Past as Foundation

The history of our relations could be traced back to the 5th century when sages and saints engaged themselves in visiting far and wide in the pursuit of knowledge and peace. The actual historical interactions must have started far before that time. The friendly exchanges of China and Nepal have since increased with emissaries of the two countries visiting each other’s land frequently. Trading, people-to-people contact and relations at various political levels were maintained during all dynasties of Nepal and China. People of both countries have continuously crossed the borders since ancient times to buy and sell the goods of daily needs, which had ultimately become a part of their daily life.Our legends tell of a miraculous lotus, planted by a past Buddha, which blossomed from the lake that once covered the Kathmandu valley. The lotus mysteriously radiated a brilliant light, and the name of the place came to be known as Swyambhu, meaning ‘self-created or self-existent’. Saints, sages and divinities traveled to the lake to venerate this miraculous light for its power in granting enlightenment. During this time Wen Shu Pu Sha, who is worshipped as Bodhisatwa Maha Manjushri in Nepal, was meditating at the sacred mountain of Wu Tai San and had a vision of the dazzling Swyambhu light. The enchanted Manjushri flew across the mountains of China and Tibet on the back of his blue lion towards Nepal, the birth place of Lord Buddha, delighted to worship the divinely lotus. Deeply impressed by the power of the radiant light, Manjushri felt that if the water were drained out of the lake Swyambhu would become more easily accessible to pilgrims. With a great sword Manjushri cut the gorge at Chobhar Galchhi (a cliff near Kirtipur) and drained out water from the lake. He made the Kathmandu valley habitable which is now the capital of Nepal. The lotus was then transformed into a hill and the light became the Swyambhu Nath Stupa. The image of Manjushree is placed at the Swyambhu Nath, one of the world heritage sites.In the 5th century, Buddhabhadra, a Nepalese Monk came to China. He spent his whole life in China serving the Chinese people. His Chinese name was Jue Xian Fa Shi (some has mentioned it as Chueh-hsien). He was born in Kapilvastu in 358 in the Shakya family. He came to China on the request of great Chinese Traveller Pao Yun who was in a tour of South Asia to further enhance the learning on Buddhism and bring one prominent Buddhist scholar back to China. Buddhabhadra left for China with the Chinese delegation in 406 and arrived at Qingdao in 409 via Vietnam. Upon his arrival in China, he first went to Ch’ang-an, one of old Chinese capitals. In 410 he went to Lu Shan with some forty disciples. The Emperor later invited to Jian Kang, the modern Nanjing, on the persuasion of Fa Xian, who had then returned from his visit of South Asia. The Emperor of China had accorded him a warm welcome at the imperial palace. He spent rest of his life in Nanjing. His tomb was kept in the famous Tongling Temple in Jiujiang city of Jiangxi Province.

Buddhabradra taught Buddhism in several places in China. He earned great fame among the scholars and made many followers and disciples. By that time, Fa Xian returned from South Asia in 412 with bulk of Buddhist scriptures written in Sanskrit. Buddhabhadra became the senior translator at the Tao Chang Su Monastery and translated Buddhists scriptures from Sanskrit in to Chinese. Fifteen of his translated works are said to be still preserved in China. The most noted work which Buddhabhadra translated into Chinese in collaboration with Fa Xian was Maha-Parinirvana-Sutra (discourse on the Great Decease) in six volumes. Others included the Vinayapitaka (the code of monastic discipline) of the Mahasanghika School in thirty-four chapters, MahasanghikaVinaya in forty volumes, Buddhanusmriti-Samadhi (a discourse on the contemplation of the Buddha), Samadhi Sutra, Vipulya Sutra, Ghava Sutra, Gyan Sutra and Manjushree Sutra of Swear Vow.

Buddhabhadra and his contemporary Fa Xian were spiritually tied friends. Fa Xian had traveled to Lumbini, the birth place of Buddha and Buddhabhadra. Knowing that Buddhabhadra has arrived in Nanjing, Fa Xian came back to China in 412 with all his scriptures to work together and translate them into Chinese. They remained together for the rest of their life in promoting Buddhist philosophy in China, which is still acclaimed by historians and scholars.
(Note: A life-size bronze statue of Buddhabhadra is erected in the premises of Zhanshan Temple of Qingdao in 2011.)

Nepal and China’s cultural and spiritual connections and friendly contacts were not only linked by the religious attachments but also by explorations, matrimonial ties and cultural exchanges. Xuan Zhang, a famous Chinese traveler, visited Lumbini and Kathmandu in the 7th century. His voyage to South Asia during the pre-medieval time greatly helped exchange cultural values and philosophies of each other. Now, the travel writings of Xuan Zang have been a main source of then history of Nepal.

