The Department of Religion and Culture was established under the executive organ of the Central Tibetan Administration whose function is to overlook religious and cultural affairs in the Tibetan exile community. It has the responsibility of supervising works aimed at reviving, preserving, and promotion of Tibetan religious and cultural heritages that is being led to the verge of extinction in Tibet.
It began its operation in exile community as Council for Religious Affairs office on April 27, 1959, established by His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama and his government in Mussoorie. On 30th May 1960, the Council for Religious Affairs shifted its office to Dharamsala and on September 12, 1960, it became one of the five main departments when His Holiness the Dalai Lama formally established the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA).
It is now one of the seven major departments of CTA and a minister heads this office. There have been 14 ministers who have held the portfolio for varying tenure. The incumbent and the seventeenth one is Kalon Ven Karma Gelek Yuthok who took office on 1 June 2016 after the Tibetan parliament in exile approved his appointment.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s Religious and Cultural Society so-called the Department of Religion and Culture (DRC) was established under the executive organ of Central Tibetan Administration whose function is to overlook religious and cultural affairs in Tibetan exile community. It has the responsibility of supervising works aimed at reviving, preserving, and promotion of Tibetan religious and cultural heritages that is being led to the verge of extinction in Tibet.
It began its operation in exile community as Council for Religious Affairs office on April 27, 1959, established by His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama and his government in Mussoorie in Uttrakhand state. On May 30, 1960, the Council for Religious Affairs shifted its office to Dharamshala in Himachal Pradesh state and on September 12, 1960, it became one of the five major departments initially when His Holiness the Dalai Lama formally established the Tibetan Government-in-Exile which is also known as the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA).
In the year 1982, the Department of Religion and Culture (DRC) has been legally registered under Societies Registration Act XXI of 1860 of the Government of India under the title of His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s Religious and Cultural Society to legitimize legally. But due to amendments of Indian Society Registration Act & Rules in the passage of time, His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s Religious and Cultural Society has also initiated for amendment of registration under Himachal Pradesh state’s Society Registration Act 2006 in the year 2018.
It is now one of the seven major departments of CTA and a Kalon (Minister) heads this office. There have been 16 Kalons (Ministers) so far who have held the portfolio for varying tenure. The seventeenth one is Kalon Karma Gelek Yuthok who took office on June 1, 2016, after the Tibetan Parliament in exile approved his appointment.
The Department supervises 281 monasteries and nunneries in India, Nepal, and Bhutan and looks after the welfare of approximately 41,029 monks, nuns or clergies living in these institutions.
In addition to above said monastic institutions, several non-monastic cultural centres like Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts, Tibet House, the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives, the Central Institute for Higher Tibetan Studies, the Norbu Lingkha Institute, and Manjushree centre of Tibetan culture which are working on the preservation of Tibetan religious and cultural heritages fall under the purview of His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s Religion and Cultural Society or the Department of Religion and Culture. These cultural institutions are being established either by the Society or under the guidance of the Society. But due to the change of policies of the Central Tibetan Administration according to laws and policies of the Government of India, these cultural institutions have become autonomous bodies.
The primary aim is to preserve and promote Tibetan religion and culture which has suffered and continue to suffer in the hands of the Chinese communist regime in Tibet.
Other objectives are:
- To plan and implement religious and cultural policies according to the advice of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama and Central Tibetan Administration.
- To promote unity and harmony amongst Tibetan religious schools.
- To give help to the Tibetan monasteries, nunneries, temples, and cultural institutions for preserving and promoting the cultural heritage of Tibet.
- To organize and participate in conferences and seminars on religion, culture, and Tibetan studies.
- To liaise with important religious associations of other faiths and with Tibetan and non-Tibetan Buddha Dharma Centers.
- To conduct and sponsor research in the areas of Tibetan and Buddhist studies.
- To oversee and assist to support the traditional monastic curricula in the reestablished Tibetan monasteries, nunneries and cultural institutions.
- To hold public discourses and teachings for promotion and preservation of unique and rare oral religious transmissions.
- To look after the old, sick, and destitute monks and nuns and those who are in retreat.
- To organize and perform regular and special religious events and activities.
1. Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts:
This specializes in the area of Tibetan traditional dances, opera, and other performing arts. It is a school for learning performing arts, which was established in 1959. They carry out range of activities aimed at preserving and promoting traditional performing arts. Further information about the institution and its activities could be found at www.tibetanarts.org
2. Tibet House Society:
This was established in October 1965 in New Delhi. Since then it has been involved in preserving Tibetan religious and cultural artifacts and Tibetan religion and culture. The society runs Tibetan language and Buddhist philosophy classes and organizes special events aimed for creating awareness on Tibetan religion and culture. Check www.tibethousenewdelhi.org for details on their activities.
3. Central University of Tibetan Studies (CUTS):
This Central University was established on August 20, 1967 with funding from Ministry of Culture, Government of India and His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama. It was a deemed university and caters wide range of services in the field of Tibetan studies.
Originally called Central Institute of Higher Tibetan Studies (CIHTS), it began functioning as a constituent wing of the Sampurna Nanda Sanskrit University, and eventually emerged as an autonomous body in 1977 under the Department of Culture of Ministry of Education of the Government of India. The Institute’s unique mode of functioning have been duly recognized, and on the recommendation of the University Grants Commission, the Government of India bestowed upon it the status of a “Deemed University”, Under Section 3 of the UGC Act 1956 on the 5th of April, 1988. Ven. Samdhong Rinpoche was the first Director. Following the recommendation of the Society, the nomenclature of the Institute was revised as Central University of Tibetan Studies (Deemed to be University under Section 3 of the U.G.C. Act, 1956) with the approval of the Government of India, which was publicly released by His Holiness the Dalai Lama on 15 January, 2009, and notification to this effect was made on 22.7.2009. For more details, check http://cuts.ac.in/.
4. Library of Tibetan Works and Archives (LTWA):
It was established in 1971. The library houses rare and valuable collection of Tibetan books, manuscripts, thangkas (scroll paintings), icons, and other artifacts brought from Tibet. It also runs services like Tibetan language and Buddhist philosophical classes for foreigners and modern science workshops for the Tibetan geshes and khenpos. For more details, check www.ltwa.net
5. Norbulingka Institute:
It was established in 1995. This institute has schools for thangka painting, embroidery, metal carving, and an academy for Tibetan culture. For more details, check www.norbulingka.org
6. Manjushree Center of Tibetan Culture:
This was established in 1988 in Darjeeling. It runs services like intensive training on Tibetan language and Buddhist philosophies. For more details, check www.manjushree-culture.org.
Former Kalons and Secretaries:
- Sonam Topgyal Shenkha Gyurmey (1959 – 1961)
- Ta Lama Thupten Norsang (1961 – 1964)
- Woesar Gyaltsen Kundeling (1964 – 1975)
- Thupten Nyinchen Phechoe (1976 – 1979)
- Thupten Namgyal Juchen (1979 – 1987)
- Lodi Gyaltsen Gyari (1987 – 1987)
- Lobsang Dhargyal Shewo (1987 – 1989)
- Kelsang Yeshi (1989 – May 1996)
- Tenzin Pelbar Alak (June 1996 – March 1997)
- Kirti Rinpoche Lobsang Tenzin (April 1997 – March 1999)
- Kalon Tripa Sonam Topgyal (April 1999 – September 1999)
- Tashi Wangdi September (1999 – September 2001)
- Thupten Lungrig (September 20, 2001 – March 04, 2005)
- Lobsang Nyima (March 5, 2005 – August 14, 2006)
- Ven Tsering Phuntsok (October 07, 2006 – August 07, 2011)
- Pema Chhinjor (September 17, 2011 – 26 May 2016)
- Ven Karma Gelek Yuthok ( 1 June – Present)
- Ngawang Dhundup Khendrung (1960 – 1963)
- Chogye Trichen Rinpoche (1963 – 1965)
- Ngawang Choesang (1975 – 1979)
- Khamtrul Rinpoche Jamyang Dhundup (1980 – 1985)
- Kelsang Yeshi (1985 – 1989)
- Karma Gelek Yuthok (December 5, 1989 – December 13, 1993)
- Lobsang Khedup (January 3, 1994 – July 1, 2000)
- Karma Gelek Yuthok (October 3, 2000 – April 8, 2002)
- Thupten Tashi Anyetsang (April 9, 2002 – October 13, 2004)
- Tashi Norbu (November 22, 2004 – February 15, 2006)
- Tsering Dhundup Namey Lakhang (February 16, 2006 – August 26, 2008)
- Lobsang Tsultrim Jeshong (August 28, 2008 – March 31, 2009)
- Gonpo Phuntsok [On deputation] (April 10, 2009 – September 07, 2009)
- Gonpo Phuntsok (September 08, 2009 – December 15, 2010)
- Ngawang Choedak Choetri Tengpa (December 13, 2011 – September 2013)
- Norbu Dhonden
- Dhondup Dorjee Gyalling (September 2013 – March 2016)
- Tsegyal Chukya Dranyi (17 March 2016 – 1 August 2016)
- Tenzin Lungtok ( 22 May 2017- 9 January 2020)
- Tsegyal Dranyi (3 February 2020 – Present)
Department of Religion and Culture was three main sections:
The account, scholarship, sponsorship, and research sections come under the supervision of Administrative division. Each sub-section has their own special functions and the concerned persons need to report to an Additional Secretary and the Secretary.
