Eye on border, China fanning intra-sect rivalry: Ladakh's Buddhist leader

  • Prashant Jha, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Sep 26, 2014 11:50 IST

At a time when Chinese incursions in Ladakh has India’s security establishment worried, Gyalwang Drukpa, the honorific title of the top Buddhist leader of the Drukpa sect with followers in Ladakh and Tibet, has accused Beijing of fanning intra-sect rivalries and using the Karmapa-led sect to take over monasteries in the holy Mount Kailash area of Tibet. This, he claims, is being done with an eye on the border issue.

Speaking exclusively to HT, Gyalwang Drukpa - Jigme Pema Wangchen - said that 75-80 percent in Ladakh and over 95 percent in the Kailash area are Drukpa sect followers. “There are several Drukpa monasteries in the Kailash region, but followers of the Karma Kagyu school of Buddhism are taking over our sites. They are engaged in forceful conversion. God knows where they are getting the money – but we strongly suspect it is with the help of the Chinese government.” The Drukpa leader said the issue is larger. “I believe both the Indian and Chinese governments have to deal with this. We have a border issue right here, and Drukpas guard it. China is trying to increase its control over our sites.”

Their modus operandi, according to the Drukpa leader, involves coming to monasteries offering to help. “They then change the wall painting and monument in the name of restoration. They offer money and coerce. And now, they have even started kicking our practitioners.” Wangchen claims while this started 15 years ago, when they took over the Dri ra Phug monastery; it has escalated in the past year, and two months ago, they took over the Tirthapuri monastery.

The Karma Kagyu school is led by the Karmapa. But Wangchen is quick to avoid directly blaming the senior Tibetan spiritual leader. “They are using his name, but I don’t think he is responsible. But what we know is that certain high Lamas of the sect are involved.” Wangchen has urged the 17th Karmapa as recognized by the Dalai Lama, Ugyen Thinley Dorjee, to urge his followers to restrain and return sacred heritage.

The Karmapa’s media spokesperson, Kunzang Chunvyalp, strongly denied there was any attempt to ‘forcefully concert’, and told HT “His Holiness does not believe in conversion. He has a broad outlook, and there is no conversion plan. He believes in harmony and dialogue between all sects, and we all belong to the broad Buddhist tradition.”

Giving historical context, Chunvyalp said that in the late 70s, a high lama of their sect had visited the Kailash region and witnessed how four Drukpa monasteries had been desecrated. “He had then urged that these be restored because they are very sacred.” The Karmapa’s office added local communities and local authorities often act on their own, and to ascribe it to any larger plan would be inaccurate. Chunvyalp said they had no information about the Chinese role. “We can comment only on the religious element.”

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