Waiting for the spiritual heir
More than three years after Kushok Bakula’s death, there is tremendous enthusiasm among the Ladakhis on the issue of spotting the new spiritual leader, and special prayers are being offered in the four monasteries for his rebirth in Ladakh, reports S.P. Sharma from Jammu

The lineage of reincarnations (Tulku) in Tibetan Buddhism include:

+ The Dalai Lamas

+ The Karmapas

+ The Zurmang Gharwangs

+ The Panchen Lamas

+ The Shabdrungs

+ The Shampras

+ The Tai Situpas

+ The Trungpas

Buddhist monks praying
Buddhist monks praying. — Photo by the writer

The Kushok Bakula is the head of the four main monasteries of Ladakh—Spituk, Saboo, Stok and Sankar. He passed away in Delhi on November 4, 2003. His followers in the frontier region of Ladakh are now looking towards the Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama and high lama Sras Rinpoche to identify his reincarnation. The Kushok Bakula is worshipped like a god not only in Ladakh, but in various other parts of the world.

Dr.Nawang Tsering, Principal of the Leh-based Central Institute of Buddhist Studies, says that the Ladakhis might have to wait for about one year more before the reincarnation of Kushok Bakula is identified by the Dalai Lama and Sras Rinpoche.

A section of his followers believe that the reincarnate might have taken birth in Mongolia, the place Kushok Bakula loved most. He was ambassador of India to Mongolia for more than a decade. However, most of the Ladakhis dismiss the claim and believe that he must have reborn in Ladakh itself as the system of reincarnation was not encouraged in Mongolia.

The last Kushok Bakula was born in Ladakh on May 21, 1917 and he died at the age of 86. He was recognised by the 13th Dalai Lama as a reincarnation of Bakula Arhat—one of the 16 Arhats (direct disciples of the Shakyamuni Buddha). Dr.Tsering said it is not a difficult task to spot the reincarnation by the Dalai Lama and Sras Rinpoche in whom the Ladakhis have great faith. The reincarnation has power to take rebirth anywhere, but the belief is that the Kushok Bakula must have reborn in Ladakh where he worked for uplift of the downtrodden people.

In Kushok Bakula’s absence, Sras Rinpoche, head lama of the Riszong and Samstanling monasteries is officiating as head of the four monasteries of Bakula. It is pertinent to mention here that the Sras Rinpoche holds number two position after the Dalai Lama in the hierarchy. He is the first Ladakhi to reach that position, says Dr.Tsering.

Bakula enjoyed added respect in the Ladakh region as he did not confine his role to conventional spiritual leader, but he actively involved himself in social, political and economic reforms in Ladakh. As a skilled administrator and Member Parliament, he held ministerial posts at the centre and also headed the Minorities Commission.

The late Kushok Bakula
The late Kushok Bakula. — Photo by A.J. Philip

He was awarded the highest civilian honour of Padma Bhushan in recognition of his distinguished service by the President of India.

During his diplomatic assignment in Mongolia, the Kushok Bakula helped reopen the ancient monasteries and organise Buddhist conferences. The ancient Pethub Stangey Choinkhorling monastery and Dechen Ling Nunnery in the Mongolian capital of Ulaanbaatar developed into important centres of learning for the Mongolian Buddhists.

The Mongolian government conferred a civilian award “Polar Star” on Kushok Bakula for his contribution to strengthening bilateral ties and promoting Buddhism in the country. The Polar Star is the third-highest state order conferred on civilians and is rarely given to foreigners. The airport at Leh has been named after the Kushok Bakula.

Succession process

The reincarnation system (Tulku) is based on the theory that Buddha’s soul never vanishes, but reincarnates in succession to lead his followers and to accomplish his mission.

According to Buddhist scholars, religious methods and rituals are used to identify the reincarnation of a late high lama. A search party headed by another high lama begins the search.

After a religious retreat, lamas, dispatched in disguise, scour Tibet for special signs : New mothers who have unusual dreams, children who have special knowledge without being taught and special physical traits, such as big ear lobes.

The lamas refer to oracles, portents, dreams and the late lama’s prophesy in order to aid them in their search. At times some lamas are sent to Lhamo Latso, the oracle lake, to look for prophetic visions to help locate the reincarnation. Usually dozens of candidates are sought. They are tested with the late lama’s possessions; those who have amazing knowledge in identifying their predecessor’s belongings win and become the final candidates.

In case of any dispute, the choice is made through a golden urn.

It is worth mentioning that China created a controversy by installing a rival Panchen Lama in 1995. The Tibetans were worried as the Chinese authorities removed the rightful Panchen Lama, Gendun Choeky Nyima (a six-year-old boy) to some undisclosed place.

The Dalai Lama had recently said that his reincarnation will not appear in the Chinese part of Tibet.