AN INTRODUCTION TO WAT MUNI VIHAR
Wat Muni Vihara is one of the most popular Buddhist monasteries of Bhaktapur, Nepal. The monastery is located in Bhaktapur Municipality, Ward 6, on the way from Inacho market to Hanuman Ghat. It covers an area of about 1,600 square meters. To understand its popularity we should start with a look at the layout and buildings of the monastery and how they offer a venue for different activities.
Entering through the eastern gate, one sees a two-story mandir (temple) to the left. The mandir is located on the eastern side of the monastery compound and faces west. The first floor of the mandir is the shrine room of the original presiding Buddha Image. The second floor is a residence for monks. The single-story building adjoined to it on the south facing west is the kitchen.
The rectangular building on the south side of the compound facing north is the old Dhamma hall. It has a gallery enshrining a beautiful marble Buddha image from Myanmar; color paintings of Buddhist stories are displayed on the upper walls on all four sides. The long new building on the west side of the compound facing east is a multipurpose building; it is half two, half three storied. Behind it, there are toilets and bathrooms. The recently built three-storied Uposathagara Temple (Congregation Hall) is on the north; it has two staircases leading to each floor and to exits as well. The top floor is used for chanting and sermons, second for dwelling place for novices and last is used for sitting meditation, teaching lesson and offering foods to monks and novices. In front of the uposathagara Temple, there is a small garden. There is a small modern stupa at the center of the court-yard, which is surrounded by the buildings described above. All of the buildings aresuitable venues for various religious activities, and this is one of the reasons that Wat Muni Vihar draws people from near and far to participate throughout the year Wat Muni Vihara is popular for several other reasons. Firstly, it has a significant historical heritage. An inscription preserved at the Vihara shows that it figured in relations between Nepal and Tibet and in the preservation of Buddhism in Nepal. The inscription is bilingual that is, it is in Sanskrit and in Nepala Bhasa or Newari. It relates in some detail that how in 1655 a pious merchant family of Bhaktapur built the monastery and offered it to a celibate monk from the Tashilhunpo Monastery in Shigatshe, (in Nepali spelled Digarch) Central Tibet. But beyond this we do not have any further information about the celibate monks activities in the Kathmandu Valley.
Local people believe that the monastery has mysterious power. Old people say that through some mystic power themonastery remained safe from encroachment for more than 250 years, even though there were no resident caretaker monks from about 1700 AD, Leaving the temple in a neglected and dilapidated state until 1952. All that remained were an original small Stupa at the center and a shrine building on the east side of the monastery. The presiding image of the lord Buddha in the mandir is made of a single block of stone and is 6ft(?) in height. It is blessed with such power that people don’t dare to pass by without offering their respects. The Sakya community members of the monastery were so much in awe of the image’s power that they did not dare to move it even to repair or restore it. Venerable Bhikkhu Ratnajyoti, the first Theravada abbot of the Vihara, performed the task by himself. Such events occurred repeatedly and led people to believe that the abbot himself was blessed with miraculous powers. As a result, people sought him out in times of difficulty. In addition, the original two images of the divinities Ganesh and Mahakala enshrined here are worshipped by people for their power of protection and wrath.
Wat Muni Vihara was a center for the performance rites of passage, mainly pre-puberty ordinations for boys, tantric initiations for the matured, and the offering of balls of rice to the deceased. Eventually, some members of the community died and others were moved away in search of a better livelihood. The few members who remained joined the Indravarta MahaVihara, Wat Muni Vihar’s sibling monastery, which is located nearby. The monastery gradually faced lack of even daily pujas (services). However after 1952, under the leadership of Theravada monks, the Vihara gradually developed into a Centre of spiritual practice. As the result, the dilapidated buildings begun to replaced by new ones in different locations and the compound has been walled once again. The monks performed rites of passage for people of all ages and all walks of life according to Theravada tradition. Boys who took ordination here from 1965 onward have extended the name and fame of the Monastery.
Because of its location near the confluence of holy rivers, by the Hanuman Ghat cremation ground, Wat Muni Vihara has been a popular destination not only for Buddhists but also for Hindus (who are the majority in the population of Nepal as well as in Bhaktapur city) as well. The monastery welcomes all visitors, whether they come occasionally, on a daily basis, or on religious holidays, for annual festivals or for rites Bhaktapur City from around the world. In recent years it has attracted devotees from Thailand as it’s name and fame has been disseminated in their country because it enjoys the patronage of the highly respected head of the Thai Sangha, His Holiness Somdet Phra Nyanasamvara, the Supreme Patriarch as well as of other dignitaries.
Every day groups of people gather here at Wat Muni Vihara for Pujas in the morning, to offer food to the monks, and to listen to the chanting of Pali Sutras and sermons by monks and novices. A number of people come to listen to weekly sermons on the teaching and practice of Lord Buddha given by the monks. Some meditators practice group Vipassana meditation on Saturday mornings and children study Buddhist-Lesson classes (Pariyatti) in the evening. Other people gather here regularly to hold meetings for religious tasks and activities. The office of the Dharmodaya Sabha, Bhaktapur Branch is located here.
