We are thrilled to report that the full budget has now been raised and we wish to thank all who have given time, money, idea, rejoicing, and well wishes to the Lighting the Mahabodhi project.
In spring 2019, the Lighting the Mahabodhi (LTM) project officially began operations at the temple site in Bodhgaya. With the blessings of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas and the generous support of donors from all over the world, the project has progressed smoothly with the efficient, dedicated, and diligent work of the LTM management and the local work team. Although the on-site work at the Mahabodhi Temple is paused due to the present lockdown in India, the team is monitoring the situation closely and is ready to resume work as soon as conditions allow. In the meantime, the LTM team wishes to share with everyone the progress on the project at its one-year mark.
A One-Year Report from the LTM Team
As much as we are painfully aware of coronavirus epicentres, we must at such difficult times pay extra heed to the epicentre of our own buddhadharma – sacred Bodhgaya. For it was there that Siddhartha, an ordinary human being like us, realized the truth of suffering and the pathway to overcoming the afflictions of birth, old age, sickness, and death.
This moment of global woe and suffering may be the perfect time to rekindle the light of wisdom and to celebrate our Lighting the Mahabodhi with the deep aspiration that our effort may free countless beings from the anguish and anxiety they presently endure.
Of course, we’ve had to deal with practical issues. India’s 6-week lockdown stopped our work at the Mahabodhi Temple, which had been proceeding beautifully in the spacious quiet of environs almost devoid of pilgrims due to prior travel restrictions. And yet, assuming that the situation is resolved within the next two months, we still hope to finish on schedule by September 2020, and within our budget.
If everything goes well, a grand Light Offering Ceremony is planned for October in which we will offer the entire project, complete with brand new world-class electrical infrastructure and 600 new lights illuminating every part of the temple complex, to the Bodhgaya Temple Management Committee, which runs the temple. We aspire that that the lights will symbolize a new way forward for the world – peaceful, harmonious, prosperous, and at one with nature.
Anguish and celebration
Buddhists know that events are not random but result from causes and conditions. And so we recognize that the present human distress cannot be separated from past human greed, aggression, and ignorance. But that is no reason to sink into grim depression. On the contrary, this is the time to celebrate the seeds of good and wholesome karma wherever they are planted. And in this case, the seeds of noble aspiration and generosity have literally been translated into nuts, bolts, pipes, cables, and light bulbs.
In the past year we have offered to Buddhism’s most sacred shrine 3,000 metres of double-walled corrugated pipes, 400 energy-efficient LED lights, 100 metres of LED strip lights, 60 poles for post-top lights,125 manholes and covers, and 16,000 metres of electrical cables and fire-retardant wires, for which we dug 2,500 metres of trenches. All this and very much more adds up to a high-quality, state-of-the-art, ecologically sound new electrical and lighting system for the site where the Buddha attained enlightenment.
What’s more, over the past year, our relations with the temple management have become so warm and trusting that they have asked us to include many key improvements like extensive landscaping and a new top-notch sound system, which were not in the original lighting design. Through careful budgeting and many generous volunteer and pro bono contributions, we are able to include all this within our original budget.
A labour of love and devotion
To reach this momentous concluding phase has taken unparalleled love, commitment, and generosity. As well as our kind donors, our teams of electricians, architects, and local workers have given their sweat and hard labour on the ground for a full year – working even in sizzling summer temperatures in the mid-40s. And during the pilgrimage season, we’ve adjusted the work to accommodate the needs of all manner of pilgrims, from Bangladeshi farmers to Sri Lankan monks to Harvard professors.
Because the temple is such a sacred heritage site, enormous care has been taken at every step to ensure that the stone work, paint, plaster, grinding, polishing, and all fixtures and materials blend immaculately into the existing structure and are entirely camouflaged. That care often takes a lot of cumbersome and meticulous extra work that slows down progress.
For example, we did the whole light installation without drilling or placing a single screw into the temple itself. We placed 200 top-quality Italian lights around the Ashoka wall to illumine the great bodhi tree itself. But because we can’t drill into marble without leaving cracks, we replaced the entire marble, working just 6 to 8 feet at a time.
Before installing anything at all, we went through a painstaking process of careful procurement, testing, design simulating, and more. Our basic principle from start to finish in every aspect of this project is to create the most durable, high-quality, ecologically friendly installation possible, adapted fully to the temple aesthetics and leaving the existing heritage structure in the same condition as we found it—or even better.
We have joined ancient and modern: We have entirely replaced the old electrical system, which was outdated, obsolete, unsafe, and highly vulnerable to breakdowns with a modern, reliable, safe, state-of-the-art electrical system. And we’ve followed the best environmental practices, ensuring the most efficient energy use; minimal backlighting, glare, and light pollution; and full sensitivity to birds, trees, and the night-time sky.
From darkness to light – the next steps
As soon as India’s lockdown eases, we will resume our work and hopefully will complete it by September. And then, as Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche says, “we will soon celebrate overcoming this present darkness by coming together” for a wonderful light offering ceremony to offer the entire completed project to the temple.
That’s not all that lies ahead. Another unanticipated need is that we must keep two highly trained electrical and technical experts on site for the next two years to ensure full and proper knowledge transfer and skills training to the temple staff on operating and maintaining the new system and equipment in optimal condition.
Beyond these technical necessities, something much greater is being quietly achieved. Lighting the Mahabodhi is not just our gift to the “temple” as a physical entity, but to Buddhists – Theravada, Mahayana, and Vajrayana – from every corner of the world, and to the buddhadharma as a light of inspiration and liberation for all beings.
Over this past year we’ve been heartened to show the work in progress and to receive such positive feedback and encouragement from hundreds of monks, teachers, scholars, and lay people worldwide.
Thank you, from all of us on the Lighting the Mahabodhi team, for helping light the way from pandemic and darkness to luminous liberation.