Boudhanath Stupa, Kathmandhu, Nepal

Boudhanath Stupa, Kathmandhu, Nepal

This ancient Great Boudhnath Stupa is a major pilgrimage site for Tibetan Buddhists and Nepalis, and continues to be one of the most important places in Nepal. In 1979, Boudha became a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There are at least 29 Tibetan Gompas (Monasteries & Nunneries) around Boudhanath, some of the larger ones are mentioned later down in the post. It’s bright and lively with pilgrims circumambulating clockwise around the stupa. At night butter lamps are lit. All along are colorful prayer wheels and devotional stops with prayer flags flying high overhead everywhere you look.

Legends – Origination of the Great Stupa


Drought plagued the land so King Vrishadev consulted his astrologers. Must find man with 32 auspicious marks and sacrific him to appease the rain gods. He orders his son, Manadev, to wake early and sever the head of the person he’d find where he told him to go.  Manadev is horrified to learn that he killed his father and prayed to the goddess Vajrayogini. His prayer was answered as she released a bird, commanding him to build a stupa where it landed.

Widow’s Endowment

A devout widow, said to be an incarnation of one of Indra’s daughters, and named Jadzimo (Nepali) or Kangma (Tibetan) was promised as much land as a buffalo hide by the king. She cleverly cut it in such a long strip that it formed a very large round plot, indeed. She is also called the poultry woman because she used profits from her poultry business to benefit all sentient beings. Once she owned the large plot of land, the construction of the Great Stupa was begun as a receptacle to hold the nature of all the buddhas.

For four years, her four sons with only an elephant and a donkey to help them, worked on the construction of the stupa. At the time of her death, she beseeched her sons to promise her they would finish building the stupa. It took them three more years to complete, according to this legend.

Nepalese historians put the date of construction in the 5th c. CE

The Religious Picture in Kathmandu

As described by Keith Dowman in Power Places of Kathmandu, “The tableau of Valley religion is woven from five principle strands. The first, is animistic worship of the spirits. The second, the most basic and most abiding, is worship of the Mother Goddesses and Devi. The third is worship of the Great God Shiva. The fourth is worship of Vishnu. The fifth, and finest, is Buddhism.”

Venerable Thrangu Rinpoche on the occasion of Kyabje Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche’s cremation in 1996, stated, “As the numerous stupas throughout the country of Nepal attest, in the past many great masters have come here over the millennia. Although in the last couple of centuries not very many masters have lived here, and so, the ‘string of the Dharma’ has become very thin, still, Buddhism in Nepal has remained without vanishing. I feel one of the reasons for the unbroken continuity of Buddhism is that, thanks to the three main stupas – – those in Boudhanath, Swayambhu and Namo Buddha, people regard the teachings of the Buddha as something special:  they have continued to circumambulate these stupas respectfully, and maintain the notion that the Three Jewels are special objects of veneration which you can supplicate.”

We were in Nepal in 2008, during the US presidential elections when Obama was running for the first time. The feeling was high there that the US was finally getting its act together for the rest of the world. Mostly visiting Hindu places, including Bhaktapur, Patan and Changu Narayan, we could see some overlap between Hindu and Buddhist at the Buddhist stupas we visited, including Boudhanath and Swayambunath. At both places, devout and lay practitioners were present.

Additionally there are numerous nunneries and monasteries in the general vacinity of the Great Stupa. Khachoe Ghakyil Ling Nunnery is currently the largest Tibetan nunnery in Nepal with 400 nuns. Dilyak Monastery is the oldest original monastery founded by Very Venerable 7th Dabzang Rinpoche in 1963. Kopan Monastery with about 350 monks and Khachoe Ghakyil Ling Nunnery are both under the spiritual gudance of Lama Zopa Rinpoche, as well as under the care of the same abbott.  It is also described as a spiritual oasis for hundreds of visitors yearly from around the world. I may have to return.

