Symposium on "Buddhism and Sino-Nepal Cultural Linkage"*
Evolution of Buddhism in Nepal
- Prem Kumari Pant*
Buddhism has been taken as a glory of Nepal since the early phase of history.
Deepankar Buddha and Swayambhu occupy great space in mythical story. According to Trikal Buddha, Dipankar is Atit Buddha.
Bipashwi Buddha came from Bandhumati city and sowed the seed of lotus, from where the blaze of Swayambhu emanated. As such, Swayambhu is also called Adibuddha that is believed to ensure well-being of the world.
After that, Shikhi Buddha from Jambu Island, Bishwyambhu Buddha from Anupamnagar, Krakuchchhanda from Khemabati,, Kanakmuni Buddha from Shovati nagar amd Kashyap Buddha from Kashi came to Nepal.
The process of their arrival in Nepal matches with the pattern mentioned by Dignikaya about the same.
Pali literature has also mentioned about these Buddhas with due respect. The myth pertaining to the creation of the Kathmandu valley is also deeply interlinked with the aforementioned Buddhas.
Any account of the history of Buddhism must begin with the story of its founder, Siddhartha Gautam, the historical Buddha. Obviously Buddhism is considered as most scientific and popular religion of the world. The archaeological explorations and excavations carried out so far attest to the fact that Nepal is the birthplace of Shakyamuni. In the Third Century, Emperor Ashoka had visited the sites of Buddhist holy places. Additionally, he had paid homage to the holy sites and erected the pillars in commemoration of and dedication to the Buddha. Shakyamuni Buddha is regarded as a historic Buddha by the Ashoka Pillar inscription. In fact, the history of Buddhism can be traced back to the 6th century B.C. on the basis of archaeological remains. But some scholars even believe that the history of Buddhism is more than five thousand years ago. These scholars have made it general that Nepal practiced Buddhism during the time of Buddhas prior to Gautam Buddha. The collection of information from myths and legends coupled with analytical and in depth study alludes that Buddha guided human beings on the path of peace, compassion, non-violence and disciplined life. Many research works deal with the history of Buddhisim in Nepal from a historic perspective.
The starting point in Buddhism is mankind and the way in which they suffer not just physical pain but the general feeling of dissatisfaction with life-the craving to achieve or having something more, the fear of change and death.
Buddhism is not a dogmatic religion in the sense that it does not require a person to accept fixed belief and ideal. If one reserves the right to find the truth for oneself one must logically accord the same right to others and also respect them if they arrive at different conclusions. This basic tolerance is what the world today actually needs.
These were the words of Buddha to his disciples just on the eve of his death.
"Decay is inherent in all component things. Workout your salvation with diligence"
The founder of Buddhist religion and philosophy, Gautama Buddha, the apostle of peace, compassion, non-violence and universal brotherhood, was born in 623 BC in Lumbini, Nepal. His father Sudhodan was a king of Kapilvastu. His mother Maya Devi died soon after giving birth to him in Lumbini on her way to her parents' home, Devdaha. His stepmother, Prajapati brought him up with loving care. At the age of 16 he was married to princess Yesodhara.
Old age, disease and death made him realize the sheer hollowness of worldly pleasure. With the birth of his son Rahul he decided to leave home and family at once. For six years he lived as a homeless Sadhu getting instruction under two religious teachers and visiting many places. But it did not do any help to him in reaching his goal. At last he sat under a Pipal tree at Bodha Gaya and there he found supreme knowledge and enlightenment, and thus he became Buddha, the enlightened one. For forty five year, he roamed as a wandering teacher and preached Buddhism in north India and Nepal. Buddha is said to have died at the age of eighty in 483 BC in Kushinagar near Gorakhapur.
The result of religious revolution was the main cause of origin of Buddhism. This revolution was targeted to Hinduism's caste system and priesthood. At that time Hinduism's caste system and priesthood were in the climax.
Riga Veda's 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 Dalitswere 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.
