The renowned spiritual leader and socially engaged Buddhist monk Venerable Bhikkhu Sanghasena has emerged as a rare voice for peace and de-escalation amid fraying political ties between Indian and China. As relations between Beijing and New Delhi have soured, with tensions currently centered on a disputed 3,488 kilometer frontier border between far northern India and Tibet, Bhikkhu Sanghasena has raised the call for peace and cooperation rather than military engagement as a path to resolution.
Tensions in the Himalayan region first began to escalate in late April, when China mobilized thousands of troops with artillery and vehicles in disputed territory along the Line of Actual Control between the two nations. In June, the political dispute was heated further when a deadly clash between Indian and Chinese forces in the Galwan Valley—the first fatal incident in the disputed area since 1975—saw at least 20 Indian soldiers killed. Beijing has declined to reveal how many of its own soldiers lost their lives in the incident.
“If war breaks out, Ladakh being the border will be the first victim of war,” Bhikkhu Sanghasena said in a recent interview from Leh, the joint capital of the union territory of Ladakh in India’s arid and mountainous northern reaches. “[The] people of Ladakh will suffer the most. We will become another Kashmir or Afghanistan.” (IDN)
On 8 September, Bhikkhu Sanghasena, the spiritual director of the Mahabodhi International Meditation Center (MIMC), founder of the Save the Himalayas Foundation and the Mahakaruna Foundation, and adviser to the International Network of Engaged Buddhists (INEB), among many other roles,* organized an interfaith procession under the banner of “Work, Walk, and Pray for Peace.” The revered monk reached out to leaders and representatives of many local spiritual communities, including Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs, who participated in the peace demonstration through the streets of Leh.
The religious leaders prayed for a resolution to the tensions and instability, which Bhikkhu Sanghasena said have filled the local population with fear, and called on the heads of state of China and India to overcome ignorance through exercising wisdom to enable both nations to live in peace and harmony.
“Please come forward and, in a united voice, say NO to WAR,” Bhikkhu Sanghasena stated in a Facebook post on the peace walk. “We are peace-loving people, a peace-loving nation and hence do not encourage war and hatred. Let us appeal to worthy leaders of both the great nations, India and China, to find peaceful means to resolve issues and set an example for the rest of the world. Let us realize our shared values, shared cultures, and above all shared humanity. Let peace prevail on this beautiful planet, which is our shared HOME and we are, after all, members of this shared Global Family.” (Facebook)
“We should draw wisdom from our ancient civilizations, exploring the constructive ways and means by which we can move forward together as powerful neighbors with very similar hopes, ambitions, and wishes for our people, cementing a positive and flourishing future relationship focused on ‘enhancing mutual trust, promoting cooperation, managing differences, and striving for common development.’” said Bhikkhu Sanghasena. (The News Chronicle)
Amid a tit-for-tat blame game between Beijing and New Delhi, the People’s Liberation Army has reportedly mobilized more than two regular divisions—some 40,000 troops—plus logistic services and air force support along the disputed frontier, while India has likewise deployed a similar size force with support from the Indian Air Force.
Bhikkhu Sanghasena lamented that, to date, too many of India’s most senior spiritual leaders have been noticeably reticent to speak out on the crisis. “It is the duty of every spiritual leader to promote peace,” Bhikkhu Sanghasena affirmed. “India is a land of millions of yogis, rishis [Hindu sages] and munis [ascetics] who always said, ‘Ahimsa Paramo Dharma’ [non-violence is the top-most duty]. Thus non-violence has been the first slogan of Indian gurus. I’m surprised no gurus have come up to speak for a peaceful solution of the border conflict between India and China.” (IDN)
Perched high on the Tibetan Plateau, Ladakh, which translates as the Land of High Passes, last year became the largest union territory in India after the government reconstituted the former state of Jammu and Kashmir. Spread across some 59,146 mountainous square kilometers,** much of which is desiccated and inhospitable, the culture and history of Ladakh is closely interwoven with that of Tibet—so much so that Ladakh is sometimes known as “Little Tibet.”
The Indian government’s move was politically highly charged, both from a domestic perspective and particularly with relation to diplomatic ties with India’s neighbors. The larger region of Kashmir has been the subject of heated territorial disputes between China, India, and Pakistan following the Partition of India in 1947. The western and northern territories of Kashmir, Azad Kashmi and Gilgit-Baltistan, are administered by Pakistan, while the eastern Aksai Chin region, bordering Tibet, has been under Chinese control since 1962, following a brief but bloody conflict with India.
“The spiritual and cultural relationship between India and China is much deeper, long-standing, and so much more important than the relatively petty enmities created by border disputes and conflicts,” Bhikkhu Sanghasena stated. “Surrendering the option of war is not a sign of weakness; it is a supremely powerful expression of wisdom and compassion, expressing deep care and concern for the happiness and well-being of the people. Protecting lives is superior to killing.” (The News Chronicle)
* Sacred Offerings of Compassion and Relief: Ven. Bhikkhu Sanghasena, the Silent Reformer (Buddhistdoor Global)