By Ding Gang Source: Global Times Published: 2019-11-28
All planes flying from Kathmandu to Lumbini in southwestern Nepal are air minibuses. Shortly after the aircrafts take off, what heaves in sight is usually undulating mountains on the edge of the mighty Himalayas. Only half an hour later, passengers could see an immense plain. It is a gateway to the core of Indian civilization. Google Maps shows the driving distance from Lumbini to New Delhi is about 800 kilometers.
Around 1500BC, Aryans from Central Asia invaded South Asia and occupied fertile lands in what is known today as the Ganges River Valley in India. Lumbini is located on the edge of this rich area, and Buddhism was born at this site in about 500BC.
A tour guide told me that Lumbini is less than 20 kilometers from the Indian border. Many China-made goods are sold in shops along the streets of nearby towns. People dressed in monk robes pass by from time to time. And in the birthplace of the Buddha, plenty of Chinese tourists can be seen.
The number of Chinese tourists visiting Nepal has increased phenomenally - from 5,160 in 2000 to 153,602 in 2018. And Lumbini is one of their major destinations. Zhong Hua Chinese Buddhist Monastery, with a history of more than 20 years, is the first national-level temple established overseas by the Beijing-based Buddhist Association of China.
As an increasing number of Buddhists from China, Japan, South Korea, and Southeast Asian countries visit Nepal's Lumbini to show their respect and devotion for the Buddha, this small town, which was hardly heard of by the world for a long time in the 20th century, is now of geopolitical significance.
In 2011, Doha-based media Al Jazeera unveiled an unconfirmed plan of China, saying the East Asian country would invest $3 billion in Lumbini for infrastructure development. On September 19, 2013, Le Monde of France published an article, stating that the soft power competition between China and India in Lumbini was soundless but fierce as it might decide which country would become the leader of more than 400 million Buddhists of various denominations worldwide, including Mahayana and Hinayana.
The guide told me, based on the discovery of Indian and European archaeologists, the Indian side has confirmed that the ancient city of Kapilavastu located in present-day Piprahwa, India, was the homeland of Sakyamuni. Kapilavastu is only about 1 kilometer from the India-Nepal border line.
However, Nepal identified present-day Tilaurakot in Nepal as the location of the historical site of Kapilavastu. In addition, legendary Chinese Buddhist monk Xuanzang who lived during the Tang Dynasty (618-907) recorded the Nepal-indentified location in his narrative. And there have been new findings in recent years.
Back to the times when Sakyamuni was alive, there wasn't a border line. The invasion of British colonialists has left marks of "nation" in people's mind, which can still be seen in many Asian countries. Hence, Lumbini, in addition to being a spiritual site, is also a political one. It could provide important clues for us to know present-day Asia.
The world heritage site is at the foot of the Himalaya mountains, which could hardly become an obstacle for people-to-people exchanges in Asia amid the advent of globalization. People from Lumbini can feel the tremendous changes that are taking place in the world. In the foreseeable future, railways and highways will cross the mountains and extend into Nepal to link the Buddhist pilgrimage site, the starting point of Buddhism.
A railway that crosses China-Nepal border and links Xigaze in Southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region to Nepal's capital Kathmandu is under construction. In the meantime, a railway that starts from the India-Nepal border and ends at Kathmandu is on the agenda of the Indian government.
While I was heading toward the airport and villages, fields, and trees passed by, I kept thinking: Does it mean China and India will shake hands at the birthplace of Buddhism if the two ancient civilizations are linked via Nepal?
Ding Gang is a senior editor with People's Daily, and currently a senior fellow with the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at Renmin University of China.