A Short History of Theravada Buddhism in Modern Nepal
Introduction of Theravada Buddhism
In 1930 A.D. immediately after his ordination as a samanera at kusinagara, India, karmaseela samanera arrived in Kathmandu, but left shortly for his study abroad.
It was a dream of mine to take to a wandering life. I often remembered something a lay Buddhist teacher told me when I was a child: “there are Buddhist monks only in wall paintings, on living ones are left on earth.”
The first time I was I saw a Buddhist monk in my life was in the year 1935. That was at kusinara, in India where the Buddha had attained Maha-parinibbana. The following year, on august 2, 1936, I got my ordination at the same hold place, kusinara, at the age of 18 and my Upajjhaya was the late Venerable U. Chadramani Maha thera of Burma.
After my ordination, the Venerable U. Chandramani Maha Thera sent me to the late Venerable Mahapragya thera, the, the first Nepalese Theravada Buddhist monk in the modern history of Nepal, who was then residing at Kalimpong in Bengal in India.
The Venerable Mahapragya Thera, was first ordained in 1924 as a Buddhist monk by a Tibetan Lama, the venerable Tshering Nordu, in Kathmandu. During the prime mister ship of Chadra Shumsher jung Bahadura Rana, (1901-19 A.D.) the law of Nepal prohibited conversion from one religion to another. Since the Venerable Mahapragya was a Hindu who became a Buddhist, he was expelled from the country along with four other persons, who likewise had become Buddhist monks. After expulsion from Nepal, he went to Lhasa, the capital of Tibet. From there he made his way to India and in 1928 he was ordained a Therevada Buddhist monk at Kusinara by the Venerable U. Chandramani Maha Thera. (Later on he disrobed)
In 1937 I went from kalimpong In India to Bhojpur in eastern Nepal for the propagation of the Dhamma. As there was no motorable road I walked for two weeks and came to bhojpur. Many Shakya families lived there; some of them were my own relatives. Before long, the Venerable Mahapragya There joined me at Bhojpur.
Following a religious function, the governor of Bhojpur came to know that the Venerable Mahapraya there had previously been expelled from Nepal. So, he was arrested. I was asked to go away from Bhojpur. But I said to the governor; “I am a born Buddhist and I won’t leave my teacher.” Both of us were sent to jail.
After some months in the jail, I had a strange dream one night in which I saw five suns of different colors and then I slashed at a man’s neck with a knife making him bleed profusely. When I spoke about the dream, the Venerable Mahapragya there said: “We may be released from the jail today.”
Truly, the same day, at about 11 A.M., the jailor told us to go away and never to return to the Nepal-India border. This happened at the time when juddha Sha,sher junga Bahadur Rana was Prime Minister of Nepal.
In 1937 I left India for Burma to study pali. There were two Nepalese Theravada monks at Moulmein, lower Burma-the Venerable Shakyananda Maha thera and Venerable Aniruddha Maha thera. I went to them. The Chief monk of the monastery was the late Venerable Agga Maha pandita U. Cakkapala Maha thera. After some monks, I had to leave Burma for Sri lanka because the food was not very agreeable for me.
On January 25, 1940, I got my Upasampada (higher ordination) in Sri Lanka. My Upajjhaya was the late Venerable Dhammarakkhita Vansalankara Sri Palene Vajiranana Mahanayaka Maha thera of Vajiraramaya, Colombo.
Towards the end of 1942, I came to Kathmandu from Sri Lanka. At that time the late Venerable Dhammaloka Maha thera and the late Sumangala Samanera were living at kimdol Vihar in the vicinity of Kathmandu. Until my arrival in Kathmandu, there was no propagation of the Dhamma nor preaching in public by Bhikkhus.
Political troubles were brewing in Kathmandu. Four persons were given death sentence and many were sent to jail; gatherings of any kind were prohibited. In such circumstances I preached the Dhamma in public every morning for a month at Swayambhu hill and at the end there was a night long chanting of Mahaparitrana. It was a great success; there were large gatherings and many people came to the Vihara and observed Panchaseela. Thus I carried my Dhammaduta mission until 1944.
I also published some books during this period-Triratna Vandana (Salutation to the Triple Gem), pathya Sutra (text for recitation), Dhammapada, Buddhajeevani (a short life story of the Buddha), Grihavinaya (rules for layman), etc. All these books were later confiscated by the Rana government.
