By: Min Bahadur Shakya**



Of all the Buddhist festivals of the Kathmandu Valley, the Samyak or Dipankara festival seems to be unique in many ways. A special highlight of this festival is the display of many large images of Dipankara in the courtyard of Nagbahal.

The word ‘Samyak’ implies the oneness of all sentient beings. In Buddhist literature, we find three forms of enlightenment, namely Enlightenment of Hearers (sravaka-bodhi), Enlightenment of Solitary Realizers (pratyeka-bodhi) and Perfect Unsurpassable Enlightenment (samyak-sambodhi). In this context, Samyak stands for ‘Perfect’ and Sambodhi for ‘Enlightenment’. The Samyak festival thus denotes those practices which lead to Perfect Enlightenment, namely, the path of the Bodhisattvas that will bring samyak-sambodhi.

The essence of this festival is the practice of Giving, or dana-paramita – specifically, to monks (Sakyas and Vajracaryas in the Newar Buddhist tradition) and to Buddhas, especially to Dipankara Buddha, who predicted Lord Sakyamuni Buddha’s enlightenment in a previous lifetime. At this time, Newar Buddhists also honor and venerate the Bodhisattvas Avalokitesvara, Arya Tara, and so on. Sakyas and Vajracaryas are said to be householder Bodhisattva monks. It is on this occasion that they receive alms and dana from lay upasakas and upasikas. Often, those who give dana or make offerings are referred to simply asbhaktajana, or devotees.


Shakyamuni’s past life meeting with Dipankara Buddha

Once there lived a certain learned man who was well-versed in Brahmanical lore, who had 500 young Brahmins as pupils. One of these pupils was Megha, a young Brahmin who was learned, wise, judicious, and of keen intelligence.

Before long, he had learned all the Brahmanical mantras by heart. After completing his study of the Vedas, he left the Himalayas and went down into the country below, in order to seek the fee due to his teacher. With his staff, water-pot, hat, sandals, and mantle, he entered many villages, cities, and towns, and each of these places became free of affliction and calamity through Megha’s spiritual power. Along the way, he begged for money, and someone gave him 500 coins. He then decided to go to the royal city Dipavati, in order to see the city of a universal monarch, made of the seven precious things, and delightful to behold. When he entered the city, he saw that it was in festive array. He wondered to himself, “What holiday do we have here today, or what dramatic performance, or what festival? Perhaps king Arcimat has heard that the young Brahmin Megha, on completing his study of the Vedas, has come down from the Himalayas and is on his way to the royal city of Dipavati; hence this splendid decoration of the city!” And as he went on, he looked for someone he could question.

Just then, a young Brahmin girl came along — attractive, good-looking, reliable, gentle, and modest. She held a water jug and seven lotus flowers in her hands. Megha asked her, “Is there a festival in the city today?”

She replied with these verses:

You cannot, young man, be from around these parts;
a stranger from another city you must be.
You do not know that coming to this town is
the Benefactor of the World, the Bringer of the Light!
Dipankara, the leader of the world, the son
of king Arcismat, He, a greatly famous Buddha,
is drawing near. To honor him, this city
is decked in gay and festive garb.

Megha asked her: “How much did you pay or those seven lotus flowers?” She replied: “Five of them I bought for 5000 coins; two were given to me by a friend.” Megha said to her: “I will give you 500 coins, and in return you give me those five lotuses, and with them I shall worship Dipankara, the Lord. You can honor him with the remaining two.”

She replied: “You can have those five lotuses, but only on condition that for all future time, you take me as your wife. Wherever you may be reborn, there I shall be your wife, and you my husband.” Megha replied: “My heart is set on supreme enlightenment. How can I think of marriage?” She answered: “No need to desist from your quest! I shall not hinder you!”

So Megha consented, and said: “In exchange for those lotuses, I take you as my wife. I will be able to worship Dipankara, the Lord, and continue to strive for supreme enlightenment.” He gave her the 500 coins, and took the five lotus flowers. When he had heard the maiden speak of the Buddha, he was rapturous with joy.

Meanwhile, the Lord had set out for Dipavati, accompanied by 80,000 monks, and by king Arcismat with 80,000 of his vassals and an entourage of many thousands. Megha saw Dipankara, the Lord, coming from afar. The Lord’s body had the thirty-two marks of a superior man, as well as the eighty secondary marks. He was endowed with the eighteen special dharmas of a Buddha, mighty with the Ten Powers of a Tathagata, and in possession of the four Grounds of self-confidence. He was like a great Naga, and had done all he had to do. His senses were turned inwards, and his mind did not turn to outer things. He had won the stable assurance of Dharma, his senses were calmed, his mind was calm, and he had reached perfect self-control and tranquility, like a well-guarded Naga who has conquered his senses — transparent as a pool, clear and unperturbed. He was beautiful and good to look at. No one ever got tired of seeing him, and there was nothing ungracious about him. The light which shone from his body extended as far as a league.

After he had seen the Buddha, Megha identified himself to him, and said to himself: “I also will be a Buddha in the world.” He then recited these verses:

Long is the time before this vision could arise.
Long is the time before Tathagatas appear.
Long is the time until my vow shall be fulfilled:
Yet a Buddha I’ll become, no doubt about it!

Thereupon Megha, feeling the thrill in his whole body, his mind filled with sublime joy and exaltation, threw those five lotus flowers to Dipankara, the Lord. The flowers remained suspended in midair, and formed a circle round the Lord’s radiant head. The young Brahmin girl also threw her two lotuses. They also stood suspended in the air, and so did those thrown by other people. This was one of the miracles by which Buddhas impress people, so that they may be receptive to the truth. The Buddha sustained this canopy of flowers, which stood above him in the air, so as to edify those beings who saw it, and to bring joy and happiness to Megha, the young Brahmin. And this canopy was lovely and fair to behold, with four pillars and entrances, garlanded with strips of colored cloth.

When Megha saw these lotus flowers suspended about the Lord’s radiant halo, and how lovely and pleasing they were, his body was flooded with great joy and gladness, and a sublime decision arose in his mind. He put his water-pot to one side, spread out his deer-skin cloak, and threw himself down at the feet of Dipankara, the Lord, wiping the soles of his feet with his hair, and aroused within himself the following thought: “Ah! May I too at some future period become a Tathagata, with all the attributes of a perfect Buddha, just as this Lord Dipankara is just now! May I too turn the wheel of the highest Dharma, as this Lord Dipankara does just now! Having crossed over, may I lead others across; having been freed, may I free others; having been comforted, may I comfort others — as does this Lord Dipankara! May I become like him, for the weal and happiness of the many, out of compassion for the world, for the sake of a great multitude of living beings, for their weal and happiness, irrespective of whether they be gods or men!”

Dipankara, the Lord, with a Buddha’s supreme knowledge, knew how ready Megha, the young Brahmin, was to turn towards enlightenment. He knew that his past store of merit, as well as his recent vow, were without fault or defect, without blemish or scar. So he now predicted his future enlightenment, in these words: “You shall be, young Brahmin, in a future age, after immeasurable and incalculable aeons, in Kapilavastu, the city of the Sakyas, a Tathagata by the name of Sakyamuni; an arhat, a fully enlightened Buddha, perfect in knowledge and conduct, well-gone, a World-knower, unsurpassed, a leader of men to be tamed, a teacher of gods and men. Like me, you will have a body adorned with the thirty-two marks and the eighty secondary marks. You will have the eighteen special dharmas of a Buddha, be mighty with the Ten Powers of a Tathagata, and confident with his four grounds of self-confidence! Having crossed over, you will lead others across; having been freed, you will free others; having been comforted, you will comfort others; having won final Nirvana, you will help others to win it — as I do now! You will turn the wheel of the highest Dharma, preside over a harmoniously united body of disciples, and both gods and men will listen to you and believe. What I am now, that you will become one day — for the happiness of the many, out of compassion for the world, for the sake of a great multitude of living beings, for their weal and happiness, be they gods or men!”


Legends on the origin of the Dipankara Festival of Patan

In about the 14th century, during the medieval period, descendants of king Bhaskaradeva Varma (1045–48 CE), who founded the Golden Temple or Hiranyavarna Mahavihara, established a religious trust in which the sponsors would honor ten elders as the embodiments of the Bodhisattvas who had actualized the ten perfections. One of those descendants married a lady from Bhaktapur belonging to the Thakuri dynasty. While the donor was participating in this trust, he invited his son’s father-in-law and feasted him with due honor and respect.

During the ceremony, the in-laws carefully observed all the rituals and performances except for one special, secret ceremony, in which their participation was not required. However, since the father-in-law was not privy to that secret ritual, he was offended.

Once, when the son was invited to Bhaktapur for dinner with his in-laws, he was asked about this secret ritual. Subsequently, the son invited his father-in-law to the secret ritual in which the Ten Elders were offered milk rice. The father-in-law, with evil intent, secretly poisoned the milk rice and offered it to the Ten Elders. The Ten Elders, knowing the malice of the guest from Bhaktapur, chanted the dharani called ‘Purification of poison’, and ate all the food as if though it were fit to eat. As a result of their Dharani recitation, they were unaffected, but in return the man from Bhaktapur experienced deadly suffering as though poisoned, even though he did not ingest the poison.

After consulting with astrologers, it was reported that this was a karmic consequence which afflicted the one who poisoned the food, and it could be annulled only when he confessed his sin to the Ten Elders. The poisoner confessed accordingly, and then the Ten Elders instructed those donors and sponsors who were present: “O devotees! Evil is growing in this world; your father-in-law, without any offence caused by our side, committed a great crime out of spite, and hence has to undergo this suffering as a result of his actions.” They then sprinkled some holy water on the sinner and cured him in an instant, with the power of the Ten Elders’ Bodhisattva motivation (bodhicitta).

Confessing his grievous fault, the sinner asked for their forgiveness, and pledged that he would not cause suffering to anybody in the future. He praised the awesome power of the great compassion of the Ten Elders.

Then the Ten Elders said, “O Man of Nhola Vihara of the Thakuri Dynasty! From now on, we will not be able to repeatedly return to this world; instead, we will appear in the form of these Ten Elders (the Dasaparamita Ajus). Please venerate and respect these elders as though they were themselves the Bodhisattvas of the Ten Perfections. You will in turn receive equal benefits and merit, and finally achieve ultimate happiness.” Speaking thus, they disappeared.

Because of this extraordinary event in the past, the Ten Elders are venerated till today as the Bodhisattvas of the Ten Perfections. Newar Buddhists traditionally invite them as honored guests at their rites and wedding ceremonies in order to receive their blessings.

Several years after this event, a man called Bhalibharada, of the Thakuri Dynasty, fell into severe poverty and had to do the menial job of collecting cow dung. He began to deposit the cow dung he gathered in his storeroom. Because of his poverty, he could not bear to tell his wife that he was storing cow dung rather than treasure in the storeroom. He was worried that she would see the cow dung, so he hid the key. Once he forgot to hide the key and his wife found it lying on the ground. Out of curiosity, she opened the storeroom and found that all the cow-dung had turned to gold. As he came back from the river, he was told that gold had been discovered in his storeroom. His wife told him that she never expected her husband had hidden such a vast amount of gold in his treasury. She asked why he suffered so much in spite of his tremendous wealth.

With great joy he told his wife, “O my beloved wife! With the blessings of the Triple Jewels, we received a vast amount of wealth. We have suffered because of our past non-virtuous deeds, but similarly, we received this vast wealth due to our past acts of generosity. Therefore, we should now establish a trust to further the cause of dharma, which brings benefits both for this life and the lives to come. What kind of dharma should we follow? Let us decide.”

