BUDDHISM IN NEPAL
When, after a long absence, a
man safely returns home from afar, his relatives, his friends and well-wishers
welcome him home on arrival.
As kinsmen welcome a dear one
on arrival, even so his own good deeds will welcome the doer of good who has
gone from this world to the next. ~ Dhammapada 219, 220.
Lumbini, the birthplace
of Buddhism lies on the southern borders of Nepal. When Buddhism began to die
out in India in the thirteenth century, many Indian monks settled
in the Kathmandu valley.
However as Hinduism gradually supplanted Buddhism in India, so too in Nepal
Buddhism syncretised into Hinduism and lost its identity although some remnants
in the Vajrayana form persisted.
Lal Kaji was born into a
Sakya family in 1919, in the town of Tansen, fifty miles north of Lumbini.
There were noTheravada monks in the whole of Nepal at that time. The only monks
were those seen on murals in the temples.
Orphaned at ten, he was
raised by his uncle but often ran away from home. He took to smoking marijuana,
a common practice of old men and sadhus and often ran away from home. His
uncle, in an effort to tame him got him married when he was fourteen. However,
he continued in his wandering ways. On one such adventure he found himself in
Kusinara and there, Lal Kaji saw a monk for the first time. He was very
impressed by the sight and thus, before the image of the Parinibbana Buddha he
vowed that he would become a bhikkhu one day.
Despite initial objections
from his guardians, he was finally ordained in 1936 at the age of eighteen as a
samanera with the name Amritananda by the Burmese bhikkhu Ven. Chandramani
Mahathera. Soon after, he went to stay and to learn Pali with another Newari
bhikkhu, the Ven Mahapragya in Kalimpong in the hilly Darjeeling district in
North East India. Ven Mahapragya was born into a Hindu family but was ordained
as a lama in Tibet. However, theRana authorities in power in Nepal at that time
had implemented a law prohibiting conversion from one religion to another and
he was expelled to India. There, he reordained as a Theravada bhikkhu.
Eventually both of them decided to return to eastern Nepal. However, Ven
Mahapragya was discovered by the authorities and arrested. As
Ven Amritananda refused to
leave his teacher, they were both jailed for four months before being escorted
back to India. Following this incident, the samanera Amritananda then went to
Myanmar and then to Sri Lanka where he took bhikkhu ordination in the year 1940
under Ven. Vajiranana Mahathera of Vajiraramaya, Colombo. Here he further
deepened his studies in Pali.
He returned to Nepal
in 1942, a time of political troubles in the country. At that time there were a
few other monks living quietly in Kathmandu. There was no propagation of the
Dhamma in public. In these circumstances, Ven. Amritananda began to preach the
word of the Buddha every morning for a month at Swayambhu Hill. At the end of
the month he held a night-long chanting of the suttas. The occasions were
extremely successful, and those who heard his sermons were greatly impressed.
The nightly talks drew large crowds; many of them taking the three refuges and
the five precepts. He also began to travel from one village to another to
teach. Other monks also began to teach in Nepal. In 1943, the first Nepalese
Theravada vihara named Ananda Kuti was established on Swayambhu Hill by the Ven
Dhammaloka Thera. Just as things began to look brighter, in the following year,
a Nepalese bhikkhu tried to ordain a lady as a nun. The Rana government,
learning of the incident summoned all the eight monks in Kathmandu at that time
and asked them to cease preaching or leave Nepal. They chose to leave. At that
time, Ven. Amritananda happened to be in Sarnath where he met these eight
monks. There, they founded the Nepalese Buddhist Association or Dharmodaya
Sabha which started a campaign requesting foreign governments to support their
In 1946, Ven. Amritananda
returned to Nepal with the Ven. Narada Mahathera, the
famous Sri Lankan dhammaduta
bhikkhu. He obtained permission to preach again at
Ananda Kuti. He also
succeeded in persuading the Prime Minister to allow the return of
the exiled Ven Dhammaloka and
later, other Nepalese monks. The Ven. Narada
returned to Nepal in 1947
with a sapling of the Bodhi Tree and the relics of the Buddha
which was enshrined in the
stupa at Ananda Kuti. The Ven Narada visited Nepal for the
third time in 1948 to
inaugurate a new stupa. During this time he also managed to
persuade the government to
make Vesak a public holiday in the Kathmandu valley. The Rana regime was
overthrown in 1951 and the King Tribhuvan Bir Bikram Shah who headed the new
government was more sympathetic to the Buddhists. In this year the All-Nepal
Bhikkhu Sangha was founded and the King personally attended a ceremony at the
airport to receive the relics of the Buddha's foremost disciples the Vens.
Moggallana and Sariputta from the MahaBodhi Society of Calcutta. On the
occasion of the king's birthday, suttas were chanted in the palace. Since then,
this has become an annual occasion and succeeding kings had shown a close
interest in the welfare of Nepal's Buddhist subjects.
In 1956 and again in 1986 the
World Fellowship of Buddhists held its conference in Kathmandu. As at 1988,
there were 60 Theravada monks and 70 nuns staying in more than 30 viharas
concentrated in the Kathmandu valley, with a few others in Pokhara and Lumbini.
Presently, there are several active Theravada organisations teaching the Dhamma
and training monks. One such organisation is the Vishwa Shanti Bauddha
Shikshalaya ( World Peace Buddhist School ) for monks, founded in 1997 by
bhikkhu Jnanapurnik Mahathera who had trained with Mahasi Sayadaw in Myanmar.
Presently it has an enrolment of more than twenty novices.
~ A Brief
Biography of Ven. Bhikkhu Amritananda by Kesar Lall, Ananda Kuti Vihara Trust,
~ A Short
History of Theravada Buddhism in Modern Nepal bu Bhikkhu Amritananda, Ananda
Shanti Vihara brochure.
Dhammaduta ( http://www.quantrum.com.my/duta)