Practicing the Perfections

Communitas During the Saga Dawa Kortsay at Swayambhunath, Nepal

  • Michelle J. Sorensen
Keywords: Buddhism, lay sangha, pilgrimage, communitas, merit


Based on observations from personal participation in the 2014 Saga Dawa Kortsay at Swayambhunath Stupa complex located near Kathmandu, Nepal, my essay draws attention to the distinctive lay Buddhist community that is formed in such ritual performances. Using Victor Turner’s concept of communitas, I argue that the liminal experience of the pilgrimage enables the constitution of a distinctive lay Buddhist community in terms of the self-transformation usually reserved for monastic practitioners. In contrast to recent accounts of Nepali pilgrimage that emphasize the subordinate role of the lay community in the Buddhist sangha, I argue that lay participants in ritual performances like the Saga Dawa Kortsay cultivate individual and collective identities as members of the sangha in their own right, with their own responsibilities for practicing and preserving Buddhist teachings. Through discussions of the Swayambunath complex, pilgrims’ efforts toward self-transformation, and their practice of Buddhist perfections through donations to mendicants, I use the example of the Saga Dawa Kortsay to explain how a distinctive lay Buddhist community is formed by pilgrims through the situation of communitas.

How to Cite
Sorensen, M. (2020). Practicing the Perfections. HIMALAYA - The Journal of the Association for Nepal and Himalayan Studies, 39(2), 60-69.
Research Articles