By Lobsang Wangyal
MCLEOD GANJ, India, 28 March 2015
About 50 people practising the Jonang tradition of Tibetan Buddhism staged a demonstration outside the Tibetan Parliament-in-exile seeking recognition of Jonang as a sect of Tibetan Buddhism.
The demonstrators chanted Buddhist prayers outside the Parliament while it was concluding the last day of the 2015-16 Budget session. They distributed a letter asking for explanation from the Parliament for not discussing the matter and refusing to recognise the sect.
Khenpo Kunga Tsamchung, a senior monk from a monastery in Shimla who was leading the demonstration of mostly monks, said that there are more than 200,000 followers of the Jonang school of Buddhism in Tibet and over 1000 of them living in exile.
“We have been asked to represent the followers of Jonang tradition in Tibet to get recognition as the fifth sect of Tibetan Buddhism.”
He said that they have been appealing to the exile Parliament for the last 18 years to get this recognition. The four existing sects are Nyingma, Kagyu, Sakya, and Gelug.
The four sects and the Bon religion are represented in the exile Parliament with two representatives each, elected by the monks and nuns from their respective sect.
“Since we are not considered to be a different sect, we do not get representation in the Buddhist conferences and in the Tibetan Parliament-in-exile. But since the exile Tibetan community is democratic and speaks about upholding equality, we are asking to put that in practice and give us the right we deserve”.
He added that the Dalai Lama has given his approval to recognise Jonang as a separate sect since 2011 during a Buddhist conference. Other religious leaders also seconded the approval, Tsamchung said.
Speaker of the Parliament, Penpa Tsering, answered the letter that was handed out by the demonstrators saying the matter has been discussed in the Parliament over the years. Tsering made the remarks in his concluding speech of the Parliament session.
He said that he tabled the issue in the House but not many members debated it, and hence there was no outcome. He also said that there was no scope to discuss it now, on the last day of the session, indicating that it could be discussed in future sessions if enough members were interested and supported it.
The letter of the demonstrators demanded that Jonang be represented in the Parliament from the 16th Parliament, which is due to be elected by Tibetans living in exile in March 2016.
The Jonang tradition is believed to have been established in Central Tibet during the 13th century by a monk named Kunpang Thukje Tsondru (1243-1313). The tradition declined in the 17th century due to the rise of the Gelug sect and the coming into power of the 5th Dalai Lama whose followers are said to have persecuted Jonang followers due to territorial interests and power struggles.