Buddhism is a world religion founded by Buddha (Siddhartha Gautam). The Dharma taught by Buddha, born about 2,600 years ago in what is now Nepal, has been organized into various sutras and propagated to the rest of Asia.
Buddhism has two major branches, the southern Buddhism (Hinayana) and the Northern Buddhism (Mahayana). The Southern Buddhism spread to Myanmar, Thailand and Sri Lanka, while Northern Buddhism spread to China, Vietnam and Japan. Buddhism was introduced to Japan in the early 6th century from the Korean Peninsula.
Founded by Gautam Buddha, Buddhism has been carried on through centuries and spread widely relieving people from suffering throughout the ages and making great contributions to the development of Asian culture.
Lumbini, the birthplace of Buddha in Nepal
Buddha was born in Lumbini, a land between Kapilvastu which was birthplace of his father Suddhodana, who was the chief of the Shakya clan, and birthplace of Maya Devi, his mother. When Maya Devi conceived Buddha, she dreamed of a white elephant entering her womb. It is said that on her way to her parental home to give birth, she went into labor and gave birth to Buddha near a square fountain in Lumbini.
Lumbini is located in the Tarai plain, in the southwestern part of present day Nepal which mostly borders India. As Buddhism became more popular, Lumbini was counted among the four great holy lands of Buddhism and many worshippers made their Pilgrimage.
There is a record that Chinese monks, Faxian visited Lumbini and Kapilvastu in 403 and Xuanzang in 636. However, after the decline of Buddhism in India after the 13th century, Lumbini becomes forgotten by history. Centuries later, in 1896, German archaeologist Alois A. Fuhrer discovers the Ashokan Pillar which proved Lumbini to be the birthplace of Buddha.
In present day Lumbini, with the Maya Devi Temple as its central feature, there are many other Buddha-related remains such as King Ashok's pilgrimage memorial pillars and Puskarni pond, where baby Buddha was given his first bath. People make pilgrimages to Lumbini from all around the world (inscribed in UNESCO world heritage list in 1997). It provides great confidence to Nepalese Buddhists to have the birthplaces of Buddha in the country.
Nepal also has the ruins of Tilaurakot believed to be Kapilvastu, where Buddha spent his life before the age of 29, when he renounced the world. (The other possible place is Piprahwa, India and authorities have yet not reached a conclusion as to where exactly Kapilvastu is.)
Six years after his enlightenment, Buddha returned to Kapilvastu upon invitation from the King, also his father. There, not only does he meet his father, he meets his son Rahul again and Buddha teaches Dharma to his clan. It is said that at this time, many youths left the Shakya clan to become monks.
Sutras of Buddhism in Nepal
Most of the Buddhist scriptures familiar to the Japanese are classical Chinese translations. The original sutras are written in either Pali or Sanskrit. Pali was used in Southern Buddhism which spread to Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia. Sanskrit was used in Northern Buddhism sutras, such as Parajna Sutra, Sukhaavativyuuha and Saddharmapundariika –sutra.
After Buddhism perished in India in the 13th century, since China used Chinese translated sutras, Sanskrit sutras were left unpreserved and most were lost. However, in early 19th century, British diplomat B.H Hodgson introduced the Sanskrit sutra which had propagated to Nepal. Ever since, Nepalese Buddhism has attracted attention from around the world.
Nepalese Buddhism inherited the Mahayana Buddhist sutras which were established in India in original Sanskrit. The Sanskrit sutras which survived in the Kathmandu valley, surrounded by mountains on all sides, contributed greatly to the modern research of Mahayana Buddhism.
Nowadays, Sanskrit sutras studies all over the world include many that have been found in Nepal.