Then his wife proposed that they follow Visnu, and suggested that he spend their wealth on worshipping the god. On the other hand, her husband preferred to follow the religion of Buddha, because it was handed down in his family for generations. But his wife was adamant in her decision. He thought it not proper to press the point, for this might sow discord in their conjugal life.

Therefore he devised a plan to solve the problem. He proposed to test the power of both religions, namely, Vaisnavism and Buddhism. They designated a seed of camphor for Buddhism and a Tulasi flower for Vaisnavism. They accepted that whichever plant sprouted first, they both would follow the corresponding religion. So they planted the seeds and waited. After some time, the couple saw the camphor sprouting first, and so they decided to adopt the way of the Buddha.

From that time on, they established a trust called the Samyak guthi. The trust committee is obliged to regularly invite the presence of all the images of Dipankara Buddha belonging to the various viharas of Patan, along with all the images of Arya Tara and the entire Buddhist Sangha consisting of Cailakas, Sramaneras, Brahmacarya bhiksus, Sakya bhiksus, Vajracaryas and so on.

The date assigned for this event is Phalguna Sukla Trtiya, i.e. the 3rd day of the waxing fortnight of the month of Phalguna. On the eve of this date, the committee elders are to hold a respectful reception for all the invited deities and offer them lamps. The following day, one should make full offerings (Samyakdana) to all the invited Buddha images, Bodhisattvas and Taras. Since the event required a lot of resources and manpower to convene, Bhalibharad donated a substantial estate and funds towards its sustenance. According to a chronicle, the committee could not continue its activities every year because of certain unavoidable circumstances. However, the Buddhist Sangha of Hiranyavarna Mahavihara managed to hold this event every fourth year. The tradition continues today, thanks to the organizers of the Samyak Festival who managed to sustain it over the centuries.


Historical Background

The earliest documentary evidence of the existence of Dipankara images is found in a palm-leaf document dated 565 NS (1345 CE) in the collection of Pandita Hemraj Shakya. It mentions that a donor, Jaya Raja Bharo, gilded a Dipankara Buddha image with gold lent from the Brahmacarya bhiksu Sri Akhayasri Thapaju, of Sripulacho Mahavihara.

Further evidence of this festival is found in another palm-leaf document from Dipankara Vihara, dated NS 596 (1476 CE), which records that the Sakyabhiksus of Hiranyavarna Mahavihara had sent an invitation to the Ten Elders of Dipankara Vihara in Bhaktapur to attend a Samyak feast. Another palm-leaf document dated NS 599 (1479 CE) from Pandita Hemraj Shakya’s collection is an invitation letter in which the Samyak festival organizer invites the bhiksus of Yampi Mahavihara for a Samyak feast to be held in Tahbahal.

Among the several known alms-bowl inscriptions, the most ancient is dated NS 645 (1525 CE). It says that on the eight day of the waxing half of Sravana, ie. Sravana Sukla Astami on a Thursday, Sri Harsasimha’s wife Herasmi, together with their sons and daughter, who hailed from Nyakhachowk Vihara, offered this alms bowl to the Dipankara Tathagatas and the Sarva Sangha, and wished for happiness and prosperity from the merits of this generosity.

In an another document, a bhiksu of Nakabahil sent an invitation to King Mahendra Simha (NS 837–843) to attend a special feast — Samyak — at Hiranyavarna Mahavihara in the month of Magha, NS 839 (1719 CE). Apart from these documents, no any other evidence has come to light to substantiate the early history of this august festival.

It is now thought that faith in Dipankara among the Newar community derived from the Buddhist traditions of the Kusana kingdom. Mary Slusser’s discussion of Dipankara Buddha in Nepal was the first to postulate a connection to the Gandharan region:

The cult of Dipankara Buddha achieved little popularity in India, except in Gandhara, whence it spread to Central Asia and China. Given the relatively late date of its prominence in Nepal, the Dipankara cult very likely came from this direction. Since Dipankara Buddha is considered, among other things, to be a protector of merchants, one can suppose he came into fashion in the period of the Three Kingdoms as the patron of Newar Traders who then so diligently plied the Tibet trade.(Slusser : Nepal Mandal, p. 293)

With the discovery of a Kusana sculpture from the reign of Jaya-varman, dated 185 CE, found at Handigaon and Maligaon, scholars are of the opinion that images of Dipankara have their origin in the cultural exchanges between the Kusana dynasty and the Kathmandu Valley.

One of the earliest Nepalese images of a standing Buddha displaying the ‘prediction of enlightenment’ gesture was published by Mary Slusser (Slusser: p. 448). However, the inscription on the base identifies it as Sakyamuni, the gift of a Sakya nun of Yamgal Vihara, Patan, made in 591 CE. Since images of Sakyamuni Buddha and Dipankara Buddha are both known to display this prediction of enlightenment gesture, identification is problematic and difficult.

The earliest image that can definitely be identified as Dipankara Buddha dates to the 13th century, and is located at Guita Bahi, Patan. (D. R. Regmi)


List of Deities Displayed in the Dipankara Festival

1. A Svayambhu Caitya
2. Vajrasattva image
3. Vajrasattva’s crown
4. Bhego Aju
5. Kvabaha Aju
6. Vasudhara
7. Jatadhari Lokesvara Karunamaya
8. Bungama Lokesvara
9. Chasan dyo
10. Embodiment of Lagankhel Stupa
12. Arya Tara from Tangabaha
13. Dipankara from Tangabaha
14. Dipankara from Kobahal
15. Dipankara from Dhumbaha
16. Arya Tara from Dhumbaha
17. Dipankara from Chukabaha
18. Dipankara from Kulimbaha
19. Dipankara and Bhalibharo from Kvabaha
20. Bahapa Deva
21. Dipankara from Wambaha
22. Dipankara from Daubaha
23. Dipankara from Tahbaha
24. Dipankara from Bubaha
25. Dipankara from Habaha
26. Dipankara from Jyobaha
27. Dipankara from Gujibaha
28. Bungama Lokesvara from Gujibaha
29. Dipankara from Bhinchebaha
30. Dipankara from Ukubaha
31. Dipankara from Subaha
32. Tara from Subaha
32. Dipankara from Yacchubaha
33. Tara from Yacchubaha
34. Dipankara from Kirtipur
35. Tara from Kirtipur
36. Dipankara from Jatibaha
37. Tara from Jatibaha
38. Adinath Lokesvara
39. Dipankara from Kirtipur
40. Tara from Kirtipur
41. Tara from Jadebaha
42. Tara from Kirtipur
43. Tara from Kirtipur
44. Tara from Okubaha
45. Tara from Okubaha
46. Tara from Bhinchebaha
47. Tara from Gujibaha
48. Tara from Guhibaha
49. Tara from Jyobaha
50. Tara from Jyobaha
51. Tara from Habaha
52. Tara from Habaha
53. Tara from Bubaha
54. Tara from Bubaha
55. Tara from Tabaha
56. Dipankara from Tabaha
57. Tara from Tabaha
58. Tara from Daubaha
59. Tara from Wombaha
60. Deva from Micchubaha
61. Ja Jayema Dipankara
62. Dipankara from Yatbaha
63. Dipankara from Darikabaha
64. Dipankara from Ikhachen baha
65. Tara from Chukabaha
66. Dipankara from Chukabaha
67. Tara from Chukabaha
68. Dipankara from Anandabaha
69. Tara from Mikhabaha
70. Dipankara from Akibaha
71. Dipankara from Athabaha
72. Dipankara from Mubaha
73. Chilandeva
74. Tara from Thyaka
75. Tara from Nyakhachowk
76. Maitridhvaja kamala Aju and Tara
77. Hilan Aju and Tara from Tajapha
78. Dipankara from Wonbaha: Kun Aju
79. Dipankara from Hauga
80. Tara from Hauga
81. Dipankara from Chapagaon
82. Tara from Chapagaon
83. Dipankara from Bubaha
84. Tara from Bubaha
85. Dipankara from Sibaha
86. Dipankara from Sibaha-Kachabaha
87. Tara from Sibaha-Kachabaha
88. Dipankara from Sibaha
89. Dipankara : Bhayo Aju
90. Tara
91. Dipankara from Mubaha
92. Tara from Mubaha
93. Tara from Chibahachuka
94. Bhiksu Aju
95. Dipankara from Ibahi-Thasandya
96. Dipankara from Bhinchebaha
97. Tara from Bhinchebaha
98. Dipankara from Subaha
99. Tara from Subaha
100. Dipankara from Thakunbaha
101. Tara from Thakunbaha
102. Dipankara from Ilabahi
103. Tara from Ilabahi
104. Dipankara from Dhunbaha
105. Tara from Dhunbaha
106. Dipankara from Tabaha
107. Yatabaha Kami Aju
108. Dharmasila Aju
109. Bhanasi Aju
110. Dipankara Munidhan (Dhakhwa)
111. Tara (Dhakhwa)
112. Dinapani Aju
113. Dharmadhvaja Aju and Tara
114. Dhusa Tara
115. Gajendravajra Tara
116. Danamuni Dhakhwa Tara
117. Bagnarsimha Tara Iku
118. Sakhati Jayema
119. Jog Aju Habaha
120. Dipankara from Kvabaha Napit
121. Dipankara from Chikanbahi -Dhanad


You have to register for the class by duly filling out the application form. The class will start only after all the students have registered their names. You have to fill out application form either in the NIEM office at Chakupat or download the PDF Application File online, print, fill out and submit it to the office with the course fee before the class kicks off. The passport size photo must be pasted on the form.



By: Min Bahadur Shakya**


The Introduction : Background

We come to know through Buddhist history that enormous amount of Buddhist literature that was created in Sanskrit beginning right from the period starting from Buddha’s Mahaparinirvana and continuing till the 11th century AD. Out of this vast literature only a small portion of it was translated into Tibetan between 7th and 11th century. Unfortunately, with the passage of time, the great treasure of Buddhist Sanskrit literature was lost or destroyed due to various historical conditions.

An exhaustive history of the Sanskrit Buddhist literature has long been needed. The reasons behind the scarcity of research in Sanskrit Buddhist literature are many. One of the major reasons is the disappearance of Buddhism from major parts of India and the unavailability of the original Sanskrit Buddhist works.

In 1824, Mr. Brian Hodgson, a British diplomat in Nepal, discovered a great number of Sanskrit Buddhist manuscripts in Nepal. The existence of these before his time was unknown, and his discovery entirely revolutionized the history of Buddhism, as it was known to Europeans in the early part of this century. Copies of these works, totaling 381 folio manuscripts have been distributed so as to render them accessible to European scholars.

Of these eighty-six manuscripts comprising 179 separate works, many were presented to Asiatic Society of Bengal: 85 to the Royal Asiatic Society of London; 30 to the Indian Office Library; 7 to the Bodleian Library, Oxford; 174 to the Société Asiatique, and to French scholar Eugene Bern ouf. The last two collections have since been deposited in the Bibliothèque Nationale of France.[1]

Prof. Jaya Deva Singh writes in his Introduction to Madhyamika Philosophy:

Books on Mahayana Buddhism were completely lost in India. Their translation existed in Chinese, Japanese and Tibetan. Mahayana literature was written mostly in Sanskrit and mixed Sanskrit. Scholars who have made a study of Buddhism hardly suspected that there were also books on Buddhism in Sanskrit.

