Friday, October 22, 2010

Theravada Buddhist Movement in Nepal


Shakyamuni Buddha was born in Lumbini, which lies within the territory of present day Nepal. Lumbini is located in south west of Nepal near India border. In sixth century BC, when Buddha was born, Lumbini was located in the border between Shakya and Koliya republics. The archeological remains of Kapilavastu and Devadaha, the capital cities of respective republics are still intact. Ramagama the only stupa is still untouched out of eight original stupas with Buddha’s bone relics, whereas Emperor Asoka (272-232 BC) opened all seven stupas and distributed the bone relics to thousands of stupas he build all over India.

During the life time of Shakya Muni Buddha, king Vidudabha of Kosal kingdom in the south of Shakya republic invaded Kapilavastu and killed Shakyas (10,000 as per Huen Sang travelogue in 5th century CE). Many Shakyas fled to Kathmandu valley. The native peoples of Kathmandu valley that time were sheep raisers. The Shakyas introduced rice cultivation and urban culture of Shakya tradition. The first settlement was named Koliyagrama denoting that Koliya population might have dominated the settled community. The Mulasarvastivada Sutra describes the account of state of living of the Shakyas in the valley while Ven. Ananda on his return from the visit to the valley. The context of the sutra is regarding the Vinaya on wearing shoes in cold places. This shows that Buddhism (Theravada) has reached to Kathmandu during Buddha’s life time. The existence of Theravada is seen by the proof of documents till eight century CE. The oldest written manuscript found in Nepal the few leaves of Vinaya in Pali language. Mahayana form of Buddhism seen in first century CE continued with variations and evolution to Vajrayana of Newar tradition.

The southern plains of present day Nepal were the territories of Shakya, Koliya and Videha (one of the Vajji republics), where Buddhism had spread naturally in the early lifetime of the Buddha. It is very difficult to estimate from what century Buddhism disappeared in these territories. During Huen Sang’s visit to Lumbini in fifth century he saw both Theravada and Mahayana monks in and around Kapilavastu, Lumbini and Ramagama.

Only in 1920’s CE we see the sudden emergence of Theravada activities in Kathmandu valley. Since then till present the Theravada followers have been active in the mode of a movement (activism) of initiation, sustenance and progress in Nepal as a whole. This paper will give an account of the important events of this movement and will present the present status and future possibilities. This paper also provides analysis on why Nepalese peoples are attracted to Theravada form of Buddhist during the last eight decades. Nepal is about to reach to the point of critical mass from where it can quantum jump provided necessary supports are made available.

Newar Buddhism
Before the modern day Theravada Buddhism stepped in Nepal (Kathmandu valley was called Nepal in old days), the Newars in the valley practiced Newar Buddhism. Newar Buddhism metamorphosed in due course of time is a sedimentary form of Theravada, Mahayana and Vajrayana sects of Buddhism. This form of Buddhism had accommodated many Hindu Tantrik elements as well. Newar Buddhism had sustained the practice among the Newar communities in the valley for centuries and had developed its own school transferring the knowledge and practice from generation to generation. The priests were called Vajracharya and Trustees of the monasteries were mostly Shakya with other communities (farmers, craftsmen, tradesmen, manufacturers etc.) as lay people. Most of the monasteries were land grant institutions donated by the royalties and tradesmen. Newars were prosperous due to trade with Tibet, very fertile valley land and highly skilled craft industries. Almost every cultural calendar events were interwoven with the Newar Buddhist rituals. Newar community was self-sustained and self-governed society.

The rulers in 14th century onward were Hindu. Jayasthiti Malla (1382 CE) introduced the caste system among Newars. The celibate monks were disrobed and forced to marry and take a caste profession. Newars innovated the Newar Buddhism with a mixture of Theravada, Mahayana and Vajrayana and cleverly interfused many Hindu deities among the pantheon of Buddhist iconographic gods and goddesses of Mahayana and Vajrayana cults. As a matter of fact, the Newar Buddhism became quite illusive with Hindu Tantrik cultural symbols. The main carriers of Newar Buddhism were Vajracharya and Shakya. The general features of Newar Buddhism are as follows:

   1. The young boys of Vajracharya and Shakya castes were ordained as Samanera (novice) in the family monastery and stayed in the robe for four days in their respective household observing few simple rules of vegetarianism and avoiding touch from females. They go to relatives for pindapata in convenient time. This ordination is more of a ritual than serious understanding of what ordination meant. This ordination had become a caste ritual rather than a spiritual pursuit.
   2. The girls go through the fake marriage ceremony at an early age and 12 days of hiding from males while reaching puberty. Both of rituals are common among and Buddhist and Hindu communities.
   3. When the boys as well as girls of Vajracharya and Shakya become adults of marriageable age, they go through an initiation (Nhikang) for daily morning meditation ritual. A Mantra is blown in the ear by the priest to be quietly repeated with a rosary of 108 beads three times in the secret/sacred deity room on the top of the house.
   4. After marriage the couple goes through more sophisticated initiation of larger training (Dekha, derivates from diksha) on meditation and observations of rules. The Tantrik Buddhist paintings, which are now the souvenirs bought by the western tourists, are the training materials.
   5. Vajracharya male adults go through additional training on priesthood (Acha luyagu).

