A Buddhist Sunday – Chusya Bahal

Chusya Bahal is a Buddhist temple not too far from the busy tourist area of Kathmandu (around the corner from Chhetrapati Chowk), but once inside the inner courtyard you enter in an oasis of peace and tranquility.

The entrance is guarded by two formidable lions and Prajñāpāramitā (Prajña: Wisdom and Pāramitā: Perfection) is displayed above the door.

Just inside a collection of black-and-white pictures show what the bahal looked like before it was renovated. It is still unclear to me how much damage it sustained in the recent earthquakes.

The courtyard is decorated with the traditional brick paving and several small stūpas and Buddha statues.

Directly across from the entrance is the shrine that contains a statue of the main deity (also Prajñapāramitā).

I have been to Chusya Bahal on many occasions and still marvel at the serene beauty of this building. I have cursed at it as well as the doorways (and the candle in front of the main shrine) are very low and not build for someone of average European height.

In Chusya Bahal I had my first real introduction into Newari Buddhism. I have been able to observe and participate in the ceremonies and rituals of the Newari Bajracharyas (or Vajracharyas – Newari Buddhist Priest).

As a practitioner of Tibetan Buddhism the similarities between the Newari Vajrayana practices and those of the Tibetan Schools of Buddhism are stunning.

The main difference seems to be the language. In Tibet everything was translated in Tibetan, but the Bajracharyas still practise in Sanskrit.

During ceremonies in the Tibetan schools, a lot of the rituals seem to be visualised, but the Newari priests love to trow with rice and get there hands (and foreheads) dirty with all sorts of colourful mixtures. After a Newari ceremony there is usually enough tikka on the forehead (red and/or yellow dye mixed with rice or clay) to make it look like a nasty shot wound.

Both traditions still like to be loud. There is enough chanting, drumming and bell ringing in both. Although the Tibetan rituals seem a lot more compressed and/or simplified, it seems to me the two share a common history.

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