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Sikkim: winds of change in Himalayas take toll on Buddhism

Buddhist scholars in Sikkim, a frontier state bordering China, are worried over their faith getting diluted as winds of change blow across the lofty Himalayan ranges.

Gangtok, Mar 1 (IANS) -- Although Buddhists, with monasteries all over Sikkim, are the most conspicuous religious group, they are in fact a minority constituting only 28 percent of the state's 545,000 population.

"Many old Buddhist traditions and rituals are getting lost with the passage of time. We are apprehensive about our faith getting marginalized," Tashi Densepa, director of the Institute of Tibetology in Sikkim's capital Gangtok, told IANS. The majority in Sikkim professes Hinduism.

Young Tenzin Chopel, a student of Buddhism, spends most of his leisure time at the Institute of Tibetology - browsing through heaps of books and rare scriptures to enhance his spiritual knowledge.

"We have heard about some old religious practices that were performed in the past. But today not too many of the religious gurus know those old rituals," Chopel said. "It is sad that some important rituals had virtually died."

The Institute of Tibetology is playing the role of keeping alive the religion in its purest form. "We are trying our best to collect and document all old rituals and scriptures for posterity," Densepa said. "Very soon we shall be transferring most of the rare texts onto CDs for our future generations to read and learn."

The institute is encouraging scholars to carry out extensive research on the religion, language and history of the Tibetan cultural area that includes Sikkim.

"Many foreign scholars and practitioners of Buddhism have been visiting the institute for research and better understanding of the religion with the help of books and other materials available in our vast library here," the director said.

There is also a general fear that the monks or lamas are becoming more modern and leading a life away from the strict routine of monasteries.

"Economic considerations are preventing many monks from becoming a full time lama as it is difficult to earn a living by performing rituals alone," said P. Namgyal, a young monk. "I am learning religion but at the same time I would try and learn some other vocation so that I can eke out a living in the near future."

Syed Zarir Hussain

© Copyright 2001-2003 IANS India Private Limited, New Delhi. Posted on Religioscope with permission.

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