Vajracharya and Shakya have elite position in the caste society because of these initiations and observations. Besides Vajracharya serves as the priest to the other communities for many religious and cultures performances. Shakya are the rich trustees of the monasteries. David Gellner terms Vajaracharya and Shakya as householder Tantrik monks. They live in the monastery quarters with full fledged family affairs. The monasteries do not have celibate monks. Ven. Amritananda, one of the pioneer Theravada monks from Shakya family recalls in his memoir that he saw only the painting of two monks (Sariputta and Moggallana) in monastery wall before he was ordained as a Theravada Samanera. Three percent of Nepal’s population could be estimated to practice Newar Buddhism.

Lama Buddhism
The peoples of high mountains in the Himalaya follow the Buddhism of Tibetan traditions. Each village has a monastery (Gumba) as a cultural religious center of the community. Lama poses the role of priest. Most the monasteries have married lama. Some monasteries have celibate lama. They practice Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism and rituals. The Tamangs and Gurungs in the mid-mountain villages also practice the Lama Buddhism with some mix of the indigenous shamanism. At present with the growth of Tibetan monasteries in Kathmandu valley and presence of Tibetan Lama in Nepal the Lama Buddhism of all sub sects are flourishing with training of young Lama-monks and facilitated monasteries. This author has not studied much Lama Buddhism to elaborate more in this paper. Ten percent of Nepal’s population could be estimated to practice Lama Buddhism.

Lama Buddhism was untouched by the political pressure such as in Kathmandu valley. They were isolated and not bothered because they were outside the suzerainty of Newar kings. They were scattered mostly in the northern mountains and had cultural exchange with Tibet. The western part of Nepal was a separate Khash kingdom. They also followed Buddhism till 15th century. Lama Buddhism and Newar Buddhism had strong influence in addition to their own tradition. It is completely lost in due course of time. The strong kingdom was broken into many fiefdoms, which introduced highly feudalistic socio-economic system. Some remaining archeological remains give the evidence of strong presence of Buddhism in the region.

Struggle for the entry of Theravada
The history of entry of Theravada Buddhism is full of struggle. In 1769 CE Newar kings were driven away by a new ruler of Shah dynasty, whose lineage forged the present day Nepal territory by conquering over rulers of many small principalities. The dynasty declared Nepal to be a Hindu state and gradually went on suppressing Buddhists and their monasteries. Then came the Rana Oligarchy running the powerful offices of prime ministers during the period of 1846–1950 CE and suppressed the Buddhists more severely. They isolated the Nepalese people from outside contacts. People had to get travel permit to enter and exit Kathmandu valley. The lands belonging to Newar monasteries were snatched by the ruling families to make western style palaces. More than twenty such palaces are still standing accommodating state offices or personal residency of their descendants.

The Buddhist communities of Kathmandu valley were the trusted traders in Tibet. They were impressed with the vigor and dedication of the Tibetan Lamas in preserving and practicing Buddhism. The traders had establishments (facilitation centers) in Calcutta to buy Indian goods to export to Tibet. As Buddhists they came in contact with the Mahabodhi Society, a missionary led by Anagarika Dhammapala. In 1921 CE a young Shakya named Jagat Man Vaidya went to Calcutta to study commerce on a Nepal government scholarship. He met Anagarika Dhammapala and felt compelled to be associated with Dhammapala to propagate Theravada Buddhism in Nepal. He changed his name to Dharmaditya Dharmacharya and wore yellow rob type of clothing and dedicated himself to Pali learning and awareness works among Newar Buddhists. In 1923, he came to Kathmandu and organized Nepal Buddhopasak Sangh (Nepalese Buddhist Laymen Association). He published Bauddha Dharma, the first ever magazine in Nepal Bhasha (vernacular of indigenous Newars) in 1925 marking the occasion of Vaishakh Purnima (Vesak Fullmoon). This magazine was later published as Buddha Dharma wa Nepal Bhasha,a model that later served for the monthly journal Dharmodaya in late 1940s and 1950s. In 1926, he organized a celebration of the Buddha’s birth, enlightenment, and passing away – the first celebration of Vaishakh Purnima in Nepal. In 1928, he organized an all-India Buddhist conference in Calcutta, which focused on the status of Buddhists in Nepal. As a result of his activities in revival of Buddhism in Nepal, he could not devote his time to study his college curriculum and failed the examination. His scholarship was terminated by the government. He came back to Nepal and got married and lived a householder’s life. The hostile environment in Nepal caused withering away of his great learning.

