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Kushok Bakula Rinpoche
Jammu Kashmir especially its northern part has played a vital role in the rise of Buddhism, protecting India culturally, historically and geographically. Kushok Bakula Rinpoche, a magnetising personality considered as the incarnation of divine powers, highly revered for his erudition and his gentle humility, played a cardinal role in reviving Buddhism.
He was one of the best-known lamas of Ladakh, a statesman and international diplomat of the Republic of India. In 1988, in recognition of his distinguished service of the high order to the nation, the President of India awarded him “Padma Bhushan”. He is known for his efforts in reviving Buddhism in Mongolia and Russia linking them with the community of Tibetan exile in India. He played a leading role in the upliftment of socio-political life of the people in the Ladakh region. The Prime Minister of India Atal Bihari Vajpayee while paying said his condolences saying: “In the death of noble Lama Kushok Bakula, we have lost a great saint, guide and inspiring personality of the Buddhist world. It is difficult to imagine Ladakh without him.”
He was born to the Mangtro Royal couple on the auspicious Saga Dawa, Buddha Purnima day on 19th may 1917 in a small village called ‘Mangto’ in Ladakh. When the young Prince Lobzang Thupstan Chognor attained the age of 6, he was confirmed by the 13th Dalai Lama Thupten Gyatso as the 19th reincarnation of Arhat Bakula, one of the 16 Arhats ( direct disciples of the Shakyamuni Buddha). He was later enthroned at Pethub Monastery, where he received his primary education. On 22nd of February 1940, he earned his degree of “Gheshe Lharampa” the highest degree of Buddhist Metaphysics, in the presence of the young 14th Dalai Lama Tenzin Gyatso. He came to be known among his contemporaries as the Gyalras Bakula Rinpoche of Ladakh.
The emergence of Kushok Bakula in the late 1940s was historic. It was the time when the great transformation was taking place with India becoming independent after centuries of Colonial rule. On his return to Ladakh, Bakula Rinpoche like a wish-fulfilling angel helped to remove the sufferings of its people. He became the voice of Ladakh. He not only ensured that Ladakh became a part of India but also ensured its future development and security. However, the significant victory came in 1950. Rinpoche spearheaded a strong opposition to the 1950 Ordinance and opposed it tooth and nail. This Ordinance prohibited Buddhist monasteries from keeping more than 120 kanals of landholding. It would have indeed been a death knell for Buddhism. Finally, it was with the intervention of the Prime Minister of India Nehru and India’s law minister Dr BR Ambedkar that Ladakh’s monasteries were exempted from the purview of the ordinance. This significant victory and his active social derive brought Bakula Rinpoche in the forefront of Ladakh’s social, religious and political sphere.
To safeguard the interest of Buddhist monasteries of Ladakh, Rinpoche founded the All Ladakh Gonpa Association. He also made available land for construction of Chokhang which became the headquarters of Ladakh BuddhistAssociation. A landmark development in the post-independence history of Ladakh was the arrival of Holy Relics of the Lord Buddha and his two principal disciplesSariputta and Mahamogallana from Moolagandhakuti Vihar located in Sarnath. To enlighten the people of their right in democratic India, Bakula Rinpoche toured every part of Ladakh which he aptly described as the land of Tattu (mule), Pattu (woollen) and Sattu (barley wheat). Under the leadership of Bakula Rinpoche, the people of Ladakh were freed from the heavy burden of debts, subjugation of landlords and atrocities of government officials. Earlier, Bakula Rinpoche had repeatedly warned Prime Minister Nehru about impending threats from China not only to the existence of Tibet but also to India’s on the border. His visit to Lhasa in 1955 left no doubt in his mind about the situation in Lhasa and told the Government of India about impending threat from China. Unfortunately, India woke up when it was too late. In 1962 when China attacked India, Rinpoche called upon the people of Ladakh to help Indian Army to defend its border which alone could save its rich religious and cultural heritage. He allowed the Indian troops to convert a section of his Pethub Monastery into a makeshift military hospital. When a section of people in Kashmir demanded plebiscite, Rinpoche categorically stated that Ladakh
would never go to Pakistan and would remain with India. For his role in building post-independent Ladakh, Rinpoche is hailed as the ‘Gandhi of Ladakh’ and ‘Architect of Modern Ladakh’.
