Yugjanma Lord Buddha – birth & Buddhism-III

Beyond the Horizon

By Pradeep Kumar

Buddha set the wheel of Dharma in motion by explaining the Supreme Truth to the ascetic companions and asking them to spread Dharma to others out of compassion considering the welfare of humanity. He walked all over India with his disciples enfolding all within the aura of his boundless, compassion and wisdom. He imparted training of mind including ethical, self-reliant and meditative practices, like jhana and mindfulness. He criticized practices of Brahmin priests, like animal sacrifices and caste system.

As per the Mahaparinibbana sutta, after the meal with Cunda, Buddha and his companions continued traveling until he was too weak to continue and had to stop at Kushinagar in Uttar Pradesh, where Ānanda had prepared a resting place in a grove of sal trees. After announcing to the Sangha that he would soon be passing away to final Nirvana, Buddha ordained one last novice, namely Subhadda into the order personally laying foundation of Buddhism.

He then repeated his final instructions to the Sanghas that Dhamma and Vinaya would be their teachers after his death. Buddha’s final words: “All sankharas decay. Strive for the goal with diligence)”. He then entered his final meditation and died in c. 483 BCE or 400 BCE (aged 80), reaching what is known as parinirvana (final nirvana, the end of rebirth and suffering achieved after the death of the body).


In his final meditation Mahaparinibbana, he entered the four dhyanas consecutively, then four immaterial attainments and finally meditative dwelling known as nirodha-samāpatti, before returning to the fourth dhyana before death.

According to Mahaparinibbana sutta, the Mallians of Kushinagar spent days after the Buddha’s death honoring his body with flowers, music and scents. The Sangha waited until the eminent elder Mahakassapa   arrived to pay his respects before cremating the body. The mortal remains were cremated and the remains, including his bones, were kept as relics and distributed among various north Indian kingdoms, like Magadha, Shakya and Koliya. These relics were placed in monuments or mounds called stupas, a common funerary practice at the time. Centuries later they were exhumed and enshrined by King Ashoka into many new stupas around the Mauryan realm. Many supernatural legends surround the history of alleged relics as they accompanied the spread of Buddhism and gave legitimacy to rulers.

According to various Buddhist sources, first Buddhist Council was held shortly after the Buddha’s death to collect, recite and memorize the teachings. Mahākassapa was chosen by the Sangha to be the chairman of the council. However, the historicity of the traditional accounts of the first council is disputed by modern scholars.

Buddha taught for around 45 years and built a large following, both monastic and lay. The Order of Monks started with 60 bhikkus soon expanded to thousands and many monastories came up. Indian universities, like Nalanda, Vikramsila, Jagaddala etc were set up later to become famous cultural centres of the world.

Buddhism spread across Arunachal Pradesh too. And Tawang Monastery, in Tawang Chu Valley of Tawang district, the largest monastery in India, known in Tibetan as Gaden Namgyal Lhatse (the divine paradise of complete victory), stands tall as proof.

It was founded by Merak Lama Lodre Gyatso in 1680-1681 in accordance with the wishes of 5th Dalai Lama, Ngawang Lobsang Gyatso. It belongs to Gelug school of Vajrayana Budhism and had a religious association with Drepung Monastery of Lhasaed during the British rule.

The three-storied monastery boasts of 65 residential buildings and a library with valuable old scriptures, mainly Kangyur & Tengyur.

History: Three legends are linked to selection of the site of the monastery.  According to one legend, its location was selected by Gyatso’s horse while on a mission. When he failed after intense search and retired into a cave to offer prayers to seek divine intervention. When he came out found his horse missing. While searching, he found it grazing at the top of a mountain called Tana Mandekhang, palace of King Kala Wangpo in the past. He took this as a divine guidance and decided to set up the monastery at that location. Seeking the help of the local people, he set up the monastery in the latter part of 1681.

When Merek Lama was experiencing difficulties in building the monastery at the chosen location of Tsosum, the ancient name for Tawang, 5th Dalai Lama issued directives to the people of the area to help him. To fix the perimeter of the Dzong, the Dalai Lama had also given a ball of yarn, the length of which was to form the limit of the monastery.

Prior to the dominance of the Gelug sect of Buddhism in Tawang, the Nyingmapa or the Black Hat sect of Buddhism was dominant and this resulted in their hegemony and even hostile approach towards the founder, Merek Lama. This problem was compounded by the Drukpas  of Bhutan, who also belonged to the Nyingmapa sect, who even tried to invade and take control of Tawang. Hence, when the Tawang monastery was built like a fort structure, a strategic location was chosen from defense point of view.

In 1844, Tawang Monastery had entered into two agreements with East India Company. One agreement, signed on 24 February, pertained to surrender by the Monpas of their right to Karlapara Duar in return for an annual fee (posa) of Rs 5,000, and another dated 28 May, related to the Shardukpens to abide by any order of the British administration in India in return for an annual fee of Rs 2,526 and seven annas.

Tawang officials used to travel almost to Assam plains to collect monastic contributions. According to Pandit Nain Singh of Trigonometrical Survey of India it had a parliamentary form of administration, known as Kato, with Chief Lamas of the monastery as its members/ He had visited the monastery in 1874-75. It was not dependent on the Dzonpan (head of Tsona Monastery) and Govt of Lhasa, which was substantiated by G.A. Nevill. who had visited the monastery in 1924.

Until 1914, this region of India was under the control of Tibet. However, under Simla Agreement of 1913-14, the area came under the control of British Raj. Tibet gave up several hundred square miles of its territory, including whole of Tawang region and the monastery, to the British. This disputed territory was the bone of contention for 1962 Indo-China war, when China invaded India on 20 October 1962 from northeastern border, forcing the Indian army to retreat. They occupied Tawang, including the monastery, for six months, but did not desecrate it. China claimed that Tawang belonged to Tibet. It is one of the few monasteries of Tibetan Buddhism that have remained protected from Mao’s Cultural Revolution without any damage. (to be continued)

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