In 1925, parallel to the initiatives of Dharmaditya Dharmacharya, a charismatic Tibetan teacher named Kyangtse Lama came to Kathmandu valley on a hard pilgrimage by prostrating along the route from Tibet to Swayambhu taking four and half years to reach to Kathmandu. He started teaching Buddhism in Tibetan language and a local Newar translated in Nepal Bhasha. His teaching drew large crowds of Newar Buddhists. The Vajracharyas became unhappy with this happening where their traditional clients were drawn in large crowds to an alien priest. They filed a petition to the office of Rana Prime Minister accusing that the Udayas (Buddhist merchant caste) eat the food offerings from a Bhote (pejorative words referring to Tibetans) thus undermining the caste regulation of prohibition of eating food from other castes. The petition demanded lowering from the caste hierarchy. The Vajracharya priests decided not to accept the rice cooked by the Udayas. This caused a large conflict between Vajracharyas and Udayas. Some Udayas who begged pardon for the mistake were accepted in the earlier position. There were some who took this event for bringing change in their society. In order to liberate from the tyranny of Vajracharyas these Udayas had to look for alternative path to keep their faith in Buddhism intact. Later, Theravadabecame the right outlet for those who were reformists.

Amidst these seed activities five young Newars got highly motivated to dedicate life to start a revival movement of Buddhism. Led by Nani Kaji Shrestha the names of the other four persons were Kanchha Shakya, Dalchini Manadhar, Bekha Raj Shakya and Gyan Shakya got ordained from a Tibetan Lama Tsering Norbu. Nanai Kaji Shrestha ordained as Ven. Mahapragya belonged to a Hindu family and the law of the country did not permit the conversion or proselytization. In 1926, the Vajracharyas of Kathmandu who were attempting to assert their caste hierarchy to the Udayas complained to the Government about the fact that Ven. Mahapragya, a Hindu from Shrestha family had converted to Buddhism. Therefore Ven. Mahapragya and other four monks accompanied by Tsering Norbu were expelled from the country. Ven. Mahapragya went to Tibet and taught Buddhism there where he met Kul Man Singh Tuladhar and ordained him as Ven. Karmashila.

 Later Ven. Mahapragya and Ven. Karmashila left Tibet and went to India where they got reordained as the first Theravada monks in Kushinagara under the tutorship of most Ven. U Chandramani, a Burmese monk residing in Kushinagara in 1928. Ven. Pragyananda appeared in the streets of Kathamandu for the first time in 1930 during the alms begging. He stayed at Kindol Vihar at the invitation of Das Ratna Shahu (later Ven. Dharmaloka) and gave discourses. The attendance at his discourses increased day by day and it worried then Rana government and arrested all the members of Vihara. They were imprisoned, fined and later released. Fortunately, Ven. Pragnananda (or Ven. Karmashila) was in different place and was not arrested. He went on pilgrimage to India with some devotees. His four devotees took ordination under guidance of Ven. U. Chandramani at Kushinagara. They were Samanera Shasana Jyoti, Anagarika Ratna Pali, Anagarika Dhamma Pali and Anagarika Sangha Pali. This was the first nun’s ordination in Theravada Buddhism in modern Nepal. This in course of time brought the enthusiasm for revival of Theravada Buddhism. Many youths departed their homes for ordination in Kushinagara. Other notable Theravada monks were Shakyananda, Dhammaloka, Amritananda, Anurudra, Subodhananda, Buddhaghosha.

In 1925 Das Ratna Shahu, a trader came back from Tibet after the death of his wife along with his son and stayed in Kindol Vihara devoting his time for in teaching Tibetan Buddhism. Later his son went to Sri Lanka and got ordained as a Theravada monk and to study Buddhism. Das Ratna also went to Sri Lanka to see his monk son. He also became a Theravada Samanera (Junior Monk) named Dhammaloka in Sri Lanka and after coming back to Kathmandu he started teaching Theravada Buddhism at Kindol Vihara. In 1931 one of the attendant, a Tuladhar of his own caste reported to the Rana regime that Das Ratna is spreading anti-God religion among the Tuladhars. Along with Dhammaloka eleven Tuladhars were imprisoned and fined. Among them were notable persons like Dhamma Sahu, Yogbir Singh Kansakar and Chittadhar Hridaya. Soon after his release from prison, Das Ratna Shahu took ordination according to Theravada tradition at Kushinagara from Ven. U. Chandramani and became fully ordained monk Ven. Dhammaloka in 1935. He visited Nepal as a monk but was arrested immediately on his arrival in Kathmandu and was imprisoned once again for six days and then released without charging him with any offences. Following his release from prison, he went to stay at Kindol Vihara and continued his religious activities. He was finally able to carry out religious activities freely in Nepal. He succeeded to propagate Theravada Buddhism in the streets of Kathmandu valley. Later, he founded Nepal’s first Theravada Buddhist temple ‘Anandakuti’ at the foothill of Swayambhu hill and it became the center for Theravada Sangha in modern Nepal.

