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    Religious belief in a Buddhist merchant community
     
    [ 作者: Todd T. Lewis   来自:期刊原文   已阅:5947   时间:2007-1-6   录入:douyuebo
    49tjf49edf:Article:ArticleID


    ·期刊原文
    Religious belief in a Buddhist merchant community, Nepal
    Todd T. Lewis
    Asian Folklore Studies
    Vol.55 No.2 (Oct 1996)
    pp.237-270
    COPYRIGHT 1996 Asian Folklore Studies (Japan)

    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

                Scholars of religion have used the questionnaire and opinion poll to
                render richly nuanced portraits of religious belief in
                Judeo-Christian societies. Few attempts have been made, however, to
                apply these tools in studies of Muslim, Buddhist, and Hindu
                contexts.(1) This curious and regrettable oversight has led to
                idealized or overly textual representations of these faiths, and to
                the neglect of an important field of information for scholars
                interested in the comparative study of religious belief.
                Buddhism, as a refuge of intellectual freedom, has nurtured and
                enriched the civilizations of Asia. Over the centuries its teachers
                have articulated myriad traditions of practice and doctrinal
                analysis based on the Buddha's dharma (teachings). Both scholar and
                Buddhist believer are challenged by the sheer diversity of these
                doctrinal lineages as well as by the paradoxical attempt to extract
                systematic thought from a tradition that holds the ultimate to be
                beyond conception. Yet, though early texts recount the Buddha's
                dismay over those who intellectualize his spiritual path, it is
                nevertheless true that organized reasoning has its place in Buddhist
                history: right views are included in the Eightfold Path, doctrinal
                formulae abound, and royal court patronage debates required the
                mastery of doctrinal elucidation and argumentation. Compared to
                their Christian counterparts, Buddhist thinkers were rarely
                suppressed and the "inspired texts" became a vast literature.
                Few connections have been made between the various disciplines that
                address the subject of Buddhist belief. The work of historians of
                religion has been dominated by the discourse of monastic
                intellectuals, while sociological discussions have focused on the
                debate about Buddhism's alleged "atheism" and its place in
                definitions of religion.(2) The few anthropological descriptions
                have been confined to small-scale village studies. The issue of
                syncretism is one of the few common themes that has been treated by
                all three groups, using different sources (e.g., MUS 1964, PYE 1971,
                BERLING 1980, BECHERT 1978, CLEARY 1991). The present essay will
                illustrate why the issue of syncretism is central to a treatment of
                Buddhist belief patterns.
                THE BUDDHIST TRADITIONS OF MODERN NEPAL
                "Nepal" originally referred to the Kathmandu Valley alone, but in
                1769 it was made the name of a much larger modern Hindu country by
                the mid-montane Himalayan peoples under the Shah dynasty from
                Gorkha, who conquered the city-states of the Newar people. From 1846
                until 1951 the despotic Rana family sought to undermine both
                Buddhism and Newar culture through legal sanctions, land seizures,
                and persecutions (Lewis 1997). The Shahs and Ranas did keep the
                state independent from the British empire and (after 1947) from
                India, virtually closing off Nepal from outsiders until 1951, when
                the Shah dynasty regained power (ROSE 1970).
                The Newars have survived, though their culture was suppressed by the
                Gorkhali state and their valley inundated by ethnic migrations to
                the dynasty's capital (GALLAGHER 1992). Although the Newars speak a
                Tibeto-Burman language, their distinctive urban society is ordered
                according to Indic caste principles and cultural traditions in art,
                music, literature, and religion (LIENHARD 1984). Numbering
                approximately a half of the Kathmandu Valley's total population of
                roughly one million, Newars are about equally split in their
                allegiance to Hinduism and Buddhism. With adherence to Buddhism
                forming a group boundary marker, Buddhist high castes remain defined
                by their separate endogamous patrilineages.
                The number of discrete Theravada and Mahayana traditions preserved
                in the Newar Buddhist community defies simple summary; the
                interested reader should consult recent publications documenting the
                myriad temples, monasteries, rituals, festivals, and community
                organizations.(3) I present here only the details necessary for our
                study of belief in the merchant sector; of especial importance is
                the diversity of Buddhist traditions that have shaped the views of
                individuals.
                Unique to the modern Buddhist world is the Newar monastic community
                (samgha), defined by an endogamous caste that forms a Mahayana
                counterpart to the Hindu Brahmans. Like a Brahman caste, the Newar
                samgha has for centuries married, making the entire Buddhist
                community one of householders (LOCKE 1975; GELLNER 1992). A
                two-section, endogamous caste with the surnames Vajracarya and
                Sakya, its members maintain the monastic ritual traditions and often
                still inhabit the residential compounds referred to by the classical
                term vihara, "monastery" (over three hundred vihara exist in the
                Valley today [LOCKE 1985]). The vajracaryas, who act as priests for
                all other Buddhists, have developed a highly evolved and intricately
                ritualized Mahayana lifestyle for their community (Lewis 1994a).
                Most Newar Buddhists, including all lower castes, participate
                exclusively in the exoteric level of Mahayana devotionalism. They
                direct their devotions to the Buddhist shrines (caitya) that dot the
                urban landscape, and especially to the great hilltop complex of
                monasteries and stupas just outside the city called Svayambhu. Most
                also make regular offerings at temples dedicated to the celestial
                bodhisattvas, especially Avalokitesvara (Chinese: Kuanyin), whose
                temples are found throughout the town (Lewis 1995a). All Buddhist
                householders mark their major life-cycle events from birth to
                mourning with rituals performed by traditional vajracarya priests.
                Indigenous Newar Buddhism also has a Vajrayana (or "tantric") elite;
                only high-caste Vajracaryas, Sakyas, Uray (merchants), and select
                artisans are eligible for the initiations (diksas) that direct
                meditation and ritual to the esoteric deities.
                In addition to the already described "indigenous Newar" monastic
                lineages there are two other distinctive (and in some ways
                competing) Buddhist traditions in the Kathmandu Valley. The older is
                Tibetan Buddhism, which has been present in Nepal for at least a
                half-millennium and is centered upon celibate monastic schools.
                Tibetan monasteries cluster around regional sacred sites that for
                many centuries have been patronized by Tibetan immigrants and the
                Newar merchants who traded in the Himalayan highlands (some Newars
                even became Tibetan monks). Although not aggressive in missionizing
                the local society, the resident lamas have offered alternative
                festival, ritual, and meditation practices to the Newar laity.(4)
                The influx of refugees from the highlands after the Dalai Lama's
                escape in 1959 has increased the number of Tibetan immigrants and
                monastic establishments in the Newar context.
                A more recent introduction is the Theravada school. Its origins in
                Nepal are connected to Sri Lanka in the last century, where a
                Buddhist revival occurred in the context of the Sinhalese
                anti-Christian and anticolonialist struggle (MALALGODA 1976). As a
                result of early encounters with confrontational Christian
                missionaries, Buddhist reform leaders adopted similar proselytizing
                tactics and emphasized a return to the early (Pali) texts, education
                through printed materials, a simplified canon of belief, regular
                preaching by monks, communal services, and a key role for laymen. As
                a result a new form of "export Theravada Buddhism" emerged, stripped
                of superstition and presented as compatible with science. Its
                leaders, drawn from the new urban middle class, directed the
                movement toward Buddhists of similar standing abroad. The movement
                reached Nepal by the 1920s through urban Newars disaffected with
                their own Buddhist tradition. Despite Rana persecutions, some Newars
                became monks and nuns (KLOPPENBERG 1977) and many others provided
                financial support; by 1952 proper Theravada monasteries were
                established at Svayambhu and, by 1980, across the Kathmandu Valley.
                These continue to attract modest numbers of Newars (BECHERT and
                HARTMANN 1988). Monks and nuns from these establishments have
                energetically inserted their own agenda of ritual, festival,
                publication, and public sermonizing into the Newar setting. Not all
                Newar Buddhists appreciate these innovations, however, especially
                the early polemics directed against the Newar Mahayana path (Lewis
                1984, 494-513).
                Despite the anomaly of a caste-delimited, noncelibate samgha, and
                because of the diversity of traditions in their midst, Newar
                Buddhists follow practices that closely resemble those of
                coreligionists in other countries: they support the local samghas
                and perform rituals at stupas and shrines to gain worldly and
                spiritual benefits (merit, punya). Believers have also underwritten
                a resurgence in the publication of devotional literature, including
                translations of classical Mahayana and Theravada texts, popular
                story narratives, pilgrimage and ritual guidebooks, and discussions
                of scholastic philosophy.
                Modern Newar culture in the Kathmandu Valley has been an important
                topic of research since it comprises the sole frontier area where
                one still finds Indic Buddhism, a tradition that declined in its
                hearth region by 1200 CE (SNELLGROVE 1987; SLUSSER 1982; Levi
                1905-1908). Studies of Newar rituals, festivals, shrines,
                socio-religious accommodations, Buddhist pluralism, etc., must now
                be integrated into the scholarly discourse on Buddhist history and
                the sociology of religions.(5) This article is intended as a
                contribution to both disciplines.
