A monk, minister and ‘god’!

Syed Zarir Hussain

Itanagar, June 5:

Each morning there is a serpentine queue of people waiting for his blessings as Tsona Gontse Rinpoche meditates with eyes closed and legs crossed. Devotees with folded hands bow before him and leave the room without making any noise. The 36-year-old Rinpoche is no ordinary Buddhist monk — he is also a minister in India’s northeastern state of Arunachal Pradesh, responsible for promoting tourism and preserving the state’s traditional art and culture. For many Buddhists, Rinpoche is “like god”. He is believed to be the reincarnation of Vinaya, a 13th century spiritual master of Tibetan Buddhism.

Having devoted the better part of his life to rigorous drills in learning the tenets of Buddhism, Rinpoche is today responsible for the dual task of preaching as well as politics. “For me serving people is the primary duty. It can be through both preaching and social service and I believe I am mixing both these aspects well,” the minister said in an interview.

It was in 1995 that he joined politics for the first time, winning the assembly elections as an independent candidate.

“Unless there is some political backing and government help it is very difficult to preserve and maintain our age-old traditions and values,” he said. Back home in the native Tawang district of Arunachal Pradesh, Rinpoche does not consider himself a minister. He busies himself in conducting various religious rituals and spiritual discourses at the numerous monasteries dotting the area. Rinpoche visits remote areas on foot without any security guards — at times walking for days through dense jungles to meet people in the interiors. “Luxury is one thing I cannot stand. Buddhism does not accept it,” he said.