Venerable Amritananda was another well-known Buddhist scholar and pioneer for revival of Theravada Buddhism in modern Nepal. He was ordained under Ven. U. Chandramani at Kushinagara in 1936 C.E. but was imprisoned along with Ven. Mahapragya at Bhojpur in 1937. In 1942, he came back to Nepal from abroad after completing his study and gave discourses at the request of Ven. Dhammaloka in Swayambhu during vassavasa days (Three months Buddhist lent). His public discourses impressed lay people and many people came to listen to him. Other Monks, Samaneras and Nuns of Nepal who were studying abroad also came back and joined him and gave public discourses in different places of Kathmandu valley. This was a great breakthrough during isolationist Rana government. Rana government of the time banned any public assembly because of fear of political unrest and demand for political reform in Nepal. Because of their religious activities, they were arrested on 30July 1944 and brought in front of then Prime Minister Juddha Shamsher Jung Bahadur Rana for giving verdict on the charges of propagating the Dhamma. He made rules to curtail the Buddhist activities. Those who didn’t follow these rules were asked either to leave the country or return to worldly life. All the respected monks, who were active in revival of Theravada in Nepal refused to obey the order and were exiled once again from Nepal. The exiled monks this time included Ven. Pragnananda, Ven. Dhammaloka, Ven. Subhodhananda, Ven. Pragnarashmi, Samanera Pragnarasa, Samanera Ratnajyoti, Samanera Agga Dhamma and Samanera Kumara. The nuns were allowed to remain in the Vihara until the end of the Vassavasa.

Establishment of Theravada

The political movement against the Rana regime had peaked in 1940. In 1941 four political leaders were sentenced to death by hanging and shooting in the public. The Theravada monks were looked with suspicion as they preached in public places. The exile of monks in 1944 was merely due to the political implication threatening the Rana regime. The exiled monks formed ‘Dharmodaya Sabha’ -Nepal’s first Buddhist organization with the help of other Buddhist organizations and individuals on 30 November 1944 in India under the chairmanship of Ven. U. Chandramani. Ven. Amritananda was its general secretary. Immediately after establishment of ‘Dharmodaya Sabha’ Ven. Amritananda wrote a protest letter to Nepalese government and also appealed to other Buddhist organizations on behalf of Dharmodaya Sabha. He visited many places and various countries to get support against the expulsion of Buddhist monks from modern Nepal. One of the countries, he visited and undertook further studies was Sri Lanka. In Sri Lanka, he also succeeded in bringing a goodwill mission to Nepal in 1946 under the leadership of well-known scholar Ven. Narada Mahasthavira of Vajiraramaya, Colombo. The members of this mission consisted of Ven. Narada, Ven. Amritananda, Ven. Priyadarshi, Dr. Ratna Surya and Prof. Aryapal. They were able to meet the newly appointed Prime Minister Padma Shumsher J. Rana. Ven. Amritananda and leader of the mission Ven. Narada requested his Excellency to give permission for the exiled monks to return to Nepal. Prime Minister Padma Shamsher accepted their request and permitted the exiled monks to return. Ven. Dhammaloka was the first one to come back to Nepal immediately after receiving a letter from Ven. Amritananda and arrived in Kathmandu in June 1946. Other monks also returned one by one and again started propagating Theravada Buddhism in modern Nepal. Ven. Narada visited Nepal three times and constructed a Sri Lankan Cetiya at Anandakuti Vihara. He brought a branch of Bodhi tree, Buddha’s relic to Nepal. He also established the first Sima (Uposatha) of Nepal for Bhikkhus at the Vihara. During his third visit he met then Prime Minister Mohana Shamasher J. Rana and requested him to declare Vaisakh Purnima (Vesak full moon) or Buddha Day as a public holiday. The Prime Minister agreed and declared it as a public holiday for the Buddhist government civil officers. Since then, Theravada Buddhism gained ground in Nepalese society and made progress.

In 1951, the political movement removed the Rana Oligarchy and started a democratic regime under monarchy. Dharmodaya Sabha consolidated its objectives as expressed in their journal in 1951 are as follows:

   1. To open Buddhist schools all over Nepal;
   2. To build a Vihara in every town or village where majority of the people were Buddhist, and to have one or two monks live there to provide religious instruction and free medical services;
   3. To publish translations of canonical texts as well as other books on Buddhism in Nepali and Newari (Nepal Bhasha);
   4. To educate Nepalese to propagate Buddhism;
   5. To publish two journals, one in English and one in Nepali;
   6. To persuade the Nepalese authorities to take the necessary steps to preserve the ancient Buddhist monuments (Lumbini, Kapilavastu);
   7. To encourage Buddhists of other countries to visit Nepal and offer facilities to Buddhist scholars;
   8. To guard against institutions active in converting people to other faiths.

