The year-long birth centenary celebration of Padma Bhushan late 19th Gyalsras Bakula Rinpoche, the undisputed political and spiritual leader of Ladakh of the 20th century was inaugurated by the Deputy Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir state on 19th May 2017 in presence of a galaxy of luminaries including guests from Mongolia, Russia and the Central Tibetan Administration, the Tibetan Government in Exile. The centenary is being organized by different organizations, educational institutions and village communities under the supervision of the organizing committee comprises of all religious and political heads, monks and scholars.
A legendary leader of the people of Ladakh, the 19thBakula Rinpoche lived a remarkable life. In 1940, after completing his studies in Lhasa, Rinpoche returned to his homeland-Ladakh and devoted himself to spirituality and Dharma works. But seeing the abject poverty among the people and their exploitation all around, Bakula Rinpoche felt impelled to extend his influence beyond religious field. Urged to lead the people of Ladakh by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India, Rinpoche played an active and pivotal role in public life. Bakula Rinpoche, the grand lama of Ladakh remained pre-eminent in the life and affairs of Ladakh for over a half century-a half century marked by great historical, political changes. More than any other man he has influenced events and developments through his religious, cultural, educational and political leadership.
Joined by his close associates, Rinpoche helped people of Ladakh overcome abject poverty and neglect through various socio – political initiatives. Under his leadership the poor of Ladakh were freed from unscrupulous money landers and bonded labour. For the first time in the history of Ladakh, schools, hospitals and other infrastructure such as road, bridges and irrigation canals etc. were provided to the people. His maiden and historical speech in 1952 in the J&K Assembly when he spoke in Ladakhi, not only exposed the Kashmiri leadership completely but also drew the attention of the national leadership and press on the plight of the people of Ladakh.
Rinpoche virtually visited every nook and corner of Ladakh, often riding horses and undertaking journeys which would take weeks and months. A great social reformer, Bakula Rinpoche also strived to free the people of Ladakh from prevailing social evils such as excessive drinking of alcohol, polyandry, caste discrimination, hunting of wild animals etc. Providing modern as well as traditional education to the youth of Ladakh was his main mission. After assuming the role of a political leader, Rinpoche not only helped establish schools in every corner of Ladakh, he also set up special schools for children from Ladakh and other border areas in New Delhi and at other places. And it is thanks to the astute and visionary leadership of our leaders such as Bakula Rinpoche that in subsequent years, Ladakh was transformed Ladakh into a vibrant modern society and its landscape changed completely.
Bakula Rinpoche laid particular emphasis on the unity and harmony among the people of Ladakh irrespective of religious faith and different religious traditions. Under the leadership of Bakula Rinpoche, people of Ladakh gave a call for Union Territory status for Ladakh. Thanks to the unwavering unity among its people, Ladakh accomplished some major success such as Scheduled Tribes status, the LAHDC and numerous other achievements. Rinpoche had once described the LAHDC only as a stepping stone to our ultimate goal: the UT status for Ladakh.
Bakula Rinpoche was a founder member of the LadakhGonpa Association and also helped secure from the State Government the land for the Chokhang Temple in Leh. He was the founder of Buddhist Philosophy School presently known as Central Institute of Buddhist Studies, Leh, (Deemed to be University). He was also a member of Syndicate of Kashmir University, Srinagar, a board member of Namgyal Institute of Tibetology, Gangtok, Sikkim and a founder-member of the prestigious Tibet House, a cultural and literary institution of HH The Dalai Lama. Ladakh Buddhist Vihara in the national capital Delhi is another remarkable achievement of Bakula Rinpoche. Equally important is the role Bakula Rinpoche played for the defence and territorial integrity of Ladakh. His services to the security of our nation is well recorded and recognized.
Rinpoche held several important roles and offices during his long and distinguished public life. He was a member of the Constituent Assembly of Jammu and Kashmir State and was later elected as a member of the State Legislative Assembly. He held several ministerial positions including Minister for Ladakh Affairs minister from 1953 to 1965. In 1967 he was elected unopposed to the Lower House of the Indian Parliament (Lok-Sabha) and was a MP for two consecutive terms. In 1978 he was appointed as a Member of National Commission on Minorities and held office for ten years. In 1986 in recognition to his services to the nation, the President of India conferred the prestigious Padma Bhushan award on him.