Buddhism became a popular and dominating religion in Asia. Buddhism is easy to follow and understand. Buddha himself spent more than 45 years as a wandering teacher, preaching Buddhism. He explained Karma in a very simple and easy way. He gave more emphasis on morality and deed.
He had many fine human qualities such as kindness, affection, sympathy, and the ability to never get angry. He was ready to hear slander, never pleased by hearing praise from others. In his mind there was no place for hate and enmity. 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 hand of religion.
Lumbini, the birth-place of Gautam Buddha, is situated at the foothill of the Himalayas and the Churia range. Buddha, the apostle of peace, compassion, non violence and universal brotherhood was born in 623 B.C. on the full moon day of the first month of Lunar calendar Baisakh Purnima which falls in April/May.
He was born in the human form to save humanity from sufferings.
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.
Very recently, several beautiful shrines have been built by several Buddhist countries in Lumbini. The visit to Lumbini, the birth-place of Buddha and Kapilvastu, the realm of the Sakya is not only for spiritual enlightenment but also for solace and satisfaction.
Chinese traveler 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 lighting. In 1895 Fuhrer, a famous German archaeologist discovered the great pillar while wandering about the foothills Shiwalic range. The splendor of the holy seat of Buddhism is evident from various old monasteries, sculptures and archaeological objects.
Besides the Ashoka Pillar, another most famous monument is the temple of Maya Devi. On the south of the Maya Devi temple there is the famous sacred bath pool known as Puskarni. It is believed that Maya Devi took a bath in this pool before delivery.
Scholars mention that Nepal follows Theravada, Mahayan and Vajrayana
Theravada being directed towards Arhathood of a single individual is termed as unpopular school of Buddhism. It lays emphasis on four noble truths, eightfold noble path and twelve principles of causation. Tripitakas are the teaching of the Buddha which remains as the sutras.
Mahayana (greater vehicle) is gravitated towards altruistic motive and it is centered around the popularity of Buddhism. It endeavours to popularize mysticism with an aim to attract the people and allure them about the prospect of attaining Akanista Bhuvan (heaven). It urges people to renounce ego, possessive nature, pride, aggression, ambition, Tamashi feeling. And, at the same time, it inspires to get involved in benevolent activities for the welfare of all sentient beings, practicing Bodhisattva Carya.
It teaches people to practice amity, compassion, joyfulness and equanimity (Chaturbrahmaviharas i.e Maitri, Karuna, Mudita, Upekshya). Six Paramitas (perfections) like charity, discipline, love for all or equality or equanimity, meditation and wisdom (i.e Dana Shila, Kshyanti, Veerya, Dhyana, Prajna) are also the basic tenets of Mahayana. Mahayana also adopted Tantra and Mantras for perfection (Siddhi).
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.
During the Licchavi period all forms of Buddhism developed in Nepal. During early medieval period many Viharas of Patan were made. It is regarded as the age of preachers and Siddhas. The period also saw the development of Tantrism, Mantrayana, Sahajayana and Kalachakayana, the various sub-sects of Buddhism.
Although the Malla rulers were Hindus, they were tolerant to Buddhism as the Licchavis. They also contributed towards the development of Buddhism in Nepal. The religious syncretism was the distinct feature of the period.
Percevel Landon writes in his book 'Nepal'- "It is perhaps hardly worthwhile to make more than a passing reference to the ancient legends which associate with both Pashupati and Swayambhunath the miraculous enthronement of two distinct religions in this remote Himalayan hill-locked plain. In them the Buddhas of more than one reincarnation are recorded. Though the reputation of this home of sanctity was greatly increased by every legend that oriental devotion could devise or remember, the plain fact is that Asoka, by his journey to Patan and by the erection of five stupas there and one at Kiritipur, conferred for ever a permanent and localized distinction upon the centre of the valley of Nepal. From that time onwards it has been a place of pilgrimage, and though the past and present relations between Buddhism and Hindusim from one of the most interesting and most complicated problems that modern religions offer, there is no doubt that from the point of view of the countries which lie to the north of Nepal, She maintains to this day centers of merit giving which no incident in her history has in any way diminished".