The religious section has the responsibility to organize and implement religious services, seminar, and conferences. The concerned person has to report to the Secretary. The section is headed by a Joint Secretary.
Archives section’s function is to file and maintain records of historically significant documents of Central Tibetan Administration after assortment by a special workgroup called history section. An undersecretary heads this section and reports directly to the Secretary.
Programs of the DRCM
- Scholarship/stipend for newly arrived monks and nuns: This is a support program in which monks and nuns who recently escaped from Tibet and aged between 6 and 25 years. Such a monk or nun is provided with a monthly stipend of INR 300 per month for 15 years or until they leave the monasteries and nunneries where they are enrolled. This program was started in the 1980s and during the course of its operation, the Department of Religion and Culture (DRC) was able to provide support to more than 10000 monks and nuns. Most of the beneficiaries under this support program are those Tibetan monks and nuns who came from Tibet and enrolled in a various monastic institution to carry out their religious studies.
- Support to destitute monks and nuns: This is a support for destitute monks, nuns, and tantric practitioner who are not registered to any monasteries or nunneries in India, Nepal and Bhutan and facing difficulty in livelihood. Thus, DRC provides a stipend of INR 300 per month for them to support their lives. Most of these unregistered or destitute monks and nuns are those who live in complete hermit nature doing meditation and practising other religious activities on daily basis. These kinds of monks and nuns have neither relation with any monasteries or nunneries nor have they any relatives who could take care of their condition. Owing to that they become destitute in old age and facing difficult for livelihood as well as for health care.
- Support to Russian and Mongolian students: The Department of Religion and Culture has initiated a student exchange program with those countries under Russia who has a historical connection with Tibet on Religious and Culture. The program has initiated with three monk students from Buryat in Russia officially enrolled in the Institute of Tibetan Buddhist Dialect in the year around 1989 to study the Tibetan Buddhist Philosophy for the tenure of 3 years.
Gradually, the number of students increased from Mongolia and Russia. The program not only offered to study Buddhist Philosophy, students were also being enrolled at Tibetan Medical & Astro. Institute through reserve seats to study the system of Tibetan Medicine & Astro-Science in Dharamsala. The study course of Tibetan Medicine & Astrology is for 5 years and 15 years course of study in the monastery. The ultimate objective of this program was to revive and promote Buddhism in countries like Mongolia, Tuva, Kalmykia and Buryat who were historically Buddhist countries.
4. Teachers’ Monthly Incentive: DRC provides a monthly incentive for teachers teaching Buddhist philosophy, Science, Chinese Language in smaller and financially weaker monasteries and nunneries, including institutions in the Himalayan region. As of now, we have been providing incentive as under:
- INR 3,000 per month to 83 Buddhist Philosophy teachers,
- INR 3,500 per month to 17 Science teachers and
- INR 6,500 per month to 10 Chinese Language teachers of various monasteries and nunneries.
From the year 2019 onward, His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s Religious and Cultural Society has launched a special incentive program for monastic institute teachers to cover a larger number of Tibetan monasteries i.e. 192 monasteries in India, Nepal and Bhutan with 496 number of a teacher at the rate of INR 3,000 per month.
