The Buddhist Lama and the Indian Farmer: Negotiating Modernity and Tradition in the Development Plans for Kushinagar, India

Jessica Falcone
Kansas State University


Conventional wisdom often holds that economic development is the engine of modernity, and that it is busily working against the deeply entrenched conservative attitudes of village elders who are aligned against progress. The presupposition here is that rural beneficiaries are shortsightedly attached to outdated and traditional economic ways and means. But is it really the case that tradition stands in direct opposition to progress? Though it is sometimes the case that traditional ways of doing things are shunted aside by development projects that purport to increase efficiency and yield (sometimes to the ultimate advantage of beneficiaries, though not always),¹ there are often much more complex negotiations between “the modern” and “the traditional” in the daily workings of development in action.² In this chapter, by drawing on a specific case study of a development project in process, I will show that modernity and tradition are often much more interdependent and intertwined than generally recognized. In development partnerships, the discourses of modernity are not solely the domain of the development agency, and nor are local beneficiaries necessarily the only actors in the situation who are committed to traditional ideologies. As we shall see in the following case study, throughout the process of planning its large-scale spiritual-development project for India, the Maitreya Project has relied heavily on both traditional and modern technologies and ideologies. The intended village beneficiaries in Kushinagar, India, have also expressed values from both ends of the modern-traditional spectrum.

The transnational Tibetan Buddhist group, the Foundation for the Preservation for the Mahayana Tradition (FPMT), which is based in the United States, is planning to build a 500-ft Maitreya Buddha statue in rural India. In order to bring this hope to fruition, FPMT formed the Maitreya Project, a nonprofit organization specifically dedicated to the cause of constructing this monolithic statue and its affiliated socioeconomic development projects. Giant statues are nothing new in Tibetan Buddhism, but contemporary technology and fast-growing global networks of devotees and e-donors have created conditions for a project of a uniquely gargantuan scope. Just to emphasize how enormous the statue will be if it is indeed built someday: in contrast, the Statue of Liberty is just 151 feet tall (and a mere 305 feet from foundation of her pedestal to the tip of the torch). The 500-ft Maitreya Buddha would not only be the tallest Buddha statue in the world, it would be the tallest statue in the world.

The Maitreya Project’s proponents have argued that the statue would become a celebrated tourist attraction that would bring a desperately needed economic jolt to a pilgrimage site in India that is currently in a notably poor region of an economically depressed state.

The project has been loudly trumpeted as equal parts economic development and spiritual inspiration; for those unimpressed with the potential for financial benefits to trickle-down to the struggling farmers and landless laborers of the area, the Maitreya Project has promised an added development bonus: a health care facility, and a school.

However, it is something of an understatement to say that not everyone is cheering the Maitreya Project’s plans. The 750-acre tract of land in the Kushinagar area of Uttar Pradesh to be acquired through the law of eminent domain for the purposes of the Maitreya Project is currently owned by thousands of small farmers who are now engaging in a “people’s struggle” against the statue project. These farmers have their own set of ethics, and their own attachments to particular notions of how to balance their traditional village agricultural lifestyle with the more modern Indian dream of improved socioeconomic satisfaction through conspicuous consumption. In this chapter, I will explore the tension between particular notions of modernity and tradition that haunt each one of these communities, and how these concepts have served to fan the flames of discord between the Buddhists and the farmers.

Drawing on my research in India on the highly controversial Maitreya Project plans in Kushinagar,³ I will juxtapose these two communities’ very disparate claims regarding how to best balance the modern and the traditional. I will then discuss how the utter failure to communicate and/or negotiate these discourses with one another thus far may have effectively put the future plans and dream of both groups—the FPMT and farmers—on very shaky ground.

Mahaparinirvana Stupa Kushinagar

© Heidi Reyes | The Mahaparinirvana Stupa in Kushinagar (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Part One: A Buddhist Lama’s Gift

