Role of Theravada in the preservation
of Newar Buddhism
-Bhikshu Sudarshan Mahasthavir,
(This is the summary of the paper presented in Newari during the 'Conference on the Buddhist Heritage of Nepal Mandal' in 1998.)
1. Shakyas, Koliyas, Vrijjis, Mallas living in Lumbini have their own history. Besides this, Tharus, Tamangs, Kirats, Gurung, Magars, Sherpas, and other indigenous people of Nepal who have close contact with the migrating people like Shakyas, Vrijjis, and Mallas. They are all strongly attached with Buddhism, Buddhist culture and civilisation.
2. The teachings of Lord Buddha about sheela, samadhi and prajna for purifying and strengthening Kaya, Vaka and Chitta intended for the welfare and happiness of the many and the knowledge of Nirvana have been continuing uninterruptedly. In the present day, the followers of the Buddha forget to toe the main stream of Buddhism due to the emergence of 18 different schools of thought in Buddhism. From the time of renunciation by Lord Buddha to the fourth century A.D. Buddhism was divided into various schools.
3. Due to the profound faith of Buddhism of Emperor Ashoka and King Kanishka, Buddhism spread to the whole Asian continent. Buddhism and Buddhism culture became a uniting bond or bridge of Asian culture and civilisation. Buddhist and Buddhist culture became a medium of transfusion or transmission of fresh and warm blood to lend dynamism to the language, culture and civilisation of various countries of the Asian continent. To counter this Buddhist resurgence, anti-Buddhist philosophy and culture emerged. The Hindu biased Bhagvat Gita and Puranas came to the scene.
4. In the first half of the 19th century, new awakening took place in the countries of Asia dominated by Buddhism and Buddhist culture. The people of Europe who are in search of truth explored the world of Buddhism and Buddhist culture. The study of the Oriented culture. The study of the oriental culture, religion and philosophy was started by individuals as well as institutions.
5. In this age of reawakening, Buddhism and Buddhist culture contributed to the restoration of national sovereignty, economic prosperity and cultural renaissance in several countries of Asia. Burma and Sri Lanka supported the revival of Theravada Buddhism in Nepal
6. The restoration of national sovereignty and Buddhism in Burma was not such difficult in comparison to Sri Lanka. U. Chandramani Mahasthavira of Akyab, Burma, came to Sarnath, India. Even though born and brought up in the Christian background, David Hevavitarane became Dharmapala Hevivitarane inspired by Hikdube Sumangala Mahasthavira. Dharmapala took an oath to restore Buddhism in Bodhgaya. He established the Mahabodhi Society. Bodhgaya was then a part of Bengal. Under the British rule, Calcutta was much powerful than Delhi. He struggled hard for the revival of Buddhism in India. The Mahabodhi Journal was published from Calcutta in English. Pali Tripitakas were translated and published. The monks of Sri Lanka were brought to Sarnath and centres were established for study and propagation of Buddhism. Great Buddhist scholars like Kausambi, Bodhananda, Barasambodhi, Rahul Sankrityayana, Jagdish Kasthap, Bhadant Ananda Kausalyayana emerged. The teachings of the Shakyamuni, the Buddhist tradition consisting of Sheel, Samadhi and Prajna continued under the protection of great Buddhist sites.
7. Anagarika Dharmapala was instrumental in reviving Buddhism in India. Dharmaditya Dharmacharya who was converted to Buddhism by Dharmapala was the first person to revive Theravada Buddhism in Nepal. Due to the service of the father of Dharmditya in the palace of Ranas as Vaidya, he could go out to India for higher study in Calcutta as a time when there was strict control on education. He got matriculation in Calcutta. He received education in the faculty of commerce in Calcutta with the special privilege of government scholarship. Dharmapala met Jagatman Vaidya in Calcutta.
8. When Dharmapala saw in Jagatman Vaidya a messenger of Theravada Buddhism, he helped Jagatman in many ways. Dharmaditya began wearing a coat of yellow colour. He became Dharmaditya Dharmacharya. He returned to Nepal and did what Dharmapala did in India. Like the establishment of Mahabodhi Society in Calcutta, he established Nepal Buddhopasaka (Buddhist followers) Sangha, Buddhadharma Uddhar Sangha, Buaddha Upasika Sangha, etc. in 1923. He brought out the periodical Buddhadharma in Nepal Bhasha following the example of Mahabodhi journal. He also brought out Himali Boudha in Nepali, Boudha Bharat in Bengali and the Buddhist India in English. He also convened the international Buddhist conference in India, the work he could not do in Nepal.
