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Observation on the influence of Tibetan Buddhism in the Kathmandu Valley:
In the past the Tibetan Buddhist Masters, to name a few, like Marpa, Milarepa, Rwa Lotsava, Ras Chungpa, Dharma Swami, XIII Karmapa, XVI Karmapa and several others visited and traveled in the Kathmandu valley. However the largest group of Tibetan came in the 1960’s. Many settled around the Svayambhu and Baudha Stupas. Many other famous Lamas known throughout the world have their Buddhist monasteries and centers in the Kathmandu Valley.
In this paper I am focusing on the visit of important lamas who contributed for the development of Tibetan Buddhism among Newar Buddhists starting from the beginning of the 20th century
I. Lama Tshe-ring Nor-bu’s Contribution
WHEN Sakyasri LAMA OF KHAM was actively working on the restoration of Svayambhü Mahäcaitya - a rare monument in Asia dignified by its glorious sanctity - under the supervision of Dharma Män Tulädhar, a lama called Tsering Norbu, who was highly devoted to Svayambhü Mahäcaitya, came to know of this news, and showed up at the site to volunteer for this meritorious act.
Although the Lama was of unremarkable appearance, his character appears to have been extraordinary. He zealously and devotedly volunteered as a laborer while the restoration was underway, between the years NS 1038–1041 i.e 1917-1920. After the renovation was complete, he went on retreat for six years in the Mahäsiddha cave of Bäläju, free from all the entanglements of household life, and later taught the Buddha’s teachings on Enlightenment to his disciples. Furthermore, he taught the importance of the monastic life in the Buddha dharma, and spread these teachings widely.
In the period when King Jayasthitimalla organized the people into a caste system according to their profession, the Buddhist monks of the Nepalese Buddhist tradition,- namely, the Shäkyabhikñus and Vajräcäryas - thought that it was sufficient to live as a celibate monk for only four days.
Moreover, they continued to hold the obstinate view that non-Buddhists should not be ordained as monks. It was under these circumstances that Tshe-ring Norbu ordained five Nepalese monks at the Mahäsiddha cave, in accordance with the rules of the vinaya.
The candidates were:
They were ordained with these names:
When the newly ordained monks were seen wandering in Tibetan monastic garb, those who opposed their ordination registered a complaint with the offices of the police. As a result, both the ordained monks and their master were sent into exile from the Nepal Valley, and warned that they would be taken captive and jailed if they returned to Kathmandu.
When they arrived at Calcutta, they met Mr. Dharmäditya Dharmäcärya of Cikan Bahél, Lalitpur. He arranged for them to stay at the Mahäbodhi Society. He also published news of the Nepalese government’s prejudice in Indian journals. Afterwards, some of these monks went to Tibet, and some went to Akyab in Burma to study Buddhism. Eventually, Venerable Tsering Norbu Lama returned to Maëicüòa Daha in Kathmandu, sat in the samädhi of Äñphänika Yoga, and passed away.
II.Contribution of Kyangtse Lama
KYANGTSE LAMA appeared to be a very plain-looking man, but he had great devotion to the true dharma and his lineage masters. He was born in Gyantse, Tibet. Determined to meet an authentic Guru from whom he could receive the true dharma, so that he could achieve something with his life, he relinquished the whole of his family’s property in order to follow his root guru, who was from Gonggu in the Kham province of Northern Tibet.
He arrived without impediment at the place where his root guru was staying. He then prostrated to his guru in the traditional manner and became his disciple. On one occasion, his guru highly praised the Glorious Svayambhü Mahäcaitya of Nepal. As a result, he became anxious to visit the Glorious Mahäcaitya. Since he was unfamiliar with the route to Kathmandu, he asked his guru how to get there. Understanding the pure motivation of his disciple, the guru displayed a clear vision of Svayambhü Mahäcaitya in a ritual mirror, out of the sheer power of his merit and meditative accomplishments.While displaying this marvellous image of Svayambhü Mahäcaitya in the mirror, he instructed him in this manner: “In the course of your pilgrimage to the Glorious Svayambhü, if by chance you lose your way or take a wrong turn, you are to remember and meditate upon the vision I have shown you in the mirror. You will then see clearly the road to Svayambhü Mahäcaitya (’Phags pa sing kun).”
Respectfully accepting his guru’s instruction, he departed for Nepal. Before his departure, he made the following strong resolution to reach Svayambhü Mahäcaitya:
Having the blessings of his master, the Buddhas and the Bodhisattvas, generating Bodhicitta for the sake of all sentient beings, he reached Nepal with pure mind, without hindrance, full of zeal and energy. It took him four and a half years to reach the hills of Svayambhü. Having arrived at Svayambhü on the auspicious full moon day of the month of Phälguëa in the year NS 1045, i.e 1924 A.D. he was extremely overjoyed. He then joyfully paid homage to Glorious Svayambhü Mahäcaitya.