In a similar manner Suniti Kumar Chatterji writes:

One great service the people of Nepal, particularly the highly civilized Newars of the Nepal Valley, was to preserve the manuscript of Mahayana Buddhist literature in Sanskrit. It was the contribution of Sri Lanka to have preserved for human kind the entire mass of the Pali literature of Theravada Buddhism. This went also to Burma, Cambodia, and Siam. It was similarly the great achievement of the people of Nepal to have preserved the equally valuable original Sanskrit texts of Mahayana Buddhism.

It is in Nepal that most of the Sanskrit Buddhist documents have been found. Concerning Nepalese Buddhist literature, as many as 20 reports have been published :***

Most of the manuscripts originally preserved in Nepal have been carried out of the country by the pioneers of the modern Indology. An earliest illustrated Manuscript of Astasahasrika Prajñaparamita dated 1015 AD is now in the collection of the Cambridge University Library. This Manuscript offered new material to students of South Asian and Central Asian art history. It is difficult to know exactly when the tradition of illustrated manuscripts began. But from available documents it seems that copying and writing manuscripts began as early as the tenth century in Nepal, i.e. during Narendra Deva’s reign (998 A.D.).[2] These include miniatures and painted book covers.

One peculiar feature of Newar Buddhism is that the Buddhist priest called Vajracarya, does not stay in the monastery or temple but with his family and performs the rites dressed in everyday clothes. Only those who belong to the Vajracarya family can become a priest, but they must have already gone through a form of initiation called acarya abhiseka and been married.

Another peculiarity of Newar Buddhism is its ritual and its sacred literature, which are written in Sanskrit language, because of which we can call Newar Buddhism “Sanskrit Buddhism.” We have discussed about the status of Newar Buddhism elsewhere.[3]

With the collapse of Indian Buddhism, some of the Buddhists escaped from suppression in India and fled to Nepal. The Newars of Kathmandu Valley accepted them and their religious and cultural inheritance. The two groups intermarried and their religions and cultures merged to become Newar Buddhism. This happened from 9 century to 13 century A.D. They have continued to copy Sanskrit manuscripts repeatedly up to the present day. All Buddhists owe a debt to the Newars, through whose efforts we can study these Sanskrit manuscripts today.

Scripts used in Nepalese Manuscripts

Four types of script were generally used to write the Manuscripts, they are Pracalita, Newa, Ranjana, Bhujimole and Devanagari script. Among these, Newari script was used for most of the manuscripts. Ranjana is used for books used for worship such as Prajñaparamita and so forth. They were often written on Indigo-paper in gold or silver.. The Bhujimole script was used in ancient times (11th to 17th c.) and was written mostly on palm leaves. Devanagari script is used in modern times both by Hindus and Buddhist alike.


Types of Nepalese Manuscripts

1. Palm-leaf Manuscript [4]

The Sritala Palm leaves are used for writing and painting, because of their thin and flexible qualities. From early 11th to 17 centuries manuscripts were written on palm leaves called Tadapatra. 1084 number of Rolled Palm Leaf Manuscripts (RPLM) are held by the National Archives of Nepal alone. These written during the 14th century. One of the oldest among these dates from 1334 CE. It is excellent material for writing and remains preserved in rather excellent condition. It is safe from worms and also can be scrolled into a small bundle. Most of them are written in Bhujimole script. Most of the historical documents of early medieval period were found in these palm leaves. Some of the RPLM are also in the custody of British Library.

RPLMs are placed in small pigeonhole boxes. These are made of straw board and bucrum. These boxes are stored inside a steel cabinet rack to protect from dust, dirt and thieves.


Problems and causes of deterioration

Observation data of RPLM in the National Archives show the 37.8% are deteriorated by following factors, whereas rest of them are in good condition.

Factors Effect


only insect holes are seen on RPLM


Grey and white color powders are distinctly visible on reverse side of the tails

Dryness and Inflexibility:

Due to low temperatures and low relative humidity, the majority of RPLMs are dried and inflexible.

Difficulties in Opening:

Due to their rolled condition, researchers and photographers have faced problems in this task.

Broken pieces:

Some of the broken pieces are joined together using celluloid tape and masking tape.

Haritalika Paper Manuscript [5]

Haritalika is yellow in color, has a crystalline solid structure, is odorless, water insoluble and impervious to inorganic salt. Haritalika is used in hand-made paper (Nepali paper) with some binding agents or media to make it more durable and insect resistant. Nepali hand-made papers are made from the bark of Lokta plant. It contains sheets of cellulose compound. It is creamy in color and contains some small pieces of solid dark brown raw materials due to impurity of pulp. It is supposed to be made from the bark of the Lokta plant. Microscopic study of paper clearly indicate that it contain long fibers, arranged irregularly, having a rough surface. Due to this, it offers a premium coating of Haritalika paste. The majority of hand-made papers are physically and chemically of good quality, high strength, and a strong PH factor of 7-9. These have a high value of tensile strength, folding endurance, and bursting strength.


Manufacture of Haritalika paper

Starch paste is prepared by using rice flour, water, formaldehyde (1:5:0.1) in a thick aluminum vessel. Nepali hand-made paper is flattened on a smooth board using a small quantity of water. Then a coating of the prepared paste described above is applied uniformly using long brushes very attentively. Another sheet of Nepali hand-made paper is placed and press over it. In this way the number of hand made papers is pasted down according to the required thickness of the paper. In freshly prepared paper, the paste is added and finely grounded Haritalika powder (2:1) mixed and stirred thoroughly in a porcelain mortar with a pestle.

The paste is coated upon a freshly prepared layer of Nepali hand-made paper with the help of a long brush and dried at room temperature. The dried paper is peeled off and trimmed as per the required manuscript size


Use of Haritalika paper

Haritalika coated paper is used for writing valuable documents and books to protect it from biological agents that might lead to its deterioration.

It seems that this type of paper is convenient for handling. That’s why around 17th century most of the Nepalese manuscripts were written on handmade paper called “Nepali paper” produced in the Himalayan foothills around the 16-17 century. Since the manuscript is written on both sides, a single layer of Nepali paper is too thin to write on and not fit for writing manuscripts. It was made thick by pasting 3-5 layers of paper together. This thick, pasted paper is cut into a long rectangular shape. Nepali paper is usually given a layer of yellow coating of Hartala (As2S3) on one side or on both sides of the leaves for protection from worms.


Thyasaphu Paper Manuscript

The long rectangular folding books are mainly employed for rituals, Dharani recitation and Stotra gita or hymns.


Scroll Manuscript

It is used mostly for writing Vamsavalis or chronicles or genealogical records of royal family.


Bound Book Manuscript

The bound book is quite new and was most probably copied from Western examples.

Preservation Measures


1.Buddhist Library, Nagoya: A report

In the early seventies Mr. Hidenobu Takaoka, a Japanese Buddhist priest, visited the Kathmandu Valley and investigated thoroughly the status of Nepalese Buddhist culture. Lamenting the situation of the multitude of scattered manuscripts and the condition of Buddhism in Nepal, he undertook to preserve the Nepali Manuscript heritage by taking microfilms of Sanskrit and Newar Manuscripts. It took him a decade of efforts to microfilm the Buddhist Manuscripts exclusively from private collections rather than certain public archives. Due to fear of theft or trafficking he kept hidden the names of the collectors and simply mentioned as A, KA, KH, GA, GH, CH, and DH. It was a judicious decision. In his catalogue he had been able to microfilm 1521 titles of Buddhist manuscripts. There are yet number of private collectors owning the manuscripts that were not microfilmed yet. This was not possible because of conservative behavior of the owner or for some unknown reasons.

In 1981, he published “A Microfilm Catalogue of the Buddhist Manuscripts in Nepal” from Buddhist Library, Japan. Manuscripts in his collection are Mahayana Sutras, Jataka-avadana, Sastras, Tantra, Purana literature, Strotra, Caryagita, Pujavidhi, Dharani-mantra, Tantra commentaries and so forth.


2.The Asa Archives: A report on manuscript preservation [6]

The Asa Archives is a public library of Nepalese Manuscripts named after the late Mr. Asha Man Singha Kansakar, father of the late Mr. Prem Bahadur Kansakar (1917-1991). Mr. Kansakar was prominent activist, social worker, educationist and Newar writer who had founded several social, cultural, literary and educational institutions. The nucleus of this was donated by Prem Bahadur Kansakar to Cvasa Pasa, a premier literary association of Newar writers on august 16, 1985. To this personal collection were later added the donations of valuable manuscripts and palm leaf documents by several well-wishers and friends. Among them mention should be made of Mr. Ian Alshop, an American student of Kansakar, Dharma Ratna Vajracarya, Guru Sekhar Rajopadhyaya, Rev. Hidonobu Takaoka, Gyan Ratna and Dr. Kamal Prakash Malla. Similarly, more than a dozen other donors have helped this archive with gifts from their personal collections of manuscripts.

The Archives were inaugurated by Prof. Yujiro Hayashi, the Executive Director of the Toyota Foundation, Japan on December 7, 1987. It was made accessible to the public since that time. The Toyota Foundation had made a generous grant to purchase, innovate and furnish the house where it is now located. The Foundation has also supported the documentation of the manuscripts and initial operation of the archives with a fund deposited as seed money and endowment.

The Collections

In this archive there are several valuable collections of palm leaf, loose-leaf pothi and folded manuscripts (thyasaphus). There are more than 6,700 manuscripts and about 1100 palm leaf land grant documents. These manuscripts belong to various sects and genres written in different languages and scripts. Largest among these are the ritual texts, medical texts, manuals of magic and necromancy, astrology/astronomy, Vedic and Puranic texts, and Tantric texts of the Saiva, Bauddha, and Sakta sects. A large number also comes from the Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism. There are technical and symbolical drawings and architectural designs of religious and secular structures, painted covers, and book illustrations of great beauty and delicacy. Perhaps the most important component of the archives is the literary texts, hymns, songs, plays, popular narratives, didactic tales and Buddhist avadanas in the Newar language. One can find specimens of beautiful calligraphy in the collection written in plain black ink, silver and golden letters.

The Archives has also a collection of nearly all Nepal bhasa books in print, journals, magazines and newspapers in Nepal bhasa. There is also a small Nepal collection, consisting of books on Nepal in English and other languages which will be of great interest for study and research on the culture and heritage of the Nepal valley.


The archive is preparing a systematic and descriptive catalogue of all its collections. Presently, several types of temporary catalogues are available. There is a handwritten catalogue in the form of a ledger of the collection, with running numbers, classification by religion, language or genre with a workable amount of information. This is also available in the form of a card catalogue. There are at present two printed catalogues available. One was prepared by Mr. Charles M. Novak, A Catalogue of the Selected Buddhist Manuscripts in the Asa Archives, (1986). The other catalogue is the Descriptive Catalogue of Selected Manuscripts in the Asa Archives prepared by Dr. Janak Lal Vaidya and Prem Bahadur Kansakar (Kathmandu, Cvasa pasa 1991). This is a descriptive catalogue of the 547 most important manuscripts in the collection. There is also a descriptive monograph on the Asa Archives (1996), containing important speeches, and articles all edited by the librarian Mr. Raja Shakya. A short title catalogue of 5382 catalogued manuscripts in the collection is in press and will be out in February this year.