Other monasteries include K-Nying Shedrub Ling Monastery, Pullahari Monastery and Retreat Centre, and Thrangu, Shechen and Khawalung Monasteries, some built since Ven. Thrangu Rinpoche’s pronouncement of 1996, who himself founded Thrangu Monastery (Thrangu Tashi Choling) in 1979. The current monastery is visible in the photo at the top, in front of the Stupa. At the time there were only a few monasteries in Boudhanath and, hard to believe now, the area surrounding the Stupa were mostly rice fields. All in all there are about 30 gompas in the Bouda area.


Padmasambhava Prophecies

Finally, no discussion of Boudhanath would be complete without Padmasamabhava’s Kaliyuga, the age of chaos and destruction, where everything is turned upside down. I picked out some juicy bits that feel all too prophetic these days, I’m afraid.

“Corrupt and selfish men become leaders.”

“The celestial order, disrupted, loosens plague, famine and war to terrorize terrestrial life. The planets run wild, and the stars fall out of their constellations; great burning stars appear bringing unprecedented disaster. Rain no longer falls in season, but out of season the valleys are flooded. Famine, frost and hail govern many unproductive years.”

“The king’s law is broken and the strength of communal unity lost; the people’s traditions are rejected and the sea of contentment dries up; personal morality is forgotten and the cloak of modesty thrown away. Virtue is impotent and humiliated and led by coarse, immodest and fearful rulers.”

Swoyambunath Stupa, Nepal

Swoyambunath Stupa, Nepal

In October, 2008, my partner and I spent a week in the Kathmandu Valley. We stayed at the Hyatt overlooking the Boudnath Temple, more correctly spelled Boudhanath stupa, although you’ll find it both ways. I’ll do another post on Boudhanath, this post is to write about our visit to Swayambunath stupa.

Both Boudhnath and Swayambunath have similarities. Devotees circumambulating (big word for walking around) the temples. Both of these temples attract a large Tibetan following. While I was sweating in my short sleeves and light pants, many of these folks were wearing heavy parkas. Ok, not all, but it’s always interesting to see what the weather does to people. Interesting, too, because it was fairly warm in Nepal, where I understand it’s pretty damn cold in Tibet.
I bought a little book after I returned because I wanted to learn more about Swayambunath and I’d taken so many pictures as usual. The book was written by an Englishman named Richard Josephson who lived there for three years and learned about “Swoyambu” from the locals and the pilgrims who continually come to visit in great numbers.
“The origin of the Swoyambhu Valley and its human habitation, with its first town, Manjupattan, is based on the prehistoric legends of the Swoyambhu Maha-chaitya.
Among all the established chaityas and stupas in the Asian continent, the Swoyambhu Maha-chaitya is one of the most ancietn ones, and it is distinguished by its uniquely significant and artistic structures. It is a central symbol of the Buddhist heritage of Nepal.”
-Swoyambu “The Origin of the ‘Swoyambhu Mahachaitya’
A Buddhist stupa is (usually) a dome shaped architectural monument protecting some aspect of the Buddha’s personhood, such as ashes, hair or tooth. In Nepal, where Tibetan Buddhism is widely practiced, the stupas are worshipped by circumambulation, as mentioned above.

A Buddhist stupa is (usually) a dome shaped architectural monument protecting some aspect of the Buddha’s personhood, such as ashes, hair or tooth. In Nepal, where Tibetan Buddhism is widely practiced, the stupas are worshipped by circumambulation, as mentioned above.

When we arrived there a monk was chanting while flipping the pages of a small Buddhist canon. I appreciated his graciousness to allow me to take a video of him. I watch this over and over and never get tired of it.

Swoyambunath Stupa

Swoyambunath Stupa, Nepal

Prayer Flags (Everywhere, they’re so wonderfully colorful and alive)

Prayer Flags, Swoyambunath, Nepal

Shakyamuni Buddha

Shakyamuni Buddha, Swoyambunath, Nepal

Mani Wheels (Prayer Wheels)

As Tibetan Buddhists walk around the stupa, they twirl each mani wheel while reciting mantras, such as ‘Om Mani Padme Hum’ stimulating compassion.

Mani Prayer Wheels at Swoyambunath Stupa