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 naturopathas 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 in1981 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 66year-old Sonam Joephel Rimpoche to be his ´Dharma Guru´ and says he is a practioner in 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 GreatLotus 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 Zonewas 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 Theravada Buddhism (Myanmar, Sri Lanka, India, etc.) have built monasteries and the West Zone where countries with predominant followers of Mahayana branch of Buddhism (Vietnam, Cambodia , 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 up to the time of Buddha”. The meditation hall was designed according to the concept put forward by Ferdinand´s Guru, Sonam Jopephel Rinpoche 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, Cambodia, 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.” ( which has been realized as the Swiss Austrian Geden International Institute ) 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.”
Source : Amar Bahadur Shrestha
October 13, 2008