Digitalization of the Collection

In collaboration with the Buddhist Library of Japan, Nagoya, the Asa Archives is completing the digitalization of its entire collection of manuscripts. When the project is completed at the end of this month, all the manuscripts including their paintings and illuminations will be available on CDROM. [Demonstration of CDROM on the collection of Manuscripts]


3. Nepal Research Center – Nepal German Manuscript Preservation Project: A report [7]

A principal task of the Nepal Research Center is to house and support the Nepal-German Manuscript Preservation Project (NGMPP). The NGMPP was established in 1970 by an agreement between His Majesty’s Government of Nepal and German Oriental Society. It is a joint venture between the Department of Archaeology, the Ministry of Youth, Sports and Culture (up to 1995 it was under the Ministry of Education and Culture), His Majesty’s Government and the German Oriental Society. It is designed to preserve on microfilm Nepal’s extraordinary wealth of manuscripts and historical documents, thereby contributing considerably to the preservation of the country’s cultural heritage and identity, as well as providing invaluable opportunities to explore virtually all aspects of its manifold literary, religious and historical traditions.

All equipments and materials necessary for the execution of the NGMPP are provided by the German Oriental Society with financial assistance from the German Research Council. In consultation with its Nepali counterpart, the society set up a photographic section in the National Archives. Run by experts and technicians provided by His Majesty’s Government, it microfilms the collections of the Nepal Archives, and develops and copies all films of the project, including those produced by a separate microfilming unit located at the Nepal Research Center. According to the agreement, one positive copy of each film, together with the original negative, remains in the National Archives, while a second positive copy is handed over to German Oriental Society for preservation in the Staatsbibliothek Berlin PreuBischer Kulturebesitz, the former Prussian State Library.

During its first phase, from 1970 to 1975, the activities of NGMPP were limited to the collections of the National Archives. The subsequent extension of the agreement provided for the inclusion of all public libraries and private manuscript collections within the Bagmati Zone. To date, around 155,000 manuscripts with nearly five million folios have been microfilmed in the whole of Nepal.

With the second extension of the agreement, the restriction to the Bagmati zone was lifted. From 1982 onwards, the NGMPP undertook various exploratory tours and opened temporary microfilming stations in other parts of the Kingdom. Up to February 1987, the Sanskrit section alone microfilmed 2,267 manuscripts with 74,487 folios outside the Kathmandu valley, namely in Kaskikot (1982), Gorkha (1983), Janakpur (1984/85) and Rajbiraj (1986/87). It should be pointed out that, through these activities of the NGMPP, many texts have become available for the first time outside what may have been a very limited area of dissemination.

This wealth of manuscripts is not only distinguished by its exceptional range of diversity – nearly all sub-fields of Hindu and Buddhist Sanskrit literature are represented – but frequently also by the rarity and greater antiquity of individual pieces. In many cases, the microfilmed manuscripts represent the oldest available sources for a given text, and this holds true not just for the Buddhist Sanskrit texts, but also for many Vedic, Brahmanic and Hindu works which are extant elsewhere, if at all, only in later copies.


4. The Nepal Archives: A Report on Preservation of Sanskrit Buddhist Manuscripts

Recently, The Nepal Archives has published a catalogue of the entire Sanskrit Buddhist Manuscripts in the collection with a view to facilitate scholars and researchers. It also includes a catalogue of microfilm reels prepared by Nepal German Manuscript Preservation Project acquired through its mission work in the different districts of Nepal. This does not mean that the catalogue was the first of its kind. It has published several catalogues previously. One special feature of this catalogue is that it exclusively addresses Buddhist manuscripts along with additional manuscripts microfilmed in Nepal German Manuscript Preservation Project.

The number of Buddhist manuscripts in the possession of the Nepal Archives totals 889 plus the 940 acquired in different mission by the NGMPP thus the grand total of 1829 manuscripts.

Another catalogue, a catalogue of the Buddhist Tantric Manuscrips in the National Archives of Nepal and Kesar Library, deals specifically with this excellent collection of Tantric Buddhist manuscripts (See bibliography). This most valuable catalogue was compiled by Prof. Mitutoshi Moriguchi from Taisho University.

It would be befitting to give the classification of Buddhist manuscripts with regard to its subjects:

  • Buddhist Mahayana Sutra
  • Sastras:
  • Avadana
  • Karmakanda
  • Mahatmya and Purana
  • Jataka
  • Katha or stories
  • Tantra
  • Dharani
  • Strotra
  • Caryagita (music)
  • Paintings

5. Nagarjuna Institute: A Report on Buddhist Dharani Input Project (BDIP).

Since the inception of Buddhist Dharani Input Project in 1999 January., Nagarjuna Institute has inputed titles from 100 strotras and 80 Dharanis. The institute’s aim is to input the entire collection of Dharanis (more than 600 titles) from the collection of Nagarjuna Institute., the Asa Archives, and the Nepal Archives. We are informed that by the end of February, the Asa Archive is producing CDROMs of the manuscripts on Dharanis and Strotras so that it can help the researchers.

The Nepal Archive has already put their entire collection of Buddhist manuscripts in Microfilm, so it is a matter of purchasing the microfilms. Since resources are desperately lacking wherewith to purchase the microfilm copies, the completion of the input project has been delayed. Should funds become available, it would be certain that we could complete this first phase of our input project at the end of this year.



The importance of Sanskrit Buddhist Manuscripts and their future

The importance of inputting these Sanskrit Buddhist texts into a digital format cannot be over-emphasized, for it was from these valuable Sanskrit originals that entire Mahayana and Vajrayana texts were translated into the Chinese and Tibetan languages, and derivatively, into Korean, Japanese and Mongolian. With the Sanskrit originals in our possession, the translated versions are of secondary importance. Sanskrit Buddhist literatures found in Nepal are remarkably greater in number than the Pali literatures available today. It is imperative that these Sanskrit originals should be preserved in digital format so that they are accessible to the many varieties of researchers.

The purpose of my article is to appeal to you as representatives of the scholarly world to facilitate the compilation of the Sanskrit Buddhist Tripitaka in whatever manner possible for you. A Sanskrit Buddhist Tripitaka should be compiled in a digital format (CDROM) including all the aforementioned texts. Were UC Berkeley or other foundations interested in funding this project, our hope of creating a Sanskrit Buddhist Tripitaka can be realized.



* This paper was presented at the Seminar on Nepal Mandala organized by Lotus Research Centre.

**. Min Bahadur Shakya is a Lecturer at Engineering Campus, and a Visiting Lecturer at the Central Department of Buddhist Studies, Tribhuvan University, Kirtipur. He is also the Founder and Director of Nagarjuna Institute of Exact Methods, Lalitpur.

1. Rajendra Lal .Mitra, The Sanskrit Buddhist Literature of Nepal (reprint), Calcutta : 1971, pp. xxxv-vi.

2. See Le Nepal by Prof. sylvain Levi.It is stated that during Narendra Deva’s deathbed he seems to have handed over two important things to his daughters. One is his own crown and another was the manuscript of Prajnaparamita scripture.

3. See the Proceedings of 1999 EBTI, ECAI, SEER, & PNC Joint meeting, Jan 18-21, 1999, p.365-372.

4. Griha Man Singh, “Conservation of Rolled Palm leaf Manuscript (RPLM)”, Abhilekh, Kathmandu : The Nepal Archive, 1996.

5. Griha Man Singh, “Haritalika coated envelop is a means of document preservation”, Abhilekha, Kathmandu : The Nepal Archive, 1994.

6. Based on personal communication with the Librarian Mr. Raja Shakya.

7. Based on Nepal Research Center, an updated report on its activities ( 1960-1997).


LIST OF CATALOGUES AND REPORTS: <a href=”unsaved://niem.com.np/new_page_1.htm”>TEXT</a>

Sanskrit Buddhist literature of Nepal
by Rajendra Lal Mitra, Calcutta 1882

Catalogue of the Buddhist Sanskrit Manuscripts in the University Library, Cambridge
by Cecil Bendall, Cambridge 1883

Catalogue of Sanskrit Manuscripts in the British Museum,
by Cecil Bendall, London,1902

A Catalogue of Palm-leaf and selected paper Mss. belonging to the Durbar Library, Nepal
by Hari Prasad Shastri, Calcutta Vol.I,1905

do, Vol II, 1905

Buddhist Manuscripts of the Bir Library,
by the Sanskrit Seminar of Taisho University, Memoirs of Taisho University, No.40, 1955

Buddhist Manuscript Texts of Kathmandu,
Gajin Nagao, 1963, (Japanese).

Catalogue of the Buddhist Sanskrit Manuscripts in the Library of Tokai University
by Yutaka Iwamoto, Proceedings of the Faculty of Letters, vol.III, Tokai University, Tokyo 1960.

by Buddhi Sagara Sarma, Nepal, Nepal Vira Pustakalaya, Samvat 2020 ( A.D.1963)

Sucipatram-part I
by Srinarayana Prasad Sharma, Nepal 1964

Brhatsucipatram part I
by Buddhisagara Sharma
Nepal, Virpustakalaya, 1964

Brhatsucipatram part II
by Buddhisagara Sharma
Nepal, 1966

Brhatsucipatram part III
by Buddhisagara Sharma
Nepal, 1966

Brhatsucipatram part IV
by Pandit Deviprasad,
Nepal Rastriyapustakalaya, 1967

A Catalogue of the Sanskrit Manuscripts in the Tokyo University Library, Seiren Matsunami, Suzuki Research Institute, Tokyo 1965

Buddhist Sanskrit Manuscripts: A title list of the Microfilm Collection of the Institute for Advanced Studies of World Religions.1975

A Micro-film Catalogue of the Buddhist Manuscripts in Nepal
Buddhist Library by H.Takaoka, Nagoya 1981

A succinct Catalogue of the Sanskrit Manuscript in the Possession of the Faculty of letters, Kyoto University, compiled by Kiyotaka Goshima and Keiya Noguchi, Kyoto 1983

Catalogue of Selected Buddhist Manuscripts in Asasaphukuthi, 1986

Descriptive Catalogue of Selected Manuscripts in the Asa Archives prepared by Dr. Janak Lal Vaidya and Prem Bahadur Kansakar Kathmandu, Cvasapasa 1991

A Catalogue of the Buddhist Tantric Manuscripts in the National Archives of Nepal and Keshar Library
by Mitutoshi Moriguchi
Sankibou Busshorin, Tokyo 1989.



By: Min Bahadur Shakya**

OVER THE LAST FEW DECADES, the Kathmandu valley has become the meeting place of Tibetan and Western Buddhists for the study of Buddhism. Renowned Tibetan Buddhist masters are busy offering initiations, conducting seminars and teaching sessions. Serious Western Dharma practitioners participating in these initiations and seminars seem to be less aware of the existence of a strong Buddhist tradition practised by the Newars of the Kathmandu Valley. Very few of the Western and Japanese Buddhist have thought it worthwhile to explore indigenous Buddhist tradition in the Kathmandu Valley.

Most of these Western Buddhists hold the view that Tibetan Vajrayana Buddhism is in all respects exhaustive in character while Newari Vajrayana Buddhism is only a corrupt form of Buddhism and hence warrants no observation, investigation or research. Of course, this view is erroneous. One needs to carefully consider the situation in a logical way before making such a hasty conclusion.
Some Problems in Newar Buddhism

The Newari form of Buddhism may be the oldest living tradition of Buddhism in the world. Buddhism as practised by the Newari Buddhists of the Kathmandu Valley has some characteristic features not found in other Buddhist countries. It was the Buddhism of Shakyamuni as it manifested itself in the Himalayan region. Newar Buddhism can be classified along the tradition of Indian Vajrayana or Tantric Buddhism which derives its lineages from the Siddha tradition of the Nalanda and Vikramashila Monastic Universities of India. This traditional Buddhism of Newars has recently become the subject of great interest and detailed study by Lienhard, Gellner. M. Allen, Bechert, and others. Although some observers professed as early as the last century the hasty disappearance of this form of Buddhism, it has proved to be remarkably durable an important factor in its conservation and social structure.

