Revival of Tibet-Style Buddhism Worries China

Article excerpt

Kushok Bakula walks a fine line between politics and religion.

For six years, he has been India's ambassador to Mongolia, two countries often at odds with neighboring giant China. A close ally of the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan Buddhist leader exiled in India, Ambassador Bakula shuttles frequently between Mongolia and Beijing for talks with Chinese leaders.

The elderly Bakula, a monk who is considered to be a reincarnated Buddhist saint, is also helping lead a revival of Tibetan-style Buddhism on the Mongolian steppe and, to Beijing's dismay, on China's doorstep. "Mongolian culture is directly related to Buddhism. To keep Buddhism alive is to keep their culture alive," says Bakula, who wears red and saffron robes and meets weekly with devotees to give religious counseling. "If you are not Buddhist, then what are you? You lose your identity," says the monk. "How different are you then from Chinese or Russians?" Buddhism, silenced for 70 years by communism and Soviet domination, is making a slow comeback in Mongolia. In 1937, Khorloin Choibalsan, the country's Stalin-like dictator, burned most of Mongolia's 700 monasteries and executed one-sixth of its 110,000 monks. Today, six years after Mongolians threw off the mantle of communism, their religious revival has become a worry for China and a factor in the restive Chinese-controlled region of Tibet. Western analysts say Mongolia's religious reawakening has emerged as a new source of strength for Tibetan Buddhism - now under siege because of China's control of the former Himalayan kingdom - and its revered god-king, the Dalai Lama. Mongolia has long had cultural, religious, and political ties to Tibet. Mongolians are followers of the Dalai Lama, the revered spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism, and the Panchen Lama, Tibetan Buddhism's second-most important religious leader. Earlier this century, Mongolia even recognized Tibet's independence from China. For the first time since he fled an unsuccessful Tibetan uprising against China in 1959, the Tibetan leader can visit a country where Tibetan Buddhism is the major religion. As China has tried to diminish his stature, the Dalai Lama has visited Mongolia four times since 1990, each time drawing huge crowds and Chinese protests. Beijing's objections have done little to quiet the Tibetan leader's growing popularity in Mongolia as well as in Mongolian areas of Russia, which border sensitive regions of northwest China. "With the revival of Buddhism in Mongolia, the Dalai Lama has a new ally," says a Western diplomat in Beijing. Still, Mongolia's Buddhist renaissance remains in its infancy. …