                   METHODOLOGY
                Between 1979 and 1982 I first conducted research to describe and
                analyze the Buddhist traditions observed in a community of
                high-caste merchants in the markets of Kathmandu.(6) The name of the
                caste, Uray, is thought to derive from the Buddhist term upasaka,
                meaning "devout lay follower." The community, composed of about
                1,100 households, is divided into eight named subcastes (GREENWOLD
                1974). The Uray are almost universally literate and are clearly
                regarded as an educational, economic, and political elite in modern
                Nepal. My decision to study merchants was based upon the special
                affinity between Buddhism and merchants that has existed since the
                time of the Buddha (Lewis 1993b) and upon the Newar merchants'
                "maximal expression" of devotion.
                This ethnographic project began with demographic, kinship, and caste
                inquiries (LEWIS 1995a), proceeded to the mapping of the urban
                religious geography, then continued with the documentation of the
                extensive ritual practices and festival observances that define the
                Newar Buddhist identity. It was also necessary to survey the
                competing array of local Hindu practices as well as the other
                Buddhist traditions in the Kathmandu Valley. Specific inquiries on
                Buddhist belief were made at the end of a two-year fieldwork period,
                when the task of ethnographic documentation was in its last stages.
                To investigate the merchant community's understanding of their
                religious observances and beliefs, I administered two
                questionnaires. Following the methodology of John Collier (COLLIER
                and COLLIER 1986), the first research design employed
                black-and-white photographs. The sampling of photographs comprised
                over 114 important visual images from my files under seven
                categories: life-cycle rites (12 photographs), rituals (15),
                festivals (15), religious officiants (14), deities (35), cultural
                media (11), and miscellaneous subjects (12). I also formulated key
                questions to accompany the pictures presented. This large group of
                photographs was pretested, then shown to a representative sample of
                the Newar laity comprising thirty-five respondents, both male and
                female, aged nine to sixty-eight.(7) This provided the data for the
                thematic presentation given later in this article.
                The second source of information was a standard interview
                questionnaire centering on thirty-eight topics explored in more
                open-ended discussions. This was administered as part of an in-depth
                survey of twenty merchant households and was designed to touch upon
                areas not amenable to the pictorial study. The individuals featured
                as representative case studies below, in the section "Portraits in
                individual belief," were interviewed using both questionnaires, with
                some revisited for follow-up discussions.(8)
                THE NATURE OF BUDDHIST "RELIGIOUS BELIEF" IN CONTEXT
                Before considering belief patterns among Newar merchants, it is
                important to clarify the nature and context of Buddhist belief.
                First, a simple definition: by "religious belief" is meant a set of
                intellectual tenets that individuals articulate, identify with, and
                act upon. A tenet here is an idea that orders and interprets
                experience. As Martin SOUTHWOLD noted, "The tension between the
                normative interpretations of Buddhist doctrines and the symbolic
                meanings they bear in the context of actual life is...an important
                dynamic in Buddhist societies. ... We should not be surprised that
                religious tenets... sustain a variety of meanings" (1979, 640). This
                paper explores the Newar field of understanding, delving especially
                into the question of how individuals have integrated competing
                classical Buddhist tenets with non-Buddhist modern ideologies.
                The discussion of "Buddhist belief" must be framed by several
                specific points pertinent to Buddhism. The first concerns the
                significance of belief and the way in which belief is acquired for a
                typical devotee. For householders, belief in formal doctrines is not
                at the center of "being a good Buddhist," and there is no tradition
                of "professing faith," public or private, beyond the universal
                taking of refuge in the Buddha, his teachings, and the monastic
                community. The Newar tradition, like Buddhism elsewhere, emphasizes
                ritual and festival performances within kin or caste groups, and
                these are carried out without any overt articulation of religious
                tenets (BEYER 1973, xii; GELLNER 1988, 753-54; 1992, 134). Beyond
                whatever insight may be derived from family rituals, individual
                Newars generally acquire knowledge of Buddhist doctrine on their
                own: from informal family discussions, from shrine artwork, from
                reading modern printed religious publications, and from public
                storytelling by vajracarya pandits, who usually recite and explain
                stories from the narrative literature (jatakas, avadanas) (Lewis
                1984, 637-38).
                A second set of problems concerns Buddhist doctrine and its relation
                with the social scientific assumption of a self: Can we agree upon
                what the "individual" is that "adheres to" a belief? Or how to be
                faithful to the intellectual Buddhist's view that the human mind's
                experience is always evolving and inherently impermanent? Or how,
                even, to define a standard of orthodoxy given the tradition's
                acceptance of a hierarchy of legitimate, sometimes contradictory,
                doctrinal viewpoints? This is a problem addressed by the
                second-century Mahayana philosopher Nagarjuna, who specifically
                speaks of relative truths that can be constructed in the mind's
                discursive language even as he posits an absolute truth that lies
                beyond all such ego-constructed and assumption-dependent statements.
                His view, accepted as normative by later Mahayana traditions
                (including those that dominated Newar and Tibetan interpretation),
                is that the highest truth can only be experienced in meditation. To
                communicate it in language is impossible, though it can be pointed
                to by using silence or by labeling all semantic constructions with
                the term sunya (empty) (WAYMAN 1984; JACKSON 1989). Given that this
                doctrine is known in local intellectual culture and readily
                articulated by savant Newar priests and lay intelligentsia (see
                below), one can see how problematic such an inquiry is, both for the
                Buddhists queried and for the researcher.
                Related to this is the issue of skepticism. During the research it
                was often clear that most Buddhist merchants regarded religious
                stories, explanations, and philosophical theories with some degree
                of personal detachment. When pressed, many respondents placed some
                distance between their own professions of belief and the
                pronouncements of tradition.(9) Such skepticism also seems to
                explain the range of ostensibly paradoxical or inconsistent beliefs
                - ancient, Buddhist, and modern - that individuals voiced.
                A final complication in any analysis of Buddhist belief is the
                problem of individual differences in intellectual inclination.
                Western academics carrying out inquiries of this kind often
                overestimate the importance of philosophical and intellectual
                concerns in the life of the average person. Most Newar laity venture
                no farther into Buddhist philosophy than the basic notions relating
                to cultic offerings, mantra recitations, and merit-making. In common
                with Buddhists elsewhere, Newar householders are primarily concerned
                with making the punya necessary to affect their destiny positively
                in this life and in future rebirths, something that involves a
                relatively simple body of beliefs and practices. Only few
                individuals, especially those involved with Vajrayana or the
                Theravadin movement, have grander vistas. And the Buddhist texts
                consistently remind even these "virtuosi" that the Buddhist
                spiritual path should culminate in meditation practice and personal
                transformation, not mere intellectualism.
                Modern patterns of belief among Newar Buddhists can be presented in
                terms of two variables: competing cultural traditions and varying
                modern ideologies. As Peter BERGER (1980) has observed, modernity
                imposes an ever-expanding menu of choices upon individuals;
                conveying this pluralism in modern Nepal is the central challenge
                taken on in this paper.
                To illustrate the landscape of belief, I have constructed the
                following two-dimensional grid to portray the intersection between
                the Buddhist traditions and the most important modern ideologies.
                Along the horizontal axis are the Buddhist traditions present in
                modern Kathmandu. Note that this schema does not imply a strict
                exclusivity toward one tradition that rejects the others as
                false.(10) The location of an individual on this axis is based upon
                a composite determination of two factors: the "most strongly held
                opinions" as expressed in the interviews, and the distinctive
                devotional behavior as determined by the history of rituals
                performed, patronage choices made, and initiations taken. While Uray
                merchants see themselves as uncompromisingly Buddhist, they do not
                necessarily restrict themselves to any one of the three Buddhist
                lineages. It is therefore not uncommon for families to have rituals
                performed by their vajracarya priest, a favorite monk, and a notable
                lama over the course of a year (in some cases, affluent Uray may
                even call upon them all on the same day). Newar laypeople thus view
                all of these people as within a single field of Buddhist specialists
                who meet their needs for puja, merit-making, and doctrinal teaching.
                Beyond the vajracarya dominance in life-cycle and festival
                ritualism, all of these groups - vajracarya, Tibetan lama, and
                modernist Theravadin monks - compete today for merchant patronage.
                The vertical axis represents new directions of intellectual
                orientation. This influence is a product of contact with the outside
                world, predominantly India but also the countries of Southeast Asia
                and such distant states as China, Japan, the Soviet Union, Britain,
                and the United States. On this axis there are two recurrent and, in
                this case, opposing orientations. The first, pluralism, extends the
                realm of possible religious affirmation by admitting the truths of
                Hinduism, Christianity, Islam, etc. This ecumenism was most commonly
                expressed in the neo-Vedantin terms of modern Hinduism. The opposite
                standpoint is one embracing recent ideologies that could be labeled
                as "secular" (BERGER 1969, 107) and entertaining skepticism toward
                all traditional claims of sacred revelation. This includes such
                ideologies as materialism, positivism, and Marxism.(11) The vertical
                zero point, then, is one that places Buddhism at the center of truth
                and subjects modern thought to the Buddhist standard.
