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Book: Teaching Awareness in the Buddhist Tradition

Chapter: 3. Buddhist Awareness as a Means to Unveil the Past and Emancipate the Future: The Buddhist Awareness Camps Project in post-1990 Nepal

DOI: 10.1558/equinox.44242


This paper deals with the theme of this book, Buddhist awareness, from a particular point of view and perhaps in an eccentric way. The context is the arrival of a modernist Theravada Buddhism in the Kathmandu Valley in the 1920s, which involved a reform of the local Newar Buddhism, and the missionary work of Newar Theravada monks and laypeople some seventy years later. They were involved in campaigns to have the religious diversity of Nepal recognized by what was then a Hindu state, and they wanted to increase the number of Buddhists in the national census. Thus, they started spreading Buddhism among other Nepalese ethnic groups.

Their work was met with interest by intellectuals belonging to the Tharu and Magar ethnic groups who were involved in their own ethnic activism and claims against the Hindu state. This synergy led to the organization of Buddhist Awareness Camps, where Buddhist teachings with a modernist and engaged flavour mixed with ethnic and political activism. In this paper, I will focus on the ways the notion of “Buddhist awareness” was used and understood in the discourses of these activists: awakening and unveiling the memory of a forgotten Buddhist past, and emphasizing the value of Buddhist teachings and soteriological path as a means of achieving the social emancipation of their respective ethnic group.

Chapter Contributors

  • Chiara Letizia ( - cletizia) 'University of Québec / University of Milan Bicocca'