Those who respected and were familiar with Tibetan Buddhism came to know the greatness of his qualities, knowledge and conduct. The first man who recognized him as a great sage was Mr. Dharma Män Tulädhar of Tanlächi, Kathmandu. He organized a great reception for him with respect and devotion, and brought him to his shrine room. Following his request, Kyangtse Lama gave a discourse on the text of Kun bZang lama’i zha lung (Words of My Perfect Teacher) in his residence.
Many Nepalese people came to understand the essence of Buddhism by listening to his teachings. As a result of the merit of his outstanding devotion to Glorious svayambhü Mahäcaitya, and his austere practice of prostration without heed to his physical body,people’s devotion to the Buddhist dharma strengthened like the waxing of the moon. After completing his program of discourses, his followers, not yet satiated, requested another set of dharma teachings in various localities of the Kathmandu Valley.
Out of compassion for his followers, he gave a series of teachings in these places:
Due to the impact of these teaching activities, many Buddhists as well as non- Buddhists became familiar with the Buddhist teachings. Whenever he gave teachings, as many as five or six thousand listeners were present. Undoubtedly, this was a momentous event in the history of Nepalese Buddhism.2 His audience also seems to have been attentive and well-mannered.
Two essential themes ran throughout the course of his teaching activities:
1. Outer preliminary practice (ngon dro): The teaching of the four mind-changing practices, that is,
2. Inner preliminary practice: The six preliminary practices to be formed at first
III.Contribution of Lama Sonam Tendzin
THE VENERABLE LAMA BSOD-RNAM TEN-’DZIN was a citizen of Ladakh. Because of his association with virtuous friends, he became a disciple of Çäkyaçré Lama, a mahäsiddha well known in the Kham province of Tibet. He went on receiving from him many instructions and initiations into the Buddhist teachings, and finally came to Kathmandu to visit Glorious Svayambhü Mahäcaitya.
After visiting Svayambhü and other historical sites, he passed several days in retreat at a secluded place near Tamannä. During his first few days, he lived rough, with the most meagre of possessions. But with great confidence in his practice, he later acquired many disciples and spiritual friends. His virtues and qualities became known to many people. Thinking that it would soon be difficult for his disciples to meet him, he settled in a small hut in the Nägi hills, between Budhänélkaëöha and Bägdvär, out of compassion for his disciples. Since this place was easier for his disciples to visit, many people flocked to him to receive his teachings, and the dharma spread widely throughout the kingdom.
Although many incarnate Lamas (Rinpoches), outstanding Buddhist masters (Äcäryas), Geshes, and abbots and monks of the Nyingma, Kagyu, Çäkyä and Gelug Buddhist traditions were coming to Kathmandu and visiting Svayambhü, the language barrier prevented the dissemination of Buddhist teachings among the local populace, but for a handful of people who understand the Tibetan language.
When Venerable Lama Kyang-tse, was teaching, he had to be assisted by translators like Paëòita Buddhi Räja Çäkya and Bekhäratna Sähu. But it was not always possible to have such able translators, so the Venerable Lama Sonam Tendzin, during his sojourn in the Kathmandu Valley, learnt the Nepali, Tamang, and Newar languages, thereby facilitating his extensive preaching of the dharma.
In this way, he amassed a great number of disciples from Käntipur, Lalitpur, and Bhaktapur, and Sherpa and Tämäng disciples from other villages. His disciples’ contributions transformed his small hut into a beautiful monastery. Later he also built some other monasteries. During his sojourn in Nägi Gompä, the Tibetan form of Vajrayäna Buddhism spread widely throughout Kathmandu Valley. It would be no exaggeration to say that Nägi Gompä was as great a centre for Vajrayäna Buddhist learning for Nepal .
In 1970’s Ven. Urgyen Tulku Rinpoche established Ka-Nying Shedrupling Monastery at Bodhanath.This monastery commonly called White Monastery is one of the largest Buddhist monastery in the Kathmandu Valley.
After the completion of the monastery Rinpoche invited His Holiness the 16th Gyalwa Karmapa to come and confer all the empowerment and transmissions of Kagyu Ngakdzo (the treasury of Kagyu Mantras) His Holiness graciously did so. For the inauguration King Birendra of Nepal was invited in the position of Dharmaraja to preside over the ceremony.
Ven. Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche also offers annual Rangjung Yeshe Seminar for western Dharma Students. During the seminar Rinpoche offers teachings on the aspects of Buddhist doctrines as well as private instructions for retreat. Rinpoche receives visitors every morning and offers guidance in Dharma matters. Rinpoche is very popular among his Newar disciples for his numerous teachings on Mahayana Buddhist practices and sometimes he teaches in Nepali language and with broken Nepal bhasa.
