The renowned Indian Buddhist monk Venerable Bhikkhu Bodhipala, secretary-general of the Kolkata-based Bengal Buddhist Association (BBA; also known as the Bauddha Dharmankur Sabha), died on Monday morning while undergoing treatment for COVID-19. He was 52 years old.
In a social media announcement for the revered monk, the BBA expressed deep sorrow over his death: “This was a great loss not only for the Bengal Buddhist Association, but for the world of Buddhism and humanity.” (Dharmankur Sabha Facebook)
Following Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhipala’s passing at AMRI Hospital in Mukundapur, Kolkata, on 27 July, the Supreme Sangha Councils of India and Bangladesh, the Bangladesh Buddhist Federation, the Mahabodhi Society of India, and many other organizations and eminent personalities shared messages of tribute to Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhipala and offered wishes for his attainment of the supreme bliss of nibbana.
“I wish to express our deepest sympathies on the passing away of Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhipala, who was an eminent Buddhist leader who worked tirelessly for the uplift of the Buddhasasana,” said the secretary-general of the International Buddhist Confederation, Ven. Dr. Dhammapiya, in a message of condolence. “With his passing, the entire Buddhist world has lost a great Dhamma leader who was able to guide people on the Dhamma Path.” (Dharmankur Sabha Facebook)
Despite the COVID–19 pandemic, Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhipala continued to visit Buddhist monasteries and remote areas of India, working on behalf of underprivileged communities and distributing relief supplies. He also provided assistance to hundreds of vulnerable Muslim families in Bangladesh.
“He was not only revered by everyone in Buddhist society, he was also appreciated by people of all classes and professions irrespective of religion, caste, and community. The death of a Buddhist monk like him is an irreparable loss for us. His invaluable contribution as the secretary-general of the Bauddha Dharmankur Sabha will be remembered and appreciated” said the president of the Bangladesh Bauddha Kristi Prachar Sangha, Ven. Buddhapriya Mahathera. (Dharmankur Sabha Facebook)
Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhipala was born in 1968 in Shillong, capital of the Indian state of Meghalaya. His forebears originated from Unainpura Village in Chittagong, Bangladesh, and migrated to India before the partition in 1947. Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhipala was a descendant of Ven. Kripasaran Mahastavir (1865–1927), a Buddhist monk, founder of the BBA, and a key figure in the movement to revive Buddhism on the Indian subcontinent.
After completing his studies in Shillong, Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhipala became a monk in 1993, under the preceptorship of Dhammapala Mahathera. In 1995, he was appointed assistant-secretary and trustee of the International Brotherhood Mission (IBM), Dibrugarh, Assam. He then moved to Bodh Gaya, where he earned a master’s degree from Magadh University. In 2001, he was placed in charge of the monks of the Mahabodhi Temple in Bodh Gaya, where he served until 2006. Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhipala subsequently moved to the IBM for a period, before settling at the BBA. In 2018, he was elected as secretary-general of the BBA, a post he held until his death.
During this pandemic time, when the frontline health workers are busy in preventing and controlling Covid19, some are silently working for the people, who are indirectly hit by this virus.
Dr. Bodhipala Bhikkhu was one such unnoticed corona-warrior who worked for the unprivileged during this trying time taking a chance on his life.
His last Facebook update was a wisdom quote that goes like this: “Just as a wealthy merchant with few attendants avoids a dangerous road, just as one desires to go on living avoids poison, so also, one should avoid evil.”
But a diehard dhamma trekker, Bhikkhu Bodhipala was never petrified of beating a dangerous road if it leads to dhamma. No matter how difficult the dhamma-marga is, he believed, the walk is joyful so long as generosity, loving-kindness, and wisdom are there as companions.
These wholesome roots were his strength.
He was fearless! In the last few months he was busy in extending relief services to the Amphan and flood effects, and in distributing rations to the needy, poor, and the jobless (due to lockdown) in many parts of West Bengal and Assam.