- Specialization Course: Under this project, DRC provides scholarship to those monks and nuns who want to become specialized in a specific subject of Tibetan Buddhism through research work and to write a thesis on a particular topic. The duration of the specialization course program is four years. During the course, His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s Religious and Cultural Society has organized a workshop on writing a thesis to selected researcher candidate. During the course of research work, candidates are also provided scholarship of INR 30,000 per year where INR 15,000 as first installment being paid after completion of six months duration and remaining INR 15,000 being paid after submission of 1st-year research paper to His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s Religious and Cultural Society.
6.Stipend for Temple Caretakers: There are many temples and small monasteries in every Tibetan settlement across India, Nepal and Bhutan for performing religious services to the Tibetans and local Buddhist community. Since there is no proper financial source for them other than a small number of venerations offered by communities, His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s Religious and Cultural Society provides a monthly stipend of INR 2,000 as a stipend to 18 caretakers of temples and small monasteries from remote Tibetan settlements.
OTHER MAJOR ACTIVITIES:
- Religious Conference: The DRC organizes Religious Conference of four major schools of Tibetan Buddhism and Bon Tradition in every bi-yearly. This conference was first initiated by His Holiness the Dalai Lama in 1961 with a gathering of spiritual heads of Tibetan Buddhism, Kalons (Executive Heads), Khenpo (Abbots) and Geshe (Doctorate in Buddhist Philosophy) at His Holiness residence for the purpose of reviving Tibetan Buddhism in exile. Later His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s Religious and Cultural Society took over the responsibility of organizing this conference in order to carry out the works and implementing the resolutions passed in the conference. So far 12 religious conferences has successfully been organized by His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s Religious and Cultural Society.
- Eclectics Seminar of Tibetan Buddhism: The DRC is organizing Eclectics Seminar of four major schools of Tibetan Buddhism and Bon Tradition including Jonang which is follow up initiatives according to the resolution passed in the meeting on preservation and promotion of Tibetan Buddhism held in 2013. The main aims of this seminar are to share the knowledge, experiences and understand the common goal among the various school of Tibetan Buddhism and Bon as one among them.
Two speakers each from four different schools of Tibetan Buddhism, 2 speakers from Bon Tradition and two speakers from nunneries who are related to a specific topic chosen for the seminar are being invited. All the speakers have to submit their papers on a particular topic which have to be presented during the seminar along with debate followed by question & answer.
- Religious Services: The DRC organizes Chotrul Monlam Chenmo (the great prayer festival of Tibet) and Guru Bumtsok (Hundred Thousand virtue offering to Guru Padmasambhava) every year and organizes “long-life prayers” to His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama and Spiritual heads of four major Tibetan Buddhist schools and Bon religion on a timely basis. DRC also coordinates other important religious services required to be done by Tibetan community for the security and stability of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama’s health and for the welfare of Tibetan cause along with for World Peace. Apart from that, DRC also organizes special prayer services for Tibetans in Tibet who self-immolated themselves to fire in the protest against Chinese government calling for freedom in Tibet and returns of His Holiness the Dalai Lama to Tibet.
The Department also organize prayer service on 8th March of every year to commemorate the darkest day of Tibetan history when the Chinese communist government has declared Martial Law against protesting Tibetans in the year 1989 in Lhasa and of which more than 100 Tibetans were killed by Chinese military and many were disappeared from the scene.
- Modern Science Workshop: Knowing the significance and achievements of modern science as well as growing the influence of Science in Buddhism in this 21st century, DRC felt much important to organize a workshop on modern science to the monks and nuns. DRC organize this workshop every year in collaboration with the Library of Tibetan Works and Archive, Dharamsala for 10-15 days by inviting participants from monasteries and nunneries who lack curriculum in their daily activity.
- Intensive Course on Tibetan Language and Buddhist Philosophy: By giving importance of Tibetan youths, coming out from high school and college every year, to understand the basic knowledge of Tibetan Buddhist philosophy, His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s Religious and Cultural Society has initiated the workshop called “Intensive Course on Tibetan Language and Buddhist Philosophy” for the period of six months in collaboration with Snowland School of Tibetan Studies at Gyumed Tantric Monastery, Hunsur, Karnataka State in India.
The program mainly focuses to teach basic Tibetan Buddhist philosophy, secular ethics and 4-lifetime commitment of His Holiness the Dalai Lama including Tibetan language and grammar. After completion of this six-month course program, participants were offer certificate. Each program has 20-25 youth participants.
