2000 Student-Faculty Fellows: Fairfield University
Nepal: A Study of the Nepalese Bodhnath Pilgrimage Community
Mentor: Ronald M. Davidson, Department of Religious Studies
Student: Jeffrey Adams Wenger, ’00, Religious Studies
Jeffrey Adams Wenger
From the personal standpoint of being in Asia, seeing the diversity of cultures-between the Newari Buddhists and Tibetan Buddhists, between the Tibetans and Tamangs and Sherpas-has altered my view of Asia as a monolithic region. It has been an extremely positive experience that has encouraged me to pursue similar projects in the future, following further exposure and familiarity with Asian cultures. My plans for the future include developing my language skills in both the literary and colloquial forms of Tibetan, further penetrating literary works and gaining a firm understanding of the various philosophical system of the region. Beyond this, I realize the need to gain greater familiarity in the levels of reality visible in South Asia and its relations with the Central Asian plateau. Upon my return to the United States, I intend to live among Tibetans in Washington, New Jersey, where I have already established good relations. There I will further pursue my study of the culture and its religious forms, hopefully leading to graduate school so that this project will be the introduction to professional fieldwork research in Asia.
Prof. Ronald M. Davidson
Perhaps the greatest benefit was learning how Asia looks through Jeffrey’s eyes. I had prepared Jeffrey as much as possible here, but nothing can entirely (or even adequately) convey the reality of Asia until one experiences it. The first week of the period was probably the most difficult for him, as it took three days to simply get to Nepal and then our monastic connection fell through. Thus, not only did he have to recover from jetlag and culture shock, but we had to work to find him informants and an appropriate monastery with which to establish a working relationship. That did come about by the end of the first week, and then he settled into the task. Yet all through this period I was taking mental notes about Jeffrey’s responses to his experiences, for I am already making use of his perceptions in teaching my classes this fall. Since his peers will have much the same background-separated from me by time and space (I grew up in the West)-Jeffrey’s reactions to Asia form the basis from which I can configure a degree of my classroom instruction. I can say it no better than affirm that his consternation with aspects of Nepal will benefit the next several classes.
While questioning the reasons for monastic locations and in regards to the stupa and its mythic history, we were surprised to find that there was little connection between the record of the stupa and the direct motivations for placing the monasteries in the area. Our preliminary results suggest that among the early inhabitants of the area in the ninteenfifties, monks from Mongolia served as an important transitional community, for they had fled religious persecution by the Russians from 1922 forward. Once they established a presence in what was at the time a rural farmland, then the first refugees to leave Tibet in 1958-who belonged to the same religious order-took residence with the Mongolian monks. This community gave its monastery to the Dalai Lama, probably in the 1960s, who turned ownership over to Tibetan monks. At the time this was the only monastery in the area, with other land grants given to monasteries, first to preserve lineages of monasteries rapidly being destroyed in Tibet. This monastic presence became a catalyst for the Tibetan and Tamang communities to form in the Boudha area, resulting in the community of today.