9. During his frequent visits to Nepal, he tried hard to propagate Buddhism being watchful of the wrath of Rana rulers. He declared that the refuge to the Buddha is the only way to right living. This was the time when Pandit Nisthananda Vajracharya wrote Lalitavistara in Nepal Bhasha, when the religious discourses were held by Kyangtse Lama and Chhiring Norbu Lama, and when there was religious awakening supported by the contact with Lhasa, Tibet, and the rich merchant class Newars. With the help of Rana Prime Minister Chandra Shumsher and Dharmaham Shahu, Dharmaditya Dharmacharya established a vihar at Kindol, Swayambhu. This vihar became a centre of the activities for propagation of Theravada Buddhism. He also initiated the important activities like observing Swanyapunhi (Full Moon Day of Baisakh), Dharmachakra Pravartan, practising Panchasheel, worships for remembering the contribution of Shakyamuni Buddha. Dharmaditya also gave discourses on Buddhism in the language understandable to all. He also spoke of the importance Pali language for understanding the true spirit of Buddhism. Besides this, he disclosed the importance of bahas, bahis and chaityas of the Kathmandu Valley and Lumbini. At that time, there was no practice of observing the Buddha Jayanti in the Kathmandu Valley and Lumbini. He took the initiative for the same. Animal slaughter at Mayadevi temple, Lumbini, was stopped. Among other creative activities he undertook were the disclosure of rich Mahayana literature of Nepal, display of the Buddhist photos, study of ancient scripts, etc. At that time the Nepalese youths who went to Kushinagara along with Tibetan Lama Gurus were the yellow robe following the example of Burmese Buddhists. This was the starting point for the revival of Theravada tradition in Nepal
10. In 1928 Nanikaji Khwaju Mayaken was ordained Palchhen Shyarab Lama by a Tibetan Guru. Later he became Sramanera Mahaprajna. In 1930 Kulmansingh Vaidya (Tuladhar) became Sramanera Prajnananda. This was a milestone in the history of Theravada Buddhism in Nepal. For, Buddhism best thrives in the observance of Vinaya (rule and regulations) and the Bhikshu Sangha is the concrete materialisation of the Vinaya. Buddhism cannot survive without the Sangha. After the conversion of Mahaprajna and Prajnananda, other monks emerged up to 1936. They were Dharmaloka, Shakyananda, Anirudra, Amritananda, Subodhananda, etc. They were all pillars of Theravada Buddhism and they also converted youths too Buddhism.
11. Much can be written about the leaders of the Theravada revival in Nepal. The reading of the autobiography of Mahaprajna, the life of Prajnananada, Mahachinayatra of Dhamaloka, the autobiography of Shakyananda, A brief life story of Ven. Amritananda, and A Short history of Theravada Buddhism in modern Nepal by Amritananda tell the story of Theravada revival in Nepal. An attempt is made here to write about the role of Theravada tradition in the conservation of Newa Buddhism.
The Main Working Paper
As per the telephone conversation, I have made up my mind to write a working paper on the revival of Theravada in Nepal. I virtually did the same. At the time of staging the play Bimbisara at the National City Hall, Kathmandu, when, one of the organisers of the conference on Buddhist Culture of Nepal Mandala, requested me to write a working paper on “The role of Theravada tradition in the conservation of Newa Buddhism”, I was taken aback. The subject I intended to write is much different from the subject proposed to me.
I consider that the proposal for the working paper on Theravada revival and its contribution is itself a recognition of the positive role of Theravada. After the rise of Mahaprajna and Prajnananda, comes Chittadhar Hridaya, a Upasaka (a follower of Buddhism). Chittadhar Hridaya some four decades ago questioned “what Theravada Buddhism gave to us ? The answer to this question was “what Theravada Buddhism did not give to us ?” Now, 40 years later, the role of Theravada Buddhism in the preservation of Newa Buddhism has come up for discussion. This is a welcome development.
Theravada Buddhism has played a significant role in imparting knowledge to the Buddhists of Nepal that Swanyapunhi, the Full Moon Day of Baisakh, is the Triple Blessed Day, the Auspicious Birthday, Day of Enlightenment and Day of Mahaparinirvana of Gautam Buddha. It is because of the revival of Theravada that the government of Nepal declared Swanyapunhi as the national holiday. His late Majesty King Mahendra declared ban on animal slaughter throughout the Kingdom on the occasion of Swanyapunhi. The controversy about the auspicious birthday of Gautam Buddha was put to an end on the occasion of the ceremony of 2500 Mahaparinirvana Day at an international level. The celebration of the Buddha Jayanti is not confined to the Kathmandu Valley only. It has been celebrated all over the Kingdom by organising functions, ceremonies and lecture programmes. Bhikshu Aamritananda first took the lead in brod casting the Buddhist programme on the occasion of Swanyapunhi from Radio Calcutta. After this, almost every year since the establishment of Radio Nepal, the Buddhist programme of Buddha Bandana was broadcast once a week. After the start of television programme in Nepal, weekly Buddhist programme including the Swanyapunhi programme was telecast in Nepal Television. Dharmaditya Dharmacharya had published a magazine on Buddhism to mark the Swanyapunhi. This paved way for the publication of Dharmadutta and Dharmodaya magazines to mark the auspicious day. Other special supplements were also issued by various organisations. In 1956, Sramanera Sudarshan published 4-paged Swanyapunhi special issue. The trend of publishing special Buddhist supplements in Nepali, Nepal Bhasha, and English with the fund of advertisement developed continuously. The publication of Anandabhumi, from Anandakuti vihar and Dharmakirti from Srighavihar gave a continuity to this trend. This encouraged social and religious organisations to publish Buddhist souvenir issues on the occasion of Swanyapunhi. The launching of various Buddhist activities like the worship of kwapadyo (tantric deity), vrata (fasting) and many other activities in Nepal which is previously confined to the Kathmandu Valley is not a small achievement of Theravada revival in Nepal.
