Ambassador Rinpoche also seemed to have some magical powers as was claimed by many, although I was not so sure. But after seeing people’s faith and their redemption my own scepticism melted away. – Former Ambassador Anil Trigunayat*
When in 1990 I requested the foreign ministry to post me to Ulaanbaatar in late 1989 most thought I was crazy to have opted for such a cold and difficult country. Even my High Commissioner in Dhaka who later became the Foreign Secretary asked me if I wanted a change. I thanked for his kindness but responded that I was fascinated by this unique and exotic country and above all early on in my career I will have a great opportunity to serve as No.2 under a legendary political Ambassador Rinpoche Kushak Bakula. I was eagerly looking forward to this exciting journey by travelling for almost 36 hours by train via Beijing when I landed in the thick of the winters of mid-January, 1990 when Mongols were hankering for the democracy and Soviet influence was declining. Straight from the Railway station, my predecessor escorted me to meet the Ambassador.
Ambassador Bakula was a kind man and was a source of sympathy and benediction as well as became almost Godlike and was venerated as such by the very affectionate Mongolians. It was not uncommon to see miles long queue in front of the embassy especially on the weekends to seek his blessings. One very cold wintry morning, I got a call from Rinpoche Bakula requesting me to drop him at the Gandan monastery as he was to perform some rituals there and his driver had not turned up. I told him that it would be my honour. I drove him to the monastery and to my utter surprise I saw a large crowd of Mongols waiting to see him starting at the base of the hill in the bitter cold and chilly winds. Even if they touched his robe or the car they felt ingratiated and blessed. I was quite moved with this unflinching faith of the faithful. There was umpteen number of instances that cemented this faith. Once I was called by Ambassador’s interpreter that an old man was waiting to see Rinpoche and was refusing to go. Since his PS Sonam was travelling, I went and met this 92-year strong burly man in his traditional dress insisting that he had to see Rinpoche as he had almost lost his sight. Rinpoche tried to argue with him that with age the body has to debilitate and even gave his own example but the man lying prostrate on the carpet refused to budge. I prevailed upon Rinpoche to do something about him so that he could leave. Finally, he gave some water and some black and red beads and Jangha -the auspicious red armband after reciting some mantras. Then the old man left with a glimmer of hope in his eyes. I wondered what will happen to him. I did not have to wait very long. One afternoon, I saw the same man with a large loaf of a goat on his shoulder and some other traditional gifts wanting to see Rinpoche. I could not contain my curiosity and asked him as to how he felt – the man responded that he could see quite well and had come to thank Rinpoche and seek more blessings.
The number of followers increased day by day and sometimes it was difficult for Ambassador to not meet them for long. We had just changed carpets in the embassy and with all those visitors it was becoming an antique art piece very soon. I knew under Government rules we will not be able to replace these for several decades. So I suggested to Ambassador to receive his visitors in the Yurt that was gifted to him by the locals. As such we were planning to install it in the backyard of the embassy building to receive his followers, he readily agreed. This was also liked by everyone as it was an unusually beautiful Yurt and provided the typical Mongolian grandeur and ambience.
Ambassador also seemed to have some magical powers as was claimed by many, although I was not so sure. But after seeing people’s faith and their redemption my own scepticism melted away. In fact, the Deputy Foreign Minister did not have any children and requested Rinpoche to perform some Puja for this. Finally, he was blessed with a daughter. In fact, my own three-year-old daughter was constantly sick and Rinpoche gave her a talisman, where after until we were in Mongolia, she never fell ill. Rinpoche helped restoration and revival of dozens of monasteries that were decimated during the Soviet Communist system and arranged to send hundred of monks for training to Dharamsala while setting up his own monastery there. Even the usually wary Chinese respected him a lot and somehow agreed to arrange his visit to Tibet since despite their differing political philosophy they did not discount the possibility of Rinpoche being the 19th reincarnate of one of the disciples of Lord Buddha.
The British and US Ambassadors often told me that by posting Ambassador Bakula –a Buddhist Monk to Mongolia the Government of India had done a coup of sorts since no one could have commanded the respect and affection Rinpoche enjoyed in the host country. Due to Buddhism connection Indians were virtually loved perhaps the only country in the world. Despite his religious duties and mission, I must admit that his spiritual stance greatly supplemented his professional interactions. Although due to his high stature it was so much easier for us to meet the President and other top leaders but during those meetings I greatly admired the way he used to handle the most intricate issues with such an ease and fluency. I had not witnessed this even among the hardcore professionals. No wonder it was because of his stature and indulgence that we were able to secure the first ever Line of Credit for Mongolia outside the immediate neighbourhood as well as the open-ended availability of ITEC scholarship for the Mongolian working professionals. This laid the strong foundations of modern-day India-Mongolia partnership.
I will always cherish the wonderful memories of serving under Rinpoche Kushak Bakula in Mongolia – a country he virtually adopted.
*Ambassador Anil Trigunayat was former Deputy Chief of Mission to Ambassador Bakula to Mongolia. Also, the author is the former Ambassador of India to Jordan, Libya and Malta and Distinguished Fellow Vivekananda International Foundation
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Kootneeti Team.