Nepal is a small country in South Asia where Buddhism first grew its roots. Famous as the nation where Gautama Buddha was born, Nepal is a hub for Buddhist adherents.
Moreover, Nepal houses many sacred Buddhist destinations that offer great insight into the history and legend of various forms of Buddhism.
As such, there are thousands of foreigners who travel to Nepal just to study Buddhism.
The scenario of Buddhism in Nepal and Kathmandu
Buddhism in Nepal flourished during the Licchavi period which dates back to the second century. It is also believed that Emperor Asoka built a pillar to the birthplace of Buddha and also built many stupas.
This serene Himalayan nation has become a haven for Buddhists for centuries. Similarly, Nepal is also the perfect place to further delve into the vigorous study of Buddhism.
Since Buddhism is the second biggest religion in Nepal, it holds a dear place in the hearts of the locals as well. As such, the scenario is the same in the capital of the country, Kathmandu.
In Kathmandu and around its periphery there are hundreds of caves, monasteries, and stupas related to the Bodhisattvas, Siddhas, and Buddha. Similarly, the streets of Kathmandu are filled with monasteries and stupas.
You can spot monks and nuns in their robes walking along the streets of Kathmandu. Here, the harmony between Hinduism and Buddhism is also quite immersing.
Buddha was born in Nepal
Gautama Buddha, formerly known as Siddhartha Gautam, was the son of King Suddhodhana and the prince of Lumbini. He spent his early years in wealth and prosperity but he was always reflecting upon the suffering of birth, old age, death, and sickness.
So, he left all his wealth, belongings, and went to meditate for six years in Bodhgaya. After attaining enlightenment, Buddha preached Buddhism in India which, later, spread across the world. The birthplace of Gautama Buddha, Lumbini is a very vibrant place where thousands of people travel every year for pilgrimage.
Here, you can visit numerous sacred destinations like the Bodhi Tree, the eternal flame, and Maya Devi temple among others. Maya Devi temple has been identified by historians and archaeologists as the exact place where Buddha was born. The birthplace also has a beautiful garden where the Buddhist practitioners can meditate.
Buddhist sites spread across the country
Nepal is famously known as the home to many holy Buddhist monasteries, stupas, and monuments. One can enjoy the natural beauty of Nepal as well as explore the divine Buddhist sites across the country.
Just in Kathmandu, there are Boudhanath, Swayambhunath, Nagarjun Stupa, Chuchepati Stupa, and Naropa and Tilopa caves. While Boudhanath Stupa is one of the largest monasteries in South Asia, the Swayambhunath Stupa is associated with the origin of the Kathmandu Valley itself.
There are many stupas in Bhaktapur and Patan durbar squares. In Patan, King Asoka and his daughter built several stupas with Buddha relics around the durbar square premise. So, Patan is also a place where Buddhist pilgrims must visit.
Outside the Kathmandu city, you can visit the Maratika cave in Khotang district which is one of the six most important Buddhist pilgrimage sites. This is the place where the Buddha Amitabha taught eighteen Tantras of a long life. Similarly, Lumbini is a must-visit place for the Buddhist pilgrims.
While in Lumbini, you can also visit monasteries reflecting the art and architecture of various Buddhist nations. The other religious sites you must crusade are Nagarjun hills, Namobuddha, Pharping, Bhaktapur and Manjushree cave.
Large Buddhist Population
Buddhism is the second most popular religion in Nepal followed by Hinduism. As such, there is a huge majority of Buddhist culture and ethnic communities in Nepal.
In Nepal, the majority of Buddhists are the Tibetan- Burman people. Tibeto-Burman speaking ethnic groups such as Sherpa, Tamang and Tibetan people from the mountain region of Tibetan border follow Buddhism.
Here, Tibetan Buddhism is the most widely followed and the Newar Buddhist follow the Newari variant of Vajrayana Buddhism and Theravada Buddhism. With a large number of Buddhist people, you will see a lot of Buddha sculptures, monasteries, and people practicing meditation, people doing circumambulation around the Boudha stupa every day and monks and nuns in their robes in the streets of Kathmandu.
Owing to such a massive population, there are various festivals and rituals celebrated all around the year. From Buddha Jayanti which marks the birthday of Lord Buddha to Lhosar celebrated by numerous ethnic communities, festivals are quite frequent in Nepal.
Similarly, Mani Rimdu and Tiji festivals are two other Buddhist practices celebrated in the remote regions of Nepal.
Institutions to learn Buddhism
For those interested to learn about Buddhism, where better to come but to the birthplace of Lord Buddha. There are numerous institutions and monasteries where you can learn about Buddhism. Here, you can learn the authentic Buddhism from esteemed masters and experience the Buddhist lifestyle. You can also get private teaching from distinguished senior monks.
In Kathmandu, Kopan Monastery and Rangjung Yeshe are the places where you can learn Buddhism. Kopan monastery, located to the north of Boudha, also offers a surreal panorama of the Kathmandu Valley and the surrounding hills. The monastery is based on the Gelug tradition of Tibetan Mahayana Buddhism under the guidance of Lama Zopa Rinpoche. There are 360 monks and teachers working in this monastery. Affiliated with the Foundation for the Preservation of Mahayana tradition, this monastery offers Buddhism studies to hundreds of tourists every year.
Similarly, the Rangjung Yeshe Institute, affiliated with the Kathmandu University for Buddhist studies, offers degree courses to serious scholars. They focus on Buddhist philosophy, Sanskrit and Tibetan language. This institute also offers summer short courses which attract thousands of tourists every year.
Retreat and Meditation Centers
With strong and historical ties to Buddhism, Nepal is an ideal destination for meditation retreats. Since meditation retreats are one of the main practices of Buddhism, there are many programs offered for meditation practitioners in Nepal.
While there are several centers to enjoy meditation, you should choose one that caters to your needs. Some retreats offer basic short term courses to beginners.
Likewise, the advanced courses are for professionals who are adept at the basics of yoga and meditation. Thus, you can choose the one that perfectly suits your requirements.
Kopan Monastery is a popular place among foreigners for meditation retreats. The monastery which has an attached guesthouse and located far away from the chaos of the city is the perfect place for a peaceful meditation retreat. Their popular ‘Discover Buddhism’ course includes instructions on meditation for beginners.
Another popular place for the spiritual and healing retreat is the Kagyu Institute of Buddhist studies. This institute located at Kirtipur provides a serene venue for Buddhists all around the world to gain spiritual knowledge and enhance spiritual development.
Finally, the Panditarama Lumbini International Vipassana meditation center in Lumbini teaches the practitioners sitting and walking meditations. The courses here are free of charge and solely funded by donations.
In conclusion, Nepal is the perfect place for a Buddhist and anyone with a keen soul to learn Buddhism. With almost 1200 monasteries and temples all around the nation, Nepal is the treasure box for the followers to explore further into the roots of Buddhism.
Here, traversing through the immense natural beauty, you can go on a Buddhism pilgrimage or tour all around the country.
Additionally, you can also choose to take short retreats or meditation courses while in the country. Therefore, there are a great number of choices to learn about Buddhism in Nepal.