Lamaism is not a separate religion; it is the name coined to distinguish the Buddhism of mainland India from the Buddhism practised by the Lamas, who are the high priests of monasteries in Tibet and Ladakh.
This book presents a sociological study of the young Lamas, with special reference to Leh. Tracing the genesis of Buddhism in India and its spread to Ladakh and Leh, it analyzes the factors that led to the emergence of Lamaism, It examines the position, aspirations, upbringing and psycho-physical strains of the young Lamas, along with the organization and functioning of the monasteries. It also discusses in detail the nature of relationship between the monastery and the laity.
Armugaan Hajazi is a faculty in Sociology at the University of Kashmir, She did her Ph.D. from the Centre of Central Asian Studies, University of Kashmir. Her areas of interests include feminine issues and the problems concerning young Lamas of Ladakh and Tibet, She has done a lot of research work to understand the workings of the monasteries and their relation with the laity.
This study “Lamahood: A Sociological Study of Young Lamas of Leh” has two significant components: one, the institution of Lamahood and, the second, young Lamas of Leh. Tracing the genesis of Buddhism in India—its propagation in time and space—and the role of the Lama in the Ladakh society; it tries to build up a comprehensive and coherent historical perspective of the present status of the Lamas, more particularly of young Lamas of Ladakh. The study is an attempt to examine the psychological and physical strains and capacities of young Lamas in their evolution to full-fledged and ordained Lamahood. I had to stay in Leh twice for a period of two months each turn visiting various monasteries interacting with the principal characters of the monastery spending days together with young Lamas trying to understand their sub-conscious mind and their aspirations. It was a unique experience for me which provided me with an insight into a kind of institution which has both socio-economic and religious significance.
Buddhism is not a religion in the usual sense wherein a religion generally means a closed system of do’s and don’t with regulations never to be ignored. Religions in such a limited sense consider man more as a means to an end than an end in himself. A man is governed by external forces and is thought to sub-serve these very external forces. But Buddhism in its true spirit considers man an end in itself. His enlightenment is the enlightenment of the whole society. He is not subservient to external forces for whom he is supposed to work. In Buddhism, man always occupies a central place but in other religions or philosophies man becomes self possessive amounting to selfishness, and develops his personal capacities away and above the social norms. The Buddhist is a man of society, he works to earn the merits for himself both by meditation and obligations towards his society. Buddhist outlook nearly comes closer to the Islamic concept of haquq-ul ibad (obligations to society) and haquq-ul-allah (obligations towards God). Buddhism enroute to its present status came across different religious orders, practices and faiths prevailing in different regions. The necessary interaction during the periods of peace or otherwise and under friendly or hostile rulers significantly affected some such changes which influenced its basic considerations about the world, human character of Buddha and its social relevance thus creating various schisms. Hinayana and Mahayana are two such fundamental sets. Mahayana which was more philosophical soon incorporated the mystic cults from other religions and developed on the lines which culminated in the formation of a kind of Buddhism popularly called Lamaism. Lantaism is actually no separate religion; it is the name coined by German scholar, Kappon, in 1859 to distinguish the Buddhism of mainland India from the Buddhism which is practised by the Lamas. Lamas are the high priests of monasteries in Tibet and Ladakh. As the Lamas, living in monasteries, do not marry, the monasteries need entrants from general masses for which course they are dependent on society. There were times when every family had to contribute one of its members to a monastery. Though now there is no such compulsion, the people are under religious obligation, which serves their socio-economic requirements, to contribute one of their members to monastery. Generally, this contribution is in the form of a young member, particularly the elder son. With all its religious flavour, the parting is never without some pain. For a person of tender age, parental house is always a congenial place. However, under the circumstances which prevailed in Ladakh only a decade or earlier, monasteries provided the best opportunity for the new initiates to achieve his personal, religious and socio-economic merits.
This research work deals with these young initiates. In order to understand them well, we devised not only an interview schedule with them as well as their peers and elders but also a non-participant observation method. We also administered a questionnaire suited to derive maximum information from the ones who claimed to look after the physical and psychical needs of the young entrants i.e, the monks and the monastery.
This book comprises four chapters. While first three chapters are generally historical in perspective, the main chapter “Present Status” is based on my field study, which includes both interview schedule and the questionnaire. It deals with the position, aspirations, functions, upbringing and psychological behaviours of young Lamas. It takes into account the monastic organization, functionality and the kind of attention paid to young Lamas by the elder monks.
The first chapter is introductory in nature giving in a historical perspective of the genesis of Buddhism in India, its propagation in time and space and the emergence of distinct schools of thought.
Second chapter “Evolution of Lamaism” deals with the advent of Buddhism in Ladakh and the factors coupled with the intellectual background which led to the emergence of Lamaism in the region. It discusses the salient features of the Buddhist creed as practised in Ladakh and known, though erroneously, the Lamaism.