                These two scales imply an interaction of viewpoints between Buddhist
                preferences and the choices offered by modernity, with the crossing
                point of the scales indicating someone who embraces the Newar
                Mahayana tradition as the superior form of Buddhism and the dominant
                ideological orientation.
                TERMS OF CONSENSUS IN BUDDHIST BELIEF
                The intellectual diversity and freedom of doctrinal expression seen
                throughout Asian Buddhist history is evident in the modern Newar
                community as well. My inquiries revealed that advanced age
                correlates with ready, detailed knowledge of the Buddhist teachings;
                that women know a great deal of the folklore but show less formal
                doctrinal knowledge; literacy correlates with a higher awareness and
                understanding of the teachings; and family traditions of activism
                and study can reverse other tendencies. We now summarize the chief
                tenets utilized in discussions with Buddhist merchants.(12)
                Karman
                While intellectuals often hold the philosophical view that all
                doctrinal statements have merit as expressions of relative truth,
                most Newar Buddhists content themselves with a simple faith in
                karman-rebirth doctrine. This core doctrine considers all
                individuals to possess karmically determined capacities for
                spiritual understanding and practice. It thereby underlies the
                Buddhist acceptance of a pluralism of beliefs, describing the dharma
                both metaphorically and practically as having different "medicines"
                to cure a host of different "illnesses" (greed, lust, anger,
                delusion) that afflict humanity.
                Every informant in our study expressed a belief in karman as a force
                that conditions individual destiny. Newar laypeople view karman as a
                physical presence, written on the forehead (and, some add, on the
                palm of the hand) and deposited in the atman (soul) situated in the
                human heart.(13) This atman centers and energizes individual
                consciousness, forms the repository for karman, and after death
                leaves the body through one of the bodily orifices and becomes the
                vehicle that endures to the subsequent rebirth. Most Newar Buddhists
                are vaguely aware of these mechanics and believe that the atman may
                hover around the house for a number of days after death, and so
                during the mourning period put out offerings to satisfy it (LEWIS
                1994a, 18).
                For the Newar laity the most important fact about karman is that one
                cannot know what one's own "karmic deposit" is. The ethos that
                follows is that life must be lived with a commitment to make as much
                punya and as little pap (demerit) as possible. This is an
                orientation common to Buddhist lay-men across Asia and also one
                shared with Hindus (e.g., KOLENDA 1964, SHARMA 1973).
                Although one cannot know one's karman with certainty, there are
                indices by which one can discern its general condition. The most
                important of these are the attributes one is born with. In Newar
                society the caste into which one is born is a prime indicator.
                Although Newar merchants differed on the details of how the castes
                in Asan should be ranked,(14) they were clear that they were near
                the top of the nonpriestly rankings in the caste system and that
                untouchables were far below. Other indicators of a person's karmic
                state are wealth, length of life, proclivity to sickness, and
                circumstances at death. Merchants were well aware that individuals
                could fall quickly from states of high karmic standing because of
                pap.
                For the Newar laity, the belief that life is conditioned by karman
                does not lead to a fatalistic attitude. Life is regarded as an
                ongoing, changeable phenomenon, with karmic influences usually
                remaining a subliminal presence. Newar laity understand that punya
                can result in favorable effects both within the present life and in
                future incarnations. About one-third of the informants stated that
                most children make much pap in their youth that could, if not
                countered by punya, gravely affect their lives as adults.
                Karman is not, in the common view, the sole factor conditioning an
                individual's existence: chance, "luck," and the influence of
                deities, planets, and physical laws may also act independently of
                karmic law. (Karman may also block the effects of these.) Belief in
                astrology remains especially strong among merchants. Traditional
                charts made at birth are consulted throughout life by the
                specialist, the jyotis. These individuals designate the correct
                moment (seit) for auspicious events such as birth ceremonies and
                marriages, and use astrological analysis to seek resolutions to
                crisis situations (LEWIS 1984, 151-53). Yet, because karman theory
                can subsume astrology and all other systems of causal explanation,
                it remains the ultimate explanatory framework. Karmic influence is
                felt to be "contagious," or better, socially transmittable: one
                person's karman may affect others. Family members, for example, may
                suffer or prosper due to an elder's karman. This effect is
                especially recognized between husbands and wives (Lewis 1994b).
                Thus a large part of Newar Buddhist religious life is directed
                towards the improvement of karman through punya-making. Pujas
                (rituals) and offerings to religious figures are made with punya
                clearly in mind. Unlike early modern Chinese Buddhists (GREENBLATT
                1975), Newar laity do not keep punya account books, but they are
                aware of the need to make as much punya as possible given their
                economic means. Newar tradition specifies that individuals acquire
                vast stores of punya when they sponsor the great patronage rituals
                (Samyak, Pancadana, All-Monastery Pilgrimage, etc. [GELLNER 1992]),
                and the interviews made it clear that those who sponsor these events
                are primarily motivated by the desire to acquire punya and its
                rewards.
                The Newar laity is also very aware of the need to avoid making bad
                karman. The pancasala (five moral principles: not to kill, steal,
                lie, indulge in sexual misconduct, or take intoxicants) are known by
                almost all adults. The first four rules are significant guidelines
                for individuals; the last is not regarded as absolute in the popular
                view since alcohol is essential to the householders'
                Mahayana-Vajrayana rituals.(15)
                Two of the moral precepts with quite salient effects on karman
                deserve special comment. The precept against violence has made the
                Newars known in their own community and outside for their
                nonviolence (LEWIS 1997). This has affected the history of
                interpersonal relations and is one of the reasons for Kathmandu's
                reputation as a peaceful city. The Buddhist merchants themselves see
                their pacifism as a quality that led to the overthrow of their
                independent state in 1769. Most Newar laity extend their nonviolence
                to animals as well. Although this has not led to widespread
                vegetarianism, most Buddhists do not sacrifice animals for puja or
                kill the rats they trap in their shops (they release them every
                morning outside the town boundaries).
                The precept not to lie, say many Newar laypeople, is impossible to
                observe. To do business in present-day Nepal and bargain effectively
                require, they say, makugu kharn (untrue statements). About a third
                disagreed, however, saying that this view is a recent one and is
                untrue according to the Buddhist teachings. "Business pap," one
                articulate young layman noted, can be seen in the same way that
                Buddhist farmers view their tilling of the soil (and consequent
                killing of insects): a necessity that requires making punya in other
                activities to offset the negative karmic burden.
                Beyond the belief in this ongoing cause-and-effect karman
                relationship, I found no single pattern in the way individuals
                understand how karman "adds up." Most had no deep convictions, and
                were content with the assurance that making punya and avoiding pap
                were the proper religious activities for them.
                Newar laypeople differ over the relationship between punya and puja.
                Merchants view offerings to deities as punya-producing, and most
                felt that the same karmic benefit derived from worshiping the Hindu
                deity Siva as from worshipping the celestial bodhisattva
                Avalokitesvara. The laity's faith in the latter's ability to confer
                karmic benefits on individuals is considered in the next sections.
                Deities
                Only slightly less ubiquitous than the acceptance of the doctrine of
                karman is the belief in the existence of deities. Most Newars adhere
                to a view of a divine hierarchy in which Buddhas are above
                bodhisattvas, and bodhisattvas preside over all cosmic and regional
                deities. These include the Hindu deities, a view expressed
                iconographically in the image of Sristikantha Avalokitesvara, which
                has all deities emerging from its body. (This image was used in the
                questionnaire.) All who receive puja offerings - the Hindu deities
                Ganesa or Krsna, the bodhisattva Padmapani, even stupas - are
                referred to colloquially as dyah (deity).
                Most of the older laity view the world as everywhere populated by
                deities of various sorts. Newar laypeople vary considerably in their
                degree of devotional involvement with the vast pantheon of deities
                in their tradition, but there is still widespread belief in their
                ontological reality. Although a certain undercurrent of skepticism
                does exist among the young, even the doubtful believe in spirits
                called khyah.(16) The deities, like the bodhisattvas (see below) are
                regarded as present in this world, as available for puja offerings,
                and as embodying personalities that can affect the world according
                to their divine desires. Both deities and spirits are believed to
                possess people and speak through them; this is vividly conveyed by
                the mediums (dyah va:mha) that practice healing in the Newar
                communities (GELLNER and SHRESTHA 1993).
                Bodhisattvas
                Bodhisattvas are ideal beings who pursue their own enlightenment
                while working for the spiritual benefit of all (WAYMAN 1971, 398).
                In the Mahayana tradition advanced bodhisattvas may assume either a
                human form or the form of a celestial deity (BASHAM 1981; ROBINSON
                1966).(17) The most revered celestial bodhisattva is Avalokitesvara.
