Buddhism and Sino-Nepali cultural linkage
[A Programme was organized by Institute for Chindian Studies & Department of Social Sciences, Jinan University, Guangzhou, China in partnership with Liuzu (Huineng) Temple at Zhenshan, Sihui City on 26-28 December 2009. Following was the Speech delivered by Prem Kumari Pant, President of Nepal China Society and Editor of The Weekly Mirror]
The speech is as follows:
Ladies and gentlemen
First of all allow me to express my utmost gratitude to Dr. Jia director and Professor of Institute for Chindian Studies- Jinan University for offering me this golden opportunity to participate in the important and august gathering. I am just a journalist, not a Buddhist Scholar. But my profession has helped me to gather some general knowledge about Buddhism. That is what I am going to place before you.
Namo Buddhaya, Namo Dharmaya, Namo Sanghaya [I worship Buddha, I worship the Doctrine, I worship the Community.]
Of course, Buddhism has been looked upon as a matchless glory of Nepal since the very early phase of history.
It is also a historically as well as scientifically established fact that Lord Buddha was born in 623 BC in Nepal.
Relevantly, Deepankar Buddha and Swayambhu occupy great space in mythical story.
Pali literature has also mentioned about these Buddhas with due respect. Interestingly, the myth pertaining to the creation of the Kathmandu Valley is also deeply interlinked with the aforementioned Buddhas.
The descriptions of Buddha before the recorded history were confined to human memory and oral traditions. Particularly, Buddhist schools such as Mahayan-Bajrayan and therbad existed in different periods of history.
On the basis of available historic facts, I have made attempts to shed light, on the origin and expansion of the Buddhist religion in Nepal, China and India through the topic of &ldquoBuddhism in Nepal and its Expansion in China and South Asia&rdquo.
Historians describe the long prevailing religious practice of Hinduism and Buddhism in Nepal as a good example of religious tolerance and harmony existing between the Hindus and the Buddhists in the country.
Old age, disease and death made the founder of Buddhist religion and philosophy, Gautama Buddha, realize the sheer hollowness of wordly pleasure.
It is believed that religious revolution was also one of the prime causes behind the origin of Buddhism. This revolution was targeted towards Hinduism&rsquos caste system and priesthood..
Riga Veda&rsquos nature worship became more and more complicated with many difficult and costly religious rituals for the common people. Hindu priests tried to show their supremacy in the society. They insisted the people to perform many costly religious vedic yangyas. But for many common people it became impossible to bear the cost of performing Yangya. Lower caste people or Dalits were extremely exploited by so-called upper caste people. So many common people gradually started getting attracted to Buddhism. Buddha challenged dogmatic caste system in Hindu religion. He gave message of equality to the helpless down-trodden lower caste people and opened the door for freedom.
Buddha had many fine human qualities. He possessed the quality to satisfy all sects of society. He had good organization qualities: he visualized the importance of organized monks and established monasteries. The well-organized body of monks (Sangha) was the most effective instrument in the hands of religion.
Lumbini, the birth-place of Gautam Buddha, is situated at the foothills of the Himalayas and the Churia range
He was born in the human form to save humanity from sufferings.
The description of human Buddha as mentioned in Tripitak by the therbad, a school of Buddhist thought, has been accepted by the modern world as a source of true meaning of Buddhism. Mahayani School had its influences in the northern mountainous parts of Nepal, Karnali zone, Kathmandu Valley, China, Tibet Autonomous Region of People&rsquos Republic of China, Bhutan, Sikkim, Arunachal and Himalchal.
Notably, Chinese travelers Fa Xian (403 A.D.) and Xuan Zhang (636 A.D.) visited Lumbini and Kapilvastu. At that time, the whole region was in ruins with many dilapidated stupas, monasteries and palaces. Xuan Zhang also observed the Ashoka Pillar spilt into two when it was struck by lightning.
Lumbini was in its grandeur for some centuries. But Lumbini remained neglected for centuries. The history as well as the ancient remains of the Sakya period and the faded magnificence of Lumbini is a challenge to the archaeologists and historians. Its importance is added by the fact that the United Nations has taken interest in the development of the area under the U.N. Development Project. An international Committee has also been set up for the development of this sacred historical place. In 1967 UN Secretary General U. Thant made Lumbini Development Project an International Concern, when he visited the birth place of Lord Buddha. Late King Mahendra had also shown deep interest in the development of Lumbini and later founded Lumbini Development Committee. As a result funds for this Development Project have been pouring in from several countries.
