What is “Newar Buddhism” ?

Before the modern day Theravada Buddhism stepped in Nepal (Kathmandu valley was called Nepal in old days), the Newars in the valley practiced Newar Buddhism. Newar Buddhism metamorphosed in due course of time is a sedimentary form of Theravada, Mahayana and Vajrayana sects of Buddhism. This form of Buddhism had accommodated many Hindu Tantrik elements as well. Newar Buddhism had sustained the practice among the Newar communities in the valley for centuries and had developed its own school transferring the knowledge and practice from generation to generation. The priests were called Vajracharya and Trustees of the monasteries were mostly Shakya with other communities (farmers, craftsmen, tradesmen, manufacturers etc.) as lay people. Most of the monasteries were land grant institutions donated by the royalties and tradesmen. Newars were prosperous due to trade with Tibet, very fertile valley land and highly skilled craft industries. Almost every cultural calendar events were interwoven with the Newar Buddhist rituals. Newar community was self-sustained and self-governed society.

The rulers in 14th century onward were Hindu. Jayasthiti Malla (1382 CE) introduced the caste system among Newars. The celibate monks were disrobed and forced to marry and take a caste profession. Newars innovated the Newar Buddhism with a mixture of Theravada, Mahayana and Vajrayana and cleverly interfused many Hindu deities among the pantheon of Buddhist iconographic gods and goddesses of Mahayana and Vajrayana cults. As a matter of fact, the Newar Buddhism became quite illusive with Hindu Tantrik cultural symbols. The main carriers of Newar Buddhism were Vajracharya and Shakya. The general features of Newar Buddhism are as follows:

1. The young boys of Vajracharya and Shakya castes were ordained as Samanera (novice) in the family monastery and stayed in the robe for four days in their respective household observing few simple rules of vegetarianism and avoiding touch from females. They go to relatives for pindapata in convenient time. This ordination is more of a ritual than serious understanding of what ordination meant. This ordination had become a caste ritual rather than a spiritual pursuit.
2. The girls go through the fake marriage ceremony at an early age and 12 days of hiding from males while reaching puberty. Both of rituals are common among and Buddhist and Hindu communities.
3. When the boys as well as girls of Vajracharya and Shakya become adults of marriageable age, they go through an initiation (Nhikang) for daily morning meditation ritual. A Mantra is blown in the ear by the priest to be quietly repeated with a rosary of 108 beads three times in the secret/sacred deity room on the top of the house.
4. After marriage the couple goes through more sophisticated initiation of larger training (Dekha, derivates from diksha) on meditation and observations of rules. The Tantrik Buddhist paintings, which are now the souvenirs bought by the western tourists, are the training materials.
5. Vajracharya male adults go through additional training on priesthood (Acha luyagu).

Vajracharya and Shakya have elite position in the caste society because of these initiations and observations. Besides Vajracharya serves as the priest to the other communities for many religious and cultures performances. Shakya are the rich trustees of the monasteries. David Gellner terms Vajaracharya and Shakya as householder Tantrik monks. They live in the monastery quarters with full fledged family affairs. The monasteries do not have celibate monks. Ven. Amritananda, one of the pioneer Theravada monks from Shakya family recalls in his memoir that he saw only the painting of two monks (Sariputta and Moggallana) in monastery wall before he was ordained as a Theravada Samanera. Three percent of Nepal’s population could be estimated to practice Newar Buddhism.


From http://buddhism-today. blogspot. com/