                Avalokitesvara, who resides in the local temples, is described in
                local stories as a powerful being who acts on petitioners' prayers,
                brings the rains, subdues lesser deities, and assists human beings
                in reaching Amitabha's paradise, Sukhavati, where attaining
                enlightenment is guaranteed. (This, as discussed below, is not
                regarded as a plausible rebirth destiny for many individuals today.)
               
                Newars may also see themselves as bodhisattvas if they work to
                fulfill the perfections (paramitas; Wayman 1971, 409) after taking a
                vow to aim for an enlightened mind (bodhicitta) and help all beings
                achieve that goal. In every Vajrayana ritual sponsored by a Newar
                individual, the vajracarya priest generates bodhicitta and repeats
                (albeit in Sanskrit) the bodhisattva vow (Stablein 1976; GELLNER
                1991).
                We have noted that Avalokitesvara is by far the most popular
                celestial divinity among Kathmandu Valley Buddhists. Interestingly,
                only half of the laity recognized Avalokitesvara as a bodhisattva,
                but all knew that the deity is distinctively Buddhist. Most were
                aware of the fact that Avalokitesvara is both male and female, with
                some citing as evidence the dual gender rituals performed yearly in
                the temple image's restoration (Locke 1980, 208-21). Some say that
                their last hope for avoiding hell is the intervention of this deity;
                all laypeople are especially aware of Avalokitesvara's capacity of
                acting out of compassion for and granting assistance to suffering
                humanity, as its familiar name Karunamaya, "The Compassionate,"
                suggests. But the textual ideal of sharing merit with devotees was
                articulated by only several respondents.
                Few Newar laity know the identity of Vajrapini, the bodhisattva who
                protects all Buddhist shrines in the Kathmandu Valley. Fewer still
                know the name Maitreya, the bodhisattva who is supposed to be reborn
                in the future as the next human Buddha.
                Most merchants know the basic teachings on the bodhisattva ideal,
                with the popular image of this figure being that of someone who
                works unselfishly for the good of others. Today a person suffering
                ill-treatment with patience may be referred to, half-jokingly, as a
                bodhisattva. At present, though, most people do not think of
                bodhisattvahood as a relevant ideal for human beings, nor do they
                feel that human bodhisattvas are common in today's world.
                Svarga and Narak (Heaven and Hell)
                The Buddhist merchants strongly believe in spheres of rebirth
                outside of the human realm and outside of "this earth." Visnu's
                paradise Vaikuntha is recognized by most. Sukhavati, the
                above-mentioned Mahayana paradise ruled by Amitabha, is also widely
                recognized; most informants know of it only as a Buddhist paradise
                and are not aware of the textual doctrine that Avalokitesvara is one
                of its reigning bodhisattvas. Because one needs vast quantities of
                punya to be reborn there, most merchants did not think of it as a
                serious possibility for themselves. Several said that even the
                possibility of rebirth in Sukhavati required the performance of
                special rituals (vrata(18)); others mentioned tantric initiation as
                a prerequisite (LEWIS 1996).
                Most Newar laypeople, however, believe that rebirth in narak (hell)
                is a definite possibility for them. Almost half of my informants
                mentioned that to them narak would be rebirth as a sweeper, a
                butcher, or a fisherman.
                Nirvana
                Newar merchants understand nirvana as a state to be reached in a
                distant rebirth after many lifetimes devoted to attaining spiritual
                perfection. Most identified nirvana as an attribute of a Buddha.
                Given the exalted manner in which the Newar laity views the
                celestial bodhisattvas and Buddhas, it is perhaps not surprising
                that only one man (out of thirty-five informants) regarded the
                attainment of nirvana as his own immediate pursuit. Those informants
                who inclined toward the Theravada movement said that such attainment
                was a common subject of the monks' and nuns' sermons. Most, however,
                recognized nirvana was the ultimate goal of all Buddhists, something
                that made them different from Hindus; the latter's highest goal,
                they said, was merely svarga (heaven). Newar laypeople who made this
                distinction knew that Buddhism regards heaven as merely another
                realm for rebirth.
                An operational definition of reaching nirvana was also commonly
                given: one attains nirvana when Yama Raja, the Lord of Death, does
                not see one immediately after death because there is no karman left.
               
                Almost every merchant stated that of the contemporary religious in
                their midst, whether monk, lama, vajracarya, Brahman, or Hindu
                renunciant, none seemed capable of reaching nirvana.
                Other Topics in Buddhist Philosophy
                A topic analysis of the terminology used by questionnaire
                respondents revealed a number of other concepts that are especially
                emphasized in modern Nepali religious discourse.
                Ayur is the life force necessary for existence. One has at birth an
                endowment of ayur based upon one's karman. When one's ayur is
                finished one's time has come, and only divine intervention can
                forestall death.
                Karuna is a quality of compassion associated with celestial
                bodhisattva Padmapani Avalokitesvara, a fact encoded in this deity's
                epithet of Karunamaya. Many spoke of this quality as an ideal they
                should cultivate as followers of the Buddha dharma.
                Paramita is a term that about half the informants knew as a quality
                of the bodhisattva. Several could name the "six paramitas," the six
                perfections: dana (generosity), sila (discipline), ksanti
                (patience), virya (energy or exertion), dhyana (meditation), prajna
                (wisdom).
                Bodhicitta was defined in several ways: as a vow to reach
                enlightenment, as the thought of enlightenment, and as the
                enlightened mind.
                Ekacitta is a term commonly used to describe the ideal state reached
                through meditation. Most Newar laypeople say that the different
                methods prescribed by Theravadin vipassana, Newar Mahayana
                meditations, and Tibetan practices, if properly practiced, all lead
                to ekacitta. To reach nirvana, they say, it is necessary to realize
                this state.
                Questions about the core Mahayana philosophic term sunya led to a
                range of responses. The word is known by almost everyone, for it is
                used to designate "zero." About one-third of the adults knew that as
                a Buddhist term sunya is used to indicate the ultimate
                "no-thing-ness" that marks all phenomenal existence. As such,
                explained the most learned informants (three of thirty-five), it is
                the basis for the classical Mahayana teaching that nirvana and
                samsara (the cycle of birth and death) are the same. Several stated
                that sunya is the source from which the myriad Buddhas,
                bodhisattvas, and deities are manifested. As one middle-aged woman
                said, "There is only one deity and his name is sunya."
                As a final note, it should be mentioned that the Buddhist merchants
                have little knowledge of the Vajrayana symbols that pervade the
                religious geography and are employed in the rituals. Most could not
                offer any symbolic explanation for their vajracarya priests' vajra
                (ritual thunderbolt) or ghanta (bell). Few made any Buddhist
                association with the Srt Devi yantra (mystic diagram); almost
                everyone (thirty-one of thirty-five) said it was "Sarasvati's
                heart." The omnipresent eyes that mark the harmika (the cube above
                the mound on virtually all Newar stupas, shown in almost every Nepal
                tourist brochure) were likewise not widely understood, and few could
                speak about the Mahayana theory of cosmic Buddha emanations that
                they represent.
                Attitudes on Their Own Traditions, Past and Present
                Most Buddhist merchants still view their traditions as something
                unique and valuable. This is partially due to their great antiquity:
                according to the Svayambhu Purana, the authoritative text that
                describes the Kathmandu Valley's origins, Newar Mahayana tradition
                predates even Sakyamuni Buddha. According to the same source, the
                Kathmandu Valley was a special site where the forces of the Buddhist
                cosmos were uniquely manifested; the Newars' proximity to the
                hilltop stupa called Svayambhu, the relic of that revelation, is
                regarded as a special blessing. This legendary scenario is widely
                known, as it is often summarized in modern Mahayana publications.
                All respondents mentioned the decline of traditional observances.
                Many traced the beginning of Newar Buddhism's decline to the loss of
                monasticism and the imposition of caste order, both of which are
                dated in popular opinion to the reign of King Jaya Sthiti Malla (r.
                1382-95). The decline of the priests' competence as teachers and
                ritualists is the subject of many family conversations. In the right
                mood almost everyone could be cynical about the religious
                practitioners in their midst. Newar Buddhists see these developments
                as part of the general decline of civilization in the kali yuga
                (final age) that is predicted in their texts and in pan-Indic
                tradition. A few said that only with the coming of Maitreya, after
                millennia, will this decline be reversed.