The Nepalese Buddhists are very much familiar with the practice of sheela (moral conduct). It is an integral part of Chudakarma (tonsure) rituals. But the practice of sheel is not uniform and systematic in the Newa Buddhist society. Therefore, in order to get the people practise sheela by teaching the people not to do violence, not to steal, not to resort to sexual abuse, lie, and use intoxicating drinks, etc. Dhalan. (a religious activity accompanied by prayers and fasting) was started at Kindol vihara at the initiative of Buddha Dharma Uddhar Sangha. But the credit for starting sheela prayers as per the Vinaya of Buddhism went to Sramanera Prajnananda. Even though the Sanghas of upasakas and upasikas existed during the Licchavi and medieval periods, the practice of vinayas was not there. After the revival of Theravada, the knowledge of the practice of sheela was given and propagated. Panchasheela and Ashtasheela are the main code of conduct of Theravada Buddhism. Then comes Dasha sheela and Vinaya pratimokshya sheela. Theravada Buddhism envisaged that human civilisation could not flourish, improve and develop without the practice of panchasheela. In a working paper submitted at the 29th World Buddhist conference held in Australia just a few days ago, I have put forth the idea that the panchasheela is the basis of accepting the challenges of the 21st century. If the human community cannot accept the panchasheel politically, socially and culturally, it cannot face the challenges of the 21st century. Negligence of the education of non-violence contained in the principle “Live and let live”, unceasing craving for luxury continuing individually, institutionally, socially, nationally and internationally has resulted in the promotion of hegemony, lust for power, dictatorship, expansionism. The 21st century is on the brink of atomic, biological and poisonous gas warfare. Due to the failure to understand the Buddhist teaching not to steal, the people have been accumulating millions and millions of rupees through undue economic exploitation which is also responsible for making the world much more complicated by commercial and political powers. This is a common phenomenon. There are many examples to prove that if we do not acquire education that prohibits taking away another man’s wife or vice versa, even the supreme head of a powerful nation is subject to humiliation. What I mean to say is that the sheela occupies an important place in the Theravada tradition. Therefore, the hold of sheela in the Newar Buddhist society must be strong.
c. There are practices of reciting pancharakchaya, Tarasatvanama and Prajnaparamita in Newar Buddhism to keep away various fears and calamities. There is originality in thinking that the virtues of the practice of paritran, and the practice of good things keep away fears, calamities and diseases. Paritrans must not be recited wishing good results. Paritran has no effect on the person who has committed one of the panchamahapaps (five great sins). Theravada principle calls for the cultivation of good character. The publication of many books on the importance of Paritran and Mahapritran shows their hold in the Newa Buddhist community. The recitation of Mahaparitran is itself called a great dharma according to Theravada Buddhism.
d. Construction of vihars
Baha, bahi, chaitya, idols constitute an integral part of Newa Buddhist culture. Bahas and bahis of the Kathmandu Valley are replicas of vihars called “Aaram” at the time of the Buddha.
The open and spacious Magadha of olden times, Gandhakuti where the Buddha resided, the Aarams in Koshala or Lichhavi Kingdoms, Sanghbasa where the disciples of the Buddha took shelter, places of their physical exercise, walking places, space for holding religious discourses, lavatories, gardens, water sources are very much compensated by bahas and bahis, rooms of Kwapadyo, upper floor of bahas and bahis, corridors and courtyards of bahas and bahis, outer space of bahas and bahis, open public place, wells, gardens, etc. Besides this, sometime in the past, the Kathmandu Valley was the centre of the study of art and philosophy. The keeping of Agandyo above the Kwapadyo and Nasadyo (god of dance and music) in the upper floor of bahas and bahis is meant to serve the purpose of Buddhism without observing Panchasheela. In the bahas and bahis of Theravada tradition, tantrism was introduced. The bahas and bahis were studded with images of Shakyamuni, various Chakrasamvara deities along with Vajrayana tantric deities Chakrasamvara. Following the replacement of celibate monks and nuns by the householder monks and nuns, bahas and bahis lost their meaning and purpose. Regardless of the people’s request, the sale of the living space of the Sanghik vihar was done. This is the reason why the old vihars were renovated and new vihars were constructed. But one thing is definitely true that the Theravada tradition could not restore the old art and architecture of bahis and bahis. Instead of this, vihars became the centres of learning, centres of practice of Panchasheela and also centres of the publication of Buddhist literature. This is all due to Theravada Buddhism. It promoted and preserved Newa Buddhism and also inspired to undertake research and publication works thus spreading the message of Shakyamuni Buddha. This contribution of Theravada cannot be called a small achievement.