Some observers have found it to be in a pitiful condition. Not being able to cope with the modern situation the Shakyas and Vajracharyas are taking little interest in their own traditional religion and culture. The Vajracharyas are beginning to neglect taking Acharya Diksa (master initiation) with the result that there is a conspicuous decline in the number of Buddhist priests. The patrons (Skt. Jajaman) pay too little respect to these Buddhist priests because of their ignorance of Buddhist doctrine. These Vajracharyas get little remuneration in return for their services to their patrons in life cycle rituals. Thus, they are compelled to take up various secular professions. These are the obvious reasons for the decline of the traditional Buddhism of the Kathmandu Valley. Furthermore, most of the Bahas and Bahis (Buddhist monasteries) of three illustrious cities, owing to the lack of proper conservation, are in a dreadful state of dilapidation. Nowadays, we see these Bahas and Bahis being replaced by concrete buildings. In addition, the rare Buddhist manuscripts which Nepal takes pride in, are being sold in the common markets for exorbitant prices. We also see the ancient Buddhist sculptures and thankas, being exported to foreign markets. For all these reasons, scholars have begun to speculate about the hasty disappearance of this traditional Buddhism by the end of this century.
The importance of Newari Buddhism

The importance of Newaris in South Asian Buddhist History has been discussed at great length by Lienhard in his paper “Nepal ! The Survival of Indian Buddhism in a Himalayan Kingdom.” Similarly in 1898 Prof. Sylvian Levi, who wrote “Le Nepal”, discussed the survival of Sanskrit Buddhism in the Kathmandu Valley. He, with the help of Pt. Kulaman Singh of Kvabahal, translated into French the Mahayana Sutralankara of Arya Maitreyanath. Buddhism disappeared in India. The Theravada tradition flourished in Sri Lanka, Burma and Thailand whereas the Vajrayana/Mahayana traditions were kept alive in Tibet, China, Japan, Korea and Nepal.

How Buddhism disappeared in India is still the subject of great controversy. How Newars kept Vajrayana Buddhism alive in the Kathmandu Valley is an interesting topic in itself. These are some of the topics:

Westerners, many lay people, educated, urban, more wealthy people need/want teachings and practices that have been adapted to lay life, i.e, non-celibate people with family and jobs.

Newari Buddhism is unique because it has survived without a permanent, celibate Sangha.

It has something unique to offer lay people seeking high level practice and teachings but unwilling or unable to ordain as monks or nuns permanently.

Nepal as the Land of Buddhas

The Kingdom of Nepal, endowed with enchanted snowy peaks, lakes and caves, has been aptly described as the land of the Buddhas. The discovery of three Ashokan Pillars has revealed the native towns of three Buddhas, namely: Krakuchchand, Kanakamuni, and Shakyamuni at Gotihawa, Niglihawa, and Lumbini respectively in the South-West Terai regions of Nepal.

Lumbini, the birthplace of Lord Shakyamuni Buddha is a sacred place for Buddhists from all over the world.A veteran Asian traveller writes, “as millions of Christians look to Jerusalem for inspiration, as millions of Muslims turn to Mecca, so do the millions of Buddhists see the sacred kingdom of Nepal.” Nepal is a holy land not only because it is the birthplace of the Buddha Shakyamuni, but also because it is the land where the self existing primordial one Swayambhu, was created. If we study Nepalese historical records, we can see that the Kathmandu valley was the center of Buddhist learning in the medieval period.

At that time Buddhism was in its height or apex of glory. This is corroborated by the inscription of NS. 350 (1230 AD) found in Guita Vihara of Patan written on the statue of Dipamkara Buddha. It runs as follows:- Vikhyata Lalitpuriti Nagari Diskhu Sarvasvapy Vidyabhyam (Trans: Lalitpur is famous in all directions for its academic life.)
Nepal as a treasure trove of Sanskrit Buddhist Manuscripts

In 1824. Mr. Brian Hodgson, a British diplomat in Nepal, discovered a great number of Sanskrit Buddhist manuscripts in Nepal. The existence of these before his time was unknown, and his discovery has entirely revolutionized the history of Buddhism as it was known to Europeans in the early part of this century. Copies of these works, totaling 381 bundles, have been distributed so as to render them accessible to European scholars. Prof. Jayadeva Singh writes in his “Introduction to Madhyamika Philosophy”.

Books on Mahayana Buddhism were completely lost in India. Their translation existed in Chinese, Japanese and Tibetan. Mahayana literature was written mostly in Sanskrit and mixed Sanskrit. Scholars who have made a study of Buddhism, hardly suspected that there were also books on Buddhism in Sanskrit.

In similar matter, Dr. Suniti Kumar Chatterji writes,

“One great service the people of Nepal did particularly the highly civilized Newars of the Nepal valley, was the preservation of all the manuscripts of Mahayana Buddhist literature in Sanskrit. it was the contribution of Sri Lanka to have preserved for humankind the entire mass of the Pali literature of Theravada Buddhism. This was also on to Burma, Cambodia and Siam. It was similarly the great achievement of people of Nepal to have preserved the equally valuable original Sanskrit texts of Mahayana buddhism.”



By: Min Bahadur Shakya**

The Introduction

Newar Buddhism is to be classified in the tradition of Indian Vajrayana or Tantric Buddhism deriving its lineages from Siddha tradition of Nalanda and Vikramashila monastic universities. However, it has developed its peculiar characteristics which are one of a kind in the Buddhist history. One should not forget that Newar Buddhism possesses quite a number of indigenous elements, which are not to be found in Indian Mahayana Buddhism. Now that Mahayana Buddhism has disappeared from India, Newar Buddhism found in Kathmandu valley represents one of the few tradition in the world which has retained features inherited directly from India. At one time all forms of Buddhism were believed to have been found in the Buddhism of Nepal. At present, there are no longer any celibate monks among Newar Buddhist Sangha. The members of community live in Vihara and have retained its designation (Sangha).

There are two status within caste communities namely Vajracharya (Literally: Master of the Thunderbolt) and Shakyabhikshu. The Vajracharyas were the masters of Tantric Buddhism and ritual specialists whereas the Shakyabhikshus were Buddhist monks. The Vajracharyas played a higher role than Shakyas because they were given additional initiation (Achaluyegu) on Buddhist tantra. Only the male members of this community after having undergone the rite of monastic ordination (skt: Cudakarma) belong to the Sangha. Shakya and Vajracharya boys normally undergo this monastic ordination at the age of five, seven or nine. The rule is that they should be under twelve years of age. Elders of the monastery addressed as Sthavira Aju will give them Pravrajyavrata or monastic initiation. The initiated boy stays in the monastery for 4, 10, 16, 20, 25 years for Buddhist studies. After finishing his studies he disrobes himself for his lay Bodhisattva life. To facilitate his spiritual career, he goes through marriage ceremony. When the couple receive instructions on Buddhist practices, they would be given Vajracharya Abhiseka or Acharya Abhiseka. It forms one of the series of life cycle ritual.[1] It should also be noted that Newar Buddhism has no place for higher ordination (Upasampada) by which a novice monk becomes a fully ordained Buddhist monk. The fact that Newar Buddhism has no place for monastic life upgrading except for the four-days observance seems to be a serious weakness [2] to the modern Buddhist and to the western educated persons.

Newar Buddhism has recently become the subject of great interest and detail study on different aspects for Siegfried Lienhard, Joohn K. Locke, David Gellner, Michael Allen and others.[3]

The unique features of the Newar Buddhism and validity of its monasticism is analyzed in this article. Newar Buddhists describe their structure of religion as integrative in the nature of Shravaka, Mahayana and Vijrayana traditions.

Shravakayana in Newar Buddhism

To explain Newar Buddhism and its integrative behavior, it is befitting to give an account of monastic rite when young boys receive ordination (skt:Cudakarma). Before the neophyte’s topknots are cut off, a ritualized exchange between the disciples and the preceptor is supposed to take place. It runs thus: [4]

“Oh Guru, in accordance with your instruction, from this day, and until I have attained enlightenment I shall go for Lord Buddha’s blessing (Sri Bhagavaan Yaake Darsana Wane)”

Thus the guru is requested, supplicated by him.

The Guru says, “I of such and such name go for refuge to the Buddha. I go for refuge to the Dharma. I go refuge to the Sangha. While this Mandala remains, give up desire (skt: trsna).” (You, as pupil should say) “Oh Lord ! Oh Guru, greatly compassionate. For the rest of my life, Ten Akusala Karma must be given up, and other sins, various words-now I shall save beings and so forth.”

The pupil says, hearing this instruction, “O Lord, O Guru (as you are here) killing and so on I despicably as you say, Oh lord, Guru, you have graciously spoken I must go”.

The Sanskrit version of ritual handbook runs as follows:

kulaputra idanim grhinama evam pravrajyavratam dharayam ; sakyo si va sakyoh?

(Now, son of good family, are you capable or not of taking up the observance of going forth as you should?)

The pupil says:

bho acarya mamatmame pravrajyavratam vamcayami; krpam kuru tvam, aham itthamnama yavajjivam buddham bhagavantam

mahakarunikam sarvajnam sarvadarsinam sarvavairya bhayatitam mahapurusam abhedyakayam niruttara-kayam, dharmakayam saranam gacchami gananam agram.

(Oh ! My preceptor I wish to undertake the observance of going forth, please be compassionate. I of such and such name, shall for the rest of my life go for refuge to the Lord Buddha who is greatly compassionate, all knowing, all seeing, beyond the danger of all enemies, great man, of indivisible body of the ultimate body, the Dharmakaya, foremost in all religious groups.)

The Guru says,

sadhu sadhu kulaputra grhalingam parityajya pravrajyalingam sakyo si trisatyam eva kuru

(Well done, well done, son of good family swear three times that you are capable of abandoning the insignia of a householder and taking up the insignia of the going-forth)

The pupil says,

bho acaryopadhyaya pravrajyavratam sakyami niscayam trisatyam

(Oh preceptor and taking up the capable of the observance of going forth (I declare it is true) three times.

The Guru says,

abhunaham pravaksyami srnu vatsa maharatah-vratacare kathascaiva pancasiksa vidhiyate pranam na hanyat na pibec ca madayam mrsa na bhasya na haret parasvam (madanasvabhavam parisamisadya), svargan ca gacched grhavat naranam, punas ca. himsa kale tatha nunam smanasa vacasa pi va.

(Now I, the greatly delighted one, shall explain. Listen dear one, the five precepts followed in this observance are laid down with explanations. He should not kill any living being, nor drink any alcohol, lie are not to be uttered, he should not take others’ goods. He should not act lustfully. If he does all this, he goes to a heaven with other men though he be a householder. Furthermore, desire to kill even for a particular occasion even in mind or speech is wrong.)

tasmat himsa na kuryani alpayus ca bhavet naram. yada mayaratas caiva sarvajnanam parayate. dhavamsanam sarvasastrani tasmat madayam na pibayet, mrsavadaratas caiva manyahinam sada bhavet. tena mithya na sevanti duhkhapamkesu jayate. paradravyanulobhena mahaduhkhesu jayate. daridravarnapamkesu paradravyani naharet. kamakrda sadacari sada duhkhi bhavisyati. sada bhayam sada kastam tasmat kamam na sevayet. iti upasakacarya

(Therefore, desire to kill is not to be done. (Otherwise) a man’s life is short. When men are addicted to drinking, all knowledge and all learning is destroyed. Therefore, he should not drink alcohol. He who is addicted to telling lies will also be despised. His falsehood will be useless; he will be reborn in the mud of suffering. By covering what belongs to others one is reborn to great sufferings (sunk) in the mud of wretched untouchability, so, he should not take others‘ things. He who always indulges in sex and love games will always suffer. Forever fear, forever misery. therefore, he should not pursue physical pleasure. This is the conduct of the layman.)

