Faith and Positive Change for Children, Families and Communities Initiative- Gathering Stories (1)

Ven. Bhikku Sanghasena:  Planting seeds of hope in the desert land of Ladakh

Part – I

Venerable Bhikkhu Sanghasena, is a renowned religious leader of the Theravada Buddhist tradition and an esteemed member of Religions for Peace, India. He has been working relentlessly in the Himalayan mountainous region of Ladakh for the moral and spiritual development of the people residing in that area.

In 1986, Ven. Bhikkhu Sanghasena founded the Mahabodhi International Meditation Centre (MIMC) which is 12 km from Leh city, nestled at an altitude of 3,500 meters (11,482.94 feet) above sea level, deep within the mighty Himalayan Mountains in Ladakh.  This region is a cold desert and its arid terrain experiences drastic weather changes. The temperatures are so extreme that in winter, it drops below -30 degrees Celsius, and in summer, it rises nearly 30 degrees Celsius.

Since the establishment of MIMC, Ven. Sanghasena has worked tirelessly to put the Buddha’s teachings on loving-kindness and compassion into action through multifarious charitable humanitarian services which are being carried out in the 250 acres of the moon-like desert that forms the impressive backdrop to the Devachan Campus at Choglamsar, Ladakh and has transformed this desert area into an oasis.

For the past several years, he has made determined efforts to provide high-quality education and safe shelter for underprivileged children, and compassionate healthcare for the sick and the needy. He has started empowerment and literacy programs for women folk and other socially disadvantaged groups.

Projects for Children:

Ven. Bhikku Sanghasena’s contribution towards the education and integral development of children living in the remote rural areas of Ladakh is indeed commendable. The lives of the inhabitants of the isolated villages in the vast desert land of Ladakh are full of hardships and struggle. Most of these villages lack basic amenities like electricity, roads, modern education, and medical care.

Ven. Sanghasena realized that when people are given proper holistic education, the cycle of poverty and social evils could be broken. In the Ladakhi society, girls are given lesser opportunities for education and other privileges as compared to boys. Considering this fact, he opened a girls’ school in the beginning.

In order to make education accessible for the rural children, Ven. Sanghasena has established separate hostels for both boys and girls who come from around 75 villages situated in far-flung areas.  Children staying in these hostels do not only get free boarding and lodging, medical care, and quality education but also a comfortable life that is essential for their overall development. The hostel wardens and staff take good care of these hostels. At present, there are 124 boys and 178 girls residing in these hostels.

Ven. Sanghasena has a passion to provide quality education to children in need.  He said that,

Nothing else gives me more happiness than to see the deprived children fully blossoming into the light of education and meditation”

The Mahabodhi Residential School, which was established by Ven. Sanghasena in Leh, is a natural and tranquil institution situated at a distance from the hustle and bustle of the city. This institution fosters an ideal educational environment for both students and teachers. Set amidst the beautiful snow-capped mountains, the school nurtures students coming together from the backward hamlets scattered across Ladakh. The foundation of the school was laid in the year 1991 with its first batch of 25 girl-students lodged in a single multipurpose room with just three teachers, who are also serving as support staff. Over the years, the school has grown in size and infrastructure and now caters to the educational needs of around 1125 students where equal importance is given to moral, social, and spiritual knowledge. The students also have an opportunity to participate in various sports and traditional cultural activities like music and dance.

“I pray for the long life of my Guru, Ven. Sanghasena so that he can continue his mission in providing holistic education for the needy children of Ladakh. It is from this school that life has been transformed for me. Not only my own life but many more lives have been transformed…” ~ Mrs Tsewang Dolma, Principal, Mahabodhi School

Educational activities are not confined to the campus of Mahabodhi alone. Ven. Sanghasena has also opened schools in some remote villages as well with hostel facilities to ensure education for poor rural children.

Religions for Peace is the world’s oldest, largest and most representative multi-religious leadership platform, advancing common action among the world’s faith communities. Unlike any other interfaith organisation, Religions for Peace works through legally registered, representative, multi-religious platforms (Interreligious Councils) in over 95 countries and 6 regions. We convene to catalyse and promote multi-religious collaboration for the common good. In Asia, Religions for Peace Asia is our regional affiliate founded in 1976. Religions for Peace Asia is part of the global Religions for Peace movement with a mission to advance common action among religious communities in Asia and the Pacific for peace.

By Deepali Bhanot, Chair, Women of Faith, RfP, India