FPMT is a diverse, global Buddhist empire stretching across oceans, with footholds on nearly every continent. While its main spiritual directors have thus far been ethnically Tibetan, its cadre of monastic teachers includes at least as many Western converts as ethnic Tibetans. FPMT’s devotees and students hail from the Netherlands, Spain, Mexico, Canada, Taiwan, Singapore, and many other countries. As of 2010, FPMT had over 150 centers in upwards of 35 countries around the globe. Although Tibetan Buddhists in the Gelukpa tradition, FPMT devotees from Germany and Malaysia and elsewhere require that the teachings be made available in English (or their native language). Also, their ways of learning must necessarily be quite different from the more traditional monastic or lay pedagogies found in either Tibet or the post-invasion Tibetan diaspora. This tension itself requires a complex negotiation of the tropes of the modern and the traditional. As an organization bent on translating and transforming “authentic” Tibetan Buddhist practices into a language, aesthetic, and tone that speaks to educated, upper-and middle-class Westerners and Asians, questions of replicability and translatability have persistently dogged the community. In general terms, the commonly held belief within FPMT is that traditional Tibetan Buddhist practice has been transplanted successfully into new, modern terrain under the watchful eye of authentic Tibetan spiritual masters.

As FPMT, and its subsidiary, the Maitreya Project, have busily raised money the world over, they have specifically promoted the discourse of blending the “modern” with the “authentic,” the “new” with the “old,” and the “future” with the “past.” FPMTers in league with the statue plan believe that it will both figuratively and literally serve as a bridge between the past, present, and future. In Tibetan Buddhist theology, Maitreya is the future Buddha (also known as the Buddha of loving-kindness) who will descend from Tushita heaven to teach humanity in the distant future when we are deemed ready. FPMT devotees believe that making a statue of the Maitreya Buddha now will both inspire loving-kindness, and make karmic connections between the makers/viewers of the statue and the future Buddha himself.

Proponents of the statue project bill it as an “engaged Buddhist” project. FPMT teachers tell their students that the statue would bring socioeconomic benefits to Indian villagers in the form of increased access to the tourist dollars that would trickledown to peripheral rural neighborhoods; FPMT teachers also say that the statue would simultaneously forge significant spiritual imprints between Maitreya and the viewers of the statue.

Lama Zopa Rinpoche, the founder of the Maitreya Project, and the main spiritual guru connecting over a hundred Buddhist centers around the world, has said, “Actualizing the Maitreya statue is the goal of my life” (2001). His guru, mentor, and FPMT-co-founder, Lama Yeshe, was actually the person who first articulated the idea to build a big Maitreya statue. According to FPMT devotees, Lama Yeshe wanted to give a Maitreya statue to India as a gift, since it was the country that had sheltered and helped Tibetan refugees in their time of need.

Notably, Lama Yeshe never said that he wanted a 500-foot statue of the Maitreya Buddha in Kushinagar. In 1982, Lama Yeshe first discussed his dream to build a Maitreya statue in Bodh Gaya, the place of the historical Buddha’s enlightenment (Colony, 1998, p. 38). For years the statue plan was just a disembodied name floating around the corridors of FPMT centers. Initially called “Maitreya for World Peace,” it was conceived of by many devotees as an “ambitious plan to build a sixty-foot statue of Maitreya, the Buddha to come, in Bodhgaya, the place where Buddha attained enlightenment” (Mackenzie, 1995, p. 207). Lama Yeshe died in 1984, but his desire to build a giant Maitreya statue was carried forward by his devotees, especially his foremost disciple, Lama Zopa Rinpoche.

Maitreya Statue

Promotional poster released by Maitreya Project showing a computer-generated rendering of the proposed Maitreya Project Statue to be constructed in Kushinagar. (January 2009)

Lama Zopa Rinpoche had even more grandiose plans for the statue, and the size and scope of the project increased gradually until 1996, when the height of the proposed statue jumped from 421 feet to the currently expected 500 feet (News India/Nepal, 1996). Arguably, the growth of the statue points to a new Buddhist gigantism that fits into a trend in transnational religious materiality; giant Buddhist, Hindu and Christian statues are appearing throughout the globe, and may indicate both a new outlet for the flow of donations in the pre-Great Recession economic boom, as well as a manifestation of inter-and intra-religious competition. After over a dozen years of unsuccessfully trying to get the Indian state of Bihar to cooperate with plans to construct the statue in Bodh Gaya, the Maitreya Project shifted its plan to Kushinagar, a small pilgrimage town in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, which is famous for being the locality where the Shakyamuni Buddha reputedly passed away just over 2500 years ago.