- Tibetan Arts and Culture Fund: The Tibetan art and culture fund is a pilot small grants initiative, organized by DRC to support that individual Tibetan artist and organizations whose works are relating with preservation and promotion of traditional and contemporary Tibetan arts and distinct culture of Tibet in the exile community. The core purpose of this project is to encourage Tibetan artists to carry out their works for keeping alive centuries old Tibetan traditional and contemporary art by practising their arts and strengthening the audience among the younger generation.
Every year 12 to 17 candidates being selected. Those selected beneficiaries are awarded a grant of INR 100,000 to 300,000 whose project is based in India, Nepal and Bhutan.
Under this special program, around 64 monasteries and nunneries were benefitted and His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s Religious and Cultural Society has supported the total amount of INR 9.8 million.
This program is being implemented by the Tibetan Settlement Office (Liaison Office of CTA) at the grass-root level by inviting Tibetan Buddhist scholars from monasteries or nunneries and organize at one to three times a year.
7. Introduction of Tibetan Buddhist Philosophy in Tibetan Settlement: Most of the Tibetan elders either who born in Tibet or in exile during the 1960s and 1970s were deprived of modern education due to most challenging situation at that time. Hence, these elderly Tibetans find it difficult to understand Buddhist philosophical views and its basic principle owing to which Tibetan Buddhist religious practice become purely based on faith rather than understanding through reasoning. Therefore, to overcome such challenge, DRC felt utmost important to initiate a program on the introduction of Buddhist Philosophy and Principle to Tibetan living in settlements across India, Nepal and Bhutan.
8. Renovation of Monasteries: His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s Religious and Cultural Society has implemented a special program on Renovation of monasteries and nunneries in the year 2018-2019 to mark the 60th anniversary of Tibetans in Exile. Through this program monasteries and nunneries has been provided financial support of INR 47,000 to INR 400,000 according to the size and strength of the monasteries and nunneries.
- Interfaith Program: Most of the Tibetan settlements in India are located in a remote area surrounded by forest and local Indian tribal villages who follows mostly Hindu, Muslim, Christian religion and other local faith and of completely unaware of Buddhism or Buddhist culture which is one of India’s homegrown ancient religion. In such an environment, Tibetans living in settlements are sometimes facing internal minor problems with local villagers which are bound to happen in this 21st century of globalization. But due to some misleading local politician try to create issues between two religious communities to gain popularity in media which experienced such incident in the past. Therefore, DRC considers the utmost important to create conducive environment between Tibetan settlement office and local religious leaders so that to help pacify any such incidents through them. Owing to that, separate fund of INR 10,000 – 15,000 has been created in Tibetan Settlement Office to utilize this fund for activities such as exchange of dialogue with other religious leaders and to organize religious leaders’ meeting at the local level.
Like any other civilization, the Tibetan people have also evolved with a unique culture, language and spiritual traditions. Our civilization dates back thousands of years and while the origin of our first king is documented being in 127 BC, our indigenous Bon religion’s scriptures mention having many more Kings before the renowned King of Tibetan Nyatri Tsenpo.
The most magnificent part of our history has been the development of a script and grammar by Thomi Sambota and the advent of Buddhism by eminent scholars such as Khenchen Shiwa-Tso, Guru Padmasambava, and Jowo Je Palden Atisha. It’s through the foresight, commitments and arduous efforts of the three great Dharma Kings – Songtsen Gampo, Trisong Deutsen and Tri Ralpa Chen – that we now possess voluminous valuable treasures of spiritual learning and a national culture imbued with a unique way of living highly influenced by the teachings of the Buddha.
The Department of Religion and Culture work entails the preservation and promotion of our rich religious and cultural heritage.
And in my capacity as Kalon, I shall wholeheartedly put forth every effort in accomplishing these goals.
With a focus on improving contacts with affiliated monastic institutions which are the backbone of preservation and promotion,
Bringing greater unity and understanding amongst our religious schools,
Plan & coordinate seminars and workshops for the future generations,
Develop and initiate contact with the other world religions,
And, Last but not the least, work on bringing greater international concern towards our culture which is facing increased genocide and repression in our own land.
May the Buddha Dharma spread far and wide across this world and our Spiritual Leaders live a Long Life for the benefit of Dharma and sentient beings!
With best wishes,
Ven Karma Gelek Yuthok