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
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. …