for 13 long years. Lama Zopa Rinpoche sought advice from His Holiness the Dalai Lama regarding the project, having watched it face many obstacles for many years. It was confirmed to build a Maitreya Buddha statue in Kushinagar as this was the place of parinirvana of Shakyamuni Buddha.
Obstacles to acquiring land continued to arise in Kushinagar, and after another 13 years of planning and waiting, when everyone had nearly given up hope, the trustees sent a letter to the new chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, Akhilesh Yadav, withdrawing the project. But the chief minister took notice and approved 200 acres (81 hectares) of land to be given to the Maitreya Project immediately.
The Uttar Pradesh state government and Maitreya Project trustees agreed on December 13 for the formal laying of the foundation stone – a grand event that was to be organized in less than a week. Since the chief minister was going to attend, the event assumed a political flavor, which meant arrangements needed to accommodate hundreds of thousands of people.
A team of three people – director of Root Institute Ven. Thubten Labdron, photographer Andy Melnic and myself – were sent to oversee the arrangements and coordinate the cultural and religious aspects of the event. A team of a dozen monks from Kopan Monastery, a replica of the Maitreya Buddha statue from Root Institute in Bodhgaya and a dance troupe from Dharamsala were en route to Kushinagar as well.
This was an alien ground for all of us. Even before we could get our bearings, we were in the thick of meetings with the local dignitaries, the commissioner and the cultural director.
The district magistrate of Kushinagar, Rigzin Samphel, turned out to be our knight in shining armor. Rigzin Samphel is a Ladhaki and is very devoted to this cause and to Lama Zopa Rinpoche. When we arrived in Kushinagar, he took us to the new Maitreya Project land of which 40 acres (16 hectares) was being turned into the event site, including two helipads, two stages, a green room, a rest area for dignitaries and a parking lot for the siren-blaring vehicles of politicians.
During our first visit to the site, I asked sheepishly how big the land given to the Maitreya Project was. “For as far as your eyes can see, Samten-la, is Maitreya land,” Rigzin Samphel replied. “Incredible,” I murmured, overwhelmed with the sight of lush green farmland and the thought of all the hardships everyone associated with the project has faced to acquire it and realize a profound dream of the holy guru. Rigzin Samphel further remarked that all the farmers were compensated suitably for the land.
Amongst much fanfare and great aplomb, Lama Zopa Rinpoche and Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav laid the foundation stone for the Maitreya Project.
Rinpoche addressed the audience, profusely thanking the farmers who gave up their land and all in attendance for their support and enthusiasm. Rinpoche also explained the great benefits of building the Maitreya Buddha statue and that the FPMT will commence work on the project very quickly, starting with setting up a health clinic for the local residents, and that the project will bring prosperity for the people by eventually employing many hundreds of people. Ven. Kabir Saxena simultaneously translated Rinpoche’s speech into Hindi.
Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav emphasized the profundity of the project and how it will give a great boost to the tourism and economy of the state during his speech. Moreover, he urged the trustees of the Maitreya Project to start the work quickly.
This is just the beginning of a dream unleashed on the holy land of Kushinagar. Maitreya Buddha will manifest in ways far beyond our imagination, all we need to do is to continue to create causes for this and never give up.
We extend our deepest gratitude to all the trustees of the Maitreya Project and all the devotees who have believed in the vision of Lama Yeshe and Lama Zopa Rinpoche.
Ven. Gyalten Samten is an Indian nun. Before ordaining, she had an active career as an actress in Bollywood movies and once held the title “Miss India.”
Mandala’s ongoing coverage of the Maitreya Project can be read online.
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Mandala Publications is the official publication of the Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition (FPMT), an international charitable organization founded by two Tibetan Buddhist masters, Lama Thubten Yeshe (1935-1984) and Lama Thubten Zopa Rinpoche. FPMT is a vibrant international community, with a network of 160 affiliate centers, projects and services, and members in more than 30 countries.
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