Popularizing Theravada
Many events have taken place and activities were continued contributing to popularizing Theravada. In 1951, relics of Sariputra and Maggallana were brought to Nepal marked with a large public procession in Kathmandu. The relics were received and worshiped in the royal palace by the King Tribhuvan. This event gave a gesture to the people of Nepal that Buddhism is revered in Nepal now onwards. In 1952, the king and Crown Prince Mahendra attended Buddha Jayanti (Vesak celebration) in Ananda Kuti Vihara expressing their solidarity with the Buddhists of Nepal. In 1953, King Tribhuvan invited Ven. Amritananda and a delegation of monks in the palace to chant Mahaparitta. These events popularly legitimized the Theravada Buddhism in Nepal. Since then, celebration of the Vaisakh Purnima as the Buddha Jayanti has become a regular annual event marked as the government holiday and grand processions are taken out in many towns of Nepal. This event has been popular not only among Buddhists, but also Hindus of showing their solidarity. This celebration has been widely used in the media to express the religious tolerance among Buddhist and Hindus.

In 1956, the year marking 2500 years of Buddha’s Mahaparinirvana, Nepal hosted the Fourth World Fellowship of Buddhist Conference. This event was also the first international conference held in Nepal after abolishing the Rana Oligarchy and start of the liberal monarchy in 1951. This event was an opportune for Nepal to establish the international relations by inviting the internal delegates to the conference. There were delegates from 40 countries.

All these events gave a moral boost to the Buddhists of Nepal. Although the years following under the regime of King Mahendra were not encouraging to the Buddhists as Buddhism was treated not as equal to Hinduism, the spread of Theravada took place. The lay Buddhists started donating the land for constructing viharas and invited monks to reside within Kathmandu valley and outside. As early as 1944 during the year of exile of the monks the nuns went to Trishuli and Pokhara and established viharas for their residence, which later developed into Theravada viharas. Just a year before Ven. Pragnananda had moved to Sumangala vihara in Lalitpur. Ven. Pragnananda also spent much of time in village called Balambu among the Newar farmers, which became an important center of recruitment to the Order. Later, viharas opened up in Butwal and Tansen in eastern Nepal and in Bhojpur and Chainpur in western Nepal. In 2008, the number of Theravada vihars operating in Nepal reached 102.

Theravada monks and Buddhist scholars have published books and journals as a means of disseminating the teaching to a wider circle. They proved to be quite effective in creating communities in the viharas and beyond. By 1979, the books on Buddhism (mostly Theravada) published in Nepal Bhasha alone counted 285, of which 159 by monks and 22 by nuns. The publication of the books and journals became a regular activity for many viharas. For example, Dharmakirti, a vihara for nuns published more than 160 books during 25 years (1972–2007). Ananda Bhumi and Dharmkirti are two most regular and popular journals of Theravada Buddhism published since 1972.

In 1937, the lay Buddhist started gathering in Swayambhu for hymn-singing in modern style. Two years later Ven. Dhammaloka brought out a hymn book of songs written by the then popular monks. The first hymn group was organized in 1939 in Lalitpur with a name of Taremam Sangh.

Later such groups started organizing in few more places including Swayambhu with the name of Gyanamala Bhajan Khala. The hymns written by monks and scholars carried messages of Buddha in modern expressions and were effective in raising the awareness among Buddhists and others. Their public singing of the Gyanmala hymns were looked by Rana regime with suspicions for carrying the political messages. In 1948, the government arrested 150 people while singing hymn in the public place. The hymn book named Gyanamala as the highest editions of publication in Nepal.

Ritualising Theravada
Getting support and engaging the lay Buddhists is important for the sustaining the Theravada monks and viharas. Monks introduced mass worship of Buddha (Buddha Puja) in the viharas on full moon, no moon and half moon morning is an effective way of gathering the lay Buddhists on a regular basis. In mid 1960s, the Bhikkhu Mahasangha and Gynamala Sangha jointly organized Buddha Puja in the Newar Baha/Bahis (traditional Newar Buddhist monasteries) one by one every fortnight (full moon, no moon and half moon). The Budha Puja is conducted by passing through numerous trays with flowers, incense, candles, rice, sweets, fruits, coins/notes in a circle while chanting the puja text in Pali (following the Sri Lankan way). Generally 300/400 devotees participate in such a Buddha Puja. This became a popular event and people came to know about the emergence of Theravada Buddhism in Kathmandu valley. The Buddha Puja is followed by chanting Pancha sila where the senior monk recites the five precepts one by one and repeated by the mass. Then one of the monks gives a short Dhamma talk through a microphone.

Later Buddha Puja in public places has been replaced by Mahaparitta. In Mahaparitta score of monks chant Paritta sutras longing from few hours to weeks. Monks are also invited to private houses by the families on occasions of memorial days or some auspicious occasions.

