chapter  7
The best dharma for today: post- Protestant Buddhism in neoliberal Nepal
Pages 36

For Newar Buddhists in Kathmandu, Nepal, the past two decades have been marked by the growth of two critical-and, many would imagine, paradoxicalphenomena. As anyone who is at all familiar with recent events there can hardly help but note, the years since 1990 have witnessed dramatic political and economic transformations and corresponding changes in daily practices, social identities, and public and private life. At the same time that Nepal seems to be most fully embracing political, economic, and social formations associated with global modernity, however, these same years have seen an equally radical, if less spectacular, explosion of interest in lay Buddhist meditation. By the mid-1990s, vipassana meditation had become an essential feature of Buddhist practice in many Newar Buddhist communities. It was common to hear it referred to as both a “fashion” and the truest incarnation of pure Buddhadharma. By most logics, the simultaneous unfolding of these two trends in the same place and among the same folks would seem unlikely, if not contradictory. After all, religious technologies that aim to overcome attachment to the idea of the self would seem to undercut the empowered individualism that underlies liberal political and economic democracy, and vice versa. Yet, urban Buddhists move back and forth between these orientations on a daily basis, and, far from expressing any conflict or confusion, meditators affirm the utility of the Buddha’s dharma for resolving the specific challenges of modern life. In fact, I would argue that aspects of the lived experience of postmodern modernity are among the main drivers of the current popularity of vipassana meditation (and other modern reflexive practices). Moreover, we should recall that the way in which vipassana is taught and practiced in Nepal is itself a partial product of modernity.