                PORTRAITS IN INDIVIDUAL BELIEF
                The religious life histories presented below were selected as a
                representative sample of the spectrum of Buddhist belief in the
                merchant community. To help visualize this complex matrix and
                indicate the full sample's "belief pattern," I have first located
                all of my informants on a grid model, below, that arranges the
                individuals along two axes, one showing the nature of their
                predominant Buddhist belief (Theravada, Mahayana/Vajrayana, or
                Tibetan) and the other showing the extent to which they accept
                either modern "secular" ideologies or non-Buddhist beliefs.(19)
                Manu Raja
                Born in 1926, Manu Raja has seen the transition from the Rana period
                to democratic Nepal (1951). As a manufacturer and merchant of
                ready-made clothing he has adapted well to the changing times, and
                his large family is quite prosperous. Manu Raja (hereafter MR) grew
                up in a family that energetically followed the practices of the
                older Newar Mahayana tradition. He has performed all of the major
                vratas, attended several years of river confluence rituals (tirtha
                puja), and led an all-monastery pilgrimage that was sponsored by his
                family. He has learned a great deal of the lore and legend of his
                tradition and can refer not only to local texts like the Svayambhu
                Purana but also to great pan-Asian texts like the Lalitavistara and
                jatakas to discuss his understandings. He is familiar with secret
                lore on tantric initiations and much of the oral tradition
                associated with recent events. MR still participates actively in
                several religious organizations (guthis), does daily meditation, and
                calls his family priest for many special pujas and for the daily
                reading of the family's Pancaraksa text during the month of Gumla
                (LEWIS 1993a). He is dissatisfied with the present generation of
                vajracaryas, but still calls them for all major rituals.
                MR expresses admiration for the great lamas who still study and
                meditate, but he has only called them once, for a naga (snake deity)
                puja many years ago. He has seen the Theravada movement develop, but
                has, for the most part, kept his distance. He comments, "Although
                Guruma [the nun Dhammavati] is persuasive, the monks bicker and
                compete with one another," and adds, "The Theravada stories are
                good, but sometimes they are not mature enough for me." He did allow
                his daughters to spend their premenstrual ritual confinement (LEWIS
                1984, 276-80) with the nuns of Dharmakirti vihara. MR refers to the
                Theravadins in classical Mahayana terms as sravakas (mere listeners)
                and asserts that the bodhisattva ideal is a higher goal and
                teaching. He disagrees with the secrecy that the vajracaryas insist
                on maintaining for their tantric initiation and teaching. MR sees
                this as another destructive aspect of the present situation: "Such
                secrecy will result in the death of these teachings in our
                tradition." He already knows many aspects of the "inside" Vajrayana
                philosophy, which he has picked up in conversations with friends. He
                hopes to take the tantric initiation sometime soon if it can be
                arranged.
                Although he believes that all meditations lead to the same goal, MR
                still insists that there is a firm contrast between Buddha dharma
                and Hindu dharma. He is one of those who regards heaven as the
                highest goal of Hinduism, an objective much less difficult than the
                Buddhist nirvana.
                Bhima Ratna
                When Bhima Ratna (BR) was a youth he wanted to study in order to
                pursue his interests in music and religion. But his father said that
                as the oldest son he had to carry on the family grain business, so
                this is the calling BR has followed throughout his sixty-six years.
                BR has done many vratas and river confluence pilgrimages (tirtha
                jatra). About fifteen years ago he visited all the different
                monasteries and other shrines around the Kathmandu Valley in a
                two-year program led by a prominent vajracarya, who told stories
                from the Newar tradition about each place. From this, BR says, he
                learned most of what he knows of his tradition. BR is one of the
                regulars in the caste's devotional music group and one of its best
                musicians. He has also worked hard to maintain his family's
                involvement in seven other religious organizations.
                BR does Mahayana meditation daily but has not taken tantric
                initiation. The latter does not interest him: "It is too expensive
                and the vajracaryas know too little. I am content without it." In
                spite of this indifference and a resigned sense of dissatisfaction
                with the vajracaryas ("In my youth they were as good as the lamas;
                now they are not"), BR has made Buddhist teachings and the details
                of religious life his lifelong hobby. He reads many of the books
                published by vajracarya pandits and Theravadin authors and always
                has his ears open for religious programs in town, be they Theravada
                gatherings, events at the school for Vajracarya boys, or Tibetan
                ceremonies. BR can recite long devotional verses from memory and
                identify many deities using the iconographic verses. He knows the
                directional Buddhas, their consorts, and is especially devoted to
                the goddess Annapurna.
                BR maintains his ties with the traditional Newar Vajrayana rituals
                and caste organizations (guthis), but these have not satisfied him.
                Although he sometimes attends Tibetan and vajracarya programs, BR
                now leans heavily toward the Theravadin movement. From childhood
                onward he has attended programs at the first monastery. Having read
                their publications and heard many sermons by the monks, BR's
                intellectual understanding of Buddhism seems shaped largely by
                Theravadin teachings.
                BR might say that identifying him with the Theravadins is too
                strong. He emphasizes the continuities between the different
                Buddhist traditions, noting that karman is the chief factor involved
                in religious life and that whatever program of meditation is
                followed the goal is the same. He hesitates to make a final
                commitment to any one approach, although he does not extend this
                relativism to the Hindu dharma. Still, he does point out several
                differences between Vajrayana and Theravada Buddhism that are
                important to him, and that reveal the influence of the Theravadin
                critique of Vajrayana Buddhism. Mahayana Buddhism, he says, leads
                laymen to seek rebirth in Sukhavati, whereas Theravada teaches that
                nirvana is possible in this lifetime. His second criticism is that
                the Vajrayanists emphasize worship of the deities far too much:
                "Buddha dharma should be first of all concerned with improving an
                individual's mind and karman; it should be centered on meditation
                and not on worshipping deities."
                Sujata Kumari
                For the past ten years Sujata Kumari (SK) has been one of the young
                women most active in organizing and orchestrating Theravadin
                Dharmakirti Vihara activities. Although she married several years
                ago (at twenty-five) and moved into her husband's house, she
                continues to enjoy the freedom of a full-time job in a government
                institute. With an M.A. and a distinguished record of achievement,
                she is one of the top young women in the ranks of government service
                in Nepal.
                SK has been interested in Buddhism from early childhood. As a young
                woman in her religiously active natal home she spent many mornings
                preparing the elaborate offering plates that are part of the daily
                household pujas. After years of questioning elders and getting
                explanations that never satisfied her intellectual curiosity, SK had
                by her early teens come to dismiss Vajrayana as superstition and
                Mahayana as blind faith.
                When she began going to Dharmakirti she was pleased to find clear
                information on Buddhist philosophy. She soon started attending
                lectures, joining study groups, and reading Theravadin literature,
                and became a close friend of the charismatic nuns. With several
                friends she eventually went on religious retreats to remote
                Theravada monasteries that emphasized study and vipassana
                meditation.
                To SK, the Theravada claim of being "pure Buddhism" is a powerful
                truth. The deemphasis of ritual, the straightforward analysis of
                life and attachment, and the compatibility she sees between modern
                ideas and doctrine all satisfy her educated sensibilities.
                Recently, Sujata has come to suspect that her dismissal of Vajrayana
                was premature. With the doctrinal framework of the Theravada
                tradition as a starting point, she has become curious about
                Vajrayana teachings, and is reading some Western authors on the
                subject.
                Mani
                Mani does not like the Theravada movement because, he says, its
                leaders are out to destroy older Newar culture. Unlike his father,
                who is a fairly regular supporter, Mani derides the monks as pale
                imitations of the classical ideal. Instead of begging for their
                alms, says Mani, they live very comfortable lives surrounded by
                material comfort. Moreover, they are quarrelsome, proud, and, in the
                case of a few leaders, morally suspect.
                Although he is only twenty-five, Mani recalls their family's beloved
                vajracarya priest, the late Suklananda. Suklananda was able to teach
                with clarity and imbue the rituals with special meaning, and, above
                all else, was devoted to living in accordance with the Buddha
                dharma. Mani severely criticizes the modern vajracaryas, but knows
                that their fallen standards do not mean that the Vajrayana tradition
                is similarly degraded.
                Mani runs a successful new shop that sells clothes and cottage
                industry products to tourists. He is well read and aware of the many
                "new winds of change" from the outside world. Dissatisfied with the
                religious movements around him, he has constructed his own religious
                view from many sources. The gods, he says, are all just
                manifestations of one superior deity, mere incarnations that act as
                "policemen" of the world and enforce the karmic destiny of
                individuals. They are all inferior to Buddhas and bodhisattvas,
                whose actions can also affect human life.
                But on certain days Mani is skeptical of all of the old
                philosophical concepts. As he once said to me, "You tell me who ever
                came back from the dead to verify these things. All teachings are
                only ideas constructed by men. They may all just be stories, for we
                cannot really know for sure if they are true." Ultimately, however,
                he sides with his tradition: "Or else why would past generations
                have developed all of these ideas and the elaborate pujas? There
                must be something to them."
                Dharma Ratna
                For most of his fifty-five years Dharma Ratna (DR) has been a master
                carpenter, an occupation not common anymore among the merchant
                caste. From his youth DR has been drawn to the Buddha dharma - in
                his childhood he participated in such traditional observances as a
                year-long vrata and became a member of his caste's music group (he
                remained one of Asan's finest senior musicians). His doctrinal
                understanding began to mature when at the age of fifteen he took an
                initiation from a Tibetan lama into the worship-meditation on the
                celestial bodhisattva Amoghapasa Lokesvara. Soon after this
                experience he studied the Namasamgiti text with a local vajracarya
                teacher and began to read other philosophically oriented works. By
                the time he was thirty DR had taken another initiation, to
                Aparamita, given by a Tibetan lama living in the town of Patan. He
                has worshipped and meditated according to these initiations every
                day since.