The third chapter “Role of Lamas” discusses symbiotic nature of the relation existing between the monastery and the laity. In a region where religion occupies central position arid around which the whole life of the region revolves, Lamas have a pivotal role to play. They are conspicuous in all the socio-religious-cum-political functions. All the agricultural activities and other secular functions are necessarily initiated, sanctified and authenticated by them. It also deals with their activities and the respect which they command in the society.
The book also has two more chapters one dealing with ‘review of literature’ where I have discussed in some detail the reach and limitations of the books concerned, and the last is conclusion which details the findings of the research.
Buddhism has always found a favour with the native and foreign scholars more particularly the orientalists from the West. The metaphysical doctrines of the creed and their logical and epistemological implications have been comparatively well studied. But save a few works such as Austine Waddles Buddhism and Lamaism of Tibet, none has especially discussed the status and role of Lamas in Buddhist society. Austine Waddle’s work too only discusses the status of Lamas only cursorily and dismisses it in one single chapter mainly laying emphasis on their daily routine and the curriculum they follow in the monastery. Keeping this in mind, the present author endeavoured to study the role and status of young Lamas in the Tibetan society.
For the purpose of this study, the present researcher had to devise a plan to extract the relevant material from the living sources comprising three different kinds of people at three different levels of education and understanding. As our main thrust was the sociological study of young Lamas, we had first to develop a personal acquaintance with this group. Monks to whom the young Lamas were entrusted were our second concern as they were the people who administered in and were supposed to interpret the Dhamma for the benefit of the laity. Our third group comprised common masses who were dependent on Gompas more importantly to achieve suitable merits for Nirvana.
Pertinent to mention it here is the fact that the people- monastery relations are for all practical purposes symbiotic in nature. The three i.e monastery, its monks and the general masses constitute one single whole of Ladakh society. They are intertwined, interdependent and mutually beneficial to each other.
Keeping in view the general characteristics of Ladakh society where literacy rate is more than 62 per cent (2001 census) and religion is more a way of life, our most important tools for the study were “Interview Schedule”, person to person contact and non-participant observation. We especially tried to meet and interview the monks and the young Lamas who formed the bulk of our subject.
We had, for the paucity of time and the rugged inhospitable terrain to delimit our study to only three important monasteries of Hemis, Lamayura and Likir. And as each monastery had hundreds of young lamas as inmates, we had to restrict our selves to the study of a sample comprising hundred young Lamas from all the three Gompas.
Besides Interview Schedule, we administered a brief questionnaire relevant to our study to the learned monks and the learned officials from the general masses directly involved with the affairs of the monastery.
We also made use of the secondary sources in the shape of books, pamphlets, handouts issued occasionally by the monasteries, articles and journals. We also visited the Central Institute of Buddhist Studies at Choglamsar and discussed many of our problems and issues at hand with them.
However, this research work is mostly based on field study and person to person contact. We also found time to visit the common people residing in the vicinity of a monastery. During our discourses with them we also tried to locate their economic relation with the monastery. We could draw comfortable comparisons of the houses who had a living member as a monk in some monastery. Apparently it seemed that the house with a monk amongst them enjoyed greater social status and economic prosperity.
We had devised a tripartite interview schedule for the study comprising relevant questions for three distinct groups whose views were supposedly relevant to our study. The groups were:
1. The monks directly involved in the affairs of the Gompa and responsible for the welfare of the young Lamas.
2. The common people who contributed towards a Gompa and were dependent for their socio-religious functions on it.
3. The young Lamas who were our foremost concern and were the main thrust of our study.
4. Before applying the interview schedule and questionnaire to the respondents, a pre-test was done on five per cent of the sample population. The pretest revealed that most of the questions seemed unintelligible to the respondents, therefore, the desired responses were not forthcoming. The investigator standardized the research tools with the help of language experts at Cultural Academy, Leh and Buddhist Institute, Choglamsar, Leh.
The hypothesis characterizes the following presumptions:
1. Modernization as a challenge is affecting the form and organization of traditional Lamahood.
2. The young Lamas are discriminated /exploited by the powerful/senior Lamas.
1. To study and analyse the reason for choosing (or being chosen for) the path leading to Lamahood.
2. To observe the living conditions of young Lamas within a monastery and find the possibilities for further improvements therein.
3. To trace out the reasons behind the decline of Lama people ratio in Leh.
4. To find out the category/class of the people who still believe in donating their children in the name of religion.
5. To find out the reasons behind the declining trend towards religious education and impact of education. Objectives.
1. The present work is undertaken with a view to retrieve and preserve information on the functioning of an institution that is fastly dying down in Leh and its suburbs due to inevitable factors (eg. Modernity).
2. To evaluate the outcome of the traditional education imparted in these institutions.
3. To suggest the means for making the institution socially more viable.
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