Newar Buddhism was confined to the Kathmandu Valley only. The Newar Buddhists who went out of the Valley did not construct bahas and bahis in their settlement areas in replacement of the construction of the temples of Lord Ganesh, Bhimsen, etc. As a result, Newar Buddhists consequently became non-Buddhists at least as far as ritual is concerned. Because of the absence of vihars outside the Kathmandu Valley, Newar Buddhists had to come to their ancestral vihar to perform the ritual of chudakarma. But, the situation has changed by the construction of small chaityas and vihars in the Newar settlement areas. The religious discourses united the Buddhists. Initiatory practices of Sramanera in Theravada vihars promoted Buddhist rituals. The ritual of Chudakarma was extended to ancient Newar settlements in Tansen, Palpa, and Bhojpur with the gracious approval of His late Majesty King Tribhuvan and with the consent of all Vajracharyas at the initiative of Theravada monks. Recently, separate bahas were constructed in various places of Nepal and the ritual of Chudakarma was carried on. This is also a contribution of Theravada revival in Nepal.
As Bhikshuni Sangha could not continue as per the vinaya of Theravada Buddhism, it disappeared indefinitely. But, after the convening of fifth Sanghayana (council), a new step of allowing the upasakas and upasikas to live a life of sacrifice and detachment was taken. The post of Anagarika was created for Bhikshunis under this rule. Women shared their heads to become Bhikshunis. This practice was called Tilasen in Burma, Shilavati Mata in Sri Lanka, and Mechi in Thailand. A significant breakthrough in this regard was made some sixty years ago by senior monk Prajnananda Mahasthavira who took Bhikshunis of the Kathmandu Valley to Kushinagara in India and were ordained Anagarikas. The lead was taken by Ratnapali, Dharmapali and Sanghapali who became the first Anagarikas of Nepal. But as the Anagarikas stayed in one vihar and ate together, the other people did not like it. Despite the criticism of the people saying that those Anagarikas were taking the wrong course of Nirvana, this did not prevent them from becoming Anagarikas. Anagarikas also were allowed to deliver religious discourses, Later, upasraya, upasikaram (resting places) and vihars were constructed for them. Thus, it was provided true that it is women who could better influence women. Previously, the work of Anagarikas (also called Guruma) was confined to worship activities. The increase in the number of Anagarikas showed freedom as well as liberation of the women. This is a tangible contribution of the Theravada tradition.
f. Religious discourse
The tradition of religious discourse in Nepal is not the original contribution of Theravada. The dharmik activities like Astami urata tirtha, vrata and gunla existed among Newar Buddhists since the ancient times. But the reading of sacred scriptures was confined to Vajracharya practitioners (Gurus) only. Pandit Nisthananda Vajracharya translated Lalitavistara into Newari and publication himself. The published of this book enabled others to read the book. The conversational style religious discourse of Kyangtse Lama gave a new impetus to the revitalisation of Buddhist activities. This led to the upsurge of Buddhist lecture programmes. In the past, the religious discourses on Buddhism dwelt at length on the concept that Gautam Buddha was a god and that he was omniscient, thus deviating from the basic principle or main spirit of Buddhism. Dharmaditya Dharmacharya initiated a new trend of religious discourse based on sutta, geya (verse fit to be sung), vyakarna (grammar), gatha (story), udana (voice), itibutak , etc. and life of the Buddha as mentioned in Pali canon and the Arya Astangik Marga (The fightfold Path). Dharmaditya Dharmacharya also made an appeal to follow the true path of Buddhism. He also made a call to learn Buddhism since childhood at the age of five. The Theravada monks listened to this advice and launched programmes to propagate Buddhism in its true perspective. I still remember the reactions of the listeners of religious discourses who are not satisfied if, in course of narrating the life of Gautam Buddha, tortures give to Yasodhara, wife of Siddhartha, like throwing down the hill, into the pond, and into the fire are not mentioned when the renunciation of Siddhartha Gautam after the birth of Rahula was told, soft hearted devotees left the assembly hall unable to listen to the heart touching story. I myself like to call Siddhartha Gautam a life-long celibate. When I wanted evidence to support my claim I went to Borobodur, Indonesia. But not only in Indonesia, I did not come across any evidence in ancient travel accounts, or ancient pictures and sculptures, inscriptions, archaeological or other physical