Sharmapa’s cremation

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The reservations against the cremation of Tibetan religious guru Shamar Rinpoche, the lineage holder of the Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism, on Nepali soil are understandable. First, as he is not a Nepali national the state is under no legal obligation to agree to the cremation of his body in Nepal, as thousands of his adherents here have been demanding. Another reason is that although the high lama, also known as Sharmapa, belongs to a different school of Tibetan Buddhism than the Dalai Lama, there is always the fear that pro-Tibetan activists could use the occasion to make themselves heard. Why, the thinking must be, risk the ire of the big northern neighbor unnecessarily? Government officials are also right, to an extent, in arguing that it could set a dangerous precedent. Today, the demand is for cremation of a Buddhist religious guru in Nepal, tomorrow there might be similar demands from other faiths, most uncomfortably from the Dalai Lama’s Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism. 

However, even considering all these facts, we still believe the government should grant the permission for Sharmapa’s last rites. Yes, the Nepali state is under no legal obligation to do so. But there is a far greater moral obligation to respect the sentiments of the thousands of Sharmapa’s followers in Nepal who want to see their guru cremated here. The reason they want to do so is because Sharmapa, who died of a heart attack in Germany on June 11, had repeatedly expressed his desire to be cremated in the country of Buddha’s birth. In fact, it would be an honor for secular Nepal to have a shrine dedicated to the religious guru of such a big sect. For not only would it be one more proof of Buddha’s birth in Nepal, but more importantly, it will be an even stronger proof of the country’s secular character; it’s one thing to be a nominally secular country, completely the other to actually practice it. It is, after all, unlikely that the government would have had any problem if a big Hindu religious guru wanted to be cremated here. The other objection, concerning pro-Tibetan activists, though merit-worthy, is weak too. Using such a solemn occasion to push their agenda, if anything, would undermine the credibility of pro-Tibet activists in the international arena. Moreover, the Chinese Embassy has given no indication whatsoever that Sharmapa’s cremation in Nepal would be problematic. The government should not try to jump the gun. 

This case is one of a kind: of a widely-revered religious leader who had publicly expressed his desire to be cremated in Nepal. It is thus unlikely to set a bad precedent. To the contrary, the 14th Sharmapa’s shrine which will be built at the site of his cremation could be a big draw for spiritually-inclined tourists, just like Bouddha or Swayambhu. Yet another strong reason the government should consider the proposal is the deep historical roots of Khagyu school of thought in Nepal. The eighth Sharmapa was born in Mustang. The tenth Sharmapa assisted the Nepali army in its successful fight against the Tibetan government in 1788. These are strong reasons. On the other hand, disallowing the Sharmapa’s last rites in Nepal would needlessly antagonize a big religious group and would not be in keeping with the country’s new secular status. 

Source: (Jul 20, 2014)