Resilience and Reinvigoration: Histories of the Buddhism of the Nepal Valley

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Grimes, Samuel, Religious Studies - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Nemec, John, AS-Religious Studies (RELI), University of Virginia

The Buddhism of the Nepal Valley, typically labeled “Newar” Buddhism, is largely overlooked in the overall study of Buddhism. When it does receive mention by a non-specialist, it is invoked as a relic, a kind of fossil of late “Indian” Buddhism. This dissertation argues that the Buddhism of the Nepal Valley is characterized by its ability to adapt to change, often in the form of external pressure, and cannot be uncritically identified with late Indian Buddhism. This argument is made by examining those Nepalese Buddhists that adapted, or failed to adapt, to wider social changes in two periods—the 13th century and the present day. It is shown that the practices and exegetical tradition of those who displayed resilience to the shifting religious landscape of 13th-century Nepal survived up to the present day. Nepalese Buddhists that were unwilling to adapt, instead favoring stubborn conservatism, were swiftly forgotten, their positions unimpactful. In the present day a reinvigoration of the Newar Buddhist tradition is underway. Those Newar Buddhists that display the most flexible positions have experienced increased success, while those attempting to preserve a staid, conservative tradition, are experiencing decreasing patronage and influence. In a way that mirrors the 13th century, those Newar Buddhist who recognize that changes must be adapted to, and resilience must be displayed, are seeing their respective influences grown, and witnessing a reinvigoration of their tradition as a direct result of their willingness to widen the parameters regarding who may participate in the tradition. Far from the ossified relic often presented in broad Buddhist Studies scholarship, the success of the Buddhist tradition in the Nepal Valley is due to its resilience in the face of pressure, and reinvigoration when it manages to adapt to those pressures accordingly.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Nepal, Newar, Buddhism, Tibet, Tantra, India, Hinduism, Sanskrit
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