He further writes "The great shrines of Swayambhunath and Buddhanath, and the more recent stupas of Asoka were in themselves enough to attract the causal visit of pilgrims probably as much determined to tread in the footsteps of Asoka as in those of Buddha. But they have left no record, and it is only in the persistent upkeep of the two former shrines that we can trace a continuous life in religion which Nepal had taken as her own."
Buddhism is one of the earliest religions of the world. It might be called a transnational religious moment. The Buddha sent his followers off in all directions to preach his doctrine for the good of the world. The Emperor Asoka of Murya empire sent or encouraged missionaries to spread Buddhism well beyond his own kingdom. Buddhism became a popular and dominating religion in Asia.
Some holy places of Buddhism in Nepal
Nepal is a not only the birthplace of the Gautam Buddha, the seventh Buddha, out of the other Six Adi Buddhas- Vipaswi, Sikhi, Visvabu, Krakuchanda, Kanakmuni and Kasyapa. It is related with various life activities of Gautam Buddha and Adi Buddhas.
According to Old Field there are in all about 2000 Buddhist. Shrinnes in the Kathmandu Valley. A majority of them are Chaityas. Besides, there are a large number of Monasteries, Chaityas and Chortens in Northen part of Nepal. These divided into three classes Dedicatory, memorial and funeral. Dedicatory shrines are Swayambhunath, Four stupas around Patan, Chillan Deo in Patan, Chillan Deo in Kirtipur, Kathesimbhu in Kathmandu, Buddha Mandal in Kathmandu and Dan Deo near Deopatan in Kathmandu.
Memorial shrines are Buddhnath or Kasha Chaitya, Rato (Red) Machhendranath in Patan, Seto (White) Machhendranath in Kathmandu, Manjushri shrine near Swayambhunath and Mahabouddha in Patan.
Funeral and relic shrines which are believed to have ashes or some relics of the dead are found all over the Valley. They are of less importance.
In most of dedicatory shrines there is a Monastery or Vihara attached to them. These are of historical importance and are dedicated with various legends and traditions.
Another important feature in the description of Buddhist holy places in Nepal is that they include some Hindu temples owing to the syncretism of Hindusim and Buddhism. Buddhists of Nepal also adopted several Hindu deities as objects of Buddhist worships.
The holy places of Buddhism in Nepal include not only purely Buddhist shrines and Monasteries, but also some Hindu shrines, trantric shrines and temples of Gorakhnath cult.
Recently owing to awakening among Theravadian Buddhists several new active Monasteries have been constructed. They are exerting great influence on Buddhists who were losing genuine faith in the religion.
Lumbini grove was the place in the territory of Kapilvastu on the way to Devadaha. Kapilvastu was identified to be located at Tilaurakot in 1901. The identification of Tilaurakot as Kapilvastu is based not only on its location but also on other travelogues of the Chinese travelers, Fa-Xian and Xuan Zhang. As written in the Buddhist Scriptures "The snow covered peak of the Himalaya look, down on Kapilvastu which is located on the banks of the river. The remains are surrounded by a moat and walls of the city are made of brick". The remains of the city of Kapilvastu are in a grand scale and it was a centre of great culture. The renewed excavations by the Nepal Government, Department of Archaeology and the Rissho University of Japan have further confirmed the authenticity of Tilaurakot as Kapilvastu.