As an astute and zealous parliamentarian, Bakula Rinpoche served the nation and the Government of India brilliantly. He was elected as the member of legislative assembly of Jammu Kashmir in 1951. He became a minister in Jammu and Kashmir Government. He was elected Member of Parliament representing Ladakh for two consecutive terms, i.e. in 1967 and 1971. In 1977, Morarji Desai, the Prime Minister, appointed Rinpoche as a member of the newly constituted National Commission for Minorities. In 1989 he was appointed as ambassador of India to Mongolia. He thus became the first and only Monk diplomat in the world. Over a period of ten years, he helped reopen ancient monasteries, organize Buddhist peace conferences and re-established Buddhism. Under his guidance, Pethub Monastery and Dechen Ling Nunnery in Ulaanbaatar developed into important centres of learning for the Mongolian Buddhists. He took the Holy Relics of Lord Buddha to Ulaanbaatar to let the devotees get blessings of it. This was a historic event of unparalleled religious and spiritual significance. Bakula Rinpoche worked as the Guardian of Mongolia. During a movement to establish democracy in Mongolia, he appealed to both the government and the citizens of Mongolia to maintain peace. Respecting his appeal, the movement ended without any violence from either side, or multiparty democracy was established. As an expression of gratitude towards him, he was awarded ‘Polar Star’, the civil honour of the highest degree in Mongolia in 2001.
Bakula Rinpoche was the first Buddhist monk to have been able to visit communist stronghold of USSR, Mongolia and China. He single-handedly laid the foundation for the Buddhist Revival in the region. In 1968 Rinpoche became one of the founders of Asian BuddhistConference for Peace with its headquarters in Mongolia. The Red Army vandalised the Buddhist temple in St.Petersburg called ‘Gunzechoinei’ built by Buriyat Lama Agvan Dorjiev (1853-1938). His meetings with Soviet leaders paved the way for the return of the monastery to the Buddhist community of Russia. In 1989 the Buddhist community in St. Petersburg was officially recognised. Rinpoche was also the first high Lama who visited Kalmykia, the Eurasia land whose people suffered immense persecutions at the hands of Stalin after the Second World War. Rinpoche laid the foundation of a first post-communist monastery there. During many years of public engagement, he met leaders of all faith’s and political affiliations including Mikhail Gorbachev, former President of the Soviet Union. He was the first ever Buddhist monk to have been invited by the Queen of England at Buckingham Palace, London in 2002. Tireless in his work, he travelled on to the 3rd World Buddhist Conference hosted by His Majesty King Norodom Sihanouk in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
Bakula Rinpoche was a man of vision, and his prime focus was on promoting spiritual values, a Buddhist perspective on nature conservation and reviving Buddhism in countries where political systems had denied that right to the people. He had a wonderful sense of compassion, tranquility and contentment. He believed in democratic values and never forced people to follow a particular ideology. Being fearless, he at Windsor Conference namely the Alliance of Religions and Conservation (ARC), strongly disapproved the activities of Christian missionaries particularly in poor countries who exploited the poor economic conditions of the people and indulged in criticizing local traditional faith. This was against the basic tenet of any religion.
On Tuesday the 4th of November 2003, Bakula Rinpoche attained Nirvana in New Delhi. After 14 days of prayers and rituals, his funeral was performed on 16th November 2013 at Pithub Hills with full State honours. His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama in his condolence message, said ” Bakula Rinpoche worked hard for the people… to help grow a firm seed of enlightenment in their mind. He also worked for the preservation, dissemination and restoration of precious teachings of Buddha…May the incarnation appears soon, by the power of his own prayers and the faith of devotees, …. for the sake of all sentient beings.”
Gyalsras Kushok Bakula XIX
10th Parinirvana Anniversary of 19th Gyalsras Bakula celebrated in Ladakh
By Rinchen Angmo Chumikchan, Thursday, November 7, 2013
Kushok Bakula Rinpoche was born a prince in the royal family of Ladakh in 1917.Recognized by the 13th Dalai Lama as a reincarnation of Arhat Bakula, one of the disciples of Buddha Shakyamuni. Instead of looking for fulfilment in the worldly pleasures of the royalty, he took the spiritual path. Already at the age of nine he had studied at several monasteries and made his way to Drepung monastery in Lhasa, Tibet.
His role in changing Ladakh’s picture is eminent, especially for ‘social upliftment’ and education. His contributions earned him the most deserved title “Architect of Modern Ladakh”. Being a man of vision, his focus was always on promoting and reviving Buddhist tradition in the countries where political systems had denied it to the people.
His passing away in the year 2004 was a great loss to the nation and especially to the world of Buddhist community. Later in the year 2005 the Prime Minister of India Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee renamed the airport of Leh as Kushok Gyalsras Bakula Airport and paid his condolences saying: "In the death of noble Lama Kushok Bakula, we have lost a great saint, guide and inspiring personality of the Buddhist world. It is difficult to imagine Ladakh without him."