Because the Maitreya Project’s statue itself represents a unique melding of traditional and modern values—a statue supposed to bring spiritual and socioeconomic boons—in designing the project, the organization has sought to bring together the expertise of both religious masters and scientists. At a meeting of “experts” in 1997 held upon the original Maitreya Project land in Bodh Gaya, which included three Taiwanese architects, two Malaysian feng-shui (or geomancy) experts, and two Taiwanese specialists from a corporation peddling their system for the “computer-aided manufacturing” of statues, the geomancers spent their time busily “propitiating the guardian deities of the land to co-operate requesting that there be no mishaps and that all work be accomplished without obstacle” (Colony, 1997, p. 12). In the end, the geomancers reported that the “three resident deities had all agreed.” The very eclectic mix of various types of expertise represented at that 1997 meeting demonstrates the unique respect for tradition displayed by this development project.

The work of the Maitreya Project has enabled various technologies of planning from the beginning, using both traditional and modern techniques to make a prototype statue. In the process, the skill sets of geologists and engineers are considered as valuable as the advice of lamas with divination expertise. According to a handful of FPMT devotees, decisions are sometimes made by the Maitreya Project’s Canadian CEO or his Australian right-hand man, but sometimes affiliated lamas will make decisions with the help of divinations (mos).

Mos are a fairly common aspect of Tibetan religious practice. Most likely a part of the indigenous tradition of Tibet that was adapted during the influx of Buddhism, divinations are considered one of the provinces of the Tibetan Buddhist tulkus (reincarnate lamas). Lamas often use dice, malas (rosaries), or dough-balls to tell the future for themselves or their devotees. The diviner has established a ritual connection with a particular deity who invests the divinations with supernatural insight. These kind of predictive rituals were used to determine where the Maitreya Project’s statue should be shifted once Bodh Gaya proved unworkable. In addition, my FPMT informants claimed that Lama Zopa Rinpoche casts mos periodically to determine what steps the Maitreya Project should take next.

FPMT would also periodically ask its devotees at Buddhist centers to do particular chanting and prayer rituals in order to improve the prospects for the Maitreya Project. The inability of the Maitreya Project to take possession of the land in Kushinagar once inspired Lama Zopa Rinpoche and his attendants to surreptitiously visit a corner of the contested land (without meeting the farmers for a discussion of their concerns) to do rituals to remove the karmic obstacles to the project. The act of handling the impasse by doing rituals to tame troubled land deities and smooth out karmic blockades represents an institutional choice to engage with problems via more traditional routes.

The question of authenticity, the traditional aura of the past, and the connection of the present with the ancient is crucial to FPMT devotees in multiple ways; the guru lineage gives the organization and its works an air of the authentic, as does the reliance on some traditional scripture, rituals, and artistic practices. Though the slippages between modern and traditional cause anxiety and tension along the way, the Maitreya Project has been embraced by many FPMTers because it is a modem development project that is embedded in a traditional framework that devotees have come to respect.

Part Two: Grassroots Resistance in Kushinagar

Before I left for Kushinagar for the first time in 2003, a friend told me, “You’re going to Kushinagar?! Why would you do that to yourself? You’re going to hate it. It’s backwards. A dump.” Everything I have ever heard about Kushinagar both from visitors and locals since then suggests that it is generally viewed as being too sleepy, too quiet, underdeveloped, and provincial. Outsiders view Kushinagar as an über-traditional destination—a place of historical significance to Buddhists, with rows of small monasteries surrounded by rural farming villages. But, I would argue that there is no simple modern/traditional delineation possible even here.

The rural villages surrounding Kushinagar arguably represent a modernized traditional India. Many of the farmers consider themselves very modem products of the Green Revolution and practice a breed of farming that was quite different than their fathers’ and fathers’ fathers’. Although some farming families struggle to make ends meet, others own a TV, cell phone, and/or motorcycle. One informant noted that most of the cement houses that I had seen during our tour of a village had been constructed over the course of the past 25 years; when he was a child they had all been huts made of wood beams and mud thatch.

Woman from Kushinagar

© Acumen_ | Woman from Kushinagar (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Social workers in Kushinagar today often talk about the notable progress that has been made over the past few decades in terms of education, economic opportunities, and overall health and prosperity. For example, many farmers send their daughters to local schools, a practice that simply did not occur a handful of decades ago. However, the same social workers are quick to point out and bemoan elements of “traditional thinking” and social practices that survive despite their best efforts to change hearts and minds about gender inequality: girls being married off before their schooling is finished and often against their wishes; a cultural preference for boys, so that many girls are still regretted at birth and ill-treated in life; many women hiding behind veils at public meetings, and very few speaking at all. If there are economic sacrifices to be made, then a family will discontinue a girl child’s education before anything else.