Then the disciple promises,

aham itthamnama yavajjivam pravrajyavratam dharayami samanavaharantu mam upadhayaya.

(I, of such and such name, for all my life take up the observance of going-forth. Bear witness for my assistant priest)

After such a marvelous dialogue between the Guru and his disciple, the priest proceeds to perform necessary rituals.

Now the neophyte’s topknot (Nep: Tupi) is cut off with a gold plated razor while reciting this mantra:

Om sarva jnana avarana chedaya chedaya hum phat

(Cut cut all obstacles to understanding)

The absence of topknot is perhaps the most crucial marker of the distinction between Shakya, Vajracharya Buddhists and the rest of other castes in the Kathmandu valley. After consecration by holy water from white conch shell, the boys are given a new name and three robes. They are given begging bowl and a staff (silaku), which has an effigy of the Buddha (or of a Stupa) at the top. They are permitted to enter into main shrine of Vihara and pay homage toKwapadya and make offerings. Newar Buddhists are very much attached to this four days observance of monastic ideal to maintain one’s Buddhist identity rather than renouncing the worldly desires and become a Buddhist monk.

Duties of a Sakyabhikshu

The Shakya Bhikshu, who observe four days of going forth as part of Vajrayana ritual in the Nepalese style are required to observe some specific duties:

  • For the four days the Shakyabhikshu must beg his food daily,
  • Must live the life of a Buddhist monk though they continue to live at home.
  • They have to observe the regulations of diet of the monk
  • Avoid contact with unclean (association with dogs and shoes), and
  • Keep ten precepts.

The neophyte receives his first alms from the senior ten elders (Dasaparamita Sthavira Aju) of the monastery and his family Buddhist priest. During the tenure of his monkhood he must visit the main shrine and pay homage to Kwapadya (main deity) and make offerings.

On the fourth day the neophyte returns to the lay life. The boy then hands over the begging bowl and staff, and takes off his robes. It is calledChudakarmavisarjana. Since the topknot is never maintained by Sakyabhikshu even after disrobing ceremony they are given the status of Sakyabhikshu. The disrobing ceremony does not signify the abandonment of monastic vows but transition from Sravakayana to Mahayana practice. They remain as Bodhisattva.

It is difficult to pinpoint the exact time when the system of celibate monasticism disappeared in Nepal. We are certain that celibate monks existed even during the seventh century. Chinese pilgrim Xuan Zang (Hsuan-tsang) had mentioned in his travel diary that the number of Hinayana and Mahayana Buddhist monks were more than two thousand.

An inscription of Amshuvarma has also confirmed a conspicuous presence of Bhikshuni Sangha belonging to the Mahasanghika sect [5] as well as Mahasanghika Bhikshu Sangha.[6] The inscription mentions:

tad prayojane ca caturvimsa mahayana pratipanna
aryabhikshunisamgha paribhauga akhayanivi

Now, the question arises as to what was the Vinaya lineage of Newar Buddhist Tradition. At present, we come across difficulty in finding parallel reference in the Chudakarmavidhi tradition with Mahasanghika or Mulasarvastivada tradition. A newly discovered inscription in Bhaktapur also suggests a presence of Mahasanghika Bhikshuni lineage.[7]

Duties of Buddhist Sangha in Newar Buddhist Vihara

The duties of elders are to oversee the daily, monthly, and annual Buddhist functions and festivals. They also organize initiation into Bhikshu Sangha i.e. (performance of Chudakarma, Achaluyegu ceremony of initiated members’ offsprings) as well as regulating the discipline of the Sangha and social rules.

All the male members who are initiated in Mahavihara constitute the Sangha. Mahavihara has a Guthi which include all the initiated members. The senior-most member of the Guthi of the Vihara is addressed as Mahasthavira, and the Chakresvara and other elder are addressed as Sthavira Aju.

In the Viharas of Kathmandu as well, daily worship of the main deity (kwapadya) enshrined in the Vihara is performed. At one time, the Vihara of Kathmandu Valley also had a complete schedule of rituals for the whole day. This is no longer in practice except at Janabaha in Kathmandu and Kwabaha in Patan.[8] Among these ritual practices the recitation of Namasangiti, Danagatha, Aparimita Dharani, Saptavidanottara Puja Strotra, Dasaparamita Strotra, and Buddham trailokya Stortras are the most prominent ones. Besides, the recitation of Astasahasrikaprajnaparamita, Pancharakshya andNava Sutra are the scriptural bases of the Newar Buddhism. However, meditation on Samatha and Vipassana is definitely lacking. Those Vajracharya and Shakya who had received the initiation on Cakrasamvara or Achaluyegu, however, meditate for some time on deity yoga and some recitation only. Nowadays a Vajracharya or Shakya very rarely perform the retreats for intensive practice.
Duties of a Bhikshu Sangha in a Theravada Monastery

The Buddhist monastic or the ordained Sangha has played a crucial role in keeping alive and passing on the lineage of the teachings and practice since the time of Buddha himself. Every Buddhist monastic community has some common religious and devotional exercises each day. It is brief and simple in Theravada monasteries, for example: Buddhapuja, and Paritrana, as well as Mangal Sutra recitation in ceremonial and Kathinotsava occasions. In regular occasions, the Theravada monks give the instructions on the practice of Samatha and Vipassana meditation for the lay followers.
Duties of Bhikshu Sangha in the Tibetan Monastery

In most of the Tibetan monasteries, at about 4 A.M., monks usually gather together with the morning bell. They clean up the floor and offer prostration to the main deity of the monastery and some begin to offer water bowls and decorate the altar with butter lamps. Monks gather to perform first torma (ritual cake) offering by ceremonial tea. Then they recite texts on Guru Yoga, Vajrasattva, Tara Puja and Long Life Buddha.

The forms of Guru Yoga (Padmasambhava and his lineage in case of Nyingma tradition) may vary in each tradition but the plan is however similar in nature. After formal group recital some silently sit in meditation until 7 to 8 A.M. If the sponsors have some specific puja they continue it until its completion. Sometimes they go out to the sponsors’ residence and do personal practices in their own apartments or rooms. In some monasteries, small novice children (thaba) usually read and write Tibetan grammar and English in the afternoon. They recite by hearing small ritual texts.

In the afternoon around 5-7 P.M., monks get assembled for performing Puja of protective deities like Mahakala and so forth. Sometime monks have to perform Puja on the founder’s birthday or Drubchen ceremonies. The ceremonial rituals may continue sometime even for two months at most and week at least. For Sakyapa the tutelary deity ceremony of Hevajra (a Highest yoga tantra deity) last for ten days.

In most of the Gelugpa monasteries, especially Kopan Monastery where facilities are available for the resident monks, the full time study program includes Buddhist philosophy, debate, English, Tibetan, Nepali language classes and Thangka painting. Monks are trained to become teachers, meditation Masters and translators.

In some great Kagyu and Nyingma monasteries namely Kanying and Sechen monasteries where there are facilities, the resident monks and novices do have an opportunity for higher philosophical studies such as Bodhicaryavatara of Shanti Dev and Pramanavarttika of Dharamakirti. Most of the monasteries are run by the support and donations from individual benefactors and sponsors. The abbot of the each monastery hold responsibility for the function of the monastery.

It should be noted that Tibetan Buddhist monasticism is also based on Mahayana and Vajrayana. It has two types of Buddhist monks: celibate Buddhist monks and Tantric Buddhist Master with consort (Ngakpa Lama). Both of them wear maroon in ceremonial puja.

To become a Tantric Buddhist master one should have thoroughly gone through training under a competent Buddhist Master and gone for retreats for at least three years and should have some degree of realization. When his realization is authenticated by his lineage Guru, he is authorized to act as the Vajra master. Because of high degree of realization of the tantric master in profound doctrines of Buddhism, they are given higher status than the celibate monk scholars. This tradition is valid and substantiated by the Buddhist Sutras and Tantras.

To cite few examples, in the seventh century Chandrakirti revered Master Chandragomin for his proficiency and dexterity in Namasangiti doctrine. Gampopa revered Guru Milarepa as his root Guru for realization of Mahamudra. Venerable Rwa-Lotsawa (Rwa lo-tsa-ba Dorse-grags) revered Nepalese Vajracharya Bharo for his realization of Vajrabhairabha doctrine. He also revered his Guru Mahakaruna (Ye Rang ba) of Patan who mastered in Tantra under his guidance.[9] He mastered in Sambhara tantra, Samputatantra, Chakrasambara Heruka abhyudayanama, Vajrabhairva Tantra and several other tantras.[10] The Vinaya lineage of this Tibetan tradition is Mulasarvastivada tradition.
Mahayana / Vajrayana

The Newar Buddhists, like Buddhists everywhere, take refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha. In the Mahayana and Vajrayana context, the Buddha is of course, Sakyamuni Buddha. But in Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism, the Five Tathagatas (Panch Buddhas: Vairochana, Akshobhya, Ratnasambhava, Amitabha and Amoghasiddhi) are well known in ritual than the historical Buddha.

The Dharma is realization of Prajnopaya namely unity of wisdom and skilful means. The texts are Vaipulya sutras: Astasahasrika Prajnaparamita,Gandavyuha, Dasabhumikasutra, Saddharmapundarika, Suvarnaprabhasa, Lankavatara, Samadhiraja, Lalitavistara and Tathagataguhyaka Sutra. These texts are recognized as the official texts. They are recited at various times, and the books are worshipped. In fact, worship is favored than scholarly study.

The Sangha is of course the Bodhisttva Sangha. Much of the devotional life of the people revolve around the worship of eight Bodhisattvas,[11] especially Avalokiteshvara and Manjushree. Avalokiteshvara is recognized as the head of eight Bodhisattvas. He is the representative of Sangha of Bodhisattvas. Just as in Theravada Buddhist tradition the Bodhisattva Sangha is excluded, similarly in Newar Buddhist tradition Shravaka Sangha is excluded. Since the emphasis is laid on Mahayana/Vajrayana tradition of Buddhist Sangha it would be unwise to expect Buddhist Sangha of Newar Buddhists in Theravada context.

In Newar Buddhist tradition, it seems to be no harm in giving Shakyaputra the status of lay Buddhist monk provided that they maintain refuge and Bodhisttva vows or even tantric samaya.

The rationale behind the abandonment of Shravaka practice is given in disrobing ceremony of Chudakarma (Ne: Barechuegu). As part of ritual there is always a dialogue between the Guru and the disciple. It thus goes-

Oh, Lord Guru ! By your grace I have undertaken the vow of going forth first, given the ten unproductive sins in accordance with the five precepts and eight precepts and carried out the disciple’s path. Now I shall take up the path of Mahayana.

The Guru says:

Very good, lay disciple, take up the path of Mahayana. Take up the practice of the great lord of liberation, the Guru Vajrasattva, lord of mystic circle.[12] What is the practice of the Mahayana like? Listen and I will tell you the most fundamental of religious practices unique to the Mahayana which can never be fulfilled without a consort. Nor can the Mahayana or its observance be complete without tantric initiation. How much more tantric initiation is necessary for liberation. Therefore, you, knowing the ultimate god and goddesses who as skill-in means and wisdom (Prajnopaya), take up the practice of Mahayana and abandon that of the Shravaka.

