By Dirgha Raj Prasai : Gautam Buddha was born in Lumbini in the 6th century BC in mid Tarai, Nepal. Nepal has been a pious and holy land for all Buddhists as well as all kinds of religious men and women. Buddha has guided human society on the path of peace, non-violence and prosperous thinking. Gautam Buddha meditated at Sarnath-Banarash and acquired the Light of Knowledge (Mokchya) under the holy fig-tree at Gaya, which is now called Buddha Gaya.
A Nepalese scholar Rupesh Shrestha writes-The term Buddha means “Enlightened One”, and signifies that the person to whom it is applied has solved the riddle of existence, and discovered the doctrine for the cessation of misery. Lord Buddha propounded Hinayana, a simple religion in which he followed to a large extent. This was a direct and simple philosophy that appealed to the masses.
Geographically, historically and politically, Nepal occupies a position in between two great empires of India and China and has drunk deeply from the two culturally rich springs, drawing inspirations from both its grand neighbors, as the political current ebbed or flowed – an influence clearly illustrated in the building styles of Nepal. In addition, there is the religious, cultural and philosophical effect of that great tide of Buddhism, which swept through the continent of Asia.
The descriptions of famous ancient Chinese pilgrims, Huian Tsang (who traveled through India between AD 629 & 645) and Fa Hein (who traveled between AD 400 & AD 414) indicate to this area, saying, ‘Lumbini, where the Lord was born, is a piece of heaven on earth where one could see the snowy mountains amidst a splendid garden embedded with Stupas and monasteries.’
An English writer H.A. Oldfield has written- There are about 2000 Buddhist Shrines in the Kathmandu Valley.The majority of those are Chaityas. The Buddhist of Nepal has been adopting several Hindu deities as part of the religious behavior. I have included the opinions of many researchers as Ram Kumar Shrestha, Min Bahadur Shakya, V.K Manandhar, Shanker Thapa, Dr. Tilak Shrestha and others
DR. Tilak Shrestha writes-‘The ethnic politics and Dharmic ignorance create non-existing problems. In the given setup, to assign Bahun, Pradhan and Kirati traditions into Hindu camp and Tuladhar, Bajracharya, Shakya, Sherpas & Tamang, Some Gurungs, Magars, Tharus, traditions into Buddhist camp is the outcome of serious comedy. Shaiva and Bauddha Religion are very similar emphasizing knowledge and meditation.The difference is that Shaiva begins with the assumption of ‘Brahma’ as the ultimate reality. The world as we know is one of its manifestations. Bauddha remains empirical and makes no assumptions. Though the goal is to go beyond emancipation, the discipline is within the direct understanding and experience of an individual in the world as it is. For Baudha Dharma the ‘Bodhi’ (Brahma) is the result of the empirical finding, not a priori. One of the philosophers of the middle age Shankaracharya was an Adwaita (Non-duel) scholar and debated mainly with Mimamsa school of Darshan. He also debated with Jaina, Shaiva and Baudha scholars. While Shankaracharya is given credit for the defeat of Buddhism in Hindu literature, he was in fact active after Buddhism had almost entirely faded from prominence. In particular, he was not a contemporary of the last great Indian Buddhist philosopher, Dharmakirti.�
When Shankara came north to the intellectual centers there, he borrowed many of the ideas that had been formulated by Buddhist philosophers of the past. The unity of the three principal Dharmas of Hinduism in Nepal – Buddhism (Buddha), Shaiva (Nilkantha) and Vaishnav (Narayan) is beautifully given in the temple located in Kathmandu valley, which we lovingly call – ‘Budha Nilkantha Narayan.’ The great contribution for the spread of Buddhism with definition of homely environment and Vikshus (begging alms) disseminated Buddhism was made by Shankaracharya. The opinion, doctrine and ethics strengthened Buddhism. Thus, Shankaracharya was not averse to real Buddhism.
Due to the Nepalese princess Brikuti who married with the King of China- the famous Shronchan Gompo, speeded the Buddhism and the craftsman Araniko who built numerous famous Buddhist statues in China and Tibet. From the time of Shronchan Gompo, Buddhism became gradually popular in China and Mongolia.
Medieval China learned and gained the Buddhism- ‘the way of peaceful life.’ Fa-xian, a famous monk visited the Buddha’s birth place. His account on Lumbini -‘Record of Buddhist Kingdom.’ is applied as a useful historical asset. A Chinese scholar-Xuan-zhang visited 636 Kapilvastu and his traveling accounts are known as historical knowledge’s. Lumbini, the holy pilgrimage had and has been attracting the Chinese monks to visit. The reality is that the Chinese monks contributed to preach Buddhism in China, India, south Asia Burma, Shilanka, Afhaganistan and the western world also. The monks preached translating the Sanskrit sermons of the Buddhism.The Tibetan Buddhism was developed as the most influential Buddhist heritage. Nepal and China have a long history of cultural relations.
In 1895, a German Archaeologist- Dr. A. Fuhrer, An Indian researcher Dr. P.C. Mukargee and Nepalese Khadga Shamshere discovered the missing pillar which was set up by the Maurya emperor of India, Ashoka where Gautam Buddha was born-the most visible landmark of the Sacred Garden.The historic importance of the pillar is evidenced by the inscription engraved in the pillar (in Brahmi script).From excavations it has been found that the Ashokan pillar stands on its original base of unborn brick platform which concludes that the Pillar is at its original location.