In 639, a Nepalese Princess Bhrikuti (khridzun), daughter of King Udayadev (somewhere Amshuvarma is also mentioned) of Nepal was given in marriage to Tibetan King Songtsan Gampo. It is said that she significantly contributed to introducing Buddhism in Tibet from Nepal. She is also remembered for the construction of the first ancient temples in Tibet – including Potala Palace and Jhokang temple. She brought artistic images of Arya Tara, Avalokiteshwara and Akshothya Buddha in Tibet from Nepal.

Bhrikuti is usually represented as Harit Tara (Green Star) in Tibet. Songtsan Gampo had also married Chinese Princess Wencheng who is considered to be another incarnation of Tara (White) in Tibet. Both Queens are said to have lived amicably and worked together with Songtsan Gampo to spread Buddhism in the region. Potala Palace and Jokang temple, which bear the images of Bhrikuti, speaks of the greatness of our cultural and spiritual ties. Among many, the contribution of Aniko, an architect from Nepal, is also remarkable in the annals of Nepal China relationship. He came to China in the thirteenth century at an age of 16 upon the invitation of then emperor of China Kublai Khan to make Nepalese-style Buddhist temples. His renowned works include the “Swarna Bihar” or the Golden Temple, built in 1260, which is located in Tibet. He constructed a 50.9 meter White Pagoda (Bai Ta Si) and several other temples in Beijing. In 1301, he constructed two Buddha Stupas named Ashoka and Sharira here in the sacred soil of Wu Tai Shan. Today, being on this holy place amongst such learned personalities, I cannot express in words the depth of my feelings.

Our shared cultural connections extend beyond these undying physical structures to embrace deep rooted arts, architectures and scripts having commonalities. The styles of the temples, old buildings, their windows and wooden beams — to name a few — speak of the strong influence of each other’s cultures for centuries. One of the most striking evidences is the continuity of the Ranjana script used to inscribe sacred chants in the prayer wheelsaround Buddhist temples. The scrip, since the time of its introduction from Nepal to the Tibet Autonomous Region, has been spread not only in Tibet but also throughout the monasteries of Chinese mainland and Mongolia.

Inside Lama Temple or Yonghe Gong in Beijing, one of the most revered and famous places in China, a 300 plus year old statue still stand firmly. The giant log on which Buddha’s image has been engraved was brought from Nepal with untiring efforts of 3 years. It is so glorifying to note that the world’s tallest wooden statue, also recorded in the Guinness book, came to China from Nepal to remain a monument of our historical closeness.

Great Chinese travelers and monks other than mentioned above had visited Nepal on pilgrimage in different period of time. Zhimong (404), Daoking (451), Yuanzhan (629), Xuanzhao (637-649), Matisenna (649), Xuanhui (649), I-tsing (671-695), Daofang (698), Huien (702-719) Wukong (764), Jiye (964), Xinqing (966), Zhigun (1384), Yansubao (1413), Dengchieng (1427) and Houxiang (1427) are to name some who have cemented our cultural ties. Several Nepalese monks after Buddhabhadra reciprocated these Chinese pilgrimages. To name a few who made scholarly significant contributions, Shaila Maju (698) Shantiraksita (c700s) Shanti Bhadra and Ananta Shree (1040) and Laxmi Shree (c1300s) are prominent figures of their contemporary age.

The contribution of luminaries of both the countries in those ancient times is immense in our cultural ties. Acknowledging their great deeds, former Chinese President late Li Xian Nian, speaking in Kathmandu in 1984, called Fa Xian, Xuan Zhang, Buddhabhadra and Arniko, as the forerunners of Nepal China relations who began a friendly history. In recent time too, the friendship is still illuminating. After Nepal and China established diplomatic relations in 1955, the exchanges of delegations have taken place from time to time. In 1956, Nepal’s Dharmodaya Sabha organized the 4th Conference of World Fellowship of Busshist in Kathmandu. A 15 member delegation from China led by Rev. Shrab Gyantso participated in the Fellowship. A delegation from the Dharmodaya Sabha visited China in 1959 at the invitation of the Buddhist Association of China. Another delegation led by Rev. Amritananda also visited China in 1984. In 1986, Vice President of the National People’s Congress and Honorary President of the Buddhist Associatoin Panchen Erdini Quigyi Panchen Lama visited Nepal to attend the 15th World Buddhist Conference.