Some other Theravada monks also returned to Nepal form abroad after completing their study of Dhamma. Among them was the Venerable Karmaseela Maha Thera, who had also been ordained by the Venerable U. Chandaramani Maha Thera at Kusinara. As a matter of fact, the Venerable Karmaseela Maha Thera was the first Theravada Buddhist monk in the modern history of Nepal to appear in the streets of Kathmandu immediately after his ordination. After a short stay in Kathmandu, he went to Burma, where, in 1932, he received the higher ordination from U. Chandimamala and was named Pragyananda.
In 1944, the Venerable Pragyananda Maha Thera tried to ordain a lady as a nun, but the then Prime Minister Juddha Shumsher Jung Bahadur Rana summoned all the eight monks living then in Kathmandu and told them not to preach the Dhamma. But the Bhikkhus would not agree to it. On 30 july 1914 (B.S. 2001) the Prime minister ordered them to leave the country within three days.
I was at Sarnath in India at that time. All the monks from Nepal arrived at Sarnath and we formed a Buddhist society of Nepal on 30th November 1944 called ‘Dharmodaya Sabha’ under the chairmanship of the Venerable U. Chandramani Maha Thera and I was elected as a Secretary at the same time. As the Secretary of the Sabha, I visited each and every Buddhist society in India and appealed to them to protest to the government of Nepal against the expulsion of the monks. I also wrote letters to influential people in Theravada Buddhist countries for their support to my campaign. After that I went to Sri Lanka.
Goodwill Mission from Sri Lanka
In April 1946 I was able to bring a goodwill mission from Sri Lanka. The head of the mission was the Most Venerable Narada Maha Thera of Vajiraramaya, Colombo. The mission was allowed to visit Nepal for pilgrimage but not to preach the Dhamma. Arriving at Kathmandu, however, I was able to get permission to preach at Ananda Kuti Vihar, Swayambhu, Kathmandu. Along with the delegation I also met Padma Shumsher Jung Bahadur Rana, who had recently become the Prime Minister. At my request, the Prime Minister gave permission for one monk, the late Venerable Dhammaloka Maha Thera, to return to Nepal. When he arrived in Kathmandu, the Venerable Dhammaloka Maha Thera was so happy that he said to me: “Amritananda, you have re-kindled the light that had been extinguished”. Gradually other monks also were able to return from exile.
The Most Venerable Narada Maha Thera paid a second visit to Kathmandu in April 1947 with the sacred relic of Lord Buddha and a Sapling of the Sri Bodhi Tree fron Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka.
Then in June 1948 the Most Venerable Narada Maha Thera paid a third visit to Kathmandu to inaugurate the newly made Sri Lanka Chaitya at Ananda Kuti Vihar. He also established an Uposathagara in the same Vihar. During his stay the then Prime Minister, Mohan Shumsher Jung Bahadur Rana, declared Vaisakh Purnima (May full-moon day) as a public holiday for the Buddhist civil servants of Kathmandu Valley in response to the Most Venerable Narada Maha Thera’s request.
Some noteworthy Events
In February 1951, along with the Venerable M. Pannaseeha Maha Thera of Sri Lanka, I had an audience with His Late Majesty the king Tribhuvan Bir Bikram Shah Deva in the Royal Palace. In the course of the audience we recited the Paritta Sutra and tied the holy thread on the time until his dasth in 1955, I remained close to His Majesty King Tribhuvan and this relationship continued with His Majesty’s successors, His Late Majesty King Mahendra Bri Bikram shas Deva and the present king, His Majesty king Birendra Bir Bikram shah Deva.
In the same year under the auspices of the Dharmodaya Sabha, a Relics Reception Committee was formed whose Chairman was His Late Majesty King Tribhuvan, we were able to bring the holy relics of Sariputra and Maha Maudgalyayana from the Maha Bodhi Society, Calcutta, India, to Kathmandu for an exhibition. It was indeed a great event. Thousands of people turned up every day for a fortnight to pay their respects to this occasion His Late Majesty the King gave Dana to the Bhikkhus in the Royal Palace.
Later on in 1951, on the auspicious occasion of His Late Majesty King Tribhuvan’s Birthday there was chanting of Mahaparitrana in Royal Palace. Since then, the King’s Birthday is celebrated with the chanting of Mahaparitrana every year at Ananda Kuti Vihar.
The All-Nepal Bhikkhu Mahasangha was founded by me at Ananda Kuti Vihar in 1951.
In 1952 I established Ananda Kuti Vihar Vidyapeeth, a Buddhist Boarding High School.