In these versions, entering the Mahayana under the instruction of the Guru can make up the fault of abandoning the monastic vow. Taking consort for Buddhist practice has been a general theme for Tantric Buddhist practitioner. The idea of Swayamvara and Marriage has been a life cycle ritual as described inKriyasamuccaya of Jagaddarpana Acharya (Mahamandalacharya).
Exploring Celibacy in Bhikshu Sangha of Newar Buddhist Tradition

The Buddha often placed Dhamma first and then the Vinaya in relevance to his teachings. According to the Buddha, Vinaya is the most important of theTripitaka (three baskets) for the survival of the Sasana. Vinaya rules are used for regulating outward conduct of the individual and the collective practice of the Sangha. Dhamma is for inward development and the attainment of a good life.

Celibacy is considered as holy and good in most of the religions of the world, especially within the Buddhist Sangha of Theravada and Mahayana tradition. As Buddhism is spread in Western countries, the practice of celibacy is being critically questioned for the first time. In those places, many people consider the voluntary abstention from sexual activity which is strange or unnatural.

If celibacy is a sole Buddhist religious ideal, then the student of Buddhism can find those Japanese and High Tibetan Lamas whose marriages are accepted by their cultures? Are they all subject, by their religious principle, to ostracism as sinners then?

History shows that the practice of celibacy is as old as asceticism in India, much older than the historical Buddha himself. Buddha was born, there were ascetics who practiced celibacy as a spiritual discipline conductive to the attainment of enlightenment. Although celibacy was quite common, the practice may not have been very strict since some ascetics (rishis) took their wives with them to practice asceticism in solitary places of India. When Buddha taught celibacy as important commitment to his disciples, celibacy came to be held in highest regard for its own sake as well as for the pleasing impression it created in pious lay people. Once the strict practice of celibacy had become a strong norm, its transgression came to be seen as a sinful thing.

In his first sermon the Buddha mentioned sexual intercourse as a base or low act performed by common people as opposed to monks. He said that addiction to attractive sensual pleasures and addiction to self torture are both extreme practices. Since, as extremes, they are inconsistent with the middle path leading to nirvana.[13] In Theravada tradition, Buddha had to prohibit every kind of sexual behavior by member of the Sangha community as unfit acts and had to punish him or her through formal meeting of the Sangha.

Only the willing celibate is a proper candidate for ordination, but others may seek it. The monks’ unmarried life is individually free. A monk can devote all his time and energy to spiritual development. But if he is not active in spiritual practices there is nothing special about his monkhood. It is both waste of time and painful restraint on his freedom in terms of sexual activity, especially when he longs for it.

According to Parajika rules of Vinaya, the ordained monk who has violated the normal code of celibacy loses his monkhood. Such a monk cannot attain liberation or Nirvana. It should be noted that the ultimate aim of the practice of celibacy is to eradicate the mental defilement- greed, hatred, and delusion.
The fulfillment of celibacy is said to be the attainment of Nirvana.

In Newar Buddhist tradition, Bahi are said to be the repositories of celibate monastic tradition. When celibate communities existed, if celibate monks decided to become householder monks, they left their monastery and joined a bahi [14] According to John Locke’s hypothesis, two institutions namely celibate and non-celibate existed side by side from the earliest days. Gradually, as a result of the dominant tradition of becoming married number of celibate monks (brahmacharya bhikshu) decreased.[15] Locke confidently declares the celibate communities were always in minority even from the Licchavi and Thakuri period..

Since the Buddha advocated the path of restraint or renunciation in Shravakayana practices, the ultimate aim is the attainment of abiding Nirvana (Skt.pratisthita Nirvana). But in Mahayana/Vajrayana form of Buddhism, the Buddha advocated the path of transformation for his advanced bodhisattva disciples. He taught the doctrine of Great Bliss and Emptiness to attain the state of Buddhahood (Skt: apratisthita Nirvana i.e. Non-abiding Nirvana). In this form of teaching Buddha Vajradhara made use of lust or even sexual bliss in the path to enlightenment. From the point of view of Theravada tradition this view can be merely a joke. On the other hand Tantric Buddhists regard their practice as authentic in view, meditation, practice and function (drsti, dhyana, carya) and blameless in ideal as the Middle path of the Buddha.

Newar Buddhism as a Lay Bodhisattva Practice

It seems that there had been a provision for lay Buddhist monkhood which became very popular in the valley of Kathmandu. The validity of this tradition was also corroborated by the text “Siksasamuccaya” of Acharya Shanti Deva. It runs thus:

punara aparma kulaputra bhavisyanti anagata
adhavani grahstha pravajita adikarmika bodhisattva.

The meaning of the text is as follows:

Again, oh, Sons of the family, there will be the householder beginner
(Skt: adikarmika) and ordained bodhisattvas in the future.

Concerning Adikarmika Bodhisattva Acharya Anupamavajra stands prominent. His work had a great influence on Nepalese Buddhist tradition. It is surprising and interesting to note that Adikarmapradipa which was composed in 1098 A.D. by Anupamavajra had profound impact on the daily practice of Newar Buddhist society even till today. To state briefly, Adikarmapradipa deals with the following practices of Newar Buddhists.

  • Taking Refuge in Triple Gems
  • Reciting Namasangiti
  • To recite Bhadracarya Pranidhana
  • To offer Preta bali
  • To circumambulate Caitya, Buddha statues etc.
  • To perform Gurumandala rite
  • To meditate on tutelary deity
  • To recite Prajnaparamita and other Mahayana Sutras
  • To recite danagatha (stanzas of giving)
  • To perform Bodhisattva practices joyfully
  • To study Buddhist scriptures
  • Offering food to Triple Gems and tutelary deity before eating
  • Offer fivefold prostration to Buddha of ten directions
  • Sleeping in a lion’s posture after meditating on Deity Yoga

According to Newar Buddhist tradition, even after disrobing ceremony of Cudakarma, the Shakyas and Vajracharyas do not cease to be bhikshu or Buddhist monks, but they pass from the state of celibate bhikshu to that of householder monks (grihasthi bhikshu), a fact underlined by the term Sakyabhikshu used to refer to them down ages.

In disrobing ceremony the following lines are articulated about the status of bhikshu.

You have gone through Sravakayana and now comes to Mahayana, the greatest of the Buddhist Yanas. You have participated in some Vajrayana rituals and after going through some higher ordinations you will know what Chakrasamvara is.[16]

The Impact of Master Atisha’s Teaching on Newar Buddhism

Master Atisha who wrote Bodhisattvakarmadimargavatara also propounded the concept of the Adikarmika Bodhisattva practice. Since Atisha was contemporary with Anupamavajara and Advavajra, both of them have borrowed the idea of lay Bodhisattva practice from him.

Atisha first emphasized the practice of refuge and generation of Bodhicitta on the basis of sevenfold practice (skt : saptavidhanolttara puja) Newar Buddhists are proficient in performing “sattvapuja” (verse 5 of Adikarmapradipah).

He also promulgated the theory of moderation of consuming food habits and food offerings to Gurus and three jewels (verse 10-11).

With a view to teach the whole sentient beings one should recite profound Mahayana sutras (like Prajinaparamita and so forth) (verse 7).

After completing one’s morning duties one should practice the act of fivefold prostration to Triple Gems with a view to liberating all other sentient beings and should sleep in lion’s posture of Atisha after completing one’s devotional exercise (Caryasamgraha pradeepa, verse14). [17]

One should practice the unity of Samatha and Vipassana and should realize the emptiness of all body and ephemeral nature of all phenomena. Whereas Anupamavajra mentions only the necessity of practice of Deity yoga (Caryasamgraha pradeepa, verse 14).

Offering one’s food to tutelary deities and Dharmapala before eating meal is one fundamental daily practice of Adikarmic bodhisattva (seeCaryasangraha pradeepa, verse 11).

By analyzing these references we can conclude that Atisha’s teaching had great influence on Newar Buddhist tradition too. Atisha’s reformation in Buddhist monasticism is well known in Tibet. He tried his best to uplift Buddhist monasticism during his sojourn in Nepal. He composed Caryasamgraha Predeepa, and Vimalratnalekha nama to enhance the monastic ideal of Newar Buddhism. He even strongly prohibited the act of taking initiation of Highest Yoga Tantra for monastics. Because of short duration of his stay in Nepal his influence could not be seen and got strengthened. Later Anupamavajra superseded Atisha’s influence because of his tantric teachings.

Decline of Celibate Monasticism

Now the question arises why Newar Buddhists prefer to be Grihastha Bhikshu rather than to be celibate monks. There has been a constant conviction among the historians or local Buddhists that celibate Buddhist monks existed in the Newar Buddhist tradition until the advent of King Jayasthitimalla in the 15th century.

There is a hypothesis that King Jayasthitimalla alone could not have wiped out the celibate monastic tradition of Newar Buddhism. But as a matter of fact, the decline of celibate monasticism in Nepal started long before his coming to power. He had to witness the total disappearance of celibate monastic tradition by activating so-called social reformation. We can guess that there were only a few celibate Buddhist monks even during Atisha’s period. Atisha established a pre-Kadampa monastic order. He ordained a prince and named him as Padmaprabha. One of his monk friends due to growing influence of Buddhist tantrism, had asked Master Atisha for promulgation of non-tantric Mahayana Buddhist doctrine. Accepting his request Master Atisha had composed Caryasamgrahapradipa [18] to comfort him.

There might have been two causes on the decline of celibate Buddhist monastic system of Newar Buddhist tradition. These are:

Lack of royal patronization, and

Impact of Vajrayana Buddhism

a. Lack of royal patronization

If we research and analyze deeply the historical background of other Buddhist countries, it becomes clear that a strong patronage from a ruling circle is essential to maintain the celibate monastic community. While considering the events since Buddha’s period, his monastic community was well and fully patronized by King Prasenjit, King Bimbisara, King Ajatasatru, and in later periods, Emperor Ashoka, King Kaniska, King Harsha Vardhana, and some other Pala and Sena Kings too had patronized the Buddhist Sangha.

When Islamic invasion took place in important monastic centers of Buddhism in India, the muslims ransacked and thoroughly destroyed them. With no supporters for monastic community, the Sangha could not thrive in India, ending up with its total disappearance.

On the other hand, the Buddhist monastic Sangha thrived and flourished with the support of Kings and wealthy patrons in Tibet, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Burma and some other Southeast Asian countries. The decline in monastic community could be clearly seen in the withdrawal of active support and patronage from the rulers. The same reason can be applied to Newar Buddhist monastic community too. Due to the lack of support from Hindu rulers of Kathmandu valley, the celibate monastic tradition could not survive, let alone flourish.
b. Impact of Vajrayana Buddhism

To describe the presence of celibate Buddhist monks during the transition period from 880 to 1200 A.D. of Nepalese Buddhist history would be only speculative rather than factual.

The emergence and flourishing of Vajrayana Buddhism and its associated cults were distinctly visible due to the activities of Mahasiddha tradition of Highest Yoga Tantra in Nepal and India. The rise of Vajrayana Buddhism paved the way for the growth on non-celibate monastic tradition in India, Nepal and Tibet till the advent of Atisha (982-1054). It is a fact that with the rise of Vajrayana, celibate Buddhist monastic traditions began to dwindle and then slowly disappeared in Nepal completely by the end of 15th century.

