- Ancient Buddhist Land
Nepal is an
independent kingdom that lies 500 miles along the Himalayas. It
is surrounded by Tibet and India. Nepal is divided into three sections:
the northern snow mountains, the middle hilly region, and the southern
terai. Nepal has almost 20 million people and a variety of ethnic
groups. Most people speak Nepali and some speak English. Indo-Aryan
immigrants originally settled Nepal in the 7th century B.C. Many
tribes succeeded one another, until the Malla period, when three
kingdoms were created: Kathmandu, Patan, and Bhaktapar. Recently
a system of parliamentary democracy was established.
Nepal dates from the birth of Siddharta Gautama himself. Legend
has it that many bodhisattvas and previous Buddhas also visited
the land. Monuments to these Buddhas can still be seen. Early
Buddhist history is difficult to document, but we know that Nepal
became a great meeting point for Indian and Tibetan Buddhist teachers.
Nagarjuna, the great Madhyamika master, and many other great practitioners
visited, lived, and taught in Nepal. Stone inscriptions and colophons
provide clear evidence that a strong lineage of Mahasanghika Bhiksunis
existed in the seventh century. The country became a repository
of Buddhist Sanskrit literature and famous for its production of
fine Buddhist art.
on Steps of Swayambunath Stupa, Katmandu Valley.
temples have been erected throughout Nepal. Although many ancient
temples were destroyed by earthquakes in 1355 and 1934, many important
religious structures still survive. The ancient stupas of Swayambhu
and Bodhnath are regarded as most sacred. Buddhism in Nepal includes
Theravada, Mahayana and Vajrayana traditions. The rulers of Nepal
have primarily been Hindu, but have supported the development of
Buddhism over the centuries. The Tibetan Mahayana tradition is the
most popular in northern Nepal, with approximately 3000 monasteries.
Newar Vajrayana Buddhism is a widespread religious system in the
Kathmandu Valley with an elaborate tradition of ritual. Since the
early 40s some Nepalese have turned to Theravada practice based
on the Pali canon, stressing the rational aspects of Buddhism over
ritual. Most Theravada monasteries are located in the Kathmandu
Valley. There are approximately 100 monks and 150 nuns, mostly belonging
to the Newar community. Newars with the Shakya surname trace their
lineage to the family of Shakyamuni Buddha.
Great Stupa of Svayambhunath [opposite]
stands on a hill to the west of Kathmandu. Its name means "The
self created, Self-existent Buddha." The myth of its origin
is also the myth of the valley's origin. It tells the story of the
primordial Buddha's enlightenment and the spread of Buddhism in
This most sacred site
has always been the most important power place for local Buddhists
and for pilgrims from all over the world. It is considered to be
the most powerful shrine in the Himalayas.
Indian Buddhism began
to penetrate the mountain passes into Nepal in perhaps the 4th or
5th century AD, although its influence has always been mainly confined
to the Kathmandu Valley and the western part of the country. With
the destruction of Buddhism in India in the 13th century, Tibet,
Nepal's powerful neighbour to the north, began to influence the
country's religious development. However, the Tantric Buddhism that
resulted became increasingly corrupt and fused with Hinduism, the
predominant religion, and the two became and remain even today almost
In the 1930s the first
Nepalese ordained as Theravada monks in India, but Nepal's Hindu
ruler's refused to allow them to return to the country and imprisoned
those who did. With the change of government in 1950 and the coming
of religious freedom, Theravada Buddhism has begun to steadily gain
support. Since 1959 Tibetan refugees have also established themselves
in the country and their presence has helped to some extent to revive
traditional Nepalese Buddhism.
recently, nuns in Nepal took ten precepts and did not have access
to full ordination. In 1988 a group of nuns went to Los Angeles,
California to receive full ordination as bhikkhunis. In 1998 other
Nepali nuns received bhikkhuni ordination in China and Bodhgaya,
India. In 1999 in Lumbini, Bhikkhuni Dhammavati organised the first
siksmana ordination to be held in Nepal in 1000 years.