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Last updated: Tuesday, April 30, 2002
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Village Republic's letter

Introduction

I first became aware of local disquiet in Bodh Gaya over the Maitreya project in August 1999 when I recieved a copy of the letter below from a friend. It lays out clearly the position of some members of the Bodh Gaya community on the proposed statue project. Read it for yourself and see what you think.

Cover Letter

Bodh Gaya 24 July 1999

Dear Friends,

The enclose letter from the Bodh Gaya Forum of Village Republics (Gram Ganrajya Manch in Hindi) was sent to the 11 members of the Maitreya Project International Board of Directors. It was meant to put forward our concerns about the said Project. Unfortunately there has been no response, though we are aware that the letter has reached. We can see that we are being ignored deliberately. We now feel free to share our concerns with some of you who have been influenced by Buddhist teachings as also with those who know about the Maitreya Project. We want to make it clear that our concern is not only about the proposed gigantic statue. Our concern is also about the future effects of this Project on the villages of the area. We see clearly that our villages will no longer remain villages. They will degenerate into slums. We are afraid that the proclaimed values of the Maitreya Statue - i.e. Maitri, loving kindness, compassion - will prove to be only wishful thinking. Instead we will have more greed and dependence on market forces, cut-throat competition and unemployment, disintegration of the community and cultural degeneration. Instead of peace we will have growing unrest. Bodh Gaya is being developed not so much as a Centre of Spirituality - but as focal point of the Tourism Industry. In the place of spirituality, materialism is growing. In the race for the global village, today our local villages are endangered. How can we justify the misuse of massive resources - at the cost of the poor people? We want you to share our concern and be in solidarity with us to save the local villages from the clutches of the imperialist global village. We sincerely believe that this can be a RELIGION for TODAY. Thank you,

Your friends of the Bodh Gaya Forum of Village Republics.

Contact Address

Office: Gram Ganrajya Manch Mian Bhigha - Bodh Gaya: 824231, Bihar, India Bodh

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Letter to Maitreya Project

Gaya Forum of Village Republics

To the Venerable Lama Zopa Rinpoche and the Board of Directors: Maitreya Project - Bodh Gaya

We introduce ourselves as members of the Bodh Gaya Forum of Village Republics. This Forum stands for grass-roots democracy and a social order built on spiritual values of freedom, justice and peace. We wish to construct a society that believes in community life where compassion, human dignity, labour-intensive right livelihood and sustainability are honoured. We do not support centralised, autocratic state systems and we are against insensitive, consumerist social orders based on values that are neo-colonial and capitalist. Our Bodh Gaya Forum of Village Republics is deeply concerned about the Maitreya Project. This is because our villages are going to be affected by this Project. In this paper we put forward our concerns and apprehensions and we wish to engage in dialogue with you. In the name of the Buddha and the Development of Bodh Gaya the villages of this area are being affected adversely. Some of the villages are being fragmented. Self-sufficient agro-based communities are deteriorating rapidly. Community life is disintegrating and may soon disappear. Bodh Gaya is being developed as an International Tourist Centre. The negative effects of the tourist industry and market forces are daily staring us in the face. A few local people have overnight become millionaires - but a great many are reduced to poverty. The number of beggars has increased. In the area there is growing unrest. Black-marketing is rampant. Vulnerable groups like women and children are being exploited. Yesterday we villagers lived with feelings of self-worth and cherished the values of hard work and right livelihood. But today we see more and more greed, cheating and a growing desire to grab easy money. Within a few years our village community life has had a tremendous set-back - economically and politically. The "magic of the market" has dazzled the children of our farmers. The Maitreya Project is part of this so-called development of Bodh Gaya in the name of the Lord Buddha. Therefore our concern is even greater. Our Indian government is happy. The tourism industry will develop. Dollars will come pouring in. The business community is happy. Rackets will grow. But what will our villages have to gain? All that we have said above about our apprehensions? What is the plan and thought process behind this multi-crore (one crore=ten million: ed.) Maitreya Project and the massive "cutting-edge-technology" statue? What relationship do these plans and thought processes have with Buddha and Buddhism? Is this not a commercialisation of religion? We wonder about this materialistic mind-state and these symbols of ego fulfillment. For the farmers of our poor countries who are victims of neo-colonialism such non-productive work is a misuse of social resources. We are being told that the statue will generate loving kindness and compassion. But those who understand the culture of our country realise that our deities have human proportions and are not monstrous. For the people here it is unfortunate that an image meant to represent a great personality like the Buddha will be projected in such a monstrous form. We are distressed at this cultural insensitivity. None of the most beautiful statues in the world have such gigantic proportions. The central theme of Buddhist philosophy is simplicity. For this huge statue a huge amount of money is required. Where is this money coming from? Is it coming from people who live a simple life? And if this is not the case, can such money be the "cause" that can "effect" loving kindness? We question the belief: a 500 foot statue can generate a great value of compassion. Then why not construct a 5000 foot statue? Such statues can be installed in Japan or the U.S. where they could serve to inspire communities that are more broken by consumerism and capitalism. The unrest and suffering in the world today is a product of the consumer/materialist culture that misuses science, technology and human and social resources. This unrest can be overcome and peace can be attained when we work against the evils of consumerism. Can peace be attained through this devotion to a statue? We need to find positive approaches that can replace negative alienating approaches to the problem of suffering. Buddha said: "Know yourself. Know reality. Understand the causes of suffering. Work hard to overcome the suffering. This is the right path. This is the DHAMMA."

Finally because of this massive Maitreya Project there is a fear and anxiety that the surrounding villages will be displaced. This is our special concern. Please do not disturb the peace of our peaceful villages.

This is our earnest request. There has already been some environmental damage. The project has already affected the irrigation patterns of Balua and Kaloura villages and other villages near by. There have been no alternative arrangements for irrigation and water supply.

We sincerely hope you will think over the above matters and respond to the following address within 30 days.

Contact address: Jagdish Yadav, Post Master, Gram Balua, near Maitreya Project, Bodh Gaya 824231, Bihar, India Bodh Gaya: 28 May 1999

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Texts and Translations © Peter G. Friedlander unless otherwise indicated.