The Dalai Lama’s Kalachakra Initiations, a sacred Buddhist ritual, in Bodh Gaya later this month is assuming special significance as it may attract the largest number of devotees and comes soon after Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji’s visit to India from January 13 to 16. The Dalai Lama has recently urged India to assume a more active role in the resolution of the Tibetan problem, a call observers see as an appeal to India to take up the political issue of Tibet with the visiting Chinese Premier.

Although not intended the Initiation sends a political message to the Chinese leadership on the Dalai Lama’s influence not only over the Tibetan people but also over Buddhists all along the Himalayan region. The initiation will be attended by devotees from inside Tibet, the Tibetan refugee community, from Bhutan, Nepal as well as from Sikkim, Ladakh, Himachal Pradesh, etc. There will be people from the West attending the teachings as well.

The Initiation will also once again clarify any misgivings people may have about the Dalai Lama’s health as the ritual involves strenuous Buddhist practice lasting for several hours daily. In recent times it seems Chinese organizations involved with intelligence gathering have been inquiring about the Dalai Lama’s health and spreading rumors about his well-being. During his visit to the United States in 2001, the Dalai Lama took the opportunity of an address to the Tibetan community to squash those rumors saying he was perfectly healthy.

While Premier Zhu Rongji’s visit to India is being projected as one, which will be dominated by economic issues, it is certain that the issue of Tibet will be raised. Tibetans in India are reported to be preparing public rallies to coincide with Premier Zhu’s visit.

Tibetan language media reports that the organizers of the Dalai Lama’s Kalachakra Initiations are expecting over 200,000 people to attend the session beginning on January 21, 2002. This will be the largest such gatherings after the Kalachakra empowerment in Bodh Gaya in 1985 which attracted over 150,000 people. The President of the Tibetan Youth Congress (TYC), Kalsang Phuntsok Godrukpa, who is in Bodh Gaya currently, estimates that the final turnout may be around 170,000. Around 15,000 people had already arrived in Bodh Gaya by January 8, 2002 and busloads of devotees are arriving on a daily basis. The TYC assumes social service responsibilities during such public events in India.

The main sponsors of the Bodh Gaya teachings are the organizations representing the three provinces of Dhotoe, Dhomey and U-Tsang. Among prominent Tibetan lamas attending the teachings are the Karmapa and Arjia Rinpoche, both of whom escaped from Tibet in recent years and have sought asylum in India and the United States respectively.

Unlike in 1985, this year, there may be a significant decrease in the number of Tibetans from Tibet coming to receive the teachings. This is because of an increase in Chinese control at the border and restrictions on the number of people being allowed out of Tibet. Visiting Tibetans from Dhingri, a town close to the Nepalese border, have told the Tibetan media that there have been increased restrictions placed on the movement of Tibetans, including traders in Dhingri, Dram and nearby areas. Tibetan traders in the border area have had a relatively free movement until this time, according to these Tibetans.

In 1985, there were over 8,000 Tibetans from Tibetan attending the Kalachakra initiations in Bodh Gaya.

The Dalai Lama arrived in Bodh Gaya on January 9, 2002 and will be there till the end of the month.

Two Tibetan Buddhist lineages, Nyingma and Gelug, are organizing special prayer festivals called Monlam in Bodh Gaya, around the Dalai Lama’s Kalachakra teachings period.