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"On my part, I remain committed to the process of dialogue. It is my firm belief that dialogue and a willingness to look with honesty and clarity at the reality of Tibet can lead us to a viable solution."

Declining Trend Of Vihara Culture In Kathmandu

February 10, 2008

Prem Khatry
Gorkhapatra, Nepal

The demise of Buddhist Culture in East and North India after the eighth
and ninth century AD came as a shock to the adherents and sympathizers
alike in the subcontinent. It was a time when the Hindu state of Nepal
had strong Buddhist base of both the tradition oriented Theravada and
the more ritualistically oriented Mahayana sects. The Licchavi rulers
like Siva Deva, his grandson Narendra Deva and their successors had
upheld the tradition of protecting the faith through the works of
charity and commitment. Many viharas were constructed for the monks,
nuns and practitioners. In the so-called 'Thakuri' (also known as early
medieval) period one normally finds the continuation of the Vihara
culture. The frequently used term in the contemporary inscriptions '?.
samskaarita vihara ?' against the name of the rulers of the period can
be construed as a 'renovated and/or consecrated' monastic complex. Even
at a time when the general polity of the period seems at a low ebb in
terms of national unity, integrity and consolidation, both the Hindu and
the Buddhist cultures flourished well indicating that people, not the
rulers, are the real architect and saviors of a culture.

The sudden fall of the Indian Buddhist culture in India played an
important catalytic role in transforming the status of the Viharas of
Kathmandu into lively and dynamic academic institutions. Those scholars,
students and practitioners came to Nepal in large numbers, many of them
crossing the Himalayas to go to Tibet in quest of a new audience. The
Nepal?Tibet cultural relation added more feathers in the hat in the form
of Nepal-India-Tibet cultural relation under the umbrella of Tantric
Buddhism. There were exchanges of visits as religious campaigns and
retreats in the Himalayas, teachings, and buildings of cultural bridges
across the Himalayas. Nepal always was the platform for the most of
these activities.

The Viharas of Kahmandu Valley ? mostly of Kathmandu and Patan- became
the hub of lively, dynamic and self-sustained academic activities.
Mahayana-Vajrayana schools flourished as tantric Buddhist philosophy,
rites and rituals and art and architecture progressed unabated.

Whither the past glory?
Whatever happened to the glorious history, tradition and culture of the
Viharas of Kathmandu with the coming of the more successful Malla
rulers? It is a crucial question. The Vihara culture seems to be on the
wane gradually after the coming of the house of Jayasthiti Malla to
power. The Mallas were great devotees of Taleju, their tutelary deity,
besides Vaishnavite and Saivite deities. The early medieval period saw
the viharas under the leadership of highly honored and accomplished
scholars and saints of the time. Such leadership did not emerge under
the later Mallas. Gradually therefore the viharas lost the dynamic
cultural tradition including the exchange of visits by renowned scholars
and saints. Tibet already had what it achieved from Nepal in terms of
religion, philosophy, art and culture - both tangible and intangible. By
the time the Mallas lost their power to the Shah of Gorkha, a religious
faith based on non-violence did not add to the aspiration of the new
nation. It was in fact the other way round ? the ruling elites believed
that a nation can be larger and stronger through a sweeping wave of
violence ? war against the smaller, weaker nationalities, that is.

By this time, therefore, Tibet became the center of Tantric Buddhism
with scores of religious centers, the Gompas, a strong religious ruler,
and the entire population following him, his decrees and way of life.
The West, oblivious or unaware of Nepal's valuable contribution to
Tibet's quest for Buddhism in earlier times saw the Buddhist faith
practiced in Tibet and forgotten in Nepal as 'Tibetan Buddhism', the art
as Tibetan Art, Tibetan Paintings, and so forth. Today, all the historic
viharas of the Kathmandu Valley live only a small percentage of the
glory and cultural dynamism with very little or no serious effort to
revamp their glory and reconstruction of the past either by the
government or by the community of believers. On the other hand, the
viharas (gompas) of the Tibetan Mahayana tradition here in Kathmandu are
full of activities.

Immediate needs
In order to reorganize the historic Vihara culture of Kathmandu, the
Sangha, which the Buddha took great effort to build, drive and direct
needs to regain its lost life, and give new life to the culture that was
the identity of the Buddhist Newars of the Kathmandu Valley ? ONCE UPON
A TIME. A fully committed Sangha can make things happen which even the
government cannot. Few Viharas are now organizing activities to
re-enliven the past activities. This is not enough. What needs to be
done, then? The concerned Sangha members must find answer to this
question. But one can always suggest, as follows:

- First of all, create an environment that was there in the early times,
- Plan a complete renovation with fitting decoration inside and outside
- Make all preparations for the monks to dwell in them
- Strengthen the vihara-sangha relation in functional manner
- Conduct academic programs in the vihara on regular basis
- Buddhist universities open their research-discussion wings in the premises
- Celebrate their birth anniversary on regular basis and dig the history
- Keep the maintenance in good shape

It might take a Herculean effort and task to rebuild the glory that was
once there and bring back the dynamism these centers once enjoyed and
were known for by people and culture far and wide. The lesson learnt is:
You do not inherit a culture in the way you inherit paternal
property/asset. A culture requires participation, reflection and the
attitude of belongingness. But for this you cannot revive a culture.

And for this all to happen in the near future, we should all pray ?
Because -We need the Buddha, so simple, so charismatic and yet so caring!

We cannot imagine a Buddha with an SLR in hand. For Buddha and his
followers, war is obsolete. Buddha was a revolutionary in terms of
creative thoughts and their positive impact on human life.

His peaceful fight was against injustice, inequality, discrimination and
selfish action. But the war that is waged today is different in
dimension and impact. Therefore, it should never come even in the
imagination of the people. Faith can win people, guns cannot. The
Viharas can protect faith and thus the people.
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