A journey into Buddhism and beyondJournalist and writer Basanta Maharjan discusses his literary pursuits and interest in Buddhism.
Kritipur resident Basanta Maharjan is a journalist and author of 11 books on Buddhism, including ‘Lumbini’, ‘Buddhako Aatmakatha’, ‘Buddha Ek, Bhram Anek’, and ‘Uttari Nepalma Baudhha Dharma’. His most recent work, ‘Buddha Bimarsha’, hit the shelves in 2022.
Maharjan’s academic journey led him to a master’s in Buddhism from Tribhuwan University in 1972, earning him the prestigious gold medal during graduation. His expertise extends to history, culture and archaeology as well. Currently, he teaches Buddhist studies at Lotus Academic College, which is affiliated with Lumbini Buddhist University.
During his fieldwork, Maharjan ventured to Lumbini, absorbing its culture and delving into the local traditions and practices. The locals became his teachers, sharing their beliefs and rituals, which deepened his fascination for Buddhism. This journey inspired his debut book, ‘Lumbini’.
In this interview with the Post’s Rukusha Giri, Maharjan discusses his reading and writing practises.
How and when did your reading habit begin?
As a child, I wasn’t good at reading and spelling. As someone from the Newa community, I had limited access to Nepali books, which made it hard for me to pick up the language. Naturally, I was better at the Newa language. But everything at my school was taught in Nepali, making it difficult for me to understand what was being taught.
Luckily, my older brother knew Nepali well and helped me. He often read to me and translated the words into Newa, allowing me to understand and appreciate what I was learning. His efforts sparked my love for reading early in life, a love that has stayed with me.
From fourth grade onwards, my brother saved his lunch money to buy comic books, which I read too. Meanwhile, my friends started reading novels in seventh grade. We shared our novels, reading both Nepali and Hindi ones. This is how I began reading.
Which genres do you particularly enjoy reading?
I remember reading a lot of Yudhir Thapa early on. Soon after that, I came upon Diamond Shumsher Rana’s ‘Basanti’. This sparked a newfound interest in historical fiction literature. Although Shumsher only put out a few books, I was enamoured with the genre and actively looked for similar books. During this search, I discovered my literary hero, Rahul Sankrityayan. His texts in Hindi charmed me and influenced me to explore Buddhist writing further. Since then, I’ve found joy in reading historical fiction and non-fiction books on Buddhism and history.
What sparked your interest in Buddhism?
Philosophy has long been a passion of mine. I have explored various philosophies, including Hinduism, Christianity, and modern philosophy. My exploration was enriched by friends who shared my curiosity, introducing me to Jay Krishna Murti’s works, which also greatly influenced me. However, in order to fully understand his ideas, I realised that I needed to learn more about Buddhism. This realisation ignited a fresh fascination, prompting me to pursue a master’s degree in the field. My studies deepened my respect for Buddhist thought, further enhancing my understanding of philosophy as a whole.
Buddhism’s connection to history and archaeology intrigued me further. Just as we examine facts in history and archaeology, Buddhism offers valuable insights. This alignment supported my research, as Buddhist influence in Asia is profound. The entirety of Buddhism fascinated me.
Following that, my academic journey revolved around Buddhism, while I maintained an interest in other philosophies, too. Nevertheless, Buddhism remains my primary focus.
Do you like to finish a book all at once or in parts?
In the past, I used to read books in one sitting. But now, my reading style has changed. With more books catching my interest, I focus only on specific chapters that contain information I want to study. This way, I can absorb key information and make the most of my time and energy.
What are the things you look for in a book?
Books hold treasures of expertise and knowledge. They offer more than just enjoyment—they’re wellsprings of information, shedding light on different life facets. I’m drawn to books that offer real-world insights; non-fiction works that allow me to learn about places and experiences from others’ perspectives are my favourite.
What inspired you to start writing books?
Before joining the master’s programme in Nepali History, Culture, and Archaeology, I planned to write my thesis on Lumbini and turn it into a book. I gathered a lot of information from my fieldwork and published ‘Lumbini’, which contains a wealth of Buddhist knowledge. Additionally, I researched Buddhism in the Karnali zone and wrote about it, which I published as a book titled ‘Khash Samrajyama Bauddha Dharmako Utthan ra Patan’.
Basanta Maharjan’s book recommendations
Author: Rahul Sankrityayan
Publisher: Kitab Mahal
Renowned Indian author Rahul Sankrityayan provides a comprehensive guide on travel in his book. I found his insights on travel destinations and methods informative and valuable during my school years.
Lichchhavi Kaalka Abhilekh
Author: Dhana Bajra Bajracharya
Publications: Centre of Nepal and Asian Studies (CNAS)
This book provides a comprehensive insight into the Lichchhavi kingdom. It is worth noting that Bajracharya was honoured with the Madan Puraskar for it.
Freedom from the Known
Author: Jiddu Krishnamurti
I always recommend ‘Freedom from the Known’ to others. This book can help you shed the self-image you’ve built. Reading this transformed my life.
Author: Diamond Shumsher Rana
Publications: Ratna Pustak Bhandar
‘Basanti’ employs fictional elements to provide a nuanced interpretation of the complex history of Nepal. It is something I believe all Nepalis should read.
Aba Yasto Kahile Nahos
Author: Baburam Acharya
Individuals who want to comprehensively understand Nepali history should read this engaging book. The author meticulously details the subject matter while also presenting viable solutions to current issues.
Author: Ven Bodhi
Publications: Bir Purna Library
If you want to delve deep into Buddhism, there’s a wealth of literature to explore. But don’t miss ‘Majjhima Nikaya’. It brilliantly covers all key aspects of Buddhism, making it ideal for anyone seeking an in-depth grasp of the religion.