In Thailand and Burma monks go for alms round in the morning. The monks are offered the cooked food by the laities. In Nepal going for alms round is not popular as the offering of cooked food is very unusual. Sometimes a special alms round by the monks is organized in a ceremonial fashion where people offer uncooked rice and coins/notes. Lay Buddhists go to the viharas to feed the monks on the day of their choice. Very often the Lay Buddhists have to book a day for feeding the monks as the days are booked weeks ahead. Some Laities invite the monks to their houses.

Recruitment of novice monks
In 1951, under the leadership of Ven. Amritanda the All Nepal Bhikkhu Mahasangha was formed. There were 25 monks and novices and 30 nuns/Anagarikas at the time of founding of the Bhikkhu Mahasangha. The data of 2008 counted 329 monks and novices and 174 nuns. Most of the monks were ordained and trained in India, Sri Lanka and Burma following different ordination lineages and traditions. The data collected in 2006 recorded 174 novices and monks and 29 nuns studying in Sri Lanka, Thailand and Myanmar.

In the initial period of Theravada establishment monks and novices were mostly recruited from Buddhist Newar communities. Besides Kathmandu valley some of them were from the Shakya families residing in Newar towns of Palpa, Bhojpur and Chainpur. At present the recruitment of monks, novices and nuns comes from all the families of Newar community and almost all the ethnic communities in Nepal. The recruitment from Jyapu (traditional farmers) families in Newar community is quite impressive and significant as they compose of almost half of the Newar population. Recently novices from indigenous ethnic communities such as Magar, Tharu, Tamang, Gurung are increasing in number. The indigenous ethnic communities who claim themselves as non-Hindu compose 38 percent of the total Nepal’s population. Recruitment from Hindu castes such as Brahmin and Chhetri is also becoming common.

In India in early 1950s Dr. Ambedkar converted millions of Dalit population to Buddhism as a way of emancipation from the untouchable status of Hindu society. This movement has not made any effect among the Dalits of Nepal. Rather Dalits are more attracted to Christianity. There are many converts to Christianity from indigenous ethnic communities as well. The reason for not being able to attract Dalit population to Buddhism is that the Buddhist Newar community who led the establishment of Theravada has a sort of caste hierarchy and untouchability.

The viharas also accept short term novicehood as an alternative to Hindu ritual of boyhood celebration. The nuns also accept the short term ordination for the young girls as an alternative to the ritual of puberty celebration. The offspring’s of Shakya and Vajracharya from inter-caste marriages also are taken to the viharas for short term novice and nun ordination.

Theravada activism

In 1982 a group of Buddhist youths of Kathmandu city formed Yuva Baudha Samuha (Buddhist Youth Group) to conduct awareness campaign in support of Theravada Buddhism. In the beginning they conducted public talk programmes from the senior monks and Buddhist scholars. Later they organized Pancha sila campaigns in the farmer’s villages around Kathmandu valley. This kind of campaign helped the Buddhist Newar communities to get organized and establish and strengthen small Buddhist centers around a small viharas.

In late 1980s Yuva Baudha Samuha invited scholars and activists from ethnic communities such as Tamang, Gurung, Magar and Tharu. Tamang and Gurung were Buddhists in the hills and the mountains. They had their own traditions of Gumbas and Lamas. Meeting with the activists and scholars from these communities helped built solidarity for a Buddhist awareness movement. Magars and Tharus were not known to be Buddhists. Meeting the scholars and activists from their community was quite surprising to know that they have been eyeing to adopt Buddhism as their community religion as a way of transforming their societies from Hindu encroachment and backwardness.

In 1990 the political movement against the absolute monarchy became successful and the king accepted the country to be ruled by multi-party democracy and constitutional monarchy. Yuva Baudha Samuha became very active to launch a campaign for declaring Nepal as secular nation in the new constitution. Dharmodaya Sabha provided the leadership for the campaign by forming a campaign committee consisting of more than 100 organizations of Buddhists as well as indigenous ethnic communities, Dalit communities and Christians. The campaign was not successful to make Nepal a secular country in the new constitution written in 1991. But the campaign brought Buddhist activists and indigenous ethnic communities close together and conducted joint campaign during census data collection with an effort to show increase in Buddhist population.

The 1981 census showed the Buddhist population as only 5 percent of the total population of Nepal. In 1991 the Buddhist activists waged a popular campaign for the new constitution of Nepal to declare Nepal as secular nation rather than a Hindu kingdom. As a result the awareness among Buddhist communities resulted in increase in Buddhist population in the census in 1991 to 7.5 percent. Buddhist organizations organized campaigns to influence census of 2001 and resulted in declaration of Buddhist population as 10.5 percent. The increasing trend of the Buddhist population in the census is an encouraging scenario for the Buddhist activists.