objects to prove the story that tortures were given to Yasodhara as mentioned in Bhadrakalpa avadana. On the contrary, there is only the mention of the birth of Rahula at the time of Mahabhiniskrama (great departure) of Siddhartha Gautam. This fact was a matter of controversy. During the Mahaparinirvana ceremony in the year 2500, a pamphlet was distributed. The pamphlet mentioned that when Rahula came to Gautam Buddha requesting to ordain him as sramanera, Gautam Buddha asked Rahula to come only after having acquired full knowledge of Mahayana like himself. As instructed by Gautam Buddha Rahula returned home and married Sushila and Kamaladevi. And after getting two sons named Sakalananda and Maitri, he was ordained and he entered into the order of the Sangha. I still remember the day when Venerable Dharmaloka asked me to contradict this statement of the pamphlet in the late hours of the night. In the statement of contradiction I refuted Rahula’s case of polygamy, compulsion of marriage and of becoming father of children in order to be qualified to enter the Mahayana order, rebirth of Bodhisattvas in order to enter into the Mahayana order as contained in the Jataka tale and observance of chudakarma prior to marriage. To put it precisely, Theravada Buddhism played a vital role in removing the untruths and bad rituals prevailing in the name of Buddhism. This very role provided room for the survival of Newa Buddhism even in a scientific age. The unforgettable moments in the history of Buddhism in Nepal were the Dharma Deshana (religious discourses) given by Ven. Amritananda Mahasthavir at Manjushri, Swayambhu, at the main courtyard of Bhikshu Suddarshan, at Tebahal and Chikan Mugal of Kathmandu. Instead of reading out the pages of the scripture, the practice of telling the stories fluently with ease giving similes and examples attracted a large audience. This kind of free thinking and delivering lectures with a personal touch supported a great deal in the preservation of Newa Buddhism.
g. Buddhapuja is a very important activity in Newa Buddhist culture. But in the culture of sprinkling water on the chaitya, offering pieces of flowers over the head of the Buddha’s image, pasting colour power on the face of the Buddha’s image thus disfiguring the very face of the image and offering flowers, incense sticks, lamps, Naibaidya in front of the image, Theravada added more beauty. The Newar Buddhists worshipped the image of the Buddha displaying worship materials on trays and worship plates. The colour powder is an object of worship which is nowhere mentioned in old Buddhist literature. Another thing is that whatever offerings are made are not meant for eating. As alms chivar bastra (yellow robes), edibles, beds or vihars are offered to the Buddha during his lifetime, pindapatra (alms bowl), chivar (yellow robe), bhaisarjya (edibles ? ) were worshipped after the Parinirvama of the Buddha out of faith. Buddhapuja, in true sense of the term, is done in memory of the Buddha in order to imbibe the spirit of the teachings of the Buddha. The reminiscence of the virtues of the Buddha and practice of the teachings of the Buddha is virtually the true worship of the Buddha. Other worships are not much beneficial. There is the worship of bahas and bahis, worship of bahas and the worship of chiva (small chaitya) in Nepal. By improving this tradition, separate Buddha Pujas are done in each baha, bahi and chaitya in accordance with the Theravada tradition. This tradition made it possible to be acquainted with the importance of bahas, bahis and chaityas where Buddhapuja is held. This also led to keep these sacred places clean and also preserve them.
In the eyes of Nepalese Buddhists, Sri Lanka chaitya has neither artistic quality nor the impression of having the image of the Buddha. The four thuras (stupas) of Lalitpur did not have the images of the Buddha . Even though they are very old, there are no images of the Buddha. Dhammika stupa of Saranath, Nirvana stupa of Kushinagara, and stupas of Sanchi and Amaravati have no images of the Buddha. Even the stone-made chaityas of Licchavi times have no image of the Buddha. We call the vacant-looking stone made chaitya as Ashoka chaitya. But, later on, everybody developed liking for the images of the Buddha. People felt the image is required for paying obeisance. Installation of the images of the Buddha was done in Shwe Dagon of Burma and the temple of Bodhagaya. In Lumbini, the image of Mayadevi was discovered during excavation in later times and the monumental site of Lord Buddha was later called the temple of Mayadevi. Mayadevi was called Rummein Mai (the goddess of Lumbini) and animal slaughter was carried there. The installation of the replicas of Panchabuddhas and various Bodhisattvas became a special culture of Nepal.