Percevel Landon writes in his book 'Nepal' "It was by an accident perhaps by one of the most curious accidents in the history of archaeology, that in 1895 Dr. Fuhrer (German) chanced upon this missing pillar. It was set up by the emperor Asoka 2175 years ago upon the spot where Gautam was born. In 1894 Dr. Fuhrer reported that he has found the Nirvana stupa of the previous and mythical Buddha, named Konagmana, on the banks of the Nilgli Sagar near Nigliva. He had indeed found the Asoka column recording the Emperor visit in 250 B.C. The pillar was deeply imbedded in accumulated debris, and it was not until several feet of earth were cleared away that the inscription of the Emperor was discovered. Then it was at once clear that the pillar marked the position of the Lumbini garden, where according to the definite statement of the earliest Buddhist pilgrims and chroniclers, Prince Gautam was born. The inscriptions runs as follows: "King Piyadasi beloved of the Gods"&mdash"this was the personal formula generally used by the Emperor Asoka in his inscriptions" -- having been anointed twenty years, came in person and worshipped here, saying "Here Buddha the Sakya ascetic, was born" and he caused a stone capital in the shape of a horse to be constructed and a stone pillar to be erected, which declares, "Here the blessed one was born. King Piyadesi exempted the village community of Lumbini from taxes, and bestowed wealth upon it."
Percevel further writes "A few yards away to the south are the remains of the pool mentioned by the Buddhist authorities as that in which Maya, the mother of Buddha, bathed immediately before the child's birth. It will be rememberd that in accordance with custom, Maya was on her way from her husband capital Kapilvastu in order to give birth to her first son in her father's house at Devadaha".
He added that the story of Asoka's visit is thus recorded in the Buddhist chronicle.
Eight hundred years later Xuan Zhang visited the place, and by a happy accident recorded that the pillar had been struck by lightning and split, and the horse and the capital thrown down. The crack caused by lightning descends about thirteen feet from the top and just touches the inscription.
The identity of Kapilvastu with Tilaurakot is a matter that will never perhaps be wholly settled. The question depends entirely upon the testimony of the two Chinese pilgrims, Fa-Xian and Xuan Zhang, are very valuable because they are informative, Fa-Xian visited Lumbini and Kapilvastu in 403 A.D. The first description of Kapilvastu is by Fa-Xian according to the historians. Fa-Xian writes as follows, "He reached Kapilvastu, where there was neither any king nor people. In site of the city was marked by desolate ruins and mounds.
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. The town of Kapilvastu was found to be completely deserted. Therefore, it was difficult to demarcate its boundary but the boundary walls of the city and places are quite strong at some places. Ten towns were there all in ruins. There was no population, no ruler. There were more than 1600 stupas all in a deserted condition.
Kapilvastu was destroyed even before Mahaparinirvana of Gautam Buddha. The descendants of Prasanjit named Vidudabha massacred the Shakya Kingdom of Kapilvastu. Vidudabha attacked four times to Kapilvastu but he was intervened by Buddha for three times. In the fourth attack in entering the Kapilvastu he massacred the Shakyas. More than 10,000 Shakyas and even newly born babies were killed. Several Shakyas fled to the Kathmandu valley. Thus the famous place of Kapilvastu lost its significance during the life time of Gautam Buddha.
The Koliyas of Ramagrama was quite a famous state in the 6th century B.C., as mother of Buddha, Maya Devi hailed from this place. After the great demise of Lord Buddha, the corporal remains of his body were divided into eight portions. Out of these eight claimants one was the Koliyas of Ramagrama. Stupas were built in each place on the holy relics. As such a stupa was also constructed on the holy relics in Ramagrama. Ashoka in the 3rd century thought of erecting 84,000 stupas after opening all the eight stupas and redistributing the relics. However, it is mentioned in the Buddha texts, that he could not get open the stupa of Ramagrama due to the obstruction by a Naga (serpent king) who guarded the stupa and lived by its side in a lake. Thus the stupa of Ramagrama remained undisturbed and its originality maintained.
Fa-Xian visited Ramagrama in 5th century. He described that at that time the stupa was covered by the vegetation. Xuan Zhang visited Ramagrama in the 7th century and described that the Kingdom of Ramagrama was desolate for many years.