Every year Wat Muni Vihara organizes a Vesak Puja day celebration (Buddha Jayanti) to commemorate the day on which Gautama Buddha was born, was enlightened, and passed away. This is one of the grandest days and it attracts throngs of people. A very special event took place from 9-11 August 2003, when Wat Muni Vihara jointly with the Dharmodaya Sabha organized an exhibition of the Vesak Memorial Stupa containing relics of the Buddha from three countries Sri Lanka, Myanmar, and Thailand. The relics were presented by His Holines the Supreme Patriarch of Thailand to celebrate the United Nation’s declaration of International Holy Day on Vesaka Full Moon Day, to be enshrined at the UN Headquarters in New York City, USA. This extraordinary event attracted more than 60,000 people from all walks of life. To commemorate the event a replica of the Vesak Memorial Stupa is placed at the pinnacle of the Uposathagara Temple.
At present the Uposathagara Temple or Congregation hall is the main attraction of Wat Muni Vihara for general visitors. The Temple was constructed with the help of a series of kathina Robe Offering Groups and Fa Pa (donation) Offering Groups Formed under the Patronage of His Holiness Somdet Phra Nyanasamvara, the Supreme Patriarch of Thailand. A large Buddha statue is enshrined in the lavishly built top floor temple. On 27th April 2008 a boundary marking ceremony (pithi phuk phatthasima) for the three-storied Temple was performed by the Bhikku Sangha made up of fourteen members from Thailand, led by Venerable Phra Thepsaravethee, the Supreme Patriarch’s Acting Secretary, Wat Bovornives Vihara, Bangkok.
In the Capacity of benefactor the ceremony was attended by Mr.Phan Wannamethee, President; Mr. Phallop Thaiarry, Secretary General and his wife; Assoc. Proffessor Noraniti Setabutr, Rector of World Buddhists (WFB), Bangkok. And Mr. Asi Mamanee, Councellor of Royal Thai Embassy in Kathmandu. Orther benefactors who attended the ceremony were honorable Member of Parliament Laxmidas Manandhar Vice President, Mr. Suchitraman Sakya General Secretary of the Dharmodaya Sabha, the Regional Center of WFB, Nepal, Mr. Ram Krishna Baidya President of the Uposathagara Temple Construction Cpmmittee and Wat Muni Vihara Management Committee, Mr. Padmasundar Sakya, President and other members of the Dharmodaya Sabha, Bhaktapur City Branch and hundreds of other distinguished guests.
A further reason for Wat Muni Vihara’s popularity is the Mass Ordination Project under the Patronage of His Holiness Somdet Phra Nyanasamvara, the Supreme Patriarch of Thailand, which has been organized here since 2003 (BE 2546). It was commenced in the auspicious occasion of 90th birthday celebration of the Supreme Patriarch. The project aims to recruit Buddhist monks and novices and to educate them either in Nepal and abroad. The ordination programs are presided over by the most senior venerable monks of All Nepal Bhikkhu Association-such as Mahasanghanayaka Bhikkhu Aswaghosa Mahathera and others. So far the monastery has more than 180 monastic members who are coming originally from different districts, Languages and ethnic groups of Nepal. Among them, 127 are studying in Thailand at different levels, from High School to Master’s Degree. This is a continuing project. This year (2014) we are organizing the Mass Ordination Project to dedicate merits to His Holiness Somdet Phra Nyanasamvara, the Supreme Patriarch of Thailand who passed away on 24th October 2013. Candidates can take ordination on dates of mutual consent. The ordination dates notified by the monastery are approximately 5th January, 5th February 5th May and 5th December of every year.
On the one hand dozens of monks, novices and nuns study religious and academic subjects, practice the religious life and render religious services to lay people, catering to their spiritual needs; on the other hand relatives and well-wishers of these clergies including general devotees visit them in the monastery frequently and supply necessities. In some occasions the Muni Vihara community attend invitation to offer blessing at devotee’s private homes. They walk for collecting alms all over the Bhaktapur district and some important cities of the Kathmandu Valley annually. This activity inspires people and support financially to the monastery too. All of these makes Wat Muni Vihara a lively and thriving Centre in the local community and in the Buddhist community of Nepal. The spiritual practice of the clergies and the enthusiastic support of the lay communities enhance the popularity of Wat Muni Vihara far and wide, making this Theravada monastery one of the most meaningful centres for the monatic and lay followers of Nepal. His Holiness the Supreme Patriarch, along with the Executive Committee of Wat Bovoranives Vihara of Thailand and the senior most monks of Nepal, Strongly recommend the further development of Wat Muni Vihara. The Wat Muni Vihara Committee plans to develop the monastery into a capable institute for education for monks and novices in future. It is hoped that when we will fulfill our plans to purchase more land, to construct more buildings, and to run a school, the meaningful activities of Wat Muni Vihara will increase, and Wat Muni Vihara will be able to render even better service to cater to the spiritual needs of the people.