i. Sarvagya Dhatu and its jatra
Even though there is no image of the Buddha in the Sri Lanka chaitya at Swayambhu, thee is a sacred relic called sarvagya omniscient dhatu of the Tathagata there. This is a unique contribution of Theravada in Nepal. Some say that the procession of this relic is another additional procession in a country where there are many processions. Some, however, say that it was a unique procession of Nepal. But, as far as taking the relic away from one place to another is concerned out of profound faith in Lord Buddha, it is a part of ancient tradition. It was only after the Mahaparinirvana of the Buddha that the procession of the mortal remains of the Buddha took place in Kushinagera. The Chinese travel accounts show that even as early as the fourth, fifth and sixth century A.D., the chariot procession of Shakyamuni Buddha, and the Boddhisattvas was taken out in north and west of Jambudwipa like Bungadyo and Janabahadyo (Red and white Machhendranath respectively) In fact, the chariot procession of Jagannath is but Hinduisation of the tooth relic jatra of the Buddhists. Therefore, it is no longer necessary that procession should be taken out in chariots. It may be taken out even on the back of elephants, chariots and revolving wheels.
j. The Buddhist organisation
The Guthi management has been uniting the Newa Buddhists and this has considerably helped to preserve Newa Buddhism. The evidences of the existence of guthis for the establishment of clinics, elevation of parasol, sweeping, organising musical instruments and government fund as mentioned in the inscription of the Licchavi times give an account of the history of guthis, their importance and use. Numerous stone inscriptions and palmleaves prove that the devotees and faithful people had made donations in the form of land for continuing these guthis for ever- But, later, the guthis were used as tools for entertainment instead of using as tools for meeting the objectives of the guthis. Guthis got entangled in the web of rituals. Besides this, the introduction of land reform programme by His Majesty’s Government destroyed the guthis. The government did not make an alternative arrangement for preserving the guthi tradition. Although the Theravada tradition could make an arrangement of a Buddhist organisation to preserve the cultural …… heritage of Newars, the establishment of Dharmodayan Sabha was definitely a breakthrough to unite all the Buddhists of Nepal. This initiative was followed by the establishment of All Nepal Bhikshu Mahasangha, Mahayana Sangha, Youths’ Buddhist Mandala, Youths’ Buddhist Organisation, Women’s Buddhists Organisation, Taremana Sangha, Buddhist Vihar Sangha, etc. The Himalayan Buddhist Training Institute is likely to publish Nepal Buddhist Directory in near future. It will provide a detailed information about the Buddhist activities in Nepal. The Baudha Upasaka Sangha established by Dharmaditya Dharmacharya was the forerunner of the organisations recently established. The three members of the Baudha Upasaka Sangha were Tuladhars. This may be the reason why Chittadhar Hridaya said that Upasaka degenerated into Uraya. Dharmodaya Sabha is the only one Buddhist organisation which is open to all monks, householder monks, men and women, Buddhists of Theravada, Mahayana, and Vajrayana. By organising the procession of the sacred relics of Sariputra and Maudgolyana in 1952 and by convening the Fourth world Buddhist Conference in 1956 participated by 46 countries and the Fifteenth World Buddhist Conference in 1986, Dharmodaya Sabha succeeded in securing state recognition to Buddhism which was neglected for centuries. It lent vitality to the task of preserving Newa Buddhism. Although the co-operation of all is available in this regard, the special contribution of Theravada Buddhism is unquestionable.
k. Pilgrimage of Buddhist sacred places
Buddhist of Nepal and Newar Buddhists are well-acquainted with the pilgrimage of Buddhist sacred places. There are many inscriptions to prove this. Khas Malla King Ripu Malla went to Lumbini and Kapilvastu for pilgrimage. Other Khas Malla Kings visited Swayambhu, Bunga and Bodhgaya. Pandit Abhayaraj Shakya constructed the temple of Mahabauddha in Patan on return from Bodhgaya being impressed by the visit. Pandit Amritananda Shakya Bhikshu went to Bodhgaya. He copied the pedestal of Lord Buddha there and made pauva out of that. He also created a trust to arrange worship of that pauva. Besides this, he composed a song. The song mentioned the visit of Lord Buddha to Lumbini. This explains the importance of Buddhist pilgrimage. But, some centuries later, the Buddhists developed the habit of going to Kashi (Benares) and Jagannath of India for oblation wishing peace to the departed soul. Because of the propagation of the importance of Buddhist pilgrimage sites by Dharmaditya Dharmacharya, Theravada monks taught the Newar Buddhists the need to visit four main Buddhist sites. Theravada monks organised group visits consisting of 500, 560 and 650 to Buddhist pilgrimage sites in India securing the support of the Nepalese and Indian governments. These group visits were done at the initiative of Gyanmala Bhajan Khala without any profit motive. This is indeed a great contribution of Theravada tradition. Otherwise, it would not be surprising if the Buddhists who wish to undertake pilgrimage and who can afford to do so, continue to make pilgrimage to Kashi and Jagannath and become victims of Pandas. This changed the habit of Newar Buddhists to confine their pilgrimage to Dwadasa Tirtha in Nepal. As a result of the visit of Newar Buddhists to countries such as Thailand, Burma, Sri Lanka and Japan, they have become part of international movement of Theravada Buddhism. Yet, the commercial motive behind such pilgrims has resulted in exploitation of pilgrimages. This is not a good thing.