From 1990-2000 he was Indian Ambassador to Mongolia for a decade. He was the first Buddhist monk to have visited the communist nations of the former USSR and Mongolia and helped rekindled the flame of Buddha Dharma in these countries. In 2002 in recognition to his outstanding contribution to the revival of Buddhism in Mongolia following 70 years of communism and for his extraordinary role in strengthening Mongolia-India relations, Bakula Rinpoche was conferred by the President, Republic of Mongolia, the Polar Star, the third highest national award.
Apart from his parliamentary and political activities Kushok Bakula had taken a keen interest in world – peace movement, interfaith dialogue and environment conservation. He also had the great honour to represent global Buddhists at the UN headquarters in New York. He was a major religious leader on the global stage and helped founded the Asian Buddhists Conference for Peace (ABCP) in Mongolia, the Alliance of Religions and Conservation (ARC) in London, UK and the Buddhist Summit in Japan. What is more, he was a great visionary and never restricted his services to the physical borders of any country. Both in his spiritual pursuit and in the public sphere, he remained fully engrossed with a sense of purpose and dedication, qualities that are hard to find in modern times.
In the true spirit of a Buddhist practitioner, Bakula Rinpoche believed that mere sermons would not help the community. Instead, throughout his life, along with giving teachings, Rinpoche remained deeply engrossed with welfare activities and remained so until the very end. Another very notable feature of his life was that despite attaining a high position and power, he continued to live the as a humble Buddhist monk. Bakula Rinpoche always liked to quote the Buddhist sage Shanti Deva and tried his best to live to this teaching:
“For as long as peace endures and
For as long as living beings remain, until then
May I too abide to dispel the misery of the world.”
Rinpoche left for his heavenly abode on 4th November 2003 at New Delhi.
Expressing his deep sadness on the passing away of Bakula Rinpoche, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama wrote in his condolence message:
After having received the teachings of Sutra and Tantra from many renowned teachers, and putting them into practice in his daily life, he worked for the people of Ladakh and Mongolia 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 Shakyamuni. Rinpoche accepted highly respectable posts during which he offered many services that received appreciation from the Government and people of India. The assistance rendered to us the Tibetans by him during the difficult times is to be remembered with gratitude. The passing away of Bakula Rinpoche is a great loss to all. May the reincarnation appear soon, by the power of his own prayers and the faith of devotees, to take over the responsibilities of Dharma activities for the sake of all sentient beings.
Prime Minister of India Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee, while offering his condolences wrote: “In the passing away of Most Venerable Kushok Bakula, an eminent Buddhist scholar, a saint, a guide and a source of inspiration for all, is lost. It is difficult to imagine Ladakh without Kushok Bakulaji.”
In 2008 Dr. Manmohan Singh, Prime Minister of India visited Leh to rename the Leh airport in honour of Bakula Rinpoche. Speaking on the occasion he said: “In doing so [dedicating this airport we pay tribute to the memory of the Most Venerable Kushok Bakula Rinpoche, the architect of Modern Ladakh. Venerable Kushok Bakula was a noble saint, a teacher, a patriot, a beloved leader, a true Buddhist and, above all, a great Indian. It is only appropriate that we name this airport, the link between the high Himalayas and the world below, after this son of Ladakh and this man of God.”
Paying tribute to Bakula Rinpoche Prime Minister of India HE Narendra Modi while addressing to the Mongolian Parliament in June 2015 most appropriately said, “It (our relations) lives through the work of Kushok Bakula Rinpoche, India’s ambassador here from 1990-2000. The Pethub Monastery he established here will be an enduring symbol of our links.”
Bakula Rinpoche’s activities were not restricted to Ladakh alone. He was a distinguished national leader and maintained most cordial relations with top national leadership of all political parties. In order, therefore, to remember his great legacy and the outstanding role he played in nation building, it would be most appropriate that we, the people of Ladakh, celebrate his birth centenary in a befitting manner.