It has been more than half a century we are celebrating the day of birth, enlightenment and parinirvana of the Buddha, the enlightened one, as Buddha Jayanti in Nepal. What have we so far made in the history that could be named an example of concrete achievement, if not otherwise stated, by celebrating this? This has become, very unfortunately, merely more than a showcase or a continuation of a jatra, which we Nepalis are especially very fond of. Hasn't the time yet come to rethink this tradition and start the day with some promises to make it also a Buddha Jayanti in real sense?
We all know, and are very much known in the world for reclaiming that "the Buddha was born in Nepal". Buddha has indeed become an icon of national unity, pride and "hero", but as a matter of fact, having him born in the place which is by its virtue located now inside of the geographic territory of Nepal is not a big deal per se. What matters, from the perspective of the millions of Buddhists living in the whole world is, whether we have some space in our heart or mind for the man who is named the Buddha. How are we going to tell the world that we not only own the piece of land the Buddha opened his eyes for the first time in his this life but also, the teachings and the path he has shown for us? Time has come to rethink this reason of pride from new angle.
When we visit a foreign land and show our arrogance by saying that the Buddha was born in Nepal, they, obviously presume that we all Nepalis are followers of the Buddha's teaching (I myself have an unforgettable experience of the pleasure of witnessing a very high-level monk in Yokohama, Japan taking my hands to his forehead with sublime respect just because I told him that I came from Nepal). This pleasure we all deserve but most of us keep numb, when they start asking us some common question about Buddha's teaching and Buddhist population here in Nepal.
While being proud of Buddha, only a few take time to learn some basic teachings of Buddhism. You may have a sticker or poster showing Lumbini as birthplace of Nepal. Now, please count, how many books on Buddhism you have on your bookshelf. Studying basics of Buddhism is not that difficult nowadays – you can google it, or enroll yourself to Pariyatti or monastery education. Apart from this, now, after a long hardship, a Lumbini Buddhist University has been set up and classes of higher education have started. Anybody can be benefitted from this.
Though Buddhists were not idol-worshippers at the beginning, the introduction of human-like figure, identified as Lord Buddha in around first century CE has played a vital role in keeping the Buddhist philosophy alive in the Asia for two millennia. Nepal, as many other countries, is rich in Buddhist art and architecture. Countless Buddhist monuments - monasteries, temples, chaityas and many more - are waiting for due preservation and the earthquake of last year caused further damage to the priceless Buddhist heritage in the Kathmandu Valley. Lumbini, of which we fanfare tirelessly, is still waiting for its full-fledged "development" as per the dream master-plan, while quite a many ancient monasteries in the mountain region are being abandoned, and now at the brink of being turned into assembly halls of some other religions. If we failed to prevent, we should at least show concern to cure now.
Buddhism, with additional attributes of Mahayana and Vajrayana cannot be otherwise defined than being a true religion today. Due to political and social factors, Nepal, although being inhabited by devoted Buddhists, has not been able to develop a separate Buddhist culture so far. What we have, after all, is only a mixture, overlapping or juxtaposition of Hindu culture into Buddhism. Co-existence of two religions in a multi-religious country like Nepal is no doubt appreciable but this has also been a threat to a complete Buddhist culture in Nepal. Learned scholars should now start showing what is Buddhist and what is not, so that we will not have to be ridiculed in front of foreign Buddhists.
Scholars admit that Nepal was a safe haven for the Buddhist texts when those countries were threatened of existence. Nepal has a wide collection of Buddhist texts, brought here from various centre at different times. Apart from this, Nepal's scholarly gurus themselves have also penned quite a big number of Buddhist texts, some of which are unique in their content on Buddhist philosophy. We have had a very bitter history of negligence of Buddhist text of then rulers. Now, when we have already realized the significance of Buddhist manuscripts, we should now start a systematic record keeping, digitization and reprinting of such historic books. No matter how private initiatives like Asha Safookuthi and Nepal Research Center have been doing in this field (not disregarding the government efforts at National Archives), we still are in need of a large-scale Buddhist library where we can find any book, published in Nepal or elsewhere, old and new, a place where Buddhists pilgrims to this land of Buddha may love to spend some days. A publication that serves Buddhist authors of Nepal is still a dream long time envisioned by Buddhist scholars here.
The Buddha came to Nepal (if not in Kathmandu Valley) and propagated his teaching to peace-loving people of Nepal. Since then, we are proud "sons and daughters" of Buddhism. But even in past two thousand years, we have not been able to give justice to the world's one of the major religions. Animal sacrifices still take place in Nepal on the very day of Buddha Jayanti. What the Buddha has taught the world, if he failed to show the path to the very people of Nepal? Ignorance is pardonable but negligence is not.
On the top if it, Nepal's Buddhist organizations are still neglecting a sense of harmony and coordination. The devotion and sincerity of the volunteers are beyond any doubt but a strong and far-sighted leadership is direly in need, without which, any height and depth of hard work to disseminate teachings of the Buddha at any level will only be loss of labor. When we are demanding coordination among organization among the same sect, a comprehensive project of brining workers of different sects of Buddhism on one forum and seeking their commitment to work together, subsiding minor differences in the philosophy or interpretation, is even more challenging.
Amid this labyrinth of problems and mismanagements, one solid, determined and promising state-ownership for the development and preservation of Buddhism is the one-shot solution, which is not at all far away. Celebration of Buddha Jayanti, or any other festival in Buddhism will surly be meaningful, if we can make some visible change in the long time status-quo of Buddhism in the country, which is so proud of having the title of birthplace of the Buddha.
Published in The Rising Nepal on May 19th, 2016.