Scholars mention that Nepal follows Theravada, Mahayan and Vajrayana
Teravadin Buddhists played a great significant role for the Buddhist revival campaign in modern Nepal. Likewise Lichhivi period is known as golden time for Buddhism.
Mahayana (greater vehicle) is focussed on altruistic motive and it is centered around the popularity of Buddhism.
It teaches people to practice amity, compassion, joyfulness and equanimity.
Vajrayana (the diamond way) or Samyeksambodhiyana is perceived as the latest phase of the development of Buddhism. It is based on Sutras of Theravada, Mantra and Tantra of Mahayana. It is the blend of Mahayana and Theravada.
Buddhism is found to have developed in Nepal in different periods of history: ancient, early medieval, medieval and modern period.
Many Buddhist Viharas were also made in various phases in the history of the country.
There is an interesting reference to the arrival of Shakyamuni Buddha in Kathmandu. Mythology associated with Swoyambhu states that he came here with his disciples Sariputra, Maudhagalyayan and Ananda. Buddha gave his sermon by sitting on the Gopuchchha hill of Swoyambhu.
Nepal witnessed the development of Buddhist culture, art and literature, which played a vital role to disseminate Buddhism in Nepal. During the early part of fifth century (359-429 CE), scholar Buddhabhadra reached China via Kashmir. It has been asserted that Buddhist religion entered into China during the first century, which was the preliminary era of the creation of Buddhist arts and literature in Nepal and China. It was the Fourth cenury when Fa Xian returned home after completing his pilgrimage to Kapilvastu and Lumbini.
Following the contribution of Acharya Buddhabhadra in the propagation of Buddha religion in China, Tibetan king Srong-btsan sgam-po married Nepalese princess Bhrikuti, which further helped in spreading Buddhism and Nepalese culture at length in Tibetan Autonomous region of China.
Following the demise of Araniko, Chinese emperor had honoured him with the title &lsquoHinghai&rsquo posthumously. As mentioned in the pedigree, seven human Buddhas have already arrived in Kathmandu. They are: Bipaswi, Sikhi, Bishwobhu, Krakuchchhnda, Kanakmuni, Kashyap and Shakyamuni. Shakyamuni Buddha got here during the time of Kiranti king Jitedasti and it is believed that he delivered sermons at Kindol monastery of Swoyambhu. Namobuddhastupa of Nepal is believed to be connected to the previous birth of Buddha.
Ancient kings of Kathmandu Valley &mdash Man Dev, Rudra Dev and Prithvi Malla &ndash had adopted the life of monk.
Likewise, King Prithvi Narayan Shah had started to celebrate Samyakmahadan festival once in 12 years, which is organised by Samyak Guthi at Bhuikhel of Swoyambhu.
Many of the festivals observed by the Buddhist Newars in Nepal have been influenced by Swoyambhu Mahachaitya. Cultures and religions that came into existence before and after the creation of Swoyambhu have been historically linked with Swoyambhu. As common belief goes, Bipaswi Buddha had sowed the seed of lotus, which produced the light of Swoyambhu over the hill of Jamacho in Balaju. A religious fair takes place there in every full moon night of Chaitra (March/April). There is a tradition of worshipping Swoyambhu on full moon day of Ashwin (Sept./Oct.)as Kantipunhi festival to mark the day when the light of Swoyambhu evolved.
Similarly, Buddhists worship in the full moon night of Kartik (Oct./Nov.) in the memory of the day when Manjushree had viewed the light of Pancha Buddha. An idol of Biwshowroop (omnipotent God) has been put up in the forest of Mrigasthali to commemorate the day when Goddess Guhyeshwori graced an audience with Manjushree. It was on the ninth day of the dark half of lunar fortnight in Marga (Nov/Dec.), an eighth month of Nepali calendar. Panchami (fifth lunar day) in the bright half of lunar fortnight in the Nepali month of Magh (Jan./Feb.) has been observed as guru panchami or Manjupanchami. On the very day Manjushree arrived in Nepal to pay homage to Swoyambhu from China. The myth is that even an ignorant person can be wise if he or she takes a holy dip in Taudah (a pond near Chovar that lies south of Kathmandu) and offers water from the same pond to Swoyambhu and Majushree on the very day.Manjushree has been worshipped and respected by the devotees from both countries, Nepal and China. And now Manjushree stands as a symbol of religious and friendly relations between the two nations.
Chinese pilgrim Xuan Zhang visited Kapilvastu on 25th Dec. 636 A.D. His accounts of pilgrims are very helpful in finding the correct location and in getting some description of Kapilvastu. He has given a very informative account.