Psalms like Namasangiti, Dapha, Tuta are a expression of profound faith of Newar Buddhists on Buddhism. Such expression of profound faith in Buddhism can be seen on special occasions and days, during the month-long Gunla festival, in bahas and bahis, and around chaityas and vihars. This involvement of Newa Buddhists in the expression of piety through psalms also attracted the Newa Kings, pandits and general public. New life was instilled into the old psalms by introducing new indigenous musical instruments by the Theravada tradition. Gyanmala Bhajan became very popular. The publication of a book of psalms by Gyanmala began in Buddha Samvat 2484 is containing. The volume of publication has also increased.
m. Books and periodicals
The copying of scriptures and preserving them in homes, bahas and bahis is an old tradition of Newa Buddhism. The printing of books in Sanskrit language and in the mother language was done once the printing press was established. Similarly, the press itself began to publish books and periodicals. Theravada tradition added a new chapter in Newar Buddhism by encouraging the publication of books and periodicals based on independent thinking. Books with the title like “What is the contribution of Theravada Buddhism” were published. And the rejoinder or contradiction to this question was published in the magazine Dharmodaya. Even in the Buddha Samvat 2482 (1940 A.D.) Bhikshu Dharmaloka wrote booklet entitled “Know God, improve one’s conduct and character.” As early as 1940 Bhikshu Prajnananda Mahasthavira published revolutionary works like The Teachings of the Buddha and Dhatubhedanu passana. Aryasatya of Bhikshu Amritananda was published around that time. In the beginning, the books on Newari were published for Newa Buddhists. In 1953, The Dhammapada was translated into Nepali and was published for the readers of other faiths. Greetings of Swanyapunhi were published in different languages. This raised a voice for equal rights for language. Books were also published in Tharu and Tamang languages. Keeping aside the priority to be given to the language issue, the Theravada monks also published literary works such as Ambapali and King Jayaprakash.
n. Alms begging
In the past, alms begging was confined to four days of Chudakarma, Panchdaan, and Samyakdaan. After the Theravada revival, the practice of regular alms begging was introduced in Nepal. Mahaprajna, one of the five Ghelungs (ordained by Tibetan lamas), received alms in cash and kind for meeting the travel expense. When Sramanera Prajnananda first went out for alms begging, people did not know what to give in alms. When Bhikshu Dharmolka first went out for alms begging, he found it uneasy to beg alsm at Nyata (Netapacho) at Kathmandu because of the presence of relatives. He took a round from Nhaikantala, Asan, Bhotahiti, Indrachowk, Naghal, etc. Even then he could collect 6 pice and a handful of rice. This gives a gloomy picture of Buddhism. But this had a tremendous impact resulting in the consolidation of Newa Buddhism. Now, Prajapati Gautami Vihar could be constructed at Lumbini simply by the money collected by Anagarikas from alms begging.
o. Buddha samvat
There was some confusion about the dating of the Buddha Samvat. It was only Theravada Buddhism which could come out with a certain date of Buddha Samvat. There are some who say that the dating of the Buddha Samvat after the date of Mahaparinirvana is against the tradition of Nepal because it is connected with death. But, this is not inappropriate because there was the practice of counting the ordination of King Ajatastru eight years before the Mahaparinirvana of the Buddha. Similarly, the coronation of Emperor Ashoka was dated 218 years after the Mahaparinirvana. Therefore, all the important dates were mentioned in Pali literature counting from the date of Mahaparinirvana. Fixing the date of Buddha Samvat from the birth of Siddhartha is against the ancient tradition. Thus, the two controversies existed- the counting of the date by the birth of Siddhartha and by the Mahaparinirvana of Gautam Buddha. This controversy was put to an end by fixing the date of Buddha Samvat from Mahaparinirvana of Gautam Buddha. In Thailand, the problem of dating was solved by counting the dates in terms of the Christian era. The Thais also adopted the Buddha Samvat.
p. Nepal Baudhha Pariyati Shikshya
Dharmaditya Dharmacharya in his magazine Buddhadharma has said that the children of Nepal must be given education on Buddhism. He was of the opinion that children of Nepal should be provided Buddhist education since the early period of their lives. In order to provide preliminary education to children, the above magazine included Jataka stories, the life of Lord Buddha, question-answer column, stories about domesticated Bhikshus, etc. But, it is a pity that Newa Buddhism could not pay attention to this matter. Finally, due to the realisation of the inadequacy of telling stories only, the initiative was taken in 1962 to start education on Buddhism. All Nepal Bhikshu Mahasangha established an organisation called Nepal Baudha Pariyati Shikshya in 1963. Till now, six or seven thousand children and adults passed the pariyati examination. This pariyati education was divided into three grades, the last one being pariyati sadhamma palaka. But, the final examination is that of kovida which includes the curriculum for three years. It is now 28 years that this Buddhist education system was started successfully. This is not a small achievement.
