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"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

The Great Lotus Stupa

October 16, 2008

Amar Bahadur Shrestha
American Chronicle
October 13, 2008

Ferdinand Rinchen Phuntsok is 52 years old, dresses in Buddhist robes
and lives in Maha Manjushri Marg in Boudha. He is a German from near
Hamburg in northern Germany and in previous years was an aircraft
constructor as well as a software engineer. Today he is a naturopath
as well as the Director of Tara Foundation that was responsible for
constructing ´The Great Lotus Stupa´ in Lumbini in Western Nepal
(birthplace of Lord Gautam Buddha). Ferdinand first visited Nepal in
1981 and once later in 1987. From 1992 onwards the tall, blue eyed
and strongly constructed German began to come to Nepal more
frequently and on longer and more extended visits. Ferdinand names 66
year-old Sonam Joephel Rimpoche to be his ´Dharma Guru´ and says he
is a believer of the Drigung Kagyul Sect, a branch rooted in Tibetan
Buddhism that originated in the 13th century.

According to the big German, "The motivation to construct ´The Great
Lotus Stupa´ was derived in 1999 and a friend suggested Lumbini as
the ideal site for this project." Accordingly, a 99 year lease
contract for plot number WB4 on the west side of the Monastic Zone
was signed. The Lumbini Development Trust area is divided into three
zones, 1. Sacred Garden Zone 2. Monastic Zone, that includes the East
Zone where followers of Theravat Buddhism (Myanmar, Sri Lanka, India,
etc.) have built monasteries and the West Zone where countries with
predominant followers of Mahayana branch of Buddhism (Vietnam,
Kampuchea, Bhutan, Japan etc.) as well as followers of Tibetan
Buddhism (like, Drigyul Kagyul Sect) have built monasteries and 3.
Educational and Culture Zone that includes a research area.

Plot Number WB4 measures 120 meters by 120 meters (14,400 sq. m). The
´Great Lotus Stupa´ is one of the prominent monasteries in the area
and rises to a height of forty meters, which is similar to the Shanti
Stupa at the site. The stupa alone measures 27 meters above the
centrally located meditation hall that is 10 meters high and has a
diameter of 20 meters. The meditation hall is right beneath the stupa
because as Ferdinand says, "Where there is a stupa, there is a
Buddha." Although the main hall is square shaped from the outside,
inside it is a column free construction that is dome shaped.
Ferdinand explains, "Because no columns have been used, a dome shaped
hall was built in order to best carry the load."

"The design is based on Buddha´s teachings," says Ferdinand. "The
stupa design goes back to the writings of Tibetan scholar Rigzin
Choskyi Drakpa and is based on his ideas." The prominence of ´The
Great Lotus Stupa´ is not only due to its tall stupa according to the
German Buddhist, "Even the colors used are different from the usual
ones seen on other monasteries." Much emphasis has been on building
the stupa just right and according to Ferdinand, "the measurements
and style of stupas have to be according to principles dating back
thousands of years, right upto the time of Buddha". The meditation
hall was designed according to the concept put forward by Ferdinand´s
Guru, Sonam Jopephel Rimpoche who was determined to raise the height
of the stupa as far as possible.

"Narendra Brajacharya, the present President of Hotel Association of
Nepal, helped me to find a suitable architect," reveals Ferdinand.
Architect Rajesh Shrestha of Vastukala Paramarsh thus entered the
picture along with CE Construction Company. Construction was started
in May 2000 and ´The Great Lotus Stupa´ was inaugurated on 27th
February 2004. Care was also taken in landscaping and landscapist
Budhathoki was entrusted with the task. Besides the main hall and the
stupa, accommodations that can comfortably house 50 to 60 people have
been built on the site. "Of course Lumbini Development Trust rules
dictate that a monastery cannot house more than 10 monks at a time on
its premises," informs Ferdinand. "I believe this is to limit the
number of people and so avoid crowding of the site which would
definitely be contradictory to the peaceful and serene environment
envisaged in the area."

It was actually in 1976 during a visit by U Thant, the then Secretary
General of the United Nations, along with His Majesty, the late King
Birendra, that the idea of developing the site into an international
Buddhist Center was first mooted. The late King Birendra immediately
sanctioned a one by three mile area for the purpose and established
the Lumbini Development Trust to oversee the massive project. The
famous Japanese architect Kenzo Tange was appointed chief architect
and he drew up the master design in around the year 1978.

The largest plots in the area measure 160 meters by 160 meters while
the smallest are 80 meters by 80 meters. Many Asian countries like
Thailand, Vietnam, Japan, South Korea, China, Myanmar, Kampuchea,
India, Mongolia, Sri Lanka besides of course Nepal have built
monasteries there, and interestingly, Germany happens to be the only
western country to do so till now. However, according to Ferdinand,
"I believe Switzerland will soon be building a monastery too." As far
as Buddhism in Germany is concerned this is what he says, "I think
some teachings of Buddha began to spread in the 1960´s when Tibetan
refugees entered the country along with some who were ´Dharma Gurus´.
Of course there are not many who follow Buddhism as a religion."

Tara Foundation has built stupas in Germany, near Frankfurt, in
Austria, India (Sanskara and Pitthorgarh), and in Nepal (Swayambhu,
Tatopani and of course, Lumbini). The genial German with the wise
looking eyes wants to make clear that "My spiritual teacher is my
crown. We have to get permission from him before we can go ahead with
the building of stupas or with anything else." And although only
monasteries are supposed to be built in Lumbini, Ferdinand declares,
"Well, even ´The Great Lotus Stupa´ is after all a monastery with a
stupa on top just like the others. Only in our case the stupa is more
predominant than the others."
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