Bakula Rinpoche, who has passed away aged 86, was a unique Lama of great talent and exceptional gifts. He was highly revered for his erudition, his dedication to the education of a new generation of young monks and nuns and his gentle humility. His wisdom and compassion put him in the front rank of influential Tibetan Buddhist masters, yet he was always modest.
Born into a noble family of Ladakh, India, he was recognized by the Thirteenth Dalai Lama as a reincarnation of Bakula Arhat - one of the Sixteen Arhats (direct disciples of the Shakyamuni Buddha).
As a Buddhist leader, he guided his followers through his personal example of a humble life as a celibate monk. He dedicated his life to the core principles of Buddhist teaching by caring for others, especially for those who were less fortunate and in great need.
He was deeply engaged with a number of welfare and minorities' right issues from remote places like Ladakh to the vast areas of Scheduled Casts and Tribes in India. His support, enthusiasm and determination played an important role in helping the Ladakhi people sustain their ancient Buddhist religion in the controversial political environment of the State of Jammu and Kashmir. As a man with a great sense of practical reality, he was a guiding spirit for Ladakhi people to develop their way of life through a combination of traditional and modern education. This won him the title of "The Architect of Modern Ladakh".
Though he made no claim to being a Tibetan leader, many of his works, dedicated to mobilising support for the Tibetan refugees when they first arrived in India seemed to make him one in practice. He was highly revered as a Lama and greatly respected as a human rights campaigner by the Tibetan people. To His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Rinpoche was a close friend and a dedicated fellow advocate of Buddha Dharma.
As a skilled administrator and Member of Parliament, he held some of the highest ministerial posts in the Government of India, including being head of the Minorities Commission. As a diplomat, he served as Ambassador of India to Mongolia for over 10 years from 1990. In 1986, in recognition of his distinguished service of high order to the nation, the President of India awarded him the second highest honour, "Padma Bhushan".
The Prime Minister of India Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee visited Jammu & Kashmir House and placed a wreath 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."
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.
I first met Rinpoche in 1973 when he gave me his full support in organising the first ever meeting of His Holiness the Dalai Lama with two Buddhist leaders of Russia (then Soviet Union) and Mongolia. Whatever one may think of the details, Rinpoche was convinced that Buddhist tradition would once again prevail in these countries. He was a rare combination of scholar and monk, who knew the value of getting people to talk and who had the political insight to really bring change to the communities he lived in.
Today, the teachings of the Buddha have once again come back to Russia and Mongolia and Bakula Rinpoche has played an important mentoring role in the process.
Over a period of ten years, he helped re-open ancient monasteries and organize Buddhist peace conferences. Under his guidance, Pethub Monastery and Dechen Ling Nunnery in Ulaanbaatar developed into important centres of learning for the Mongolian Buddhists. In 2001 the President of Mongolia awarded Rinpoche one of the highest honour of the country, "The Polar Star".
He travelled internationally promoting the importance of inter-faith understanding, inter-communal harmony and peaceful reconciliation of conflicts in the world. His last visit to London was in November 2002 when he was a guest of Her Majesty the Queen. During that visit Tibet Foundation had the privilege to host a reception in his honour and receive his blessing. Tireless in his work, he travelled on to the 3rd World Buddhist Conference hosted by His Majesty King Norodom Sihanouk in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
His passing is a great loss to the world Buddhist community and especially to the people of India, Tibet and Mongolia. For 30 years I have known Rinpoche as a source of great inspiration. His contribution to the welfare of the Tibetan refugees and to the success of our work at Tibet Foundation was invaluable. We shall miss Rinpoche.
Together with his followers and Buddhists at large, we earnestly pray for the swift return of his reincarnation.
Most Venerable Kushok Bakula Rinpoche, born 21st May 1917 in Ladakh was educated in the great monastery of Drepung in Lhasa. He passed away in Delhi 4th November 2003.
Tibet Foundation, London