Monk with modern mind and mission

Buddhism puts thinking into practice

Drukpa White Lotus School in Ladakh, more popularly known as the Rancho school.

It was a long march. But it was unlike Mao’s long march, which ended in a political revolution. This long march began in the Himalayan region and led to a social revolution. It was a 400-km padayatra from Manali to Ladakh, which borders China besides Tibet. It was led by Gyalwang Drukpa, who is the spiritual head of the Drukpa lineage (Dragon lineage) with a history of 800 years. During the recent march in the rugged terrain of the Himalayan region, Gyalwang Drukpa and others ended up collecting over a lakh empty plastic mineral water bottles. This was his way to save the Himalaya  region.

Gyalwang Drukpa and over 700 people from around the world spent three months trekking through the harshest terrain of the Himalayas to meet people in remote villages and nomadic tribes to assess their need for aid and support.

“Environment is the responsibility of all the Himalayan people. The environmental condition of the Himalayas can affect the lives of people elsewhere. Water and air can affect a large number of people”, he says.

His mission is to promote universal harmony and inner peace by integrating the spiritual tenets of love and appreciation into daily life. His work includes promoting gender equality, establishing educational institutions, medical clinics and meditation centres and rebuilding heritage sites in the Himalayas.

It is his efforts to conserve the environment that has brought him worldwide recognition. When Leh was hit by a series of cloudbursts, he undertook a programme to plant over a million trees to save the environment. It created a new Guinness World Record when 9,313 people planted 50,033 saplings in 33 minutes and 25 seconds. This event took place at 10 hrs, 10 minutes and 10 seconds on the tenth day of the tenth month of 2010.

Recently, he was adjudged the Green Hero by NDTV Greenathon awards held in New Delhi for his outstanding work in the field of environment protection. The big moment came in September 2010 when he was recognised by the United Nations for coming up with the only green school in Himalayas, the Druk White Lotus School, locally known as Druk Padma Karpo Institute. The school provides students with a modern education while preserving their local culture. Gyalwang Drukpa has announced many such green schools in the Himalayan belt in the next three to four years.

This school shot into limelight when popular Hindi actor Aamir Khan shot a part of his film “The three idiots” in this school.  Today it is often referred to as “Rancho school” after his character in the film. There is also a “Rancho coffee shop” in the campus. Aamir visited the school and helped rebuild it after it was damaged by flash floods in August last year.

In 2007, Gyalwang Drukpa founded the non-profit international humanitarian organisation Live to Love. Aamir Khan approached Drukpa Lineage and expressed his desire to be the global brand ambassador of Live to Love. The five goals of Live to Love are education, medical services, relief aid, environment protection and heritage preservation. Currently, the headquarters of Live to Love is in Hong Kong with chapters in China, Malaysia, Singapore, India, Nepal, Bhutan, Monaco, Germany, France, the United Kingdom, the United States, Mexico and Peru.

He also lays emphasis on women empowerment. Buddhism traditionally does not  promote women in their religion. However, Gyalwang Drukpa went against the tradition and encouraged his nuns to come forward.  “I think it is unfair to neglect women as they have a lot to contribute. Therefore, I have started from my own nunnery”, says Gyalwang. The nuns study Hindi, English, computers and life skills, besides their religious study and practice.

“Women should come to the Centre stage”, he says. The nuns of Drukpa Lineage practise Kung Fu in the Kathmandu nunnery. Women have more wisdom and they should be in the forefront of all the spheres of life, he adds.

Gyalwang’s another important mission is preserving heritage, tradition and culture. “Ladakhi culture is very different from the rest of the world. I feel a special kind of responsibility to preserve the culture of Ladakhis. Modernistion is good and I like modernisation. But modernisation should not destroy culture”, he says.

In recent years, it has become increasingly common for artefacts to be stolen and sold in the black market. Preservation efforts are currently underway at the Hemis monastery in Ladakh, a historic Drukpa monastery. It is the storehouse to some of the most treasured rare art and historical documents of the Himalayas.      
The 48-year old monk is very articulate on his idea of harmony. “Many of the problems in this world are because people of each religion feel they are different from others and are not connected.” Over the last 35 years, Gyalwang Drukpa has conducted a number of philanthropic discourses, retreats and dialogues throughout the world on topics of compassion and humanitarian activism.

The 3rd Annual Drukpa Council Summit was held this week in Ladakh. The first two councils were held at Katmandu in Nepal. Buddhist masters from across the globe gathered and offered prayers at the Council summit. During the Council summit, the nuns performed the mask dance and the strenuous kung-fu dragon dance.

Over 400 million Drukpa Buddhists can be found in Bhutan, Tibet, China, Nepal and India besides Europe, North America, South America, Asia and Africa. In fact, there was a significant presence of devotees from these countries at the council summit.

“To serve Buddha means to serve all human beings”, said Gyalwang Drukpa at the inauguration of the council summit. The Drupka lineage follows the Mahayana Buddhist tradition in philosophy of “getting enlightened for the benefit of others.”  In keeping up with this tradition, an eye camp was organised in which 30 doctors from Taiwan volunteered to treat over 10,000 people suffering from eye diseases, common in Ladakh, among other diseases. 

“People often tend to misunderstand that Buddhism as a philosophy is something to do with only meditating and not something to be practiced in day-day living. Buddhism is a living philosophy that has to be put into practice”, says Gyalwang Drukpa. He himself walks a path in tune with modern times, which is quite uncommon to monks.

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