During the passage of time the actual location of several Buddhist places was lost in obscurity and Ramagrama was also one of them. The stupa of Ramagrama was first discovered by Hoey in 1898 at the bank of the Jharai River in Parasi district of Nepal. Babu Krishna Rijal writes about the stupa on the Jharai river that cannot be anything but the Dhatu stupa of Lord Buddha raised by the Koliyas in Ramagrama.
It is said that Lord Buddha, after attaining enlightenment in Bodhgaya visited sacred places with his disciples and on his way he was lecturing on religion. It is maintained in Swayambhu Purana that Lord Buddha came to Kathmandu Valley from Jetavana Monastery in Sravasti. He lived in Manjushri hill and paid homage to Swayambhu Dharma Chaitya.
Siphuchao at Shivapuri it is said Gautam Buddha had his hair shaven. He preached Buddhism to his disciples while sitting on Swayambhu hill between Swayambhu Chaitya and Manjushri Chaitya. Thus the prehistoric legends of Nepal valley are very rich and they also speak of the origin of holy places of the Kathmandu Valley according to the Buddhist traditions.
Swayambhunath stupa is the one of the holiest places of Buddhism in Nepal. It is situated in the Kathmandu Valley.
Its religious significance is also described in 'Swayambhu Purana' which was written in the 15th century. Before the shrine was constructed about 2000 years ago, the hill was regarded to be a sacred place owing to the presence of a divine lotus, as the legend goes, beneath it in which the holy spirit of God was enshrined. Swayambhunath stupa is one of the oldest Buddhist shrine in Nepal which was built in the fifth century after the death of Sakyamuni Buddha.
The place of Swayambhunath is also a centre of cultural activities. The whole stupa is a complex of Chaityas, temples, images and numerous religious objects.
Boudhanath stupa which is called Kasha Stupa is situated in the north east of Kathmandu. Although it is built in Nepalese style, it is by and large, a Tibetan shrine. Date of its construction is not known. It is regarded as one of the oldest and largest Lamaist shrines in the world.
Regarding the origin of Boudhanath, there are various stories and legends. Dowmmar (1973) has given a good account of some of these legends of Tibetan Tradition, Perhaps most of useful, inspiring and popular. It is said that Padmasambhava himself, King Trisendesten (A.D. 742-797) and others were the main protagonists in the history of transmission and establishment of Buddhism in Tibet. They have played their parts in the construction of stupa of Boudhanath, Thus, this stupa is the original cause of transmission of Buddhist religion to Tibet.
Boudhanath is a famous place of pilgrimage. Buddhist people come to this place for blessings in life, especially for safe traveling of the Himalaya. The worship consists of circumambulation of the stupa in a clockwise direction turning the Mani or prayer wheels fixed in the surrounding wall. These wheels are common in Tibet. The wheels are to be turned round chanting "Om Mani Padme Hum" or Hail to the Jewel (Mani) in the lotus (Padme). This is the Mantra or prayer of the Bodhisativa Avalokitesvara.
Boudhanath attracts more Lamaist votaries than Swayambhunath stupa. This Bouddhanath stupa has special virtue for its power of granting all prayers for wealth, progeny and fulfillment of other wishes. This stupa also has intimate relation with the chief legendary and historic person of early Lamaism. This stupa enshrines the spirit of Buddhas of the directions and of the Buddhas of the three times: The present, past and future.
Patan is a centre of Buddhism in Nepal. About two-thirds of its inhabitants are Buddhists. Patan has a very large number of Buddhist monuments with beautiful carvings and with sculptures made of stone, clay, wood and metal.
Taha Bahal Avalokiteshvara (Matsyandranath) was probably constructed in 1408 or later which was constructed by Narendra Dev of the Surya Vansh dynasty. It is worshipped both by Buddhists and Hindus.
The image Matsyendranath is made of dark red wood. Once in a year during Matsyendranath Jatra the image is taken out in a big chariot. This procession is held in the month of April/May.