So is Kushinagar the backwards place that everyone thinks it is, or is it a modernizing one? Both? Neither? Progress, like the notions of development or modernity, is itself a product of its context. My farming informants consider themselves quite modem, and point out the stark differences between themselves and their elders.

When the Uttar Pradesh government publicly announced its intention to forcibly take hundreds of acres of land from nearly 2000 small-farming families for the purposes of the Maitreya Project, they did so out of faith that the promises of economic development would bear fruit. The prospect of changing seven sleepy little Indian farming villages into something else, something better, something commercial, thriving, and modern, appealed to bureaucrats. But it is precisely because of their self-professed modern outlook that my informants from Kushinagar, both male and female farmers, say that they will fight the Maitreya Project plan so fiercely. They do not want to be set back economically, and they are sure that the loss of their land will be devastating to their economic security and future prospects.

So, while the farmers of Kushinagar almost all do desire certain pecuniary by-products of development, economic progress, and improved conditions and opportunities for their families, as a community they have fiercely defied the land acquisition. The devils we know (some poverty, insecurity, and corruption, e.g.), they said, are better than the devil we don’t know (i.e., a giant land-grabbing Buddha project). In fact, the farmers of Kushinagar all felt that the forcible land acquisition unquestionably threatened to bring more poverty, insecurity, and corruption for them in the short term (and probably in the long term as well). In Kushinagar, social workers, rural nonprofit organizations, and farmers’ advocacy groups all argued that while the overall local economy may improve with the advent of the Maitreya Project, the disenfranchised lower class farmers would lose everything and get unceremoniously pushed aside while the unaffected middle and upper classes would reap almost all of the development benefits. The farmers believe that development would come solely at their expense they would slip through the cracks, and be lost.

For almost a decade the famers of Kushinagar, organized by an anti-Maitreya Project group called the Save the Land Movement, have protested on a regular basis¹⁰—blocking the national highway, holding hunger strikes and fasts, gathering to confront government bureaucrats, and so forth-always with the same message: the Maitreya Project is not welcome here, as long as our land is being seized against our will for its benefit. Mohandas Gandhi, the famous Indian peace-maker and activist, is invoked often during speeches in the fields of Kushinagar, but not as often as the radical Marxist freedom fighter Subhash Chandra Bose, who felt that the ends justified the means, even if blood needed to be shed. If the police attempt to move the farmers by force, then the farmers say that they will defend their land by any means necessary. Nonviolence, my farming informants have said, is simply not practical.

The Kushinagari farmers, social workers, and activists look backwards in time for their models of heroism, but they also look north toward the Uttar Pradesh state capital at Lucknow, home of the celebrated activist Sandeep Pandey (who is one of the co-founders of ASHA for Education organization that raises money for rural Indian schools). Sandeep Pandey is now a main organizer of the National Alliance for People’s Movements, a group that has taken a keen interest in the plight of Kushinagari farmers. The Save the Land Movement looks to Pandey for guidance, and he has attended and supported several anti-Maitreya Project protests over the years, and even drawn some of the Kushinagari activists to his anti-globalization workshops in Varanasi and Lucknow. He takes credit for the fact that some of the Kushinagari farmer activists and social workers see the plight of Kushinagaris as a negative side-effect of globalization, a by-product of Capitalist neo-imperialism. Still, in an interview with him in Lucknow, he shook his head sadly, and said, “The problem with the anti-Maitreya Project struggle is that they are not putting up a holistic struggle. They are only fighting for better compensation, so it is not, giving the people strength. It is not an ideological struggle there. They are dealing with the same politicians, but only fighting against the Maitreya Project, not for their rights holistically.” Some of the Kushinagari activists, mostly school teachers and social workers who live in the affected villages, are his admirers, and they have embraced anti-globalization ideology writ large. In general, however, the Kushinagari farmers are not interested in talk of Revolution with a capital “R.” They simply want to keep their land, they want change that makes sense, and they want it to happen at a slower clip, more carefully, and on their own terms, instead of at their expense.

