Consider the candle to be the light of wisdom that illuminates all sentient beings, with the aspiration that wherever its light falls becomes the mandala . . .
— Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche
Khyentse Foundation, founded by the renowned Bhutanese lama, filmmaker, and writer Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche, recently provided a major progress update on its ambitious project to illuminate the revered Mahabodhi Temple in Bodh Gaya, India, with a state-of-the-art LED system. The objective is to overhaul the aging lighting and electrical systems in the temple complex to create what might be the largest and longest-lasting Buddhist light-offering.
“With the essential groundwork complete, all permits in hand, and initial funds received, Siddhartha’s Intent India broke ground in April and started the onsite work,” Khyentse Foundation announced in a statement dated 25 September. “We’ve had 50–60 workers on site, digging [one-meter-deep] trenches, laying three kilometers of pipes and cables of different specifications and sizes, placing manholes and covers, building fireproofed electrical rooms, installing panels, distribution boards, and switches, and much more—all while ensuring the utmost safety and security measures for both workers and pilgrims.” (Khyentse Foundation)
The project, called “Lighting the Mahabodhi” and undertaken with funding offered by Siddhartha’s Intent India with support from Khyentse Foundation and Vana Foundation, is perhaps the most ambitious Buddhist light-offering in history. Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche proposed the initiative in 2015, and in 2017 received approval from the Bodh Gaya Temple Management Committee and the Gaya District Magistrate. The project was officially launched on 26 March this year.*
“We are presently replacing the temple’s entire electrical infrastructure, which was 40–50 years old, partly dysfunctional, prone to regular breakdowns, and much more costly to run and short-lived than today’s low-energy LED fixtures,” said Khyentse Foundation. “Also, the eclectic fixtures had been installed over time in different locations as diverse pilgrim offerings arrived, so they were hard to maintain and replace because parts were not available.” (Khyentse Foundation)
Founded in 1986, Siddhartha’s Intent is an international collective of Buddhist groups supporting Rinpoche’s Buddhadharma activities by organizing teachings and retreats, distributing and archiving recorded teachings, transcribing, editing, and translating manuscripts and practice texts, and establishing a global community committed to continual study and practice. Khyentse Foundation, founded in 2001, is a nonprofit organization established by Rinpoche with the aim of promoting the Buddha’s teaching and supporting all traditions of Buddhist study and practice. The foundation’s activities include major text preservation and translation projects, support for monastic colleges in Asia, a worldwide scholarship and awards program, development of Buddhist studies at major universities, training and development for Buddhist teachers, and Buddhist education for children.
“Siddhartha’s Intent and Khyentse Foundation have never before undertaken any hands-on endeavor of this magnitude, scale, and complexity. And the project has massively expanded since its inception,” Khyentse Foundation explained. “For instance, the electrical infrastructure work revealed the major inadequacies of the sound system, so we are now—with the blessing and gratitude of the local officials—replacing the sound as well as the lights of the Mahabodhi Temple.” (Khyentse Foundation)
The Mahabodhi Temple, one of the most sacred of all pilgrimage sites for Buddhist practitioners, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site marking the place where the historical Buddha is said to have attained enlightenment. There are seven other sacred sites in Bodh Gaya, including the descendent of the original Bodhi tree.
“None of this would have been remotely possible without the generosity of our donors, who have already contributed US$740,000—more than half of total estimated costs—to Lighting the Mahabodhi. This amount will be spent by the end of November and we will then need US$660,000 more to complete the project,” Khyentse Foundation said in the statement. “Thanks to the usual Siddhartha’s Intent and Khyentse Foundation reliance on voluntary services at the management, executive, and public relations levels, and the generous contributions of Vana Foundation and of India’s leading lighting designers, Design Matrix, we aim to remain within the original US$1.4 million overall budget estimate.” (Khyentse Foundation)
Born in Bhutan and now based in Himachal Pradesh, India, Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche is the son of Thinley Norbu Rinpoche and was a close student of the Nyingma master Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche (1910–91). He is recognized as the third incarnation of Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo (1820–92), founder of the Khyentse lineage, and the immediate incarnation of Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö (1893–1959). In addition to Khyentse Foundation and Siddhartha’s Intent, his projects include 84000, a non-profit global initiative to translate the words of the Buddha and make them available to all; Lotus Outreach, which directs a wide range of projects to help refugees; and more recently The Lhomon Society, which promotes sustainable development in Bhutan through education.
“The atmosphere created by the Mahabodhi Temple is so potent it’s as if you fall into a trance. Here you’ll find the Vajra Seat (vajra asana, also known as the Diamond Seat) where, after many years of searching for the truth and six excruciating years of penance by the banks of the Niranjana River, Siddhartha finally discovered the Middle Path and achieved enlightenment under the Bodhi tree,” Rinpoche reflected. “The Bodhi tree is important to Buddhists because it is a symbol of enlightenment . . . showing respect for the Bodhi tree is not in any way the same as worshipping the spirit of a tree like a shaman, but rather a recognition of the extraordinary event that took place beneath its branches. (Lighting the Mahabodhi)
* Bodh Gaya’s Mahabodhi Temple to Receive New Hi-tech Illumination System (Buddhistdoor Global)