                DR has continued his study of Buddhist texts, and can quote from the
                Satasahasrika Prajnaparamita and discuss the concept of sunya in the
                style of a learned teacher. On his own he learned the priest's
                central rite, the guru mandala puja (GELLNER 1991), every verse of
                which he can chant; he also knows the longer formulae (dharani) for
                the worship of many deities. DR can explain the philosophical
                foundations of all of the major Vajrayana rituals and has written on
                what he has learned over the years in a collection of commentaries
                that now runs to over a thousand pages in three volumes. I am sure
                that in other circumstances (e.g., in Tibet), DR would have become a
                monastic teacher of the highest caliber.
                DR criticizes the Theravadins from the classical standpoint of the
                Mahayana: the monks are just sravakas; they don't know sunyata;
                their teachings are not sufficient to lead the way to nirvana.
                Sakyamuni Buddha, he says, taught less public doctrines and the
                Theravadins have only the simplest, least developed of his
                teachings.
                About fifteen years ago DR began studying informally with one of the
                old vajracarya masters, Jog Muni. Although he did not take a tantric
                initiation from him - something he would like to do but cannot
                afford - he did study the philosophical-meditative principles of
                advanced Vajrayana practice. There are very few other vajracaryas
                that DR respects; he invariably falls into disputes with his family
                priest because of the latter's sloppiness in ritual performance and
                his ignorance of Vajrayana doctrine.
                The essence of Buddhism, says DR, is found through meditation
                leading to the realization of sunya. For this, "initiation and
                teachings" (diksa and siksa) are necessary. Buddhist ethics, he
                says, is based on the realization that all beings are related and
                should be treated as our mothers and fathers. DR sees the Western
                world as a morally bankrupt realm where people become cruder and
                less capable of cultivating insight. "Despite all its material
                comforts, your country [the United States] moves further away from
                santi (inner peace). And so, when our children here learn English,
                they lose their inclination towards the dharma."
                DR is bitterly critical of his own society and especially of the
                rich Newar merchants who claim that they no longer have the time to
                meditate and observe the old traditions. "They waste the rare
                opportunity of their birth status. They will be reborn again in low
                castes or worse," he says. DR is likewise embittered about the turn
                away from the Buddha dharma he sees everywhere in the market. "Here,
                in our society, our wealth was the dharma, and now it is being
                thrown in the rubbish bin." He feels isolated in his knowledge of
                the finer points of Mahayana philosophy and Vajrayana practice, and
                once complained, "There is really no one left for me to talk to."
                When I was leaving Nepal in 1982, DR was very ill with diabetes. He
                told me that his main concern in life now was to prepare for dying,
                explaining, "If I can maintain, undistracted, my concentration in
                sunya and hold steadfast to my mantra at death, then I will not be
                reborn."
                Karkot Man
                Karkot Man (KM) was one of the most loved men in the northeastern
                city market called Asan. When he died of cancer in 1980 at the age
                of fifty-six, the Uray community was deeply shaken. KM represents a
                complex believer who embraced a diverse range of beliefs and did so
                with a distinctly modern attitude.
                In the mid-1940s KM's father started Kathmandu's first modern
                optical business, a lucrative trade that his son excelled at. The
                family has also been known for its musical talents since the time
                his father organized and directed dramatic musical performances for
                the Ranas. He and his brothers all learned the different musical
                traditions that their father imported for this endeavor, mostly from
                Calcutta. KM learned dance, drama, and singing, but the violin was
                the interest that he pursued throughout his life. Although he taught
                himself using English-language books on classical Western technique,
                KM became a master of the Indian devotional style. KM was known and
                loved for showing no egotistic pride in this talent; he would play
                for anyone and did not insist on payment or special circumstances.
                KM's religious biography began in Benares, where he was sent for a
                year to complete his SLC (high school) diploma. After his return his
                family noted the change in him regarding spiritual matters. Soon
                afterwards he met Sivapuribaba, a Hindu holy man who had gained a
                considerable Newar following and organized a small asram (commune)
                near the national Hindu temple complex, Pasupati.(20) KM visited him
                as frequently as possible, studied his teachings, and made donations
                until the saint's death in 1965 (at the age, say his devotees, of
                136). Sivapuribaba taught a version of Vedantic Hinduism that values
                all religious traditions, East and West, as partial revelations of
                the ultimate truth. He also taught vegetarianism, a practice KM
                followed the rest of his life.
                This attachment to Sivapuribaba did not, however, result in KM
                limiting the breadth of his religious activity. He patronized most
                religious movements in Kathmandu and was always doing something "for
                the dharma." KM was renowned among his friends (and not infrequently
                scolded by his family!) for his seemingly limitless energy in these
                matters. At home KM insisted that his family adhere to their own
                Newar Buddhist traditions: he was active in all the Buddhist musical
                groups, had his children take the traditional Mahayana initiations,
                and gave special attention to the vajracaryas' ritual performances
                at his home. Though never interested in tantric initiation, KM was
                very active in the Theravadin movement. He supported the first
                monastery from its earliest days and was a leader in introducing
                Newar merchants to the reformist school's activities. The Sri Lankan
                monk Narada Thera, who visited Nepal intermittently at the time of
                the Rana persecution in 1945 (and intermittently thereafter), was
                another influential figure throughout KM's life. Right before his
                death, KM made a pilgrimage to Burma and Thailand with a Theravadin
                group.
                Despite this involvement, KM would not abandon Sivapuribaba's
                Vedantic position or concede that his ultimate religious identity
                was Theravadin. He was not impressed by the local monks but still
                supported them. As he said, "They are not enlightened, but they are
                respected for they are the mouthpiece for spreading the Buddha's
                dharma at this time." Unlike many of his merchant contemporaries who
                make invidious comparisons between the Hindu and Buddhist
                traditions, KM argued for the spiritual vitality of the Hindu path.
                He would always insist to Theravada and Mahayana adherents that they
                had not grasped the spirituality of the Hindu dharma. He constantly
                made donations to Hindu renunciants who stopped at his shop and even
                offered them lodging in his house.
                KM's ties to India also remained strong over the years. He was an
                avid fan of the Indian cinema and an importer of ayurveda medicines.
                In 1973 he traveled all over India for six months on a pilgrimage of
                religious sites; living simply, he played his violin for lodging and
                traveled with Hindu ascetics. KM subscribed to various Vedantin
                publications and disseminated them to friends, and he read every
                work of the modern teacher Rajneesh. Just as some Newar merchants
                were cultural middlemen for Tibetan traditions, KM linked his
                community with the religious movements of modern India.
                Given this vast range of interests and activities plus his love for
                his own traditional Buddhism, KM would not limit himself to any one
                dharma. As he said, "My dharma is not from any one tradition."
                Kaji
                From childhood onward Kaji has had an unusual life. He has never
                attended school. His mentally disturbed mother died when he was ten,
                and his father was unable to support his family adequately. When
                Kaji was nineteen his father was struck by typhoid, and Kaji had to
                take responsibility for the family himself. He has tried his hand at
                various enterprises: sewing cloth shoes, making chupples and kites,
                selling used military clothing, and bookselling. Only the last has
                proved workable, and until recently the family barely scraped by,
                often with the help of generous friends and his wife's modest
                teacher's salary.
                As a youth Kaji became involved in Newar political protests against
                the government's dissolution of parliamentary democracy in 1961.
                This led him into circles interested in Communist thought, so that
                he began reading (a self-taught skill) the works of Marx, Mao, and
                Lenin in Nepali translation. Kaji recalls how his philosophical
                outlook crystallized at that time: "I realized that anything I
                cannot see with my eyes and verify I would not believe in. From this
                year I refused to bow to any image and refused to do puja, something
                I haven't done to this day" (1982). Thus when his father, delirious
                with typhoid fever, claimed to be possessed by various gods, Kaji
                did not believe it. Kaji's "conversion" followed several years of
                active religious interest that touched upon the Bahai faith, and
                later, Christianity, both of which had been introduced into the
                market by Newar friends with ties to Darjeeling. He ultimately
                rejected both and chose politics. In 1965, when the government
                banned Newari-language radio broadcasts, Kaji led organized groups
                to protest this policy. Risking arrest, he gave speeches all over
                the Kathmandu Valley and made friends in many circles. He also
                started a bookstore in the small resthouse outside the entrance to
                the courtyard where he lives.
                Kaji still maintains this business. The majority of his inventory of
                over 500 publications is in Newari, but he also carries Chinese,
                Russian, Korean, and Cuban selections. Kaji's bookstore is one of
                the landmarks of the Asan Tol market and a center for the Newar
                intellectuals of Kathmandu, so that hundreds of people stop by to
                chat every day. It is the place to glean the latest news and find
                out what is really happening. In addition to being a source of
                up-to-date information, Kaji lends a sympathetic ear to many people
                with problems. During the unrest that swept Nepal in 1979 and after
                the 1980/81 reforms that expanded the democratic participation in
                elections, Kaji's stall once again became a center of political
                organizing and campaigning.
