A Ladahhi Tibetan-Buddhist monk serving as Indian Ambassador to Mongolia.
Since Ambassador Plenipotentiary Kushok G. Bakula Rimpoche became the Indian envoy in 1990, he has played a central role in the reconstruction of Buddhism in Mongolia and the neighbouring areas of Russia. However, his other antecedents are just as absorbing.
Bakula Rimpoche is without doubt one of the most central figures in modern Ladakhi history, and not an uncontroversial one. He was bom on 19 May 1917, on a full moon, and was recognised as the 20th incarnation of Arhat Bakula at the age of six and enthroned at Spituk (dPe-thub) Monastery near Leh. At the age of ten, Bakula went to Tibet for higher studies, spending 14 years at the Loseling College of Drepung Monastery near Lhasa, where he received with honours, the Geshe Lharampa degree, the ´PhD´ of the Gelugpa school of Tibetan Buddhism, from the Thirteenth Dalai Lama.
In June 1949, during Jawaharlal Nehru´s visit to Ladakh, Bakula Rimpoche was made District President of the National Conference, and he soon established himself as the pre-eminent force in Ladakh´s politics, emerging as an outspoken advocate of Ladakhi interests in the State Assembly in Srinagar. After Sheikh Abdullah´s arrest and the rise of Bakshi as Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, Bakula began a 14-year stint in various ministerial positions in the state, but mostly as Minister of State for Ladakh Affairs, before being elected to the Lok Sabha in 1967 for the first of two consecutive terms.
Although few will doubt his importance as an advocate of Ladakhi interests at crucial moments, the rimpoche´s rise to power and political supremacy have not gone undisputed. Historically, Hemis Monastery´s Stagtsang Raspa was the more powerful ´Head Lama´ of Ladakh, a label that has been claimed by several eminent religious figures from the region. Bakula´s rise to power in 1949 was the result of growing dissatisfaction with the dominance of the Kalon family within Ladakh. Since, at this time, Stagtsang Raspa was too young to play a role in politics, Bakula was chosen instead. Stagtsang Raspa later went to Tibet for further studies and was caught behind the ice curtain after the Chinese crackdown.
During the years after Independence, Bakula and his associates, especially Sonam Wangyal, were credited with many beneficial reforms in Ladakh, including the abolition of corvee labour and land reforms. Bakula also played an important role in various campaigns against what were dubbed social and religious evils, including polyandry, excessive drinking, animal sacrifice and hunting. By the time elections were held in Ladakh for the first time in 1960, however, there was widespread disillusionment due to the lack of progress in Ladakh and the alleged corruption of people around Bakula.
For more than a decade, Ladakhi society and politics were split into two deeply antagonistic factions: those supporting and those opposing “KGB” as he was referred to by the irreverent (see Himal Mar/Apr 1995).
By the early 1980s, political and religious forces in Ladakh had buried their differences and united to fight for “scheduled tribe” status and regional autonomy. By this time, Bakula was serving as member of the Minorities Commission in New Delhi, from where he regularly issued statements in support of the Ladakhi demands. During the at-times-violent and communalised campaign for Union Territory status for Ladakh, which began in 1989, Bakula mostly stayed out of the fray. Soon after that, he was appointed Indian Ambassador to Mongolia, the second Ladakhi in that position. The first was Sonam Norbu, Ladakh´s renowned engineer and politician, who was posted there in 1969.
A recipient of the Padma Bhushan award from the Indian government, Bakula Rimpoche has been active throughout his life in promoting Buddhism in India and abroad. He was involved in creating the Ladakh Buddhist Vihara in New Delhi, and the Central Institute of Buddhist Studies in Choglamsar near Leh. In Mongolia and neighbouring regions, he has taught Buddhism and helped to rebuild religious institutions and practices that had been obliterated under the communist regime. Although he continues to be a controversial political figure, his contributions in the promotion of Buddhism and the interests of Buddhists in India and elsewhere are undisputed.
One of his teachers, Kyabje Yongdzin Trijang Rimpoche, once wrote of Bakula: “He has conducted his life along the lines of a person who enters upon the activities of the Bodhisattvas to benefit others while remaining in the monastic tradition.”