During an interview, a staffer from the Maitreya Project once called these farmers “too traditional” and “very provincial,” and said that they were so afraid of change that they foolishly protest the opportunity of a lifetime. But the protesting farmers refuse this as false duality; instead, one farmer told me that they might be less educated than the Maitreya Project’s staff people, but they were smart enough to know the difference between medicine and poison. The farmers of Kushinagar are only afraid of the changes that would drastically destabilize their socioeconomic world. They simultaneously desire other kinds of change, and they are very vocal about their hopes that the economy will continue to slowly improve. Most farmers want better economic opportunities for their children, more education, more jobs, more stability, and more luxuries. They have seen enough Bollywood movies and serials to have digested glimpses of the good life, and many hope that their children will move up in the world.

So is it backwards to resist the tidal wave of change and uncertainty that the Maitreya Project would bring? Or is the fact that Indian farmers are standing up against local bureaucrats and transnational interests and saying, “No, we will be heard, and we will fight for our rights!” actually an ultra-modem act? In my view, the farmers are choosing progress, but their view of progress is suspicious of the trickle-down models of economic development that their government and foreign proponents have sought to force upon them. This resistance is not strictly about rejecting a means to modernity; rather, their anti-Maitreya Project stance reflects cultural perceptions of justice, stability, and community that have direct implications for an alternative vision of a brighter future.

Part Three: Miscommunication and Missed Opportunities

Participatory development, wherein local stakeholders and external development practitioners meet to discuss and work out a development project together, as collaborators or partners, is widely believed to be one of the most mutually satisfying and successful ways to approach economic development (Chambers, 1997; Mukherjee, 1995; Nelson and Wright, 1995). Even scholars who have challenged participatory development in practice for being a development industry cooptation of the more radical activities it once purported to address (e.g., see Gardner and Lewis, 1996, for this discussion) note that its problems stem from being less grassroots and bottom-up than it ideally should be. Despite the fact that the FPMT organization religiously promotes the notions of “compassion” and “loving-kindness,” the Maitreya Project staff have never indicated interest in participatory or “bottom-up” development in Kushinagar. Furthermore, in research interviews and public relations communications (e.g., Gatter, 2007), the Maitreya Project has argued that the questions of compensation and ethics are not their responsibility until the Uttar Pradesh government officially hands over the land.

In the impasse between the Maitreya Project and the Kushinagari farmers, there is a remarkable lack of communication, and not a single iota of cooperation. Since the Maitreya Project is run by a group of individuals who live all over the world, none of whom reside in Kushinagar, nor work in an office there, there is literally no face-to-face contact between the project planners and the intended beneficiaries of the project. Neither camp is debating with its rivals directly-there is absolutely zero direct communication between these two communities.¹¹

The fervor against the Maitreya Project can thus be added to the list of those many unanticipated side-effects that are often attributed to the quick pace of globalization today;¹² the movement of transnational interests can impact a locality in ways that are entirely surprising and unexpected by the former. By most accounts, the rank-and-file in FPMT expected the locals to embrace their spiritually motivated development project, and their shock at the local resistance is a testament to the cultural, class, and economic gaps between them. It is unforgiveable to the farmers in the Save the Land Movement that Buddhist FPMTers themselves have never themselves come to Kushinagar, set up a local office, or sat down with them to listen to community concerns. FPMT may have had good intentions to promote the manifestation of loving-kindness on earth, but few could dispute the fact that the process of planning has been entirely top-down and rather counterproductively antagonistic. As a result, FPMT Buddhists and the Kushinagari farmers have been thwarting and frustrating each other for many years. FPMTers in favor of the Maitreya Project feel that farmers are being conservative and fearful, and even greedy (insinuating that farmers are just fishing for bigger payouts). At the same time, a Save the Land Movement leader called the Maitreya Project plans a form of “selfish spirituality.” A local farmer called the statue project a “traditional waste of money”; that is, he felt that it is just another Buddhist statue, which is simply being dressed up in the guise of an economic boon.

In essence, many farmers see the Maitreya Project as backwards and traditional, and vice versa. Though the modem-traditional divide is very significant to many of my informants on both sides, the very fact that both groups see their opponents as impeding progress shows that these terms are demonstrably fluid and essentially meaningless without regard to sociohistorical context. The modem-traditional duality itself represents a conventional truth to my informants, and is therefore crucial for us to explore through the lens of ethnography, provided we recognize that at the ultimate level, the concepts of “modernity” and “tradition” are as empty as everything else. What is now deemed traditional used to be modem once upon a time, and what is ostensibly modem now will someday be traditional. That said, my case study also shows that even in the moment, there is no agreement on what constitutes the “modern” and what constitutes “traditional.”