The transition period of Nepal witnessed the birth of several outstanding Buddhist Masters of Nepal who were well versed in Tantric Buddhism. Nepalese Buddhist Masters had constant touch with the Indian and Tibetan Buddhist Masters. According to Padma Kathang, a treasure text of Nyingma tradition, Buddhist Master Guru Padma Sambhava is said to have visited Sankhu, Pharping and other places in Kathmandu valley and diffused Tantric Buddhist teachings around the eighth century. He took two female disciples called Sakyadevi and Kalasiddhi as his consorts for the practice of Atiyoga sadhana.[19]

Guru Paindapa and Chitherpa were the famous and gifted disciples of Naropa (10th century). Marpa (11th century), the great translator of Tibet, had stayed in the Kathmandu valley for three years to study Anuttarayoga Tantra under Paindapa and Chitherpa. According to the biography of Marpa, he received teachings on Catuhpith Tantra and Cakrasamvara Tantra from these Nepalese Guru at Ratnakara Mahavihara (Ha Baha) of Patan.[20]

The study of Highest Yoga Tantra among these great Masters is a common curriculum of their tantric studies. It is generally thought that the practice of highest Yoga Tantra is not fit for every body. For people who lack necessary qualifications, Tantra is said to be extremely dangerous. Such people can greatly harm themselves if they enter into tantric practice. Thus, the Dalai Lama cautions:

Tantra is not appropriate for the minds of many. If one’s mental continuum has not been ripened by the practices common to both sutra and tantra such as realisation of suffering, impermanence, refuge, love, compassion, altruistic mind generation, and emptiness of inherent existence, practice of the Mantra vehicle can be ruinous through one’s assuming an advanced practice inappropriate to one’s capacity. Therefore, its open dissemination is prohibited; practitioners must maintain secrecy from those who are not vessels of this path.[21]

Those who are judged to be suitable receptacles for tantric initiations are sworn to secrecy. The initiates are required to take a series of vows (Samaya), one of which is not to reveal tantric teachings openly. The promised retributions for breaking the vows include painful suffering in “Vajra hells” reserved for those who transgress their tantric promises. It involves taking many types of initiations. Four of the most important are:

Kalasa abhiseka (Vase empowerment)

Guhya abhiseka (Secret empowerment)

Prajna abhiseka (Wisdom empowerment)

Sabda abhiseka (Word empowerment)

The first involves giving initiation using water in a vase and is found in all four tantra sets. The other three are used only in highest yoga tantra. It is taught that receiving vase initiation causes to attain the rank of Nirmanakaya Body of the Buddha.

The secret, knowledge and word initiation, sometimes involve practice with a Karmamudra (actual consorts) and ingestion of impure substances. TheKarmamudra and substances may be either imagined or real in Tibetan tradition. But in Nepalese tradition use of real Karmamudra is stressed while takingacharya abhiseka too. The followers of these tantras use the desire in the path to enlightenment. They can transform energy of sexual desire into blissful wisdom consciousness. Through Deity Yoga, they enhance the experience of wisdom and compassion. The ultimate goal of these practitioners is the attainment of Buddhahood in one life time. Since these involve sexual practices, the celibacy of the monkhood is dangerously threatened. That is why Atisha in his Bodhipatha pradeepa strongly prohibited the monks from practicing Highest Yoga Tantra for it endangers their celibacy of monastic vows. According to Atisha Dipamkara, lay Bodhisattva life is much more favorable for the practice of Highest Yoga Tantra disciplines as stated in Bodhipathpradipa:

For attaining Bodhisambhara in a simple way it has been set forth in the Kriya and Carya (action and practice) ways. If one is desirous of the practice of Guhyamantra by pleasing the Guru, one receives the complete Acharyabhiseka. Blessed thus, you will purify all the negativities and become suitable vessel to achieve realization. In Adi Buddha Maha tantra, it is strictly prohibited that secret wisdom initiation is not the privilege of the celibate monks. The ordained one who abides in the asceticism can receive that initiation, the vow of asceticism will degenerate due to the practices of restrictions. The practitioner will be defeated, downfall will arise, due to which he will fall among the lower realms and never will there be realization.[22]

If this is so why Newar Buddhists take risk in being a celibate monk and at the same time practice Anuttara yoga tantra? That’s why, their preference to be a lay Bodhisattva practitioner is most likely one. Atisha also gives an option that those monastics who are highly advanced practitioners, and have perceived permission from the authentic Masters, for them there is no prohibition to receive these four initiations and practice. Later on, Tantric Masters began to give these initiations without taking students’ qualification into consideration and the Sangha suffered a lot. This resulted in a swift decline of monastic Buddhism in Nepalese Vajrayana tradition.


We have just discussed the nature of Newar Buddhism as being faultless according to the textual tradition. But if it is not reinforced with practice and study, it might become an obsolete religion. The purpose of this article is not to glorify the Newar Buddhism but present the existing situation. It is true that lay Bodhisattva practice is valid tradition authenticated by Siksasamuccaya of Shanti Deva. Thus the Newar Buddhism cannot be said to be corrupt form of Buddhism as some are tempted to allege. All forms of religious principles are followed by Newar Buddhists too.

Therefore, it is necessary that Newar Buddhists should revive and receive the lost teachings of Tantric Vajrayana Buddhism from Tibetan Buddhist Masters to bridge the gap of lineage of practice that has been ignored and lost in a way. If we could create some celibate Buddhist monks practicing Newar Vajrayana Buddhism then the structure of Newar Buddhism can be complete. In order to achieve this goal, a good relation and interaction with Theravada and Tibetan Buddhist monks should be established.

It is true that four days of observance of monastic vows are too symbolic in character. It lacks the foundation of monastic upgrading. So the Theravada monks who were trained in Burma, Thailand and Sri Lanka even charged Newar Buddhist monasticism with having no ground at all. The basis of their charge is that Newar Vajracharya and Shakyas are lay Buddhists and they are not monks. As it is discussed, the sustenance of Buddhist monasticism is very difficult if not impossible without the support and cooperation from the government. Nepal has preserved Buddhist Sanskrit literature. Nepalese scholars can contribute a lot to Sanskrit Buddhism. There are yet many unexplored areas of Buddhist culture and practices among the Newar Buddhism. At last, to conclude, the words of Suniti Kumar Chatterji, the famous Indian Buddhist Scholar, is worth mentioning:

One great service the people of Nepal did particularly the highly civilized Newars of the Nepal valley, was the preservation of all the manuscripts of Mahayana Buddhist literature in Sanskrit, it was the contribution of Sri Lanka to have preserved for human kind the entire mass of the Pali literature of Theravada Buddhism. This was also on to Burma, Cambodia and Siam. It was similarly the great achievement of people of Nepal to have preserved the equally valuable original Sanskrit texts of Mahayana Buddhism


* This paper was presented at the Seminar on Nepal Mandala organized by Lotus Research Centre.

**. Min Bahadur Shakya is a Lecturer at Engineering Campus, and a Visiting Lecturer at the Central Department of Buddhist Studies, Tribhuvan University, Kirtipur. He is also the Founder and Director of Nagarjuna Institute of Exact Methods, Lalitpur.

1. Acarya Kriyasamucaya mentions 10 life cycle rituals to be performed. They are as follows: (1) Jatakarma (2) Namakarma, (3) Annaprasana (4) Cudakarma (5) Chudakarmavisarjana (6) Vajracaryabhisekha, (7) Svayambara, (8) Bibaha, (9) Dikshya and (10) Sthavira. The author of Acharyakriya Samuccaya is Mahamandalacharya Jagaddarpana. The Brihat Suchipatra mentions 3 copies of the text in the Bir Library in 1964; Purna Ratna Vajracharya, Brihatsuchipatra, Vol. 7 pt 1, Kathmandu: Bir Library, 2021 B.S., pp. 53-59. Back to text

2. Heinz Bechert and Jens-Uwe Hartmann, “Observations on the Reform of Buddhism in Nepal”, Journal of the Nepal Research Centre, Vol. VIII, 1988, pp. 2-6. Back to text

3. Siegfried Lienhard, “Nepal: The Survival of Indian Buddhism in a Himalayan Kingdom”,
– H. Bechert and Richard Gombrich (ed.), The World of Buddhism, London: Thames and Hudgson, 1984, pp. 108-114. ; John K. Locke, Karunamaya: The Cult of Avalokitesvara Matsyendranath in the Valley of Nepal, Kathmandu: Shahayogi/CNAS, 1980. ; John K. Locke, Buddhist Monasteries of Nepal, Kathmandu: Sahayogi Press, 1985. ; Michael Allen, “Buddhism without Monks – The Vajrayana Religion of the Newars of the Kathmandu Valley”, South Asia, 3 (1973), pp. 1-14. ; David Gellner, Monk, House Holders and Tantric Priest: Newar Bhddhism and its Hierarchy of Ritual, London: Cambridge University Press, 1992. ; Stephen M. Greenwold, “The Role of the Priest in Newar Society” in James Fisher (ed.) Himalayan Anthropology, The Hague: Mouton, 1978, pp. 483-503.

4. David N. Gellner, “Monastic Initiation in Newar Buddhism” in Richard Gombrich (ed.), Indian Ritual and its Exegresis, Delhi: Oxford University Press, Oxford University Papers on India, Vol. 2 Part I, 1988, p 53.

5. Ramji Tewari et. al. (eds.), Abhilekh Sangraha (A Collection of Inscriptions), Part V, Kathmandu: Samsodhan Mandal, 2020 B.S., p. 8.

6. Hari Ram Joshi, Nepalko Prachin Abhilekh (Ancient Inscriptions of Nepal), Kathmandu: Royal Nepal Academy, 2030 B.S., p. 523.

7. Pasuka, Vol II, No. 11, N.S. 1118.

8. For the list of practices see John K. Locke, “The Unique Features of Newar Buddhism”, in T.Skorupski (ed.), The Buddhist Heritage (Buddhica Britannica I), Tring : The Institute of Buddhist Studies, 1989, pp.84 -85.

9. George. N. Roerich, The Blue Annals, New Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1986, pp. 374-375. Also see Min B. Shakya, A Short History of Buddhism in Nepal, Kathmandu: Young Buddhist Publication, 1986, pp. 33-34. Mahakaruna’s Tibetan name is Thugs-rje-chen-po.

10. Ibid, p. 375

11. The eight Bodhisttvas are- Manjusri, Vajrapani, Ksitigarbha, Khagarbha, Samantabhadra, Gaganganja, Sarvanivarna Viskambhi and Maitreya.

12. Gellner, op.cit. f.n. no. 4, p. 61.

13. I. B. Horner (tr.), The Book of the Discipline (Vinaya Pitaka), Vol. IV, London : Luzac & Company Ltd., 1962, p. 15.

14. Locke, op.cit. f.n. no. 8, p. 104.

15. Ibid, p. 105.

16. Allen, op.cit. f.n. no. 3, pp. 1-10.

17. Perhaps Acharya Anupamavajra preferred to this Deity yoga because of his tantric leaning.

18. Ramesh Chandra Negi (tr., ed.) Atishavirachita Ekadasagranthah, Saranath : Central Institute of Higher Tibetan Studies, 1992, p. 99.

19. W. Y. Evans-Wentz (ed.), The Tibetan Book of Great Liberation, London : Oxford University Press, 1954, pp. 176-77

20. Tsang Nyon Heruka, The Life of Marpa the Translator, Boulder: Prajna Press, 1982, p. 130.

21. Joffrey Hopkins (tr.) Tantra in Tibet. New York : Snow Lion Publication, 1977, p. 47. Back to text

22. Richard Sherburne (tr.), A Lamp for the Path and Commentary, London : George Allen and Unwin, 1983, p. 12.

In memory of

Late Mr. Min Bahadur Shakya

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