During 1990s Yuva Baudha Samuha focused its activities in organizing Buddhist awareness campaigns among the indigenous ethnic communities. Initially training camps were conducted in viharas in and around Kathmandu. Later, the demand for such camps to be conducted in various districts led design the training courses suited to the less educated communities. The camps among the Tharu and Magar were almost revolutionary. Several small viharas started were built by those communities in various districts in Nepal spread from east of west plains and hills of Nepal. This created a change in the composition of new recruits to novices and monks in the coming days. The census of 2001 showed a quantum jump by 2.5 percent due to 400,000 Magar population declaring to be Buddhists. Recently the national conference of the Tharu Welfare Assembly, the national organization of Tharu community (6.5 percent of Nepal’s population) declared that the Buddhism is religion of Tharu.

Dharmodaya Sabha became much organized after 1990 people’s movement and its leadership during the secularism campaign. It got new memberships from many ethnicity and geographical regions. National Buddhist conference held every two years in different regions of Nepal became important to address the contemporary issues of Buddhism in Nepal and build national solidarity of Buddhists from all three sects – Theravada, Mahayana and Vajrayana. The conference got national recognition as the apex expression of the Nepalese Buddhists. Its role during interim constitution writing in 2006 after abolishment of monarchy through the second people’s movement was influential to declare Nepal as a secular nation.

Social Engagement

In past Newar Buddhism as well as Lama Buddhism has been deeply and structurally engaged in social, political and economic affairs. The Gompos (Gumba) of Lama Buddhism in the mountains have served as the local self government institutions. Similarly Newar Bahas played much significantly in the socio-political and economic functions. With the country being modernized and centralized the state has deprived of the above traditional functions. Earlier the oppressive Rana Oligarchy and Shah autocracy have suppressed the Buddhist institutions in performing these functions. The time has changed since 1990 with the advent of democratic government. With the recent revolution that threw the monarchy the state and society are much more open. With secular state being declared the Buddhists have more space to contribute in social reformations, political role of nation building and economic improvement.

Some of the Theravada monasteries have been mobilizing the young monks in social works in the field of education, health and poverty alleviation. Lumbini is not only an international centre for practicing Buddhism, it has taken initiatives in providing services in these fields. Lin Sohn, the French monastery run by Chinese and Vietnamese residing in France have built a well equipped children’s home outside the compound of Lumbini to serve the children from poor families. Thai Vihara in Lumbini is helping to set up a maternity hospital in Lumbini besides providing some primary health services in the health centers in the vicinity of Lumbini. The Thai monastery is providing health services in the primary health centers in the villages surrounding Lumbini. Many youth groups have been active in social works as guided by the Theravada Nuns Monastery in Lumbini. In future social engagement of the Theravada institutions will increase.

Contributions from Theravada Countries
Sri Lanka, Burma and Thailand have contributed significantly in establishing Theravada Buddhism in Nepal. The role of a Burmese monk Ven. U Chandramani in Kushinagara was crucial during the struggle for entry of Theravada Buddhism in Nepal. Ven. U Chandramani gave refuge to the first Nepalese monks when they were expelled from the country. They were ordained as Theravada monks and this was followed by others. He also became the founding Chairman of the Dharmodaya Sabha formed by the monks in exile. He served as the Chairman for the period of 1944

Later many monks were also trained in Burma. Some of the monks and nuns trained in Burma became highly reputed and popular. Contribution of the Burmese monks in establishing the International Buddhist Meditation Center is Kathmandu is also well appreciated.

Visit of the Sri Lankan monk Ven. Narad Mahasthavira in 1947 played another crucial role by appealing to the Rana Prime Minister to permit the exiled monks to return to Kathmandu and to allow them to practice the Theravada Buddhism. Next year he again visited Nepal with Buddha relic and seedling of the Bodhi tree from Anuradhapura. They were enshrined in Anandakuti Vihara, thus making it the first authentic Nepalese Theravada headquarter lead by Ven. Amritananda. A Sri Lankan style stupa was constructed in the front yard of Anandakuti Vihara. Presently more than 200 Nepalese monks are being trained in Sri Lanka.

Visit of U Thant, the Secretary General of United Nations in 1967 contributed substantially by providing UN assistance in preparing the Master Plan for development of Lumbini, the birth place of the Buddha.

The Master Plan is half way towards completion. The international monasteries of Theravada tradition in Lumbini include that from Thailand, Burma, Sri Lanka and Cambodia. Eighty percent of the international visitors in Lumbini are from these three countries.

The contribution from Thailand became prominent in later years. In the beginning few Nepalese monks were trained in Thailand. Successful visits of His Holiness Somdet Phra Nyanasamvara the Sangharaja of Thailand first in 1973 CE and secondly in 1985 CE was marked by temporary ordination of 73 Shakya Nepalese by the Sangharaja. On the same occasion he met King Birendra Bir Bikram Shahdev to approve the hosting of the 15th conference of the World Fellowship of Buddhists in Nepal. He also helped to construct the Thai style Vihara in Kirtipur and initiator of the construction of Royal Thai Temple in Lumbini under the Master Plan. Presently there are more than 50 Nepalese monks being trained in Thailand.