The Maitreya Project’s giant statue is neither something exactly old nor something exactly new, and the Indian farmers desire a life that is neither an old-world one, nor something utterly, radically different. One could say that the farmers are modem traditionalists, and so too are the transnational Tibetan Buddhists of FPMT. Both communities use certain notions that are rooted in their pasts to mediate their experience of the contemporary moment in which money, ideas, and people flow freely across borders in a chaotic swirl of global activity. At the same time, both the transnational Buddhists and the Indian farmers have drawn on both older and newer ideologies in order to frame and articulate their divergent visions regarding ideal futures to work toward.

At the time of writing in 2011, the Buddhists and farmers still stood at direct cross-purposes, sans collaborative intent, and without much hope for an imminent, mutually workable solution. The Maltreya Project’s champions still hope that the Uttar Pradesh state government will soon clear the farmers off the land and hand it over to their developers, while the affected Kushinagari farmers continue to hope that the Buddhist group will simply give up and take their statue project somewhere else far away. It remains to be seen who will prevail in the end.  ■


  1. For example, during the Green Revolution in South Asia and elsewhere, many farmers began using new technologies, such as high-yield seeds, chemical fertilizers, and pesticides, to improve crop size. Though crop yields did increase, there is growing evidence that the Green Revolution has brought with it a whole host of unintended negative consequences, such as more pronounced inequality, lagging biodiversity, increasing dependence on multinational corporations such as Monsanto, and so forth (e.g., Dhanagare 1987; Miller 1977; Shiva 1991). ↵
  2. Modernization is the cultural phenomenon that stresses scientific and cultural momentum toward more efficiency, technology, and economic progress. Though not simply Western in nature, many of the means and goals of modernity have been articulated and framed by the richer nations of the Global North. Berman describes it thus, “In the twentieth century, the social processes that bring this maelstrom into being, and keep it in a state of perpetual becoming, have come to be called ‘modernization.’ These world-historical processes have nourished an amazing variety of visions and ideas that aim to make men and women the subjects as well as the objects of modernization, to give them the power to change the world that is changing them, to make their way through the maelstrom and make it their own. Over the past century, these visions and values have come to be loosely grouped together under the name of ‘modernism’” (Berman, 1987, p. 16). Traditional morals and technologies are those that have roots in the cultural patterns of past generations, although what is considered “tradition” has always been in a state of flux itself. Please understand that “modern” and “traditional” should be understood to be unstable, fuzzy terms for the duration of this chapter, but I use them in deference to their importance to my subjects who make this division often and freely. ↵
  3. My doctoral research in India from January 2006 through mid-2007 was funded by the American Institute for Indian Studies’ generous Junior Research Fellowship. ↵
  4. There are four main schools of Tibetan Buddhism: Nyingma, Shakya, Kagyu, and Geluk. The Geluk tradition is headed by the Dalai Lama. ↵
  5. For more on traditional Gelukpa Tibetan pedagogies, see Falcone (2010). ↵
  6. FPMT devotees and lamas regularly propagate and reify the modem-traditional duality in their discourse, but I would argue that the fluidity and complexity of their practices and discourses actually serve to expose it as a false duality. ↵
  7. In fact, though the details vary, nearly every major Buddhist nation has a similar expectation regarding the coming of Maitreya (for more, see Sponberg and Hardacre, 1988). ↵
  8. Engaged Buddhism is a notion made popular by Thich Nhat Hanh in his teachings against the Vietnam War; engaged Buddhist discourse suggests that the most effective and moral Buddhist practice possible would marry theological concerns with direct action for social justice. ↵
  9. According to my research, the land acquisition apparatus in place would compensate farmers at a rate that is far below the regional and local market rates. The question of value is further complicated by non-pecuniary concerns; the already insufficient compensation rates offered by the government for Kushinagari farmland do not take into consideration extra-economic perspectives, such as the loss of a tight-knit community and relationships to the landscape, that have enduring cultural, social and religious significance. ↵
  10. In Hindi, the group is called the Bhoomi Bachao Sangharsh Samiti or BBSS. ↵
  11. The FPMT Buddhists have occasionally sent paid emissaries in their employ to deal with local bureaucrats. But they have not themselves met with the farmers groups, and hence there has been no productive conversation or dialogue between the Maitreya Project and local Kushinagari farmers in the Save the Land Movement. ↵
  12. 0ne might note that globalization is not modern per se, since there has long been travel, trade, and involvement between distant lands and peoples, but the technologies available today have arguably sped the pace, intensity, and character of globalization (e.g., see David Harvey [1989] on the quickening pace of space-time compressions). ↵


Berman, Marshall. 1987. All That is Solid Melts Into Air: the Experience of Modernity. London, Verso.

