"International Meet Will Discuss Concerns Over Himalayas" Bhikkhu Sanghasena

As temperature has gone up around the world, the heat is melting ice in the Himalayas and glaciers are receding. At a time when scientists have been expressing concern over the situation, a source of inspiration, spiritual in nature, Bhikkhu Sanghasena, a world renowned Buddhist and founder of the Save the Himalaya Foundation (SHF), from Ladakh, India, is hosting an international conference in Nepal next year. As Bhikkhu Sanghasena was recently in Kathmandu to prepare for the international conference in partnership with Binod Chaudhary’s Chaudhary Foundation, BHIKKHU SANGHASENA spoke to KESHAB POUDEL about the importance of his mission at the residence of Dr. Susanne Von Der Heide, a renowned Buddhist scholar and director of SHF’s international relations. Bhikkhu Sanghasena, a simple and humble human being, is renowned for his immense knowledge and wisdom. Excerpts of half an hour interview

Sept. 29, 2019, 4:03 p.m. Published in Magazine Issue: VOL 13 NO 05 ,Sep.27 –17 Oct., 2019(Ashoj 10, 2076) Online Register Number DOI 584/074-75 Editor: Sarita Poudel

How do you introduce yourself?

I was born in the region of Ladakh and have lived and worked in the Himalays for the last 35 years through the Mhabodhi International Meditation Center (MIMC) in Leh, Ladakh, I consider the Himalayas a gift of nature, not only for countries which share it but the whole world. As there is no other mountain range as magnificent and as abundant as the Himalayas, it is the duty of all the human beings to save it.

What are the challenges?

Himalayas are facing multiple crises today due to climate change, increased socio-economic activities and tourism and force of globalization and modernization. There is the need to pay attention to the protection and preservation of the Himalayas and simultaneous development of the region.

Why is it urgent to preserve the Himalayas?

Due to climate change, increased socio-economic activities and tourism and forces of modernization and globalization, the Himalayas are facing multiple crises today. With an aim to raise awareness and work to avert the crisis, we are holding an international conference in Nepal next year.

Who are helping you in Nepal to hold the international conference?

Along with Dr. Susanne Von Dar Heide, Binod Chaudhary and his Chaudhary Foundation are co-organizers of the conference. As a regional body working in the Hindkush region to protect the nature, culture and environment, International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) will also support us.

Why is there the need to pay concern on Himalayas?

As Himalayas are our property, it is the responsibility of all people regardless of their religion, race and nationality to work together in this cause. Himalayas are the sources of water and large number of people in India, Nepal, Bhutan, Tibet, Pakistan and Afghanistan are dependent upon it. It is the habitat of some of the rarest species of wildlife on earth, and home of dozens of ethnically, culturally, linguistically and spiritually diverse communities.

How do you see the similarities between Nepal and Ladakh?

Ladakh and Nepal share many similarities in culture, landscape and many things. Lots of people from Nepal come to Ladakh and a lot of people from Ladakh come to Nepal in places like Lumbini. In the past, all the Buddhist pilgrims used to visit Nepal. Now things have been changing. The visit of Himalayan people from Nepal to Ladakh is coming down because of some handicaps. There is the need to continue the long term connections between the people living in the Himalayan region. I think the situation will change in the coming days. Recently we have established the Save the Himalayan Foundation.

Why is Nepal important?

As Nepal is located in the central part of Himalayas, the country is very important. There are the highest mountains of the world and world famous mountains. Ladakh is also famous for the tourists and people from all over the world visit Ladakh. The foundation has already organized two important conferences discussing the importance of Himalayas in spirituality and science.

When will the third conference be held?

The third conference on saving Himalayas will be held in Kathmandu next year. We are here to attend the preparatory meeting for the conference. We have concluded several meetings on this regard.

Vikkhu with other Nepalis at Susanne's residence.jpg

Who are supporting this effort in Nepal?

Globally renowned and biggest industrialist from Nepal Binod Chaudhary, who came to attend our last conference in Ladakh, is supporting us to host the conference through Chaudhary Foundation. After attending the conference, he was very much inspired by what we have been doing in our campus and by the aims and objectives of this foundation. Chaudhary came forward to host the next conference here. We had a very elaborate discussion with Chaudhary. Thanks to Chaudhary and Dr. Susanne, we met many prominent personalities in Kathmandu and shared objectives of our foundation. As Himalayas have also been facing serious crises, there is the need to have such conference to highlight the issue. It is said that the Himalayas is the worst victim of the climate change. Our top priority is to protect and preserve the Himalayas. It is too big a task and there are greater challenges as well.

What are the likely issues to be raised?

There are several issues but we have chosen three issues now. Our first priority is to address the challenges posed by melting of the glaciers from Himalayas.. It is a serious matter and researchers say that about 50 percent of the glaciers have already gone. In places like Ladakh, several villagers have given up their home because of water crisis. There is no water to drink and for farming. This is a serious problem faced not only by the people living in the mountain but the people living in the plain as well. There are crises of water during springs and heavy floods in monsoon.