Five hundred years ago the Seventh Gyalwa Karmapa founded Thrangu Monastery and appointed one of his gifted most gifted disciple, the first Thrangu Tulku to be its abbot. The present Thrangu Rinpoche is the ninth incarnation of the Thrangu Tulkus and was born in Tibet in 1933. He holds the teaching degree of Geshe Rabjam which is the highest degree of the four Tibetan lineages and was chosen by the sixteenth Karmapa to be the personal tutor of his four regents.The Tai situpa, Sharmapa, Gyaltshap, and Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoches.
He founded his own monastery, Thrangu Tashi Choeling at Bodhnath, a retreat center and monastic college at Namo Buddha, east of the Kathmandu Valley. He has given series of teachings to Newar Buddhists at the Golden temple, Patan and has been spiritual director of Nagarjuna Institute of which the author of this article is the executive director.
He was born in 1946 at solokhumbu region in Nepal and recognized at the age of three as the reincarnation of Lawudo Lama, a great meditator from that area. Rnpoche entered the Dungkar monstery in Tibet where he studied until 1959.Rinpoche escaped to India in 1959 and continued his studies in Buxaduar in Eastern India. Soon after this, he started receiving teachings from Lama Yeshe, remaining with him as heart disciple.
In 1969, Ven. Lama Yeshe and Lama Zopa Rinpoche established a Foundation for the Preservation of Mahayana Tradition at Kopan Monastery.Lama Zopa rinpoche organized a series of Buddhist discourses especially for the benefit of Newar disciples. He appointed Geshe Lopsang Jhampa, a highly learned Lharampa Geshe to teach to the Newar disciples on the practice of Bodhicitta and Mind training practices. On the initiative of the author a weeklong discourse program was arranged on the " Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment by Atisha Dipamkara" at the premise of Hiranya varna Mahavihara. More than thousand Newar Buddhists attended the program.
It seems that after the Chinese occupation of Tibet, the Kathmandu Valley became the base of Tibetan Buddhism. They are focusing more on their own community because they are afraid that their culture is vanishing due to the Chinese Occupation. The lamas are now focusing more of their time and energy on Westerners than Nepalese because they are gaining more financial support from Westerners.
On the other hand, all the Nepalese Lamas and Monks following the Tibetan tradition must learn the Tibetan language to read Tibetan texts and receive Tibetan teachings. However, local people in these Himalayan regions are ignorant of these languages in letters and spirit. They learn to perform pujas and rituals but they hardly have any opportunity to learn language or Buddhist teachings.
In addition, in the Himalayan region the monasteries are situated in the higher altitudes of the Himalayas. Often, Buddhist masters are not willing to go to these places in order to give teachings. As result, the propagation of Dharma in these remote areas had become very difficult if not impossible. Supporting or educating these people in remote areas is a challenging problem.
Furthermore, the standard of living of these Himalayan people is extremely low so they cannot even afford to come to the Kathamandu Valley for study or a visit. Most of the places are still lying in the remote districts, inaccessible by land transport.
No Buddhist organization is seriously considering these problems and nowadays Muslims and Christians are moving very fast. These Christian missionaries give education and aid for everyday life. Nowadays Christianity is taking root in the hills. Muslims are giving support as well by going into communities becoming familiar with people and inter-marrying. Then, within the context of marriage, wives and children must accept the religion. In this way, the Buddha’s population in the entire Himalayan region is dwindling in spirit because of poverty and lack of Buddhist education.
If a definitive step is not taken immediately, Buddhists of the world will see Nepal, the birthplace of Lord Buddha being dominated by Christianity, Islam and Hinduism.
It is note worthy to mention that Tibetans in the Kathmandu Valley are doing well. They have received a considerable financial support from the West and from the South East Asia.
But the Nepalese people following Tibetan tradition in the Himalayan regions including Newars are acutely suffering because of lack of Buddhist education and support.
Few have opportunities to study in Tibetan monastic universities, Dharmasala, or Tibetan Higher Studies at Sarnath or in South Indian settlements.
From the census data, we have a negative indication about the true nature of the Buddhist population distribution. Many erudite scholars have raised questions concerning the validity of census data, especially in regard to the recognition or identification of Buddhists or Hindus.
It is regrettable to say that the Buddhist population in Nepal according to census data was 17% in 1961, 13% in 1971, 5% in 1981, and 7% in 1991. It seems that the number of Buddhists in Nepal is shrinking. It is deliberate policy of minimizing Buddhist population and clears the path to declare Nepal as Hindu kingdom. Also Nepalese Buddhists have the experiences of persecution under the Hindu Rana Regime (1846-1950).
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