Since Mongolia's transition from communism to constitutional democracy in 1990, the East Asian country has worked to revive its centuries-old Buddhist tradition. Now, a major Buddhist site is in the works under the spiritual guidance of the Dalai Lama and organizers say it's bound to become a global hub for training and meditation.
The Grand Maitreya Project is being spearheaded by artists, developers, spiritual leaders and more in Mongolia and in the United States. The site will feature retreat and meditation facilities and Buddhist educational centers, with a 177-foot tall statue of Maitreya Bodhisattva, the Buddha of loving kindness, at the heart of it all.
“The intention is that the size and beauty of this statue will bring this symbol of love to the attention of many people around the world," Michael Fouts, executive director of the U.S. branch of the project, told The Huffington Post.
After decades of rule by an oppressive communist government, which destroyed hundreds of Buddhist monasteries, burned ancient texts and executed thousands of lamas, Mongolia transitioned to a constitutional government with a parliament and an elected president in 1990. With this change came the opportunity to revive the country's Buddhist community, to which end the Grand Maitreya Project aims to serve.
The project is currently under construction at a Buddhist holy site known as Heart Hill near the Mongolian capital city of Ulaanbaatar. Heart Hill is believed to be the place where a revered Jebtsundamba Khutuktu, or leader of Mongolian Buddhist, lived some 300 years ago, Fouts said.
"It is very special and auspicious for the Mongolian people to build symbols of love and Buddhist centers on this site, as well as to receive teachings here," Fouts said.
Other elements of the site draw from the country's Buddhist history, including the Maitreya Bodhisattva statue which was designed in the likeness of a 17th century statue sculpted by Zanabazar, the first Jebtsundamba Khutuktu and a famous Mongolian artist known as the "Michelangelo of Asia."
In addition to the Dalai Lama, spiritual leaders helping advise the project's directors include Khamba Lama, or senior lama, Gabju Demberelyn Choijamts, Tibetan Lama Jhado Rinpoche and American Buddhist teacher Robert Thurman, who serves as president of Tibet House in New York City.
"The whole concept is one we support -- a free expression, forward- and outward-looking and hopeful for the future, of the Buddhist roots of Mongolian culture," said Thurman's son, Ganden, the executive director of Tibet House, in an email to HuffPost.
The site is projected to be completed by 2018, Fouts said, and will be open at no charge to the public. The statue site and educational facilities are intended to be home to a new holy place for the Dalai Lama, who has visited Mongolia on several occasions in recent years.
With centers representing different Buddhist lineages and spiritual traditions from around the world, Fouts said, the site will be "a unique place for all spiritual traditions to come together in peace."