Sustaining Theravada
There are three features which need to be strengthened to sustain Theravada in Nepal. They are Pariyatti classes, Meditation centres and Viharas as social centers. Pariyatti classes and Meditation centres are at the take off stage while social centres in the Viharas are in an initial stage.

In 1964 Ven. Buddhaghosha with the help of some colleagues established Bauddha Pariyatti Shiksa, the formal instruction in Theravada Buddhism for the laity. In 1967 with the approval of the All Nepal Bhikkhu Mahasangha the lessons and text books were standardized and centres for conducting Saturday or evening classes were opened in Kathmandu, Lalitpur and Bhaktapur within Kathmandu valley. The classes up to five grades were organized despite the lack of qualified instructors. There are more than fifty examination centres all over Nepal at present. Last year more than 1,500 students appeared in the examination. Those who pass grade seven are awarded the title of “Pariyattti Saddhamma Palaka” and those who pass grade ten are awarded the title of “Pariyatti Saddhamma Kovida”. Up till now 260 have completed grade seven and 51 have completed grade ten. Those who have studies the Pariyatti classes showed the tendency of devoting intensively and sustainably to Theravada Buddhism.

Another source of producing committed and sustainable followers of Theravada is Vipassana meditation centres. There are two kinds of Vipassana meditation centres in Nepal actively engaged. Both of the institutions originated in Burma. One founded by Goenka started in 1981 conducts a ten day intensive meditation camp. The first camp was organized in Anandakuti Vihar. A permanent centre was established in Buddhanilakantha in the hill slope in the north of Kathmandu valley with the capacity for 300 meditators at a time. There are seven such centres including the one in Lumbini, in different cities in Nepal. About 5,000 meditators benefit every year at present from these centres. In 1985 another meditation centre (International Buddhist Meditation Centre) was established in Kathmandu following the method of Mahasi Sayadaw. It has a branch in Lumbini also. The meditators in these centres come from all castes, ethnicity, nationality and religions. Some of them are highly educated personalities, high officials and political leaders. These meditation camps have given a high credibility to the Theravada Buddhism in the Nepalese society and among the non-Buddhist population as well. Buddhism has become a secular belief and practice as well.

In late mid-1960, Ven. Sumangala initiated an institution named ‘Buddha Shasana Seva Samiti’ with an objective to provide education and health services in the Gana Maha Vihara. The vihara ran a Buddhist library, Pariyatti Shiksa, Japanese and English language classes, primary health clinic and a kindergarten school. Later he builds an extensive health clinic in Balambu Vihar, Siddhartha Primary School in Buddha Vihara, International Buddhist Meditation Centre at Shankhamul, and Old age Home in Banepa. This was a modern concept of a Theravada vihara in Nepal. At present there are some young monks who are running similar activities in the viharas of their residence. The young monks who return from Sri Lanka, Thailand and Myanmar are more likely to engage themselves in such social activities. This kind of activities makes them popular in the community and they can outreach to the wider communities and help the poor and needy population. These activities are carried out with a missionary spirit to spread Theravada Buddhism far and wide. Some monks are giving counseling services to the state prisoners. The examples of such institutions run by young monks are Dhamma Vijaya Padman, Charumati Buddhist Mission and Buddhist Peace Centre.

Future Focus
Besides the ongoing activities there are three arenas the Theravada promoters need to pay attention for future focus. They are strengthening presence of Theravada institutions in Lumbini, formalizing Theravada curriculum in Lumbini Buddhist University and establishing Department of Buddhist Affairs in the Government Ministry.

Lumbini is the birth place of Buddha. The government of Nepal has supported the development of this place through a UN assisted Master Plan. This place is designed as international centre for Buddhists of all over the world. There are many Buddhist monasteries and institutions built inside the area. There are two monastic zones – one for Mahayana/Vajrayana and another for Theravada. Presently there are monasteries under construction belonging to Thailand, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, India and Nepal. These monasteries should be strengthened to act not only as monks’ residence, but also international centres for promotion of Theravada Buddhism.

The Government of Nepal has passed the bill in 2006 by the parliament to establish Lumbini Buddhist University in Lumbini. The government has allocated some land and provides some financial support to cover the initial administration costs. But, it has not been able to make any progress. This University should become a reality to carry teaching and research in all three sects of Buddhism. The efforts of Pariyatti Shiksa can be integrated to the University and the degrees awarded can be added with values and utilities.

The need for a government Department of Buddhist Affairs is far from reality and concept. Nepal had been a Hindu Kingdom till 2006, therefore the recognition of Buddhism by the state was discouraged. The religious affairs were dealt by Ministry of Home affairs as a miscellaneous agenda. Now Nepal is a secular nation and the Government cannot marginalize the concerns of religious communities. With the modern way of Theravada activities there has to be a responsible and accountable government agency to deal with. Theravada activists along with interest groups of other religion and Buddhist sects have to build pressure to the Government for opening a Department of Buddhist Affairs.

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