Minnath, Temple is situated almost opposite the Matsyendranath temple. It houses the image of a Buddhist deity. Bodhisattva Lokeshwara. It was built during the regime King Amshu Verma of the Lichhvi dynsity.
These are four ancient stupas: (E. Vahi Thura, Tele Thura, Lagan Thura, Phulcha Thura) on the four corner of the perimeter of the city of Patan, which are believed to be built by King Ashoka of India to commemorate his visit to the Valley of Kathmandu in B.C. 250. At that time Buddhism was gaining ground in the Valley.
Some scholars believe that setting up of the stupa in Patan was due to Ashoka's belief that Lord Buddha lived in this place 270 years before he came here.
In the heart of the town, Ashoka build a stupa which was later reconstructed and adorned. This stupa is called Chillandeo as that of Kirtipur.
Theravada Monasteries of Kathmandu Valley:
Theravada Buddhism almost disappeared from Nepal about 60 years ago. But Theravada Buddhism reintroduced in Nepal from Buddhist countries such as Thailand, Burma and Sri Lanka. The outstanding Bhikshus Maha Pragya, Pragyananda, Shakyananda, Amritananda, Subodhananda responsible for the reintroduction of Theravada in Nepal.
In several places, Theravadin monasteries began to be erected with the kind patronage of Nepalese kings. These monasteries have got beautiful images of Buddha, which are specially presented by Thailand and Burma. Bhikshu Amritananda has written more than 50 scholarly books on Buddhism. Buddhist monks are studying in Thailand, Sri Lanka and Burma.
There is a tradition of Buddhist Bhikshus living in the monasteries. There are several monasteries where Buddhists are busy with several religious activities.
In the northern region of Nepal the main religion is Buddhism which is influenced largely by Tibetan Buddhism. In the highlands of Nepal &ndash Humla, Mustang, Sindhu Palchowk and Solu Khumbu there are Buddhist sacred places which are important from the point of view of Buddhist history and their relationship.
Nepal-China Buddhist relations
One can also find the account of Yuch-chi monk of Tsin dynasty (265-420 A.D) named Seng Tsai who visited Nepal and also wrote "Wuo-Kuo-Shih" (matters concerning the foreign kingdoms). Some fragments of his work are included in the Shu-ching-chu (commentary on Water classics).
Historian appreciates Bhrikuti's contribution for the propogation of Buddhism in Tibet. The two princesses-wife of Srong-btsan sgam-po had faith in Buddhism. They influenced the Emperor by high ideas of Buddhism and its philosophy. They played the vital roles in laying the foundation of Buddhism in Tibet. For that reason- both queens are worshiped as the incarnation of Goddess Tara-White Tara and Harit Tara
One of the most significant events in the history of Nepal-Chinese cultural relations was the introduction of Buddhism to China in the second century of present era.
According to Hiranya Lal Shrestha's paper presented in First conference on Changang Buddhism in Xian on October 29, 2009- "In the 1st millennium, Lord Buddha's 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."
Shrestha further writes- "Buddhabhadra Shakya (Jue Xian Fa Shi), a descendant of Amritodan Shakya, uncle of Lord Buddha travelled from Kapilvastu to Kashmir and finally to China and propagated Buddhism here. He also translated Buddhist scriptures written in Sanskrit language, an ancient language of South Asia into Chinese. He contributed through his wisdom and intellectuality to enrich Changan Buddhism. Masters Fa Xian and Buddhabhadra (Jue Xian Fa Shi) have also jointly undertaken the translation of rare Buddhist scriptures."
At that time the tooth relics of Lord Buddha were taken to Changan for safeguarding them as sacred objects of worship. Wherever these relics might have been brought from the inner premises of the temple containing Nepalese style Chaityas and holy hymns in Ranjana script of Nepal, these relics are the flames of faith to sustain the Buddhist lifeline between Lumbini and Changan.