Ashoka Pillar in Lumbani
In 1967, United Nations Secretary General, U Thant (himself a Burmese Buddhist), visited Lumbini and made an appeal in front of the international community for assistance to maintain and improve the pitiable plight of this world famous pilgrimage site. Suggestions of development of Lumbini as an international pilgrimage and tourist centre then came into light. And since the implementation of the Master Plan for the development of Lumbini, prepared by Prof. Kenzo Tange in 1978, Lumbini has been a marked scene for development, both as an international pilgrimage as well as a tourist centre.
Lumbini was then enrolled in the World Heritage Site in 1997 AD. It must also be mentioned here that UNESCO too has published a report stating that there have been some activities which violate the basic essence of the Master Plan. For instance, the Peace Stupa in the Lumbini Center is built entirely against the Master Plan and violates its spiritual and technical aspects. It is now seen as a counter point of the Ashok Pillar which in its absurdity has affected monumentalize and spiritualism brought about by the Pillar.
The late King Mahendra had visited Lumbini and advised the government officers to regard and secure the Buddha’s land. King Birendra expressed-‘Although Gautama Buddha was born in Nepal, he belonged essentially to the whole world and to all times. He blazed a trail leading humanity to cast off parochialism and seek liberation and enlightenment. For us in Nepal, the way of life which Buddha practiced and propagated has remained an inextricable part of our cultural heritage. Nepalese civilization has brought about a marriage between Hinduism and Buddhism making them inseparable.’
The Buddhism changed the thinking and behaving of human life. We can see the great Stupa in Kathmandu. The Boudhanath Stupa in Kathmandu, Nepal is steeped in history and can offer any visitor a truly magical experience that will last a lifetime. The Stupa of Buddhanath
The Stupa itself is a large white dome, or Mandala ( greater Area), topped by a pinnacle with eyes to denote the Principal Lord Buddha watching over us; a third eye for wisdom; the nose a Sanskrit number 1 to mean wholeness, and no ears or mouth so evil cannot be heard or spoken. The five elements – water, earth, air, fire and ether are evident in the thousands of colorful prayer flags adorning the whole site. These are blue, green, white, red and yellow, and each contain a prayer to be blown away by the wind. Visitors include the many maroon robed nuns and priests from Tibet, the yellow from China and Japan, and the (literal) saffron clad devotees from Nepal and India. Their early morning devotional procession is awesome. They wave the Mane inscribed Sanskrit Mantra ( hymn)-‘OM Mani Padme Hum.’There are a great number of mountain Sherpas and Tibetans visible, and Nepalese and foreign tourists from all over the world.
Hinduism and Buddhism:
The religious structure of Nepalese society is formally Hindu; but here and only here the interplay of peoples and their religious traditions has produced a rich fusion of Hindu and Buddhist faiths. It is common for both Hindus and Buddhists to worship at the same shrine, for many gods and saints are cross-over, often known by a different name but holding the same attributes. The original inhabitants of the valley were animists, a tradition which survives in the multitude of spirits, demons, local deities, and stones which receive dutiful worship to this day. Hindu and Buddhist traditions adapted from the pre-existing animist practices and from each other. Indeed, in the medieval period, when both religions’ practice adopted mystical, Tantric traditions, they were almost indistinguishable from each other. Nepal’s History and Religions Nepal is a rich and complex mix of different cultures and traditions, melded over thousands of years into a unique whole. For the western traveler there is much that is familiar, and many surprises. Family and religion are of paramount importance, and are constantly reflected throughout the culture. Nepal moves to a different rhythm than the West. The notes here are meant only to tantalize you into visiting this amazing place.
Prithvi Narayan Shah, the unifier of the ‘Greater Nepal’, is the pride of Nepalese people who saved the Hindu and Buddhism in Nepal, in time. It was almost 100 years before unification of Germany (1868), Italy (1868), and the restoration of the Meiji (Japan, 1868) in which America was also under British dependency, that Prithvi Narayan Shah had already unified (1768) 54 small fiefdoms to build a large, expanded and greater Nepal. But after the movement of April 2006 and the party leaders Congress, UML and Maoists came to power they smashed the statue of the great King, contempt and insulted him and called off the birth anniversary of the late king as a day of national unity. Why? If they are Nepalese, they should answer the question.
The site is now being developed as a Buddhist pilgrimage centre, where the archaeological remains associated with the birth of the Lord Buddha form a central feature. Lumbinī-Nepal is a Buddhist pilgrimage site in the Rupandehi district of Nepal, near the Indian border. It is the place where Queen Mayadevi is said to have given birth to Siddhartha Gautam, who as the Buddha founded the Buddhist tradition. Records made by the Chinese pilgrim Fa Xian were also used in the process of identifying this religiously acclaimed site. The holy site of Lumbini has ruins of ancient monasteries, a sacred Bodhi tree, an ancient bathing pond, the Ashoka pillar and the Mayadevi temple. The truth, however is that Buddha was born at Lumbini in present Rupandehi district of western Terai region in Nepal. There are some antagonistic so-called politicians in Nepal; some against of Christian are habituated to exploit our national culture, religions and identities.
A country’s existence and prestige can gradually be eroded by finishing off its faith and belief tradition and culture and the creator of nation. If anyone wants the assurance of integrity and lasting peace in this country, one must not be confused about the country’s century’s old customs and religious prestige as well as the builder of nationality and unity
Having diverse cohesive communities, Nepal has built up as a nation in a long historical process. But, at present why the peaceful country where Lord Buddha was born has become the venue of confrontations? The main causes of the crisis is the abolishing our culture and traditions. Some are going to abolish the monarchy-the creator and protector of Hindu and Buddhism. So, for the sake of Nepalese identity, Hindus and Buddhism and the people-oriented Monarchy must be reinstated.
Dirgha Raj PrasaiPolitical & Cultural Analyst,Nepal