How are the crises affecting people?

People living in plains depend upon the water coming from Himalayas. All the big rivers are originated form the Himalayas. Most people are not thinking about this as a challenge but concentrating on their daily business and daily livelihood. Poor people do not have time to think about this coming disaster because of their hand to mouth problems. Even Ladakh has been facing such problems with widespread poverty. Although a lot of tourists are coming with money, it has not impacted the livelihood of people. Connectivity has improved, with road, mobile and television but people do not have happiness. Big houses, hotels have already been built and people have increased their income. But, people have lost the happiness because of deteriorating environment.

What do you suggest?

I have been telling the people that it is not a bad idea to build a new house and hotel and hire car. However, we also need to think about the issue of environment side by side. If there is no water, nobody will come to stay with you. The issue is so serious, but nobody is thinking about it. My organization, known as Mahbudhi International Meditation Center, has initiated many health, education and environment related activities.

Why do you need protection and preservation?

Protection and preservation are important for all of us. However, nobody has done anything. I have decided to do something and come up with this idea to set up a foundation to look into the issue. I found friends like Dr. Susanne Von Der Heide and Prkash Tiwari and formed Save the Himalayas Foundation.

Do you think all eight countries will join?

Through this foundation, we hope to bring all the eight countries in the Himalayas. The foundation is not an organization of particular area but an inclusive institution of all the people of Himalayas. I am very glad that industrialist Chaudhary and Dr. Susanne are working closer to hold the next international conference in Nepal. Dr. Susanne is a renowned person with deep knowledge on the Himalayas, its culture and nature, and Chaudhary has inspired thought and idea.

Due to increased intensity of rain in the Himalayas, the monasteries in the regions are under a great threat. How do you look at it?

Ladakh is currently facing the challenges to preserve our centuries old monastery from increased intensity of rain. People are migrating due to lack of water. However, even tourism industry is not helping to preserve the nature. Tourism is very important for the economic prosperity and development of the areas. Along with money, tourism also brings so many other evil elements. This also affects our culture and tradition, customs. For that the objective of this foundation is to promote eco-friendly tourism in Himalayas. We want environmentally friendly and sustainable tourism in Nepal. We want tourism and it is the main source. We have to educate local people and tourists to preserve our tradition and culture. We want to create awareness about the nature and culture. One of the objectives of the foundation is also to train younger people about this aspect. We have to provide training for all the persons involved in tourism. We are also promoting renewable energy like solar in Ladakh and mountain where people are still deprived of power.

Bhikkhu with author and Sussane Von Dier Hide.jpg

How do you see the practices of Buddhism in Himalayan region? Are their any similarities?

When you talk about Buddhism, all people who identity themselves as Buddhist are not necessarily Buddhist in accordance with the pure teachings of Buddha. If you go deep in the teachings of Buddha, it has to be similar and it is not much different. Ritual and practices at the surface level are different but those who go to depth in Buddhist teaching, we all are the same. At the surface level, each region has its own. Nepal, Bhutan and Ladakh may practice a bit different rituals. As teaching of Buddha is mixed up with culture, there are different practices. So far as teaching is concerned, we do have similarities.

How is your foundation is going to preserve the nature, religion and culture of Himalayas?

That is why we are here to discuss while we are welcoming tourism and modern development. Our concern is how we can preserve our ancient culture, tradition arts and ancient values. It is a big challenge to preserve them. However, it can be preserved if we are able to generate awareness among the people. We need to take best part of tourism and modernity. Synthesizing the modern and ancient practices will help to preserve our tradition. Modern and ancient things need to go together. We need to change our education system at primary level.

How do you think about education?

Children need to be taught the modern and ancient together. Modern education has a lot of defects and it needs to be reoriented. Life is not only consumerism but there is also nature and culture. It is money making and outside oriented but not a value based. We have to think about changing even the past orientation if there are some bad elements and are not good to preserve. Future is depended on the children. Compassion and mediation need to be brought up in our education in a universal way not in a sectoral way. It should be on rational, practical way. Education requires a drastic modification because the children are the result of education.

How do you separate good and bad?

What is going on the world, good or bad, are the results of education. Children by nature are pure and soft. You can make them dev or devil. It is a heavy responsibility of political, religious and business leaders to provide the right guidance to children. They will understand. If you look at the grown up children, they are not to concerned about these things. They are busy thinking about big house, big money and big car.

What are the challenges?

We have many challenges and crisis but we can solve all the evils joining together to make a new society and new world. Anything created by human being can be stopped and changed. However, some of us will have to sacrifice our life. Simple things do not work. We need to throw up full bucket of cold water to wake up. We need to shake them. We are also taking three topics, which include water, energy and tourism. All the participating countries will share their own practices.

Keshab Poudel

Keshab Poudel

Poudel is the editor of New Spotlight Magazine.

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