Min Bahadur Shakya writes in his book "The life of Nepalese Buddhist Master Buddhabhadra"(Published by China Study Centre, Kathmandu,Nepal)- "Centuries later, in the fifth century, CE., a noted Buddhist monk and scholar from China, Fa-Xian, visited Kapilvastu and Limbini. A prominent Nepalese Buddhist scholar, Buddhabhadra, visited China shortly after Fa-xian's visit to Nepal and became a torchbearer of Nepalese civilization in China."
Avatamśaka sutra of 60 fascicules thus facilating greatly the formation of Hua-yen thought."
Buddhism in Early Medieval Period
The history of Buddhism in the early medieval period is marked by the development of Vajrayana, Sahajayana and Kalachakrayana. The period continued as the age of Siddhacharya (750-1175 A.D.).
The period also witnessed the flow of the Buddhist scholars from India which brought about many Buddhist manuscripts and enriched the Viharas of the Kathmandu valley.
In the early medieval period, Chinese Mission had visited Kathmandu. The most probable truth is that they were in touch with the Vardhanas of Banepa and they were moved by religious sentiment rather than political motive.
Buddhism in Later Medieval Nepal
The history of Buddhism during the medieval period is related to the Mallas of Nepal Mandala. During the period,the vaishyas of Nepal being hard pressed both from the north and the south followed Buddhism. Similarly, the period witnessed the construction of many Viharas of Patan excluding a few ones. In the Viharas, the Vandyas explained the philosophy of Buddhism and enlightened the people.
Buddhism in Modern Nepal
The history of Buddhism in modern period is marked by the spirit of toleration, although the rulers are Hindus. The sense of spirituality appealed to the people of this region. The history of Buddhism in the eighteen century is marked by the ethos of the people of Nepal.
Buddhist rituals like Samyek and Naran are popular during the period.
The exploration and research of European scholars on the Buddist manuscripts of Nepal were very contributive in making exposure on Buddhism in the last quarter of nineteenth century inspite of suppression of Theravada by the Rana rulers.
Leaders of Theravada Revival
When Svayambhu Mahachaitya was being conserved between 1918-1921 A.D, Nepal was in touch with Tibetan Lamas. In 1926 A.D. Tsering Norbu of Tibet came to Nepal. He mediated at the Mahasiddiha grotto of Nagarjuna. He preached Saddharma and Bodhijnana.
The Vajracharyas of Nepal were renowned for their scholarship. Like Amritananda of Patan and Siddhi Harsa Vajracharya of Kathmandu, Ratna Bahadur Vajracharya of Yeasodhar Mahavihara, was the great scholar of those days.
He is credited for establishing Punnyashram Vidyala at Hiranyavarna Mahavihara.
Buddhi Raj Shakya spread Buddhism as early as 1920 A.D. He preached Svayambhu Purana, Lalitvistara, Vichitra Kanikavadan and thirty two Jatakas.
Buddhist Goodwill Mission to Nepal and Development of Theravada
In April 1946 A.D., on the request of Bhikshu Amritananda a goodwill mission from Sri Lanka visited Nepal. The mission met Padma Shansher (1945-1948 A.D), who had just become Prime Minister. The mission included Bhikshu Amritananda, Bhikshu Priyadashi, Dr Ratna Surya and prof Aryapal. The mission was successful in securing permission for one monk among the exiled monks to return to Nepal. In 1943 A.D., he founded Anandakuti Vihara, the first Theravada monastery at Svayambhu hill. It was consecrated by Narada Maha Thera of Sri Lanka in 1948 A.D.. Besides this, Ven. Mahathera, leader of the mission got permission to build a Caitya at Anandakuti in Sri Lankan style.
In 1946 A.D., Amritananda came only after declaration of amnesty by Nepal government. Later in 1951, he founded the Akhil-Nepal Bhikshu Maha Sangha (All Nepal Council of Monks) and he was elected its president.
