Inter Faith - Love and compassion in high places
by Chitra Jha
The venerable Bhikkhu Sanghasena
This desolate desert has been transformed into an oasis of
peace, love, compassion, green trees, and colourful flowers Ladakh, like Tibet, is rightly known as the ‘Roof of the World’. It boasts of the highest airfield, the highest motorable road, the highest battlefield and the highest golf course. In fact, all the ‘highest’ landmarks of the civilised world can be found here! In this windswept high-altitude desert, aptly called the moonscape, one man decided to spread love and compassion through action. In 1986, venerable Bhikkhu Sanghasena, with the help of a few friends, founded Mahabodhi International Meditation Centre, at Leh, Ladakh. A decision that has reinforced the piety in this land of the lamas. The centre has grown to become a role model institution, delivering a wide range of important spiritual, cultural, and community service programmes. The story of this one man’s dedication and the centre is a living testimony to the power of ‘one’.
Bhikkhu Sanghasena was born in Tingmosgang, a remote village in Ladakh. People of this region naturally possess an ancient tradition of peacefulness, humility, and innocence. At the age of 17, he enrolled as a soldier in the Indian Army. In his own words, “That was the only option available to a young boy of those days.” He enjoyed some aspects of his regimented life but soon his deep-rooted spiritual inclinations clashed with the values of military life. He felt restless and decided to abandon the army. At this time he came across a person who led him to Bangalore, to study and practice Buddhism under Acharya Buddharakhita. That was a turning point in young Sanghasena’s life. He not only developed personally but also learnt the value of serving others.
Young Sanghasena was very happy leading a pure yogic life, devoted to introspective meditation and detached from the world, but his teacher had other plans for him. Acharya Buddharakhita reminded the young monk about the harsh physical conditions of his people in Ladakh and implored him to go and serve these people. He used the Buddha’s words to reinforce his point, ‘Do not close your eyes before suffering. Find ways to be with those who are suffering. By such means awaken yourself and others to the reality of suffering in the world.’
Spurred by such an ideal, Sanghasena came back to his birthplace. He didn’t know where to begin; all he had with him were the teachings of the Buddha, and the practice of Dhamma. He was inspired to form a small group of like-minded people to informally discuss the potential of the Buddha’s teachings to influence the many social and spiritual issues facing Ladakhi society at that time. He also started conducting meditation classes, but there were no takers for this form of ‘Buddhism’. Even though people of Ladakh were born and brought up in the Buddhist tradition, meditation as practised by the Buddha was new to them. They believed in chanting the mantras, prostrating before the Buddha’s statue, offering incense and candles. They were not interested in observing their breath or their bodily sensations. They had more faith in their centuries-old Tibetan Buddhist culture and religious practices.
The Mahabodhi International Meditation Centre against the barreness of Ladakh In the 1970s, Ladakh opened its doors to tourism. This exotic land attracted hordes of foreigners and along with them came a cultural revolution. One positive aspect of this cultural shift was an increase in the perceived value of meditation. Most foreigners were attracted to Ladakh for its Buddhist heritage. Their interest made the Ladakhis realise the value and richness of their own religion. Sanghasena took advantage of this opportunity to expand the range and number of meditation activities in Ladakh. This is how the first projects of Mahabodhi Devachan came into being, in 1991.
Devachan means ‘pure land’. It is spread over 230 acres in Choglamsar, just outside Leh town. In these 18 years of existence, this desolate desert has been transformed into an oasis of peace, love, compassion, green trees, and colourful flowers. It is a permanent home to nearly 400 people, besides being a temporary home to thousands more. It is a friendly, welcoming, and diverse community of people that come from more than 64 remote villages spread across the vast expanse of Ladakh.
The campus currently comprises of separate residential hostels for boys and girls; a residential home for the elderly and physically handicapped; a residential hostel for visually impaired children; a monastery and a nunnery, providing monastic training and modern education; a fully equipped hospital; a high school for over 500 students; a meditation retreat centre; a global family guesthouse; a winter greenhouse; many beautiful gardens and orchards. Over the years, Devachan campus has become a fascinating place for seekers of truth and lovers of peace. An increasing number of spiritually inclined tourists head for Devachan campus from all parts of the world in search of real peace and true meaning of life. They participate in various meditations, yoga, spiritual teaching and humanitarian service programmes. Devachan has become an important centre of cultural exchange where East meets West in an attempt to learn and explore the hidden truths. It has become a meeting place for sharing experiences, views and joys of life with one another; an ideal place to promote inter-religious harmony.
Anyone who is familiar with the inhospitable and difficult terrain of Ladakh would know that it has not been an easy task to bring Devachan to its present state. It would have been as difficult as establishing a village on the moon! Besides the physical hard work, the challenges of starting an innovative and pioneering work have come along with unprecedented opposition and difficulties. However, one look at this joyful and harmonious community makes one rejoice in Bhikkhu Sanghasena’s accomplishments.
Mahabodhi International Meditation Centre, in its own way is engaged in creating an alternative approach to community living, developing a balanced, diverse, and harmonious community, deep in the Himalayan mountains. This alternative community inspires great confidence in Sanghasena’s mission of embodying ‘compassion and meditation in action’. Devachan campus is spiritually enlightening, mentally peaceful, culturally rich, environmentally harmonious, and globally focused, for the benefit of all lovers of peace and seekers of truth from across the world.
May all the residents, staff, volunteers, and guests of MIMC be blessed to continue with their mission of creating peace in the hearts and smiles on the faces of more and more people!
For more details please visit www.mahabodhi-ladakh.org
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