From guns to Buddha to enlightening others, a monk’s story (Feature with images)

July 20th, 2011 - 9:46 am ICT by IANS  

Leh, July 20 (IANS) He was a soldier who dropped the gun to be a monk - but even that didn’t give him peace of mind. So Bhikkhu Sanghasena decided to work towards educating the underprivileged in the Ladakh region of Jammu and Kashmir to help them match steps with the rest of the world.

“I was a soldier and our instructors used to say, what do you know about the world? You are a ‘pahadi’. My blood used to boil on their comments,” Sanghasena, 53, who believes education is a weapon that can help people win the world, told a visiting IANS correspondent.

“I joined the army at the age of 17 in 1974 and served for four and a half years. After meeting a Buddhist monk and hearing the preaching of the Buddha, I felt I was not leading a pure Buddhist life. I decided to quit the army to be a monk.

“But living a monk’s life was not enough,” said Sanghasena, who is from Timisgang in Ladakh. He returned to the state in 1986 and realised that progress had bypassed the region.

His first step was to start the Mahabodhi Residential School, an educational institution in Devachan, Leh, in 1992 with 25 girls from farflung areas as he believes in empowering girls. Five years later, he started admitting boys too.

Sanghasena has opened three more branches - one in his hometown of Timisgang where 130 students are studying, Bodhkharbu with 116 students and Nye with 36.

The monks and nuns at the centre are given formal education “so that if they plan to return to normal life, they have the skills to earn their livelihood,” said Sanghasena who also runs a school for the blind.

Many of the first batch of girls who studied at the Mahabodhi Residential School, which is up to Class 10, are back after completing higher studies from places like Bangalore as well as Malaysia to take their guru’s dream forward.

Tsewang Dolma is just 25 and she has already taken charge as principal of the main school, which is affiliated to the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) and has 480 students. The difference between this school and others in the region is that here education is free.

“Four of us have joined here. One is a meditation and yoga guru and two are hospitality managers and both are trained in Malaysia,” said Dolma, adding the alumni are pursuing teaching, MBBS, aeronautical engineering and nursing in various parts of the country.

Earlier the girls were sent to Bangalore for higher studies, but now a hostel has been set up in Ramgarh near Mohali in Punjab, and after completing Class 10, the girls stay there for higher education.

Ladakh has a population of 117,232 with a literacy rate of over 60 percent and its capital Leh is growing commercially — many schools have come up, the market has expanded, new roads, guesthouses and office buildings are being constructed. And Sanghasena is part of this growth.

In two decades, Devachan has been turned into a small town and the Mahabodhi International Meditation Centre, spread over acres, has a meditation centre, which is quite popular among foreign tourists, a hospital, an old age home and hostels for boys and girls. It is in this campus that the school is located.

“The old age home came in 1995 and right now we have 35 elderly people, hailing from remote areas, staying there. Old people’s requirement is less, but they are the happiest lot,” said Sanghasena who travels across the globe to raise funds for the organisation.

“In the beginning, I even collected 50 cents and $1. Even today, fund-raising is a task and I feel because of some miracle or the blessings of Buddha I have managed to do it so far. In the beginning, I used to travel to Malaysia, Taiwan, Japan for talks on dharma and meditation and collect 50 cents, $1…,” he said.

To help him create awareness and raise funds, film director Harish Sharma is making a documentary on the centre.

(Arpana can be contacted at arpana.s@ians.in)

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