On the Vaisakh Purnima of 1952 (B.S. 2008), His Late Majesty King Tribhuvan and his son, the then Crown Prince, His Royal Highness <ahandra Bir Bikram Shah Deva, visited the paritta Sutra and tied the holy thread on the wrists of the Royal visitors. Later, at a lage public meeting held at Bhuikhel, at the foot of swayambhu hill, His Late Majesty king Tribhuvan proclaimed Vaisakha full-moon day as a public holiday throughout the kingdom.
In 1954, (B.S. 2010) on the Vaisakh Fullmoon day His Late Majesty King Tribhuvan presided ver a public meeting at Ananda Kuti Nihar.
In 1956, as President of Dharmodaya Sabha of Nepal, I had the honor of helping to organize the 4th general conference of the world Fellowship of Buddhists (WFB), the first to be held in Nepal, under the auspices of the Dharmodaya Sabha and patronage of His Late Majesty King Mahendra.
Later in 1956, His late majesty King Mahendra visited Lumbini, where the Buddha was born, and erected the Mahandra pillar. His Majesty also made the proclamation that no animal shall be slaughtered throughout the kingdom on Vaisakh Purnima.
On May 5th 1977 His Majesty King Birendra Bir Bikram Shah Deva visited Ananda Kuti Vihar for the first time for the celebration of the 2521st Buddha Jayanti or Buddha’s Birthday.
The first Theravada monastery
Located in the wooded Swayambhu hill near Kathmandu, Ananda Kuti Vihar was the first Theravada monastery in Nepal. Established in 1943 by the late Venerable Dhammaloka Maha Thera, the Vihar consists of a stupa and Uposathagara consecrated by the Most Venerable Narada Maha Thera of Sri Lanka in 1948, a shrine room, a preaching hall, three residential quarters and a dining hall.
In 1973 (B.S. 2029), I established the “Ananda Kuti Vihar trust” with the objectives of maintaining the Vihar and the propagation of the Dhamma . though its resources are limited, the Trust provides lodging and food for the resident Bhikhus. The Trust also has already published 44 voluminos book based on Pali canon.
Ther are at present 13 Vihars in Kathamandu valley and 5 outside the valy. There are three Uposathagaras, one established in 1951 at Sri Sumangala Vihara, Lalitpur, by the Venerable Madihe Pannaseeha Mahanayaka Maha Thera of Sri Lanka, and ne at Lumbini, established in 1974 by the Venarable Aniruddha Maha Thera of Nepal.
Nepal has now more than 60 Theravada monks, the eldest of them being the Venerable Sangha Maha Nayaka Pragyananda Maha Thera age 88 and Vassavasa 55. Next to him in order of seniority are the Venerable Aniruddha Maha Thera, the Venerable Aniruddha Maha Thera, myself and the Venerable Subodhananda Maha Thera. Eleven Nepalese monks are studying Pali in Thailand and thirty in Sri Lanka.
There are more than 70 Budhist nins in Nepal.
Hundreds of books and pamphlets, written by different monks, have been published so far in Nepal.
The Ananda Kuti Vihar Trust has published a series of Books on Buddhism in Nepali language, some of them being my own translation from Pali texts. The Trust has thus fulfilled great need, for until the publication of the series there was not a single book in Nepali language, on Buddhism based on Pali source.
For the last 14 years, the Ananda Kuti Vihar Trust has also been publishing “Ananda Bhoomi”, a Buddist monthly magazine in Nepali and Newari languages and now there is another magazine named “Dharmakirti” published by Dharmakirti Study Group.
Buddhist pariyatti classes are being run by the Venerable Buddhaghosha maha Thera in Lalitpur. The Venerable Aswaghosha Thera has established a Bhikku training Center at Banepa in Kabhre district. The Dharmakirti Study group also holds regular Dhamma classes in Kathmandu. Thus, the propagation of the Dhamma for the last 45 years by the Theravada monks, in general, has resulted in an all-round awakening among all Budhist section in Nepal.
Mention may be made here of some other remarkable events in the history of Theravada Buddhism in modern Nepal.
The senior most monk of Nepal at present is the Venerable Pragyananda Maha Thera, aged 88, who lives at Lalitpur. In 1982, Bhikkhus of Nepal made him the Sangha Nayaka. In a conference held at Ananda Kuti Vihar, December 3-7, 1984 he was made the Sangha Mahanayaka of Nepal and the honorary title of “Ariya Dhammarakkhita Nepal Buddha Sasana Vamsalankara Siri” was given to him. The same conference made the Venerable Shakyananda maha Thera the Upa-Sangha Nayaka.
