Kushok Bakula Rinpoche and his contribution to the revival of Buddhism in Mongolia
The 19th Bakula Rinpoche, Ngawang Lobzang Tubstan Choknor was recognized by the Thirteenth Dalai Lama as the reincarnation of Bakula Arhat (one of the 16 Arhats who were direct disciples of Shakyamuni Buddha). The 19th Bakula Rinpoche was born into the Buddhist royal family in the village of Matho in Ladakh on May 19, 1917. Being born into the royal family, he was popularly known among his people as rGyalsras Bakula. “rGyal” in Tibetan means “king” and “Sras” is an honorable designation for “son”.
Bakula Rinpoche went to Tibet for his monastic education and obtained the degree of Geshe Lharampa (equivalent to a doctorate) in 1940 from Drepung Monastery in Tibet. Shortly after graduating from Gehse, Kushok Bakula, at the behest of his disciples at the Spituk and Sankar monasteries, returned to his native Ladakh in 1940. His return from Tibet coincided with the a time when the people of Ladakh were struggling with the atrocities of their own officials and needed someone who could virtually guide them in forming their identity. Thus, his knowledge and values of the fundamental Buddhist principles of love and compassion led him to selflessly devote his life to improving the situation and the lives of his fellow Ladakhi.
Rinpoche not only guided his people on the religious path, but also successfully assumed the responsibility of a political leader. He was a person of simple life and high thought which separated him from other rulers. His role in the social, educational, economic and political upliftment of Ladakh is remarkable and he is rightly called “the architect of modern Ladakh”. Kushok Bakula was a legendary figure, his wellness activities were not limited to Ladakh but extended to countries outside India like Mongolia and Russia.
During his life, Bakula Rinpoche held many official positions, including that of Minister of the Government of Jammu and Kashmir, a two-term Member of Parliament (Lok Sabha), member of the National Commission on Minorities in 1978 and India’s ambassador to Mongolia for a decade. from 1990 to 2000. History records that prior to his ambassadorship, Rinpoche visited the USSR in 1968 at the invitation of Lama Gonpo Jampel Dorje (also known as Khambo Lama Zhambaldorj Gomboyev) who then served as supreme head of Buddhism in the USSR.
It was his first visit to the USSR where, at the request of the local people, Rinpoche undertook to give teachings, initiations and oral transmission. He also met and discussed topics related to Buddhism with many governments. officials and heads of the Buddhist clergy of the USSR and Mongolia. Consequently, this led to the successful founding of the Asian Buddhist Peace Conference (ABCP) in Ulaanbaatar in 1969. Thus, throughout his life he would continue to support the revitalization of Buddhism in the USSR. When he took up the post of Ambassador to Mongolia in January 1990, Rinpoche, without wasting a single day, began to work for the restoration of Buddhism in Mongolia. He has done a remarkable job in strengthening bilateral relations between the two countries by reviving and restructuring Buddhism in Mongolia. One of the most crucial things Bakula Rinpoche noticed during his trip was the state of the Buddhist monasteries. There was no place a monk could go to get proper training and proper education.
Rinpoche often emphasized the importance of upholding his monastic vows, which is why he set out to establish Pethub Monastery in Ulaanbaatar, which is named after his own monastery in Ladakh. Furthermore, he also recognized the spiritual needs of women, thus opened the Lay Women’s Buddhist Organization and gave monastic ordination to women, the first ever in modern Mongolia. On the initiative of Bakula Rinpoche, the first public celebration of Buddha Purnima in Democratic Mongolia took place on May 29, 1991 at the National Center for Culture and Recreation. Also, it was at the request and initiative of Bakula Rinpoche that in August 1993 the Govt. of India brought the relics of Buddha preserved in the National Museum of New Delhi in Ulaanbaatar for public display.
Therefore, the remarkable activities of Bakula Rinpoche in the rebirth of Buddha Dharma rightly proved the legendary prophecy made by the famous Mongolian monastic scholar Zava Damdin Kachu (1867-1937). He predicted that “Buddhism in Mongolia will be assaulted by enemy forces. He further predicted that sometime after the destruction of Buddhism in the country, Arhat Bakula would come to Mongolia to revitalize the Mongolian Buddhist tradition and restore the Buddhist cultural heritage Mongolian to its former glory.”
After resigning from his political post, Rinpoche, despite his advanced age, continued his travels where he felt his teachings were needed and people’s religious needs were suppressed. The President of Mongolia for his great service to their nation conferred on Kushok Bakula the “Polar Star” award, Mongolia’s highest honor. Even today, the Mongolian people have immense admiration and faith in him and still bear the affectionate title of “Ambassador Teacher” (Elchiin Bagsh). Therefore, Kushok Bakula is rightly termed as a statesman, revolutionary, visionary and saint who made outstanding contribution and dedicated his whole life in the service of his people and country to the last breath in 2003. (ANI)
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