Chambers, Robert. 1997. Whose Reality Counts? Putting the Last First. London: Intermediate Technology Publications.

Colony, Merry. 1997, June. “Malaysian Feng-Shui Masters and Taiwanese Architects and Technicians Work on Maitreya Project in Bodhgaya.” Mandala, p. 12.

Colony, Merry. 1998, March/April. “The Blessings of Chenrezig Himself: The Guarantee of Future Success.” Mandala, p. 38.

Dhanagare, D.N. 1987, May. “Green Revolution and Social Inequalities in Rural India.” Economic and Political Weekly, 22(19/21), Annual Number: AN137-AN139, AN141-ANl44.

Falcone, Jessica. 2010. “A Meditation on Meditation: the Horizons of Meditative Thinking in Tibetan Monasticism and American Anthropology.” Michigan Developments in Anthropology, 18(1): pp. 402-441.

Gardner, Katy, and David Lewis. 1996. Anthropology, Development and the Post-modern Challenge. London: Pluto Press.

Gatter, Linda. 2007. “What Would the Buddha Do? The Maitreya Project Replies.” Wild River Review.

Harvey, David. 1989. The Condition of Postmodernity: An Enquiry into the Origins of Cultural Change. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.

Mackenzie, Vicki. 1995. Reborn in the West: The Reincarnation Masters. New York: Marlowe and Company.

Miller, Frank C. 1977. “Knowledge and Power: Anthropology, Policy Research, and the Green Revolution.” American Ethnologist, 4(1): pp. 190-198.

Mukherjee, N. 1995. Participatory Rural Appraisal and Questionnaire Survey. New Delhi: Concept Publishing Company.

Nelson, Nici, and Susan Wright, eds. 1995. Power and Participatory Development: Theory and Practice. London: Intermediate Technology Publications.

News India/Nepal. 1996, August. Mandala, p. 26.

Rinpoche, Lama Zopa. 2001. Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s Message for XIVth Dharma Celebration. New Delhi: Tushita Mahayana Meditation Center.

Shiva, Vandana. 1991, March/April. “The Green Revolution in the Punjab.” The Ecologist, 21(2).

Sponberg, Alan, and Helen Hardacre, eds. 1988. Maitreya, the Future Buddha. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


In 2010, Jessica Falcone graduated with a PhD in Sociocultural Anthropology from Cornell University. Her dissertation project, “Waiting for Maitreya: Of Gifting Statues, Hopeful Presents and the Future Tense in FPMT’s Transnational Tibetan Buddhism,” was a cultural biography of a 500-foot statue of the Future Buddha that is currently being planned as a gift to India by an international community of primarily non-heritage Tibetan Buddhists. During the course of her PhD program, Jessica Falcone earned many awards and fellowships, including a fellowship from the American Institute of Indian Studies to support her doctoral research, and an award from the Society for Humanistic Anthropology for ethnographic fiction. Dr. Falcone received a book prize for her draft manuscript of “Battling the Buddha of Love: A Cultural Biography of the Greatest Statue Never Built” (the 2014 Edward C. Dimock Prize in the Indian Humanities). The book was published as a monograph in 2018 by Cornell University Press.

In cultivating expertise in South Asian studies through anthropological fieldwork, Dr. Falcone has tacked back and forth between different perspectives that both trace and erase the well-worn paths of “home” and “away”: grassroots activism in India; transnational Tibetan Buddhist discourse regarding holy objects and prophecy in India’s pilgrimage places; notions of cultural citizenship in the Tibetan diaspora in India; collegiate Gujarati-American dance competitions; extremist Hindu-American summer camps; and finally, Sikh-American activism post-9/11. Her areas of thematic specialization include the anthropology of diaspora, transnationalism, futurity/temporality, globalization, material culture and gift exchange, as well as religious studies. Her future research projects will continue to examine the border crossings, fluidity, and the transformation inherent in the study of Asian religious cultures today. She is currently engaged in an ethnographic research project on Zen Buddhist practice and community in Kona, Hawai'i.