                Kaji's religious views are based on his commitment to positivism and
                modern science. He likes to find rational interpretations for what
                he considers ostensibly unfounded beliefs. For example, he says
                that, "All of the deities, all thirty-three hundred thousand of
                them, exist nowhere else but in the body." Kaji does believe in
                karmic retribution, and says that the atman is a psychological
                assumption necessary to explain the fact of consciousness and the
                operation of karman. He remains agnostic on the question of rebirth.
               
                Ethics and social justice in modern Nepal, he feels, are only
                possible after the rejection of the hierarchy and discrimination of
                the caste system. Kaji wants Newars to modernize their ideas and
                improve their material state. He is the dominant person in his
                courtyard, not as a religious leader, but as the "local mayor" who
                enforces modern standards of hygiene and calls upon all families,
                rich and poor, to participate in the yearly round of activities that
                are part of their cultural endowment.
                Despite his rejection of traditional belief, and in seeming
                contradiction to his personal refusal to take up a religious role,
                Kaji is fervent in his love of Newar tradition and in his efforts to
                preserve Newar language and culture. In 1981, for example, he
                organized and assisted in the complete restoration of the main
                vihara shrine. His identity as a Newar is very important to him, and
                he speaks often about the task of retaining the things that make
                Newar culture unique and great. Kaji relates his religious
                agnosticism, activism, and Marxism to his notion of the bodhisattva:
                "In these times, the good Communist is the greatest bodhisattva."
                SUMMARY AND CONCLUSIONS
                Having seen the terms and possibilities of individual belief in an
                Indic Buddhist community, let us now summarize our findings and
                consider the study's wider significance for a number of fields.
                Buddhist Pluralism and Unity of Belief
                Confronted with such fundamental diversity, we have to discard any
                essentialist conception of Islam. Instead, Islam has to be
                understood as the totality of all symbolic forms considered Islamic
                by people regarding themselves as Muslims; i.e., as an essentially
                unbounded complex of symbols and principles which on most any issue
                offer a wide range of possible, even opposing conceptions, meanings,
                attitudes, and modes of thought, each formulated with sufficient
                fluidity to allow ever more spinoffs, elaborations, and
                interpretations. (LOEFFLER 1988, 246-47)
                Like Iranian Islam, Newar Buddhism affords a nearly unbounded range
                of interpretations to individuals as they adaptively construct their
                belief standpoints. Several summary observations can be made on the
                nature of contemporary Newar Buddhist belief. First, most of the
                community has not drifted substantially from adherence to Buddhism,
                and only the very rare individual has been drawn away to other
                faiths or secular ideologies. The belief in divine bodhisattvas,
                karman, and meditation has not declined significantly. Although
                Newar merchants are, to varying degrees, disenchanted with their
                vajracarya priests and are moving away from practicing Buddhism
                solely through them, every individual asked still insisted that
                he/she remained firmly grounded in the Buddha dharma. Almost as
                strong is the belief in the existence of divine beings, "Buddhist"
                and "Hindu." It is noteworthy that such beliefs remain despite the
                recent popularity of Communist political parties (LEWIS 1997).
                Second, there has been a general shift among the younger generation
                toward the modernist Theravada form of belief and practice. Third,
                interest in Tibetan Buddhist devotions has grown only modestly.
                Finally, the merchant families still support their vajracarya samgha
                out of loyalty to the traditional Vajrayana rituals, but they
                increasingly (and, again, generationally) lack an understanding of
                the doctrines underlying these practices. The subtleties of the
                older Mahayana-Vajrayana tradition, with its abstruse philosophical
                critiques, extensive pantheon, and esoteric symbolism, are now clear
                to only a very few individuals in Kathmandu. Its "center" has not
                held. Despite the erosion of this elite culture, a more rudimentary
                "core tradition" of belief endures: just as the ancient religious
                geography still provides the focal sites for the community's
                devotional practices, so do the most elementary Buddhist teachings
                persist as landmarks informing the merchants' understanding of self,
                life, death, and spiritual destiny.
                Although this study has been concerned primarily with merchants,(21)
                it suggests several concluding observations about scholarly
                representations of Buddhism, method in the study of religious
                belief, and modernization in Buddhist contexts.
                The Domestication of Mahayana Relativity Doctrine
                In the variations of belief among individual merchants and the
                widespread acceptance of many levels of praxis it is plausible to
                see a successful domestication of classical Mahayana Buddhist
                relativity doctrine. The Mahayana critique of all utterances is
                accompanied by the corollary acceptance of varying belief
                understandings. Newar Buddhists legitimately formulate spiritual
                paths and views differently. The common ethos of intellectual
                tentativeness, even among those quite skilled at "discussing the
                dharma," supports this conclusion. I suggest that this cultural
                orientation and ethos may be characteristic of Buddhist societies
                generally. As SOUTHWOLD has concluded from his study of Theravada
                Buddhists in Sri Lanka:
                The tenets of Buddhism can be broadly ordered along a continuum
                ranging from the most basic and indispensable to the most accessory
                and optional; as I have remarked, such distinctions are reflected in
                the cognitive attitudes of at least some Buddhists. For example, it
                is basic to hold that rebirth, determined by karman, is real; that
                nirvana is a real state attainable by human beings; that the Buddha
                and others have attained it; that the Buddha's teaching provides
                efficacious directions for attaining it. But it is optional to hold
                that, e.g., participation in rites is conducive to attainment [and]
                that the services of Buddhist clergy are essential at funeral and
                mortuary ceremonies. (1979, 632)
                Community Belief and the Writing of Buddhist History
                Religious systems are not texts.... Obvious examples include ritual,
                a wide array of non-ritual religious practices, and nearly all
                iconography. The insistence on construing all cultural phenomena
                along textual lines inevitably blinds inquirers to many of their
                non-linguistic features. (LAWSON and MCCAULEY 1993, 214)
                Our findings from Nepal undermine any analysis that centers the
                historical dynamics of Buddhism on the interplay of philosophical
                doctrines within the literary canon. Buddhist pluralism in modern
                Nepal, while admittedly complex, probably resembles the state of
                Buddhism in North India after the Gupta era (700-1200), when
                Theravadin, Mahayana, and Vajrayana lineages were all present. The
                Newar case suggests that lay patrons have always sought to support
                precept-observing Buddhist monks, ritualists, and scholars living in
                their localities. To center an understanding of the tradition either
                synchronic or historical - in texts of interest only to the literary
                elite is to ignore the wider, more pervasive Buddhist culture of
                assimilation. The few intellectuals in our study who did explore
                doctrinal possibilities did so unimpeded, and this long-standing
                efflorescence of human thought is a historical continuity in Nepal,
                as it is elsewhere. Nevertheless, Buddhist communities cohere far
                less around philosophy than around the shared ideology and rituals
                associated with merit-making. Interpreters of Buddhism should heed
                the comparative insights of J. PELIKAN on Christian tradition in
                Europe:
                The authentic tradition of orthodoxy was not a matter to be decided
                by an intellectually formulated rule of faith set forth by scholars
                and theologians, but by the rule of prayer of the thousands of
                silent believers who worshipped in the spirit of truth. (1984, 30)
                Belief and Nonbelief
                The fieldwork for this study, the data analysis involved, and the
                experience of teaching world religions for over a decade have all
                convinced me of the necessity of investigating disbelief as part of
                any exploration of belief. Robert MURPHY's description of this
                dialectical process should have special force in framing the
                sociological study of belief:
                The critical attitude is one that examines what constitutes and lies
                beyond the parameters of any series of events that we wish to treat
                as facts.... Relatedness always implies a universe of nonrelations,
                and membership rules are predicated upon rules of exclusion.
                Contained in every opening outward is a tendency toward closure
                within, and in every bond, a series of alienations (1971, 154).
                Since skepticism toward all assertions is a trait actually
                encouraged in certain Buddhist texts,(22) it is sometimes difficult
                in Newar research to separate "traditional" doubt from the
                skepticism advocated by modern systems of thought. If studies of
                belief can identify the content and scope of local traditions of
                disbelief, they can give a more precise indication of the depth (or
                strength) of belief in the community.(23)
                Buddhism and Modernity
                Finally, one must acknowledge the clear, ongoing efforts of Newar
                devotees to retain their Buddhist beliefs even in the context of the
                modern stress on scientific and Marxist thought. Contrary to the
                predictions of certain modernity theorists,(24) Newar Buddhists
                continue to express firm loyalty to core beliefs, meditate in
                increasing numbers, perform time-consuming rituals, and draw upon
                Buddhist ethics for guidance even as they absorb new technologies
                and adapt to rapidly changing circumstances. The Nepalese merchant
                case study supports the conclusion that Buddhist doctrinal and
                ritual traditions remain an enduring refuge for individuals and
                communities in Asia and provide proven resources for those
                contending with the chaotic choices, crises, and questions raised by
                modern change.