Lumbini developed as sacred Buddhist shrine
After the rediscovery of Lumbini pillar of Askoka on the 1st December 1896 A.D, the importance of Lumbini was realized even during the Rana regime. Kaishar Shamsher cleaned the site and built a temple of Mayadevi on the nativity site on the remains of several temples built in Maurya, Sunga, Kushana and Gupta periods dating back to the third century B.C.
King Tribhuwan and the then Prime Minister Matrika Prasad Koirala handed over the archeological site to a committee for its development in 1952 A.D.
Dharmodaya Sabha had three nominees in the committee. The Sabha had the immediate programme of developing Lumbini with the provision of a residence of Bhikshus, construction of roads for the visitors and lodging for the pilgrims.
The fourth conference of the World Fellowship of Buddhists
In November 1956 A.D., the fourth conference of the World Fellowship of Buddhists (WFB) was organized in Nepal on the occasion of 2500th anniversary of the Mahaparinirvana of Lord Buddha. It was considered most appropriate to hold the conference in the Land of Lord Buddha's birthplace. It was organized under the auspicies of Dharmodaya Sabha.
World Fellowship of the Buddhist (WBF), an international organization was founded with the pious wish of Dr G.P Malalasekara of Sri Lanka in 1950 A.D. Its first general conference was held in Colombo, sri lanka in the same year.
That Gautam Buddha was born in Nepal (the land situated between two giant Asian countries India and China) in 623 B.S was evident after 200 years of the enlightenment of Buddha. Indeed, the discovery of e Ashokstambha and inscription in 1896, established by Emperor Ashoka in Lumbini during the 20th year of his rule, attests to this historic fact.
Since the ancient time, Nepal has been a land inspired by the grace of Buddhism and other vibrant cultures.
During the era when Buddhism was at its peak, there were Kapilvastu, Sarnath, Kushinagar, Pataliputra, Magadh Empire, Malla, kohal Himbant province Nepal. India was also divided into many small states including 16 Mahajanpad states.
Primarily, the dissemination of information pertaining to the three branches of Buddhism- Mahayan, Bajrayan and Therbad took place in Nepal in different phases of time.
Efforts were also made to assess and analyze the dawn of Buddhism on the basis of historical evidences in various stages of time in Nepal.
Scholars and historians have been saying that the foundation of Buddhism in Nepal has been erected since time immemorial. There is a mythical story of birupakshya described in the light of the tradition of decorating Pashupati Mahadev with the mask sporting five-buddha. This has been mentioned by Historian Baburam acharya in his work.
Later, other historians have termed this tradition as a perfect example of religious harmony existing between Hindu and Buddhist religions.
In fact, the Buddha and Buddhist culture have different premises. The historical description portrayed by Tripitaka Therabad about human Buddha is understood by the world as Buddhism in a true sense. Mahayani community has occupied special space in north Himalayan region, Karnali region, Kathmandu valley aprt from mainland China and its autonomous region Tibet, Bhutan, Sikkim, Arunanchal, Himanchal, among others. In Nepal, Buddhist religion is based on Mahayani-Bajrayani community. A large number of Buddhists reside in Himalayan region across Nepal. Shakya, bajracharya, Manandhar, Tuladhar, Maharjan are some major castes belonging to the Newar community in the Kathmandu valley who are followers of Buddhism. In Himali region, Sherpa, Gurung, Magar, Tamang are the indeginous Buddhist communities . Similarly, Tharu-chaudhary community of Terai also follows Buddhism.
Without getting insight into as to how the aforementioned indigenous communities became Buddhist, it will be impossible to get acquainted with Buddhism in Nepal as a whole.
The cultural relation between Nepal and China existed well over two thousand years.
The degree of interaction and the multifaceted exchanges between the two sides have been extensive.
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 the countries.
(The writer is president of Nepal-China Society and Editor/publisher of The Weekly Mirror)
* A Programme organized by Institute for Chindian Studies & Department of Social Sciences, Jinan University, Guangzhou, China in partnership with Liuzu (Huineng) Temple at Zhenshan, Sihui City. Date: 26-28 December 2009