In the 1st millennium, Lord Buddha&rsquos birthplace Lumbini, and Changan, the international centre for Buddhist religion, culture and also the then capital of China, had not only established spiritual and cultural linkages with the Buddhist monks, scholars and artists of central, south and eastern Asia, but also their positive impacts had spread far and wide.&rdquo
The arrival of Buddhism in China was followed by the contacts between Lumbini and Changan informing the Chinese people about Lumbini as the birthplace of Lord Buddha. This helped the Chinese and the Nepalese people to establish spiritual and emotional relationship.
Fa Xian, Buddhabhadra, Bhrikuti, Wengchen, Xuanzang and Arniko are a few of the household names that have left a permanent imprint on cultural relations between Nepal and China.
Lumbini, the birthplace of Lord Buddha, has historically created an abiding interest for not only the Asian countries but the entire global community as a fountain of peace, compassion and tolerance.&rdquo
The high point and greatest age of Buddhism in China was during the T&rsquoang Dynasty when emperors spent their wealth to establish monasteries and sculptures at various Buddhist sites.
The cultural exchange between Nepal and China formally began in 406 CE. when a Chinese learned monk, Fa Xian (c. 337-c.422 CE), visited Lumbini. However according to the Chinese scholars, the cultural relation between Nepal and China existed over two thousand years. The importance of Fa Xian in the history of Nepal-China relations lies in the fact that he was not only the most prominent Chinese citizen to enter Nepalese territory, but he also helped make the journey of Buddhabhadra, the first Nepalese Buddhist monk ever to visit China, a success. Thus, Fa Xian and Buddhabhadra can be given credit for laying the solid foundation for Nepal-China relations.
In the wake of religious awareness that swept through the Asian countries in late 70s, Kyanchha Lama from Kham of Tibet came to Nepal in 1924 BS. He added new dimension to Buddhism. He soon became a famous monk and people in thousands rushed to hear his sermons. It is estimated that up to 6,000 followers had gone to listen to his preaching. The proportion of the Buddhist followers visiting the Tibetan monk was extra-ordinary when one compares it to the total population of the country during that time. This created fears among the rulers whether it would generate political awareness among the people. The Buddhists were not still recovering from the trauma, which they felt after religious reforms carried out by Jayasthiti Malla brought an end to the practice of ascetic life. Following the arrival of Kyanchha Lama, Bhikshu Mahapragya (1901-1979) initiated religious revolution from Kerung located at Nepal-Tibet border. Mahapragya became monk as per the mahayani tradition under the guidance of Lama Chhiringnorbu. This inspired others also to lead the life of monk. But this made Rana Prime Minister angry and he banished five monks &ndash Mahapragya, Mahachandra, Mahagyan, Mahabirya and Mahakshanti &ndash from the country. He also created obstacles on the renovation of Swoyambhu. The state, for the first time, suppressed the Buddhist propagators in 1925 BS. It was indeed an irony that the government trampled down the voice of Buddhists in the country where Buddha was born.
Buddhist religion in Nepal has come under the influences from different Buddhist scholars, who came to Nepal from different countries in different times. Later, many Nepalese Buddhists and monks went to different countries such as Sri Lanka, Thailand and Burma to study Buddhism. Buddhism in Nepal saw scientific reforms after they returned back home. The tendency to comprehend Buddhism in true sense has been developed. There is a new generation that has started adopting Buddhism on the basis of its intellectual and rational aspects, not on the basis of caste alone. The dignity and self-glory of the Nepalese people has been enhanced because of the greatness of Buddha and Lumbini in the world. The new generation has embraced Buddhism as their ideals.
Lastly, I am glad to remark that the cultural relations between Nepal and China have been successfully existing well over two thousand years.
The degree of interaction and the multifaceted exchanges between the two sides has been simply great.
Historian appreciates Bhrikuti&rsquos contribution for the propogation of Buddhism in Tibet. She influenced the Emperor by high ideals of Buddhism and its philosophy. She played the vital roles in laying the foundation of Buddhism in Tibet. For that reason the queen is worshiped as the incarnation of Goddess Tara- Harit (Green) Tara
One of the most significant events in the history of Nepal-Chinese cultural relations was the introduction of Buddhism to China in the first century of present era.
This has contributed enormously to the rich cultural and artistic heritage of Nepal, and also to the inter-religious harmony prevailing here.
Similarly, Buddhism, which has long been a distinct feature of the religious history of the country, has contributed enormously to continue to add new cultural dimensions to the bilateral ties between Nepal and China.
Om Mani Padhme Hum.