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Boudhanath: The Great Stupa

The Legend of the Great Stupa of Boudhanath

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First edition, 62 pages, 1993
Footprint Publishing
Poulnabrucky, Ballyvaughan, Ireland
Designed by Keith Payne

Boudhanath: The Great Stupa

The Legend of the Great Stupa of Boudhanath

Translation and Commentary by Keith Dowman

The Legend of the Great Stupa of Boudhanath (mChod rten chen po bya rung kha shor gyi lo rgyus thos pas grol ba) is a Padmasambhava treasure text, revealed by Lhatsun Ngonmo, then hidden again to be rediscovered by Ngakchang Sakya Zangpo in the 16th century.

The Great Stupa of Boudhanath in the Kathmandu valley, a vast dome-shaped monument representing the Mind of the Buddha, is the primary pilgrimage destination for Tantric Buddhists of the Himalayas and a major draw for Tibetan Buddhists from all over the planet. This small book brings together virtually all we know about the Great Stupa of Boudhanath. The core text translation relates the Tibetan legend of the massive monument’s origins and describes how it is to be worshiped, the benefits of worship and the apocalyptic results of failure to maintain it. The introduction describes the fabric of the Stupa in detail, its symbolic meaning and its functions. The history of the stupa from its origins in the fifth century to the present day is also presented here for the first time.'

Introduction and translation by Keith Dowman, illustrated by 8 historical drawings and photographs of the Stupa, together with line drawings and block prints.


Contents of Boudhanath: The Great Stupa

[Click on Highlighted title for Excerpt]

  • Myth and Legend
  • Boudha: One of the Eight Great Cremation Grounds
  • History of Boudhanath
  • Symbolism of the Stupa
  • Description of the Site
  • Worship
  • Festivals
  • Monasteries around the Stupa
  • About the Tibetan Text of The Legend
  • Translation of The Legend of The Great Stupa

Book Excerpts

History of Boudhanath: The Chini Lamas

Recent history of the Stupa has revolved around the lineage of the Chini (or Chiniya) Lamas. The first Chini Lama, Taipo Shing, was a Szeshuanese Nyingmapa Buddhist who settled in Boudha after coming here on pilgrimage. In 1853, at the conclusion of the Sino-Gorkhali war, Jung Bahadur invited his Chinese resident of Boudha to the palace to interpret during the peace discussions. In recognition of his services to the Rana prime minister, in 1859 he was awarded the abbotship of Boudha with its stewardship of the guthi lands of Malemchi in Helembu. He was succeeded by Buddha Vajra in 1880 and Punya Vajra (1886-1982), the Third Chini Lama, succeeded him in 1922. The spiritual and temporal power of the Second and Third Chini Lamas increased, until during the Late Rana period Boudha had become a kingdom within a kingdom. The authority of the Chini Lamas was enhanced by their status as consul of the Dalai Lamas to the Kingdom of Nepal.

    The Chini Lama's power was diminished by the Chinese occupation of Tibet in 1951, by the Nepali land reform of 1961, which stripped the Stupa of much of its supporting lands, and also by the Panchayat domination from which Punya Vajra, the Third Chini Lama, stood apart. By the time of Punya Vajra's death in 1982 the abbot of Boudha's power had been radically curtailed. As Nyingmapa yogins, the Chini Lamas had taken Tamang and Sherpa girls as their consorts. The first Chini Lama married the daughter of one of Jung Bahadur's concubines, thus initiating family ties with Government. The Third Chini Lama's long life and virility resulted in a prolific extension of the family. From the mid-19th century until the death of Punya Vajra, it was the Chini Lamas of Boudha who contributed most to the continuing religious and social significance of Boudhanath.

    As abbots of Boudha the Chini Lamas were the heads of the Tamang sangha and the Boudha Gyang Guthi, the Boudha Monastery Society. This guthi of local devotees of the Stupa comprises the administrative body maintaining the Stupa and also the priests tending Ma Ajima, the Protecting Goddess. The members of the guthi were, and still are, disciples of the Chini Lamas (Tibetan: Gya Lama) in the Tibetan tradition. Guthi lands, lying principally in Malemchi Gaon in Helembu and around Kopan, were the main source of finance for this guthi. The Newars also have rights of worship at the temple of Ma Ajima. The historical relationship of the Buddhist guthi to the Hindus is obscure, but we do know that during the abbotship of the Third Chini Lama blood-sacrifice to Ma Ajima - alluded to by Shabkar Rinpoche - was discontinued. Since the death of the Third Chini Lama, in a temporal and spiritual power vacuum, the Stupa has been governed by a guthi committee consisting of lineal descendants of the Third Chini Lama and the families of his Tamang disciples who live in the vicinity. The Newar presence in Boudha is limited to silver-smiths and traders from Patan taking advantage of the pilgrim and tourist market.

Click here The Legend of the Great Stupa for the chapter of the legend predicting the portents of ruin of the Stupa.

Sarva Mangalam!
May all beings be happy!