                NOTES
                * I use the terms "Newar laity," "Buddhist merchants," and the caste
                name "Uray" synonymously, unless qualified. For an overview of this
                community, see my article in GELLNER and QUIGLEY 1995. Technical
                terms from Sanskrit or Newari are defined upon first use and
                transliterated according to the system specified in this work. The
                author would like to express his gratitude for funding from the
                Fulbright Fellowship program that supported fieldwork in Nepal from
                1979 to 1982, and for a Holy Cross Bachelor-Ford grant that
                supported subsequent analysis and writing.
                1. Among the few exceptions are LOEFFLER's study of male Iranians in
                a rural village (1988) and the surveys conducted by SPIRO in Burma
                (1970) and GOMBRICH in Sri Lanka (1971). Sociologists of religion
                attempting to make belief pattern connections with
                non-Judeo-Christian faiths have had to rely on early, biased
                representations or generalize from the limited information
                ethnographers have provided on the subject. This is a problem that
                extends from Weber and Durkheim onward (TAMBIAH 1973; GELLNER 1982).
                As GEERTZ noted long ago, "Just what does 'belief' mean in a
                religious context? Of all the problems surrounding attempts to
                conduct anthropological analyses of religion, this is one that has
                perhaps been most troublesome and therefore the most often avoided"
                (1966, 24-25). LOEFFLER in his important monograph echoes his dismay
                at the neglect of this subject (1988, 247), rightly criticizing
                Geertz's own practice of bracketing off pluralism and "put[ting]
                aside at once the tone of the village atheist and that of the
                village preacher" (GEERTZ 1966, 39).
                2. Much discussion on Buddhism by sociologists remains flawed by a
                lack of understanding of Buddhism's diversity and the assumption
                that texts alone can be used to construct a consensus belief pattern
                (e.g., ORRU and WANG 1992). This is a point made by scholars on both
                sides of the field of Buddhology (e.g., TAMBIAH 1970; SOUTHWOLD
                1978; HERBRECHTSMEIER 1993).
                3. These include the work of Siegfried Lienhard, Michael Allen,
                Gerard Toffin, John Locke, and David Gellner.
                4. In other studies I have emphasized Newar-Tibetan relationships as
                an element in the history of regional Buddhism (LEWIS and JAMSPAL
                1988; LEWIS 1989b, 1993b, and 1993c).
                5. Just as the Sanskrit texts found in the Kathmandu Valley in the
                nineteenth century were the landmark discovery that informed modern
                scholars of the existence of Indie Buddhist texts outside the
                boundaries of Southern or Theravada Buddhism (MITRA 1971), so too do
                the multitude of Mahayana Vajrayana traditions still observed in the
                Valley point to an alternative pattern of Buddhist sociocultural
                adaptation once found across India and Central Asia.
                6. The first research is presented in a religious ethnography (LEWIS
                1984). Subsequent visits were made in 1987, 1991, 1993, and 1994.
                7. In a forthcoming article on the uses of photography in the study
                of religion (GREENWAY and LEWIS 1997), I outline the methodology in
                more detail, presenting photograph and note page examples from this
                questionnaire. The 112 pictures proved to be excellent stimuli for
                eliciting responses. In some cases the main concern was the
                recognition of a photograph's subject matter; for example, a set of
                deity pictures used images from local temples, monasteries, and
                resthouses to see if an individual could recognize the
                Hindu-Buddhist pantheon. In other cases pictures were used in
                conjunction with more abstract inquiries to heighten the informant's
                awareness of the specific issue being asked about. Thus, instead of
                simply asking respondents what they thought of untouchability, I
                would show them a picture of untouchable sweepers at work in a local
                courtyard. Associated questions could then be keyed to these images,
                e.g., "Does karman really determine rebirth in this caste?"
                8. Since the questionnaires were administered in 1981-82, the
                findings presented in this article are somewhat dated. A
                generational shift has occurred (two of the old men and one old
                woman have died); modernization has increased in pace and in scope,
                ushering in such changes as the revolution of 1990 that established
                a multiparty democracy and reduced the king to a constitutional
                monarch. I attempt to discuss the impact of these factors briefly in
                LEWIS 1995b and 1997.
                9. It was very common for individuals to repeat a story or an
                explanation heard from a Buddhist teacher in response to an issue I
                would raise. When I would then ask if they really believed this
                explanation, their response would be "Well, how can I be sure?....
                This is what I have heard [or read].... How to know for certain?"
                When pressed, or in offhand comments, some would add that all
                accounts from ancient tradition were just human ideas and therefore
                unproven. This ethos is consistent with my findings on intellectual
                culture among the Newar Buddhist merchants: there is no textual
                basis nor doctrinal press to reach a common philosophical center. I
                return to this issue in the conclusion.
                10. For example, almost every Uray family has retained the services
                of its vajracarya purohit for performing life-cycle rituals and
                yearly festival observances. Only a few staunch Theravadin devotees
                view the issue in terms of choosing an exclusive Buddhist identity.
                11. Living in the capital city of modern Nepal, the Buddhist
                merchants have had contact with many of the world's modern
                sociointellectual movements. But it is easy to assume a false depth
                to an individual's awareness, since outside intellectual ideas are
                known only through foreign languages or often-problematic
                translations. Individuals sometimes end up holding incongruous
                worldviews, as when modern Communist leaders (and supporters)
                continue to perform traditional Hindu or Buddhist rituals.
                12. My goal in constructing this cumulative portrait of consensus is
                well articulated in the recent essay by LAWSON and MCCAULEY:
                Our principal theoretical object is the knowledge that participants
                share about both the relevant system of ritual acts and the
                accompanying conceptual scheme on the assumption that an account of
                this shared system of knowledge will go a long way toward explaining
                many of the behaviors of the participants that it inspires. (1993,
                218)
                13. Those familiar with Buddhism through its scholastic literature
                (or through typical college coursework) will find this discussion of
                an atman in stark contrast to the classical notion of anatman,
                "non-soul." By contrast, scholars familiar with Buddhist practice
                across Asia are well aware that the "soul notion" is common
                everywhere, as in the Burmese leikpya (butterfly soul; SPIRO 1970,
                85), the Thai khwan (spirit; TAMBIAH 1970, 58) or the Chinese
                hun/p'o (soul; TEISER 1988). How karman operates without a soul
                medium for next-lifetime transmission has been a central issue in
                Buddhist scholastic debate from the earliest discourses (e.g. THOMAS
                1933, 93-106; SPIRO 1970, 84-91). This may be an indication of how
                peripheral philosophers were to the mainstream of popular Buddhist
                thought.
                14. Only 40% of my informants believed that the vajracaryas should
                be ranked above the Brahmans; 50% said Brahmans should be considered
                first, and 10% said that among Buddhist castes all are equal.
                15. The same acceptance of alcohol consumption is reported in Sri
                Lanka, though there the tradition is Theravadin (SOUTHWOLD 1979,
                639).
                16. Some attribute the current lack of spirit sightings to the
                introduction of widespread electric lighting, which, it is said, has
                caused the khyah to flee the old settlements.
                17. Some informants suggested that the "Hindu" deities should really
                be considered bodhisattvas. Others, including several learned
                scholars, asserted that the Hindu deities like Siva and Krsna merely
                controlled their domains, but celestial bodhisattvas actively sought
                out those in need of their compassionate service. The lack of
                consensus on this fundamental issue indicates the failure of the
                Newar samgha to articulate the textual teachings clearly.
                18. See LOCKE 1987 and LEWIS 1989a.
                19. I have used pseudonyms in this section.
                20. This teacher has also gained the interest of Westerners, who
                have written on his life (BENNETT 1975).
                21. It is important to note that the data utilized is confined to
                Kathmandu's merchant caste, the Uray; because of the caste's high
                class and caste-group boundaries, the sample is limited to five
                percent of Kathmandu Newars. A study of belief patterns in a lower
                caste (e.g., among farmers, the largest Newar caste) would doubtless
                yield somewhat different results, particularly in terms of greater
                Hindu-Buddhist syncretism and an absence of esoteric doctrinal
                awareness in community discourse.
                22. Faith in the Buddha's path as a way to escape the darkness of
                craving and ignorance is encouraged in other texts (DUTT 1940).
                23. I would echo the anthropologist's usual critique of "hit-and run
                opinion surveys," as these encourage believer-positive responses;
                furthermore, this type of research methodology does not dwell long
                enough with individuals to sample the ambiguities and expressions of
                disbelief.
                24. "If cognitive desires, for example, are satisfied by science; if
                substantive desires are satisfied by technology; or if expressive
                desires are satisfied by politics or art or magic, religion should,
                by that extent, be less important.... In short, the importance of
                religion would be expected to vary inversely with the importance of
                other, projective and realistic, institutions." (SPIRO 1966, 116)
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