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Religion in Nepal
Martyn Carruthers

Shamanic Coaching with Martyn

Religions of the Katmandu Valley

Religion is central to Nepalese life, following colorful patterns of offerings and festivals. The main religions in the Katmandu valley are Hinduism, Buddhism and Tantrism. Hinduism is the religion of the royalty (and the king of Nepal is considered by many to be an incarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu).

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Both Hindus and Buddhists believe that a union of the individual with a transcendental reality is the goal of existence; the difference is in the means. Both Hinduism and Buddhism have many elements of Tantrism and shamanism, indigenous beliefs in supernatural beings (often personifications of natural phenomena), and in the ability of some people, often called shamans, to communicate with them.


Existence, including man, universe and God, is too vast to be contained within one set of beliefs. Hence Hinduism embraces many metaphysical perspectives, from which people may select philosophies which suits them, or worship on a level of morality and observances. The average Hindu does not need a formal creed to practice religion; they need only comply with their family and community.

Dharma refers to a set of obligations, holding that every person should play his proper role in society. Karma predicts that the consequences of every action must be realized. Rebirth is required so that karmic consequences can be fulfilled. Thus the role people play in life is fixed by their actions in previous existences. Only people who see beyond illusion and identify with a transcendental reality can escape an otherwise endless cycle of rebirth.

Three important Hindu gods are Brahma, Vishnu and Siva, representing creative, preservative and destructive forces. Most Hindus follow Vishnu or Siva, or of one of their incarnations. Krishna, an incarnation of Vishnu, is popular in Kathmandu.

Siva personifies a struggle against demons and evil, and the dangers of knowledge and death. Siva has creative and benevolent aspects. As a mother goddess Siva has beneficent aspects as the goddesses Uma and Parvati, and terrible aspects as the goddesses Durga and Kali. One of Siva’s forms is Pashupati, Lord of Animals. Ganesh, a benevolent elephant, is popular in Nepal. Ganesh is a son of Siva and Parvati and is considered to be a problem-solver, a remover of obstacles and a god of wealth.

Although high caste Nepalese may conform to the Hinduism of the Brahmin priests and religious texts, the majority of Nepalese people are less orthodox. Ordinary villagers are less concerned with a transcendental unity, than with local forces that control their lives.

Most villages have patron deities, and shamanism and goddess-worship are important. Village gods are usually held responsible for protecting village land and resources, while goddesses are responsible for their well-being. Other divinities are ancestral spirits who are worshipped within families. Most deities are worshipped to placate powerful supernatural beings rather than offering thanks to beneficent deities.

Hindu priests have no ecclesiastical organization - there are temples but no church. Their authority is based on Vedic scripts. Central religious behaviors include public or private worship, puja, which welcomes the gods. Statues of deities may be bathed, dressed, incensed and worshipped with flowers and sweetmeats and paraded through streets. For many Nepalese, idols are deities.

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Buddhism originated with the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama, who was born in Nepal about 560 B.C. After six years of meditation he attained enlightenment. Later called the Buddha, he devoted his life to preaching his doctrine, reinterpreting many concepts of Hinduism and promoting morality as part of religious life. Gautama Buddha proclaimed four noble truths:

  1. suffering dominates life
  2. desire causes suffering
  3. desire and suffering end in nirvana
  4. nirvana can be achieved by an eightfold path

Nirvana is the result of an individual struggle - a merging of the individual self into the eternal self. Individual morality is the means of gaining merit - not the observance of rituals.

The two main forms of Buddhism are Hinayana, the earlier form, and Mahayana Buddhism, which developed around the beginning of the Christian era and was based on the example of Buddha rather than on his words. However, the Buddhism most practiced in the Kathmandu Valley is Vajrayana, an offshoot of Mahayana. Here the philosophy of Hinduism and Buddhism is similar. Vajrayana Buddhism emphasizes Tantric religious symbolism.

There is a sense of unity in Nepal. As Tantrism developed, Buddhism adopted many Hindu ideas and gods. Both Buddhists and Hindus often use the same temples and worship the same deities ...


As the Gupta empire declined in the 5th century, Indians began to show more interest in the cults of feminine divinities and in magical rites, which often contained licentious features. This is often called Tantrism from the tantras (scriptures) which describe spells, formulas and rituals.

Tantrism appeared in an organized form in the 7th century and was introduced into Nepal at about the same time as Vajrayana Buddhism. Tantrism remains strong and popular in Nepal, where these magical rituals and esoteric beliefs are associated with both Hinduism and Buddhism. Much of Nepal 's art - paintings, sculptures and wood - were inspired by the many armed and many-headed Tantric deities and manifestations.

The Himalayan kingdoms welcomed Tantric Buddhists from the Indian plains. Tibet, Bhutan and Sikkim became Buddhist, while Nepal remained partly Hindu. Nepal occupies a special place in relation to Tantra, as the Muslim invaders who drove the Tantric Buddhists out of India in the 12th century CE did not conquer Nepal, leaving Tantric Buddhism and Hinduism to flourish side by side, influencing each other. Tantrism, both Hindu and Buddhist, maintains a strong hold in Nepal.

As Tantrism took hold in Nepal, Buddhism turned from the Bodhisattvayana of Mahayana Buddhism and monastic Buddhism. Although Vajrayana Buddhism originated in south India, it became more popular in northern India and Nepal from 7th to 12th centuries CE. There are hints of Tantra in the Buddhist texts from about 600 CE and many elements of Tantra in Hindu and Buddhist scriptures.

Tantra takes many forms, including meditation, art and eroticism. Recent Tibetan Buddhism and Nepalese Buddhism retain ways to control the the urge towards union and bliss in yantra. In critical times, the tantrics tried to end catastrophes like drought or famine by means of their mantra.

Tantra is all about awareness. Although our minds take in information, we cannot pay conscious attention to all details. An empowerment from a Tantric master is said to stimulate awareness, so that we can attain Buddha-wisdom, the ability of a Buddha to be attentive to everything.

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Have You Suffered Enough?

 Where are you now? Understand your emotions, fixations and enmeshments
What do you hope for? Know your goals and stop sabotaging yourself
Do you feel resourceful? Learn to develop your inner resources
Do emotions block you? Relationship problems and mentor damage
Do your beliefs limit you? Change limiting beliefs and end dependence
Do you feel connected? Resolve identity issues to recover lost resources
Is your partner happy? Build healthy partnership (or separate peacefully)
Are your children healthy? Happy parents better manage family problems
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Do you have complex goals? Specialty coaching, counseling & therapy

Plagiarism is theft. Copyright © Martyn Carruthers 1996-2018  All rights reserved. Soulwork Systemic Coaching was primarily developed by Martyn Carruthers to help people solve emotional problems and relationship conflicts to achieve their goals. These concepts and strategies are for general knowledge only. Consult a physician about medical conditions and before changing medical treatment. Don't steal intellectual property ... get permission to post, publish or teach Martyn's work - email