Bakula Rinpoche was the first Buddhist monk to have been able to visit communist stronghold of USSR, Mongolia and China. Earlier, in the 1930s Rinpoche had learnt about the horrors and destruction which took place in USSR and Mongolia from his fellow monks of Mongolia and Buriyat while studying in Lhasa, Tibet. A Buddhist monk had become ambassador in a communist country.
Geshes Thuptan Rabgais, Tutor of 20th Bakula Rinpoche read out the last wishes of Kushok Bakula and said, ‘He teach Buddhism not only in Ladakh but in Mongolia and Russia. He further said ‘all the four schools of Buddhism should live in harmony and it is also important to strengthen the communal harmony. In world living in harmony is the only way to happiness.”
Bakula Rinpoche XX
Ladakh celebrates his holiness the 20th Bakula Rinpoche's Birthday
By Reach Ladakh, Wednesday, January 23, 2013
The 20th Kushok Bakula was born to a family in Nubra to Yab Dorjey Tsering and Yum Sonam Dolkar and confirmed as reincarnation of Bakula Rinpoche on the 26th February 2008 by His Holiness the Dalai Lama- Tenzin Gyatso. He was enthroned to the seat of Bakula at Spituk monastery, Ladakh on 12th August 2010. Venerable 19th Kushok Bakula Rinpoche lived one of the most motivating lives of a Buddhist lama. Recognized by the Thirteenth Dalai Lama as a reincarnation of Bakula Arhat - one of the Sixteen Arhats -direct disciples of Shakyamuni Buddha who had tremendous spiritual realizations, his role in changing Ladakh’s picture is eminent, especially for ‘social upliftment’ and education. As a Long life Prayer and Tribute to the Young Bakula, Butter Lamp offerings will also be conducted at the end for His Holiness's Long life and Welfare of the Sentient Beings.
Role in India-Mongolia relations
A popular Mongolian legend, in the nineteenth century, at the time of the Eighth Bogdo Gegeen, Jebtsundamba Rinpoche, who was the head of Mongolian Buddhism, a Mongolian monk whose name remains unknown, predicted that Buddhism in Mongolia will be assaulted by inimical forces. He further predicted that some time after the destruction of Buddhism in the country, Arhat Bakula will come to Mongolia to revitalize the Mongolian Buddhist tradition. He further foretold that after Buddhism among Mongols receives “a crushing blow at the hands of the red barbarians in the early twentieth century” the Mongolian Buddhist cultural heritage will be restored to its previous glory.
In 1989, just a year before the peaceful democratic revolution in Mongolia, Kushok Bakula was appointed as the Indian Ambassador to Mongolia. Thus, he became the first Buddhist monk to hold an ambassadorial position and take part in the development of the bilateral relations between India and what will soon to become a democratic Mongolia for the next ten years. In this new role, he arrived in Mongolia on December 31, 1989, and on January 2, 1990, he presented his diplomatic credentials to J. Batmunkh, who at that time held the post of the Chairman of the Great People’s Khural (Mongolian Parliament). On that occasion, Kushok Bakula expressed his view of the Buddha ?kyamuni as the first Indian Ambassador to Mongolia and bewildered the Mongolian governmental officials by attending the meeting in his monastic robes and presenting them a ceremonial, white, silken scarf (khata) as an expression of his wishes for their long and prosperous lives. Several months after that, he witnessed the overthrow of one-party rule and the establishment of a new political system that was supportive of the human rights, freedom of religious expression, and democratic, multiparty elections. The democratic changes in the country allowed Kushok Bakula to openly assist Mongolian Buddhists in their attempts to revitalize their Buddhist knowledge and practice and to rebuild their temples and monasteries, most of which were razed to the ground under Stalin’s influence.
