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,
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
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 cause.
In 1946, Ven. Amritananda returned to Nepal with the Ven. Narada
famous Sri Lankan dhammaduta bhikkhu. He obtained permission to preach
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.
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
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, 1986.
~ A Short History of Theravada Buddhism in Modern
Nepal bu Bhikkhu Amritananda, Ananda Kuti Vihara
~ Vishwa Shanti Vihara brochure.
Dhammaduta ( http://www.quantrum.com.my/duta)
Update : 01-12-2001