On the occasion of the Venerable pragyananda’s 86th birthday a few days before the Vaisakh full-moon day in 1984, a very grand celebration was held at Kirtipur Vihar, during which 86 persons were ordained as Samanera (novice) for a few days. It was a great event for the people of Kathmandu. In spite of his old age, the Venerable Pragyananda is still very active. He goes for alms and preaches the Dhamma. He has written more than 20 books in Newari language and he has more than 15 disciples.
On August 7, 1984 all the three Nikayas of the Bhikkhu Maha Sangha of Sri Lanka Shyama, Amarapura and Ramannya Nikaya jointly honoured Bhikkhu Amritananda as the Mahanayaka for Nepal with the title of “Tripitaka Visarada” in a function held at Paramadhammacetiya Pirivena, Colombo.
The all-Nepal Bhikkhu Mahasangha sent a letter of invitation on October 25, 1985 to the Venerable Somdet Phra Nyanasamvara Maha Thera, Rajaguru of Thailand, who is also the Upa-Sangha Raja, Member of Mahathera Samagom and Chief of the Bovornivesa Vihar to visit Nepal for the celebration of his 72nd birthday. The Rajaguru accepted the invitation and arrived, accompanied by 12 monks and 73 lay followers, by a special plane on November 23, 1985 in Kathmandu, where he stayed at Ananda Kuti Vihar, the first Vihar built in the history of Theravada Buddhism in modern Nepal and where the headquarters of the All Nepal Bhikkhu Mahasangha is located.
A grand reception was held by the All Nepal Bhikkhu Mahasangha at Ananda Kuti Vihar on the day of the Rajaguru’s arrival. The same evening, he visited the Nagaramandapa Srikirti Vihar at Kirtipur and inaugurated, with the recitation of sutras in the tradition of the Thai Buddhist monks, the four symbolic holy places built within the premises of the Vihar, representing Lumbini, the birth-place of Lord Buddha; Buddha Gaya, where He attained Enlightenment; Sarnath, where He set the wheel of the Dhamma in motion; and Kusinara, where He attained Mahaparinibbhana. These symbolic holy places had been built according to a desire of the Venerable Pragyananda Mahasthavir, the Sangha Mahanayaka of Nepal.
As desired by the Rajaguru, a programmer of ordaining by himself 73 Shakya boys of Nepal as Samanera for one week was initiated on November 24, 1985. Subsequent to the ordination for two evening, the Rajaguru preached the Dhamma to the new Samaneras.
On November 26, the Rajaguru, along eith his followers, visited Lumbini and stayed there as guests of the Lumbini Development Committee. Early in following morning, he recited the Pratimokshya at the Uposathagara at Lumbini according to the tradition of the Theravada Buddhist monks. The Lumbini Development Committee took the distinguished guest and followers also to Kapilavastu. The night was spent at Lumbini.
On November 28, the Rajaguru returned to Kathmandu and stayed at Ananda Kuti Vihar. In the evening, he again preached to the newly-ordained Samaneras at Kirtipur.
The rajguru visited various ancient vihars in Kathmandu valley on November 29. At shakyasinha Vihar in Lalitpur, the Rajaguru was accorded a very warm welcome and presented with a letter of felicitation and some gifts. Various Buddhist organizations in Kathmandu city jointly welcome him at Buddha Vihar at Bhrikuti Mandap. A reception was also held at Gana Maha Vihar.
On behalf of the Ananda Kuti Vihar Trust, a reception was held under the chairmanship of the Honourable bada Guruju, Juna Nath Pandit, at the Ananda Kuti Vihar on the afternoon of November 29, a letter of felicitation was read by Bhikkhu Aswaghosha Mahasthavir, President of the Ananda Kuti Vihar Trust, and the same was presented to the Rajaguru by the Honourable Bada Guruju.
A farewell function was also held at the same time by the All-Nepal Bhikkhu Maha Sangha and gifts were exchanged. Dr. Bhikkhu Amritananda Mahanayaka Mahasthavir, founder of Ananda Kuti Vihar Trust and Founder President of All-Nepal Bhikhhu Mahasangha, presented to the Rajaguru a set of his books based on the Tripitaka.
His Majesty the King of Nepal received the Rajaguru in audience at the Royal Palace on November 29. The same evening, the Rajaguru ordained 87 year old Nhuchhe Man Sahi as a Samanera with the name of Punnyavara.
On November 30, 1985, the Rajaguru returned to Thailand with his followers by a special plane.
By Dr. Bhikkhu Amritananda