Kushok Bakula began to travel across the extensive, rugged terrains and dusty roads of Mongolia. During his frequent expeditions to Mongolia’s rural areas, he visited the rebuilt temples, imparted teachings to Buddhists in rural areas, performed rituals of blessings and empowerments, and called for the return to Buddhist ethical values, which were neglected during the communist period. As Kushok Bakula’s popularity grew, Mongolian people from various corners of the country were converging on the Indian Embassy, waiting in queues every morning to receive his blessings, and soon he became affectionately called among Mongolians as Elchin Bagsh (Ambassador Teacher). On May 29, 1991, Kushok Bakula initiated the first public celebration of the Buddha’s birthday in democratic Mongolia, which was held at the National Cultural and Recreational Centre and attended by thousands of people. Another significance of that event was that for the first time after the seven decades of religious oppression, Mongolian political leaders, headed by the President of Mongolia, Punsalmaagiin Ochirbat, participated at a public, religious ceremony. Observing the conditions of Buddhist monasticism, Kushok Bakula noticed the pressing need for the proper training of Mongolian monks, among whom many did not adhere to monastic regulations for a variety of reasons, one being the lack of monastic institutions that could house monks and provide them with daily necessities and adequate education. He often publicly pointed out the importance of upholding one’s monastic vows, which he saw as indispensible for the flourishing of Buddhism in Mongolia. Not long after filling the post of Indian Ambassador, Kushok Bakula procured Indian visas and funding for Mongolian monks who desired to study in Tibetan monasteries in India such as Gomang, Sera, the Buddhist School of Dialectics in Dharamsala, the Central Institute of Tibetan Higher Studies, and so on, at the time when it was virtually impossible for Mongolians to acquire such a visa. More significantly, in 1999, Kushok Bakula built the Pethub Stangey Choskor Ling Monastery in Ulaanbaatar, which is commonly referred to by Mongolians as Bakula Rinpoche’s Monastery. The monastery was built in the Tibetan architectural style, and it is named after Kushok Bakula’s main monastery in Ladakh. This monastery in Ulaanbaatar became a prominent venue for the training of young monks, public teachings, and ritual empowerments bestowed by Kushok Bakula himself. Until recently, in addition to Gandantegchenling Monastery, now recognized as the official centre of Mongolian Buddhists, Bakula Rinpoche’s monastery was the only teaching monastery that provides room and board for the young monks. Prior to granting the novice ordination to young candidates, some of whom came from as far as Buryatia, Kushok Bakula carefully examined the candidates and their families to determine their motivation and suitability for a monastic life. At the time when well trained Buddhist teachers were in great need in Mongolia, Kushok Bakula brought highly qualified lamas from Ladakh and Sikkim to educate students in his monastery. To this day, young monks of his monastery continue to be educated in Buddhist doctrine, in the classical Tibetan and Mongolian languages, English, Mathemat-ics, and Geography. Upon graduation, the best students are sent to India for higher monastic education. With the financial assistance from the Tibet Foundation U.K., in 2002, a clinic of traditional Buddhist medicine was built on the monastery’s grounds, where Mongolian and Tibetan traditional doctors offer medical care to both monastic and lay communities. Kushok Bakula’s various activities dedicated to the restoration of the Mongolian Buddhism and culture included his undertaking to convince the Indian Government to allow for the relics of the Buddha, kept at the National Museum in New Delhi, to be brought to Mongolia for viewing. As a result of that effort, in August of 1993, the Indian Deputy Minister of Culture brought the Buddha’s relics to Ulaanbaatar. The relics were on display at the Central Cultural Palace for a month and worshipped by tens of thousands of people.
As the Indian Ambassador, Kushok Bakula sought ways to facilitate India’s fruitful cultural relations with Mongolia that would enrich the lives of Mongolian people and create new educational opportunities for young people. In so doing, he set up the Indian Cultural Centre, equipped with audio-visual material, books, artworks, and the like to enable Mongolians to study Indian languages and classical Indian dances. He also helped to establish the Mongolian-Indian Friendship Farm in the city of Darkhan and the Training and Industrial Center in Ulaanbaatar, which was named after Rajiv Gandhi. Likewise, under his initiative, more than fifty Mongolian students were sent for training in Indian colleges and universities under various exchange programs.
On the basis of his endeavours and accomplishments among the Mongols, to this day Kushok Bakula has been revered as a prophesized, bodhisattvic emanation of Arhat Bakula, who fulfilled the hopes and prayers of Mongolian Buddhists. In the year 2008, on the occasion of the ninety-first anniversary of Kushok Bakula’s birthday, several distinguished figures in Mongolian political, cultural, and academic spheres wrote of him in their essays either indirectly or directly as a bodhisattva who brought the nineteenth-century prophecy to reality.
During his diplomatic service in Mongolia, Kushok Bakula travelled to Beijing every two months on his diplomatic mission. During those visits, at the request of Chinese Buddhists, he discretely offered teachings at the time when giving religious teachings there without governmental permission was prohibited. At the conclusion of his diplomatic service, Kushok Bakula returned to India in the year 2000, but he regularly visited Mongolia, imparting teachings and empowerments, despite his frail health. On November 24, 2004, Kushok Bakula died at the age of eighty-seven.