Defying the possible risk, he stood beside the victims, for he thought it more important than his safety.
Maybe he forgot he had a susceptible body (without protective gear) too along with his sturdy mind. He was exposed to this deadly virus called Covid19.
When he felt shortness of breath, he was rushed to Daffodil Hospital first and later shifted to AMRI hospital at Mukundapur in Kolkata on July 26 where he succumbed to this cruel bug in July 27.
He was 52 at the time of his death.
Born in Shillong in 1968, he had his education in his native town until he joined Magadh University to pursue his Masters and Ph.D in Buddhist Studies.
His parents are late Pradip Barua and late Kumkum Barua.
At a certain point in his life, when he thought this material would not get him to what he wanted to do for humanity, he joined the Sangha monastic.
In 1993, he attained his higher ordination under the preceptorship of Dhammapala Mahathera. Soon after his taking refuge in Sangha, he started rendering services toward humanity.
When a person gives up his material life, he transcends the geographical confines. Bhikkhu Boddhipala stepped out of his home state Meghalaya and arrived at Assam.
In Assam, he chose Dibrugarh as his karma-bhumi.
He took the charge of assistant secretary & trustee at International Brotherhood Mission in1995.
The founder of this Mission was Ven. Acharya Bhikkhu Karuna Shastry Mahathera.
Till his last breath, Dr. Bodhipala worked with Ven. Acharya Bhikkhu Karuna Shastry Mahathera to fulfill the Mission’s two key objectives — ‘preservation of the religion and culture radiated by the Buddha’s ideas and dedication to the social welfare ensuring thereby the betterment of the poor and the oppressed section of people as well as the concretization of world peace, the only panacea for all the ills of the globe on the hotbed of unrest, terrorism, and violence’ (in the words of the Mission’s founder).
The late Bhikkhu assisted his pioneer Ven. Karuna Shastry in running a destitute home called Jinaratan Buddhist Missionary Destitute Home, a primary school, a junior high school, and a vocational training school, a free medical care center named IBM NIKKYO NIWANO Free Medical Care Centre, and a rich library through the Mission.
His services spilled over to other parts of India and beyond. He had been the chief monk of Bodh Gaya— the heartland of Buddhism— from 2001 to 2006.
During this time, his chief concern was to establish maitri among the people within the country and beyond. A good speaker and writer Dr. Bodhipala wrote several books and articles on Buddhism and edited several journals and magazines.
His dedication to work and the profound faith in dhamma drew many philanthropists near him. It is his commitment to the humanitarian service that made him get the charge of charitable societies like Kalchini Karuna Charitable Society situated at Alipurduar.
There he ran a school for poor students free of cost.
Dr. Bodhipala Bhikkhu has left valuable legacies in academia. His collaboration with the academics, Board of Schools, and different academic institutions were regular and very welcoming.
Nava Nalanda Mahavihara and Magadh University will certainly feel the emptiness created by him.
During his lifetime, he stayed in different Buddhist vihars or monasteries. Once in reply to this author’s question ‘Where do you live?’ he said, ‘I do not have any permanent adobe. I am very nomadic by nature’.
Probably it is his work that moved him one place to another. His last destination of dhamma service was Bauddha Dharmankur Sabha, Bengal Buddhist Association where he was appointed as general secretary in 2018.
In his unstoppable journey, perhaps no one could imagine that he would halt in such a place from where he would never return.
The vacuum he created in the social, academic, and spiritual life of India can hardly be filled up.
His untimely death reminds us of the cruel truth of the teaching of the Buddha: Aniccha vata sankhara// uppadavayadhammino. Uppajjitva nirujjhanti// tesam vupasamo sukho, meaning impermanent alas are formations, subject to rise and fall.
Having arisen, they cease; their subsiding is bliss.
(The author is Assistant Professor in the Department of Philosophy at Nowgong College. She can be reached at: email@example.com)