q. Eradication of caste discrimination
It is known to all that the Buddhists of Nepal have been exploited by compelling them to adopt non-Buddhist faiths and practices by introducing casteism in Buddhism. The very practice of creating hierarchy in Buddhism by giving recognition to Shakyas and Vajracharyas and depriving other Newars of different castes the recognition is indicative of narrow-mindedness and this is an obstacle for the development of Newa Buddhism. If there are vihars where Chudakarma ritual is held for low-caste people such as Napit and Kami, there are also vihars where only Vajracharyas and Shakyas are permitted to do Chudakarma ceremony. Even, in an advanced age of ours, the Newa Buddhists are not free from such bondage. It is difficult to predict the future of the new generation of Shakyas and Vajrachayas vis-a-vis the increasing number of new generation of people of other castes. It is to be recalled here in this context that the first monk of Nepal ordained by a Tibetan Lama was Mahaprajna who belonged to the Shrestha (Khwayaju) caste. The other three Sramaneras following him belonged to the Udas (Uray, Tuladhar) caste. One of the disciples of Prajnananda Mahasthavir following the footsteps of the Theravada tradition was Sramanera Mahapantha Haran who was a Jyapu. Nowadays, the people of different castes are included in the Theravada tradition. They are Shakya, Vajracharya, Tuladhar, Ranjitkar, Manandhar, Shrestha, Shilpakar, Sthapit, Byanjankar, Maharjan, Napit, Khadgi, etc. The people outside the Newar caste fold are Tamangs, Gurungs, Magars, Tharus, Brahmans and Kshatriyas. It is not in keeping with the Theravada Buddhist culture to deprive Tuladhar, Kansakar, Suwal, Maharjan, Dongol, Byanjankar, Manandhar, Tandukar, Chitrakar, Napit, etc, of the right to ordination as Sravakas. Moreover, in order to promote Buddhism and Buddhist cultural heritage, the Buddhist communities have to be ordained. It is only after this that Newar Buddhism can be an integral part of the Buddhist culture of Nepal. The Newa Buddhist culture starting from birth to death has to be extended to other communities and regions beyond the confines of Newar Buddhists. If bahas cannot do all the rituals of prabajya (ordination), it would be better if at least a few famous bahas are entrusted with the responsibility of carrying the rituals of prabajya. Otherwise the members of bahas may dechine gradually in future. This may cause split among the members of Sangha. There is no doubt in that.
Lumbini, the birthplace of Lord Buddha is one of the four principal pilgrimages of the Buddhists. The first voice for the development of Lumbini was raised by Dharmaditya Dharmacharya. Dharmaditya was followed by Bhikshus Mahanama, Chunda, Dharmaloka, Anirudra, Bimalananda and Maitri who contributed their services staying there. A vihar of the Theravada tradition was constructed there in 1953. Another vihar of the Tibetan Mahayana tradition was constructed there in 1958. The Dharmodaya committee brought out a special issue of Dharmodaya to awaken more consciousness among the people towards Lumbini. The Lumbini Dharmodaya committee also initiated the construction works like preserving the Siddhartha memorial, sacred pond, Ashoka pillar, and archaeological site ropanis by fencing, afforestation by planting trees and mango plants. Lumbini and Kapilvastu were the common garden of Shakyas and Koilyas. But, nowadays there are hardly any Shakyas in Kapilvastu, nor the Koliyas. As Jews preserved their original homeland Israel, Shakyas, Koliyas, Mallas and Licchavis have to preserve their original homeland Kapilvastu. If Shakyas have to take pride in their lineage, they must establish their settlements in Lumbini and Kapilvastu. The Threavada tradition cannot play a direct role in this regard. Who will take lead in this matter?
In Newar Buddhism those who have received dekha (tantric initiation) worship in Agamas (tantric worship rooms) and meditate. But this meditation is done especially in the name of gods and goddesses and their manifestations. In order to introduce true meditation, Sanghanayaka Prajnananda Mahasthavira for the first time gave the instruction of Vipassana meditation and Anapanasati and got them practised by disciples. Later, Bhikshu Narada Mahasthavira taught Maitri Bhavana. After this, Mahasi Sayadaw, Satyanarayan Goenka, U. Pandit and U. Sundar organised programme of Vipassana meditation in the form of a camp. Meditation that was confined to Agams for the benefit of a few sections of men, was made open to all the people by organising in halls and open space. This meditation was called Samath and Vipassana. By doing this, the Theravada tradition opened an endless horizon for Newa Buddhism to spread the message of peace.
Thus, the role the Theravada tradition played, is playing and will play to smoothly run Newa Buddhism, strengthen it and extend it widely from the narrow frontiers is a great thing worth appreciation.