Plans for 20m Buddhist monument in Tairāwhiti

10:56 am on 15 February 2024

By Zita Campbell

The Auckland Tibetan organisation has already built eight smaller versions of these monuments, with plans to build a 20 metre stupa in Gisborne.

The Auckland Tibetan organisation has already built eight smaller versions of these monuments, with plans to build a 20 metre stupa in Gisborne. Photo: LDR / Palpung Thubten Chokyi Ghatsal / Tibetan Buddhist Institute, Auckland

Plans to build a 20-metre-high Buddhist monument in Gisborne have been marked as auspicious by a highly-ranked monk.

His Holiness Kenting Tai Situ Rinpoche, a lama of The Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism, has appointed the stupa.

As the first place in the world to see the sun, this Buddhist monument aims to "spread peace and harmony throughout the world", said Michael Barraclough of the Zhyisil Chokyi Ghatsal Charitable Trust.

The monument will be built on Wallis Road at Kaiti's highest point.

"It will get the views of the sun rising over the ocean on the east," said Barraclough.

It's quite a process involved to consecrate a stupa, with special lamas coming from overseas and bringing with them holy objects, and also using some that are made locally.

In addition to the stupa, there will be a residential development for people to stay in during retreats and activities related to the temple.

These buildings will be located at the top of the site.

"The southern face that goes down to the beach will be planted out like a park where people can go and walk around."

On the lower northern side, there are plans for a residential subdivision to be sold on the open market.

Barraclough said the consenting process with Gisborne District Council could take two more years.

Palpung Thubten Chokyi Ghatsal Tibetan Buddhist Institute in Auckland has already built eight smaller versions of these monuments, which are just six metres high.

"The one in Gisborne we're proposing to be more like 20, but of course that all depends on the consent process and whether it gets dropped down."

Barraclough said they have been in contact with local iwi and hapū.

The local hapū Ngāti Oneone, who have their marae in Kaiti, has expressed reservations about the stupa.

Ngāti Oneone director Charlotte Gibson said they have held a hui with the group.

"We made recommendations; they didn't like what we had to say, and (we) have never been back".

Barraclough said "we have tried directly and indirectly to arrange to meet with them to discuss it but they have declined".

Ralph Walker, whose two daughters are Buddhists, is on the iwi panel for Te Runanganui o Ngāti Porou and has discussed his involvement with the stupa on the Humanity Aotearoa project.

"I have been very involved all my life in Māori arts and it's another passion of mine to ensure that this town, Gisborne, Tūranganui-a-Kiwa reflects the ethnicity of the town, in terms of its public artworks," Mr Walker said. "I try to promote a balance in terms of who we are in Gisborne."

Initial plans were for the stupa to be 27 metres high. Coverage of the plan in The Gisborne Herald prompted many letters to the editor.

Readers Isaac Campbell and Kevin Thompson endorsed the monument saying it was a religion that aims to unite and eliminate suffering.

Campbell said, "A Buddhist temple would be a place for people of all religions and ethnicities to voluntarily come together to connect and learn new ways of thinking" .

Correspondents S Barton and Lisa Daunton did not see the purpose of a Buddhist monument in Gisborne.

"A stupa is a Buddhist burial mound . . . and as such it has no daily purpose for the vast majority of our local population," said S Barton.

"We are a Christian-established nation," Arthur Baker said

According to The Electorate Profile statistics in 2018, 34 percent of people on the East Coast have Christian beliefs, while Māori religions, beliefs and philosophies are at 7.6 percent.

The Buddhist population on the East Coast is at 0.3 percent and 48 percent of people on the East Coast have no religious beliefs.

LDR is local body journalism co-funded by RNZ and NZ On Air