Monday, March 30, 2015

Arakanese Buddhist Monks and the Therevada Buddhism in Nepal

Arakanese Buddhist Monks and the Therevada Buddhism in Nepal
By Ashin Siri Okkantha
The beginning of the 20th century was the black period in the religious history in Nepal. Hinduism and Mahayana Buddhism prevailed in Nepal. There was no place for Theravada Buddhism in the early 20th century. According to the law of Nepal, the religious conversion was prohibited by the Royal Nepal Government. During the reign of Chandra Shumsher Jung Bahadur Rana (c. A.D 1901 – 29), the Prime Minister of Nepal, expelled the new Buddhist monks. They fled to India and came to see Theravda Buddhist monk in their lives. At that time, Venerable U Chandramuni (an Arakanese Buddhist monk) lived in Kushinagar, he provided and gave shelter to the Nepalese Buddhist in his monastery. And then he preached and taught Theravada Buddhism to them. Venerable Mahapragya was ordained at Kushinagar by Venerable U Chandramuni in 1928.

Venerable Mahapragya was the first Napalese Theravada Buddhist monk (later on disrobed). Another one was Ven, Dhammloka who founded Ananda Kuti Vihara, the first Theravada Buddhist monastery at Katmandu of Nepal. The next most remarkable monk was Ven. Pragnananda Mahasthanbir who was ordained by Ven. U Chandramuni at Kushinagar in 1930. In A Concise Biography, Ven, Pragnananda Mahasthanbir is mentioned that “ Under the advice and inspiration of the Most Venerable Chandramuni Mahathera he was converted from the sect of Lamaisms to Theravada school of Buddhism in the year 1930 A.D. or 2473 B.E.”. At present, he is the Sanghanayaka of All Nepal Bhikkhu Mahasangha in Nepal. Among them was Dr. Ven. Amritananda Thera, a famous Buddhist scholar in Nepal. In 1936, he got his ordination at the holy place of Kushinagar, at 18 years of his age and his Upajjhaya was Ven. U Chandramuni Mahathera.

In 1944, the Ven Pragyananda Mahathera tried to ordain a lady as a Buddhist nun, when he had a chance to live in Nepal. It was unfortunate for Buddhist monks. As soon as the message was received by Prime Minister J.S.J.B Rama, all the eight Theravada Buddhist monks living in Kathmandu were told not to preach the Dhamma. But they could not take care and would not agree to it. On 30th July, 1944, the Prime Minister ordered them to leave the kingdom within three days.

All monks from Nepal arrived in Kushinagar again. They were saved and given suitable shelter in Kushnagar and Sarnath. Then they formed a Buddhist Society of Nepal called ‘Dharmodaya Sabha’ under the chairmanship of the Most Venerable U Chandramuni Mahathera on 30th November, 1944 and Ven. Amritananda was selected as a Secretary at the same time. He visited the Buddhist Societies in India and appealed to them to protect to the Nepalese Government’s policy (the expulsion of the Buddhist monks). They sent letters to influential people in Theravada Buddhist countries for their support to the campaign. Dr. Ven. Aritananda could get the entry permit from the Nepalese government, and then he published various subjects in Buddhism and printed many books in Newari, Nepalese and English. In 1952, he founded the Anandakuti Vidyapith (A Buddhist Boarding High School) in Kathmandu. He led the Nepalese delegation to the foreign countries. Now he is a President of Nepalese Buddhist Sangha in Nepal. In 1968, the late king Mahendra of Nepal honoured him with the title of “Gorkha Dakkshinabahu”. In 1979, Nalanda Pali Post Graduate and Research Institute conferred the Degree of “D.Litt”.

Taking into account the spread of Theravada Buddhism in Nepal Ven. Chandramuni can rightly be called a founder father of Theravada Buddhism in Nepal. Ven. Chandramuni passed away in May, 1972. The noble work initiated by him, has been continued by his disciples, Ven. Gyaneshwar in Kushinagar, Ven. U Kittama (d. 1987) in Sakyamuni Vihar of Varanasi, Ven. U Teikkheindriya (d. 1987) and Ven. Vannadhaja in Sarnath. They are all Arakanese Monks carrying on the noble work from their preceptor Ven. Chandramuni.

Note: This Article is  from "History of Buddhism in Arakan" by Ashin Siri Okkantha (Ph.D Thesis, University of Calcutta, 1990,  Unpublished) P.198, 199, 200
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