At Kansas State University and elsewhere, Dr. Falcone has taught anthropology courses on topics ranging from temporality to artistry: Generosity and Gifting in Asian Religions; the Anthropology of Futurity (Prophecy, Apocalypse and Hope); Anthropology and Literature; Cultures of South Asia; Utopias; Writing Cultures: Ethnographic Methods; Creativity and Culture; Introduction to Cultural Anthropology; Ethnomusicology; and, Asian Religions.

© Jessica Marie Falcone

Falcone, Jessica. 2011. “The Buddhist Lama and the Indian Farmer: Negotiating Modernity and Tradition in the Development Plans for Kushinagar, India.” In Inequality in a Globalizing World: Perspectives, Processes, and Experiences, edited by Sangeeta Parashar Nandikotkur and Yong Wang, 107-117. Dubuque, IA: Kendall-Hunt Publishing.

With kind permission from the author.

Selected Publication by Jessica Falcome

  • Falcone, Jessica. 2018. Battling the Buddha of Love: A Cultural Biography of the Greatest Statue Never Built. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.
  • Falcone, Jessica. 2017. “A Transnational Tulku: the Multiple Lives of FPMT’s Spanish-born Lama Osel.” Revue d'Etudes Tibetaines No 38, February: 220-240.
  • Falcone, Jessica. 2016. “Dance Steps, Nationalist Movement: How Hindu Extremists Claimed Garba-raas.” Anthropology Now Vol 8 No 3.
  • Falcone, Jessica. 2015. “Theory-Making: From the Raw to the Cooked.” In Theory Can Be Much More Than It Used To Be, edited by Dominic Boyer, James Faubion, and George Marcus. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.
  • Falcone, Jessica. 2015. “Our Virtual Materials: The Substance of Buddhist Holy Objects in a Virtual World.” In Buddhism, the Internet and Digital Media: The Pixel in the Lotus, edited by Daniel Veidlinger and Gregory Grieve. New York: Routledge.
  • Falcone, Jessica. 2013. “The Hau of Theory: The Kept-Gift of Theory Itself in American Anthropology.” Anthropology and Humanism Vol 38 No 2: 122-145.
  • Falcone, Jessica. 2013. “Garba With Attitude: Creative Nostalgia in Competitive Collegiate Gujarati American Folk Dancing.” Journal of Asian American Studies Vol 16 No 1: 57-89.
  • Falcone, Jessica. 2012. “Putting the ‘Fun’ in Fundamentalism: Religious Extremism and the Split Self in Hindu Summer Camps in Washington D.C.”  Ethos Vol 40 No 2: 164-195.
  • Falcone, Jessica. 2012. “Maitreya, or the Love of Buddhism: The Non-event of Bodh Gaya’s giant statue.” In Cross-disciplinary perspectives on a contested Buddhist site: Bodh Gaya Jataka, edited by David Geary, Matthew R. Sayers, and Abhishek Singh Amar. New York: Routledge.
  • Falcone, Jessica. 2010. “Seeking Recognition: Patriotism, Power and Politics in Sikh American Discourse in the Immediate Aftermath of 9/11.” Diaspora: A Journal of Transnational Studies Vol 15 No 1 (published in Summer 2010, listed as "Spring 2006"): 89–119.
  • Falcone, Jessica. 2010. “A Meditation on Meditation: The Horizons of Meditative Thinking in Tibetan Monasticism and American Anthropology.” Michigan Discussions in Anthropology Vol 18 No 1: 402-441.
  • Falcone, Jessica.  2010. “‘I Spy…’: The (Im)possibilities of Ethical Participant Observation with Religious Extremists, Antagonists, and Other Tough Nuts.” Michigan Discussions in Anthropology Vol 18 No 1: 243-282.
  • Falcone, Jessica and Tsering Wangchuk. 2008. “‘We're not Home’: Tibetan Refugees in India in the Twenty-First Century.” India Review Vol 7 No 3.

Other Research-related Publications

  • Falcone, Jessica. 2015.  “Genre-bending, or The Love of Ethnographic Fiction.” Savage Minds “Writers Workshop Series.” Invited submission. April.