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The Jewel on the Lotus – Souls of Boudha

Boudhanath Stupa, Nepal
Boudhanath Stupa, Nepal

For many centuries now the Boudhanath Stupa has been a rare and resplendent wish-fulling jewel and is perhaps the oldest stupa to be worshipped in Nepal. Situated in the ancient town of Boudhanath, about six kilometres from Kathmandu is one of the country’s World Heritage site listed by UNESCO. The stupa is believed to have been established in the 5th century as the embodiment of ‘Dharmakaya’ or Buddha-mind, and believe it contains the relics of Buddha Kashyapa, the third Buddha of this fortunate era.

Build in the traditional Nepali architectural style, it consists of three terraced plinths, a spherical dome, a cubicle steeple with four sets of Buddha’s eyes facing all four directions, and a spire of thirteen platforms. Since the plinths also resemble the petals of the flower, the shrine itself looks like a jewel seated on a lotus flower. The jewel on the lotus is representative of none other than the Buddha himself. For this very reason, hundreds of devotees throng Boudhanath every day, circumambulating the stupa whilst offering prayers and prostrations, turning prayer wheels, burning incense and butter lamps and reciting” Om Mani Padme Hum” (On! Jewel on the Lotus).

Today, Boudhanath is not only home to the stupa but has also become a thriving centre for the study of Buddhist religion and meditation. With the influx of high Lamas from Tibet in the early sixties, all four lineages of Tibetan Buddhism- the Nyimgmpa, Kangupa, Sakyapa and Gelugpa sects – have built a good number of monasteries in the vicinity of the holy stupa. Boudhanath has the largest concentration of Buddhist monasteries in the entire kingdom.

Monasteries in and around Boudhanath

To get an insight into monastic life, it is advisable for every tourist visiting Boudhanath to visit some of the newly-built monasteries there. Notwithstanding the size nor the type of monastery, there are some common features to all of them- the Gompa, a big hall or temple, contains the principle deities at the main altar and is where the inhabitants of the monastery assemble and worship. There are also dormitories for the monks on the monastery premises, and some also have guest houses or rooms available for visitors who wish to stay there.

The Chiniya Lama Guru Marmen Lhakhang of the Nyingmapa lineage is the earliest known monastery in the Boudhanath and was built in 1872 by the first Chiniya Lama, Ty Fu Sing.  In fact, Chiniya Lama used to be the emissary of the erstwhile Chinese Emperor of Nepal. Chiniya Lama is also in charge of the Boudhanath stupa. The present Chiniya Lama, Sherab Dorje Lama is the eighth descendent of the Chiniya Lama dynasty and is the abbot of the Lhakhang. The Lhakhang is situated north of the stupa and houses a big statue of Guru Rinpoche, or Padma Sambhava, flanked by his two consorts.

The Trikala Maitraiya Monastery, founded by Chobgye Trichen Rinpoche in 1985 lies to the west of the stupa and belongs to the Sakyapa lineage of Tibetan Buddhism. It houses a magnificent Maitraiya Buddha in its assembly hall.

Likewise, the Kanying Shedrupling Monastery of the Myingmapa and Kagyupa lineages, more commonly known as the White Monastery is perhaps the biggest monastery in Bouddhanath and home to more than 180 monks, as well as several incarnate lamas. The monastery was founded in 1972 by Kyabje Tulku Urgen Rinpoche and consecrated by the 16th Karmapa in 1976. This was the first-ever monastery to be inaugurated by the king of Nepal, His Majesty Late King Birendra Bir Bikram Shah Dev. Today the monastery is headed by the two eldest sons of Tulku Urgen Ringpoche, Chokyi Nyima Ringpchewho is the abbot, and Chokling Rinpoche, who is the Vajramaster preceding over religious ceremonies.

The Kopan Monas, situated in the idyllic heals of Kapan, a couple of km north-west of the stupa is one of the most fascinating monasteries in the vicinity of Bouddhanath. This Gelugpa monastery has established in 1969 by Lama Thubten Yeshe and Lama Zopa Rinpoche, and has now become the thrilling centre 320 monks, mainly from the eastern hills of Nepal, Tibet and India. Near the monastery is a nunnery, the Khakchoe Ghaki Ling, which is home to 290 nuns. But the monastery and nunnery are under the guidance of Lama Zopa Rinpoche and the care of the Abbot Khenrinpoche Geshe Lhundrup Rigsel. This Gelugpa monastery houses a gigantic statue of Tsaong Khapa, the master of the first Dalai Lama.

Apart from the monasteries mentioned above, the Thrangu Tashi Choeling, Shechen Tennyi Dhargyaling, Urgen Dongak Choeling, Karma Thegchen Legshaey Ling, the Chusang Monastery, the Tharlang Sasang Namgyan Ling, the Pal Thukten Ngedon Shedrup Dharagyeling, the Temple of Thousand Buddhas, the Tsechen Shedrupling Monastery, the Pulahari Monastery and others are worth a visit.

Monastic life

Monks and nuns take refuge in a monastery from the age of seven, from which time they pursue extensive training in traditional philosophical subjects, rituals and worship, and take part in debates.

Normally in every monastery, the monks worship daily, recite prayers, and meditate in the main shrine hall in the mornings and late afternoons. The rest of the time is occupied with tutorial classes. Their curriculum may also include English, Tibetan and Nepali languages and lessons in painting Thangkas (pictures of deities and their corresponding mandalas), as well as classes in routine Buddhist philosophy. They are also trained to make Torma (ritual cake), chant mantras (prayers) and perform ritual dances.

Not all monks and nuns are interested in pursuing a scholastic career, and after finishing a certain number of grades, some continue their monastic life by affording service to the monastery in the other ways. Those who wish to dedicate their life to the pursuit of religious activities may do so under the guidance of qualified Lamas.


Meditation course of retreats for visitors

Many of the monasteries in Bouddhanath offer accommodation facilities for visitors. The high Lamas and abbots also offer meditation course and retreats. The abbot of Thrangu Tashi Choeling- Kenchen, Thrangu Rinpoche has founded a monastic college at Namo Buddha, east of Kathmandu Valley.

Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche, the abbot of the White Monastery, established the Rangjung Yeshe Institute for Buddhist studies situated at the White Monasteries in Bouddhanath, which gives foreigners the opportunity to pursue a similar course of studies that of monk would undertake, but in English. The Institute also offers an extended and integrated course in Buddhist studies, as well as a Bachelor’s degree in partnership with Kathmandu University. The Kapan Monastery offers short residential courses in Buddhist meditation and practice throughout the year. These courses give a theoretical and practical introduction to the Buddhist philosophy of the Mahayan tradition. The Kulahari Monastery on the Kulahari hill north of the stupa also offers good accommodation for visitors along with short-and long-term retreats.  The Monasteries provide an ideal environment for reflection and contemplation, and it is not always binding for visitors to participate in all activities. Visitors may also benefit from private talks and advice from the Lamas during visiting hours. The monasteries have in this way become an Oasis for thousands of visitors every year.

Credit – Shekar Kharel



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