Musings on Buddhism and modern global culture, plus a few miscellaneous topics.
Friday, 20 September 2013
National Prestige and Soft Power Politics in Buddha's Birthplace
By Ilaria Maria Sala in The Wall Street Journal "The plain of Terai, a poor agricultural land crossed by holy rivers, straddles the border between Nepal and India. Its sweltering summers see temperatures climb above 100 degrees, but this parched terrain might be on the verge of tumultuous changes. On the Nepali side is the small city of Lumbini, which, after long neglect, is now at the center of great power politics.
This is where the Lord Buddha was born, about 2,500 years ago, under a bodhi tree at the bend of a small creek. His mother, a Hindu princess called Maya, was traveling to her parental home in Kapilavastu when her labor started, and all her entourage could do was stop and arrange a place for her to give birth under the tree, near a pool of water..."
"...The U.N. involvement means a lot of emphasis is given to representing Buddhist nations: On one side of the canal, every country that follows the Theravadha ("Small Vehicle") tradition of Buddhism—such as Burma, Cambodia, Laos, Sri Lanka and Thailand—has, or will have, a temple. The other side is reserved for the countries following the Mahayana tradition ("Greater Vehicle"), like China, Japan, Korea and Mongolia. It translates into a hodgepodge of styles and many replicas of famous buildings. Burma has built a concrete Shwedagon Pagoda; China, a smaller version of the Forbidden City. So far only about a dozen of the foreseen 42 buildings have been erected. One of the problems has been the lack of cash: The finished project should cost about $64 million in total, but not all contributing Buddhist countries see this as a priority.
Enter the Asia Pacific Exchange and Cooperation Foundation (APECF), a well-funded Chinese association headed by a rather mysterious figure, Linus Xiao Wunan. A Buddhist and a Chinese Communist Party member, he wants to see a whole Peace City built here and a tower called "Lumbini Cloud."
"..."APECF is part of the grander strategy of increasing China's soft power," Mr. Xiao says, "but we are independent, and the Lumbini development project is our own idea."
Still, China is also getting busy building an international airport here, with direct flights from major Chinese cities, as well as restaurants and hotels to cater to the devout masses.
The U.N. is also still involved: Ban Ki-moon, the Secretary General and himself a Buddhist, has often mentioned the need to develop Lumbini, and those in the know say that the push comes from Mr. Ban's mother, a fervent Buddhist. At least one Korean sect, called Chhoge, has been received by Mr. Dahal for this very reason, and according to Nepali newspaper reports Mr. Dahal has signed an MOU with it, too.
"Our plans are not incompatible," says Mr. Xiao in Beijing. "This is going to be for the whole Buddhist world. To those who find it too striking, I say: At the beginning nobody liked the Pyramid at the Louvre."
India, once more, is left looking uneasily as China expands its influence in its backyard, tapping into the soft-power potential of Buddhism, and an air of Buddhist Great Game can be felt in what was until now the sleepy, holy site of Buddha's birth." Read it all
"Indian entertainment channels remained blocked in Nepal on Friday following a protest call by a Maoist faction over Zee TV claiming Buddha was born in Nepal.
The All Nepal Revolutionary Cine Worker Association, which is associated with Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist, had urged cable operators to block all Indian channels for 24 hours starting 8:00 am on Friday.
Protesting against Zee TV’s claim in its serial ‘Buddha’ that the founder of Buddhism was born in India, the association has also called for an indefinite ban on the channel.
“If we self-respecting Nepalis don’t oppose such naked Indian expansionism then it could threaten our national honour and dignity,” the association stated in a release.
Though nearly two dozen entertainment channels remained off air other Indian channels based on news, movies, music and religious discourse were not blocked despite the demand by the Maoist faction.
The first episode of the serial ‘Buddha’ telecast on Sunday was blocked across Nepal by over 300 cable operators for fears of hurting sentiments of millions of Nepali viewers.
In its website promoting the serial Zee TV had claimed Buddha was born in India. Actor Kabir Bedi who is part of the serial had also made the same mistake in a promotional programme.
Historical records state Buddha was born in Lumbini located in the Terai plains of southern Nepal. Even UNESCO has accepted this fact while granting world heritage site status to Lumbini.
Following widespread outrage in Nepal through social media platforms, both the channel and Bedi accepted their mistake and apologized. But the storm has refused to die down in Nepal..."