Tuesday, 7 July 2009

The Prince and I - The Story of Apa Pant

When the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan delegation crossed the Sikkim border in November 1956, they were welcomed by the Chogyal of Sikkim, Tashi Namgyal and the Indian representative in Sikkim, Apa Pant. For the following three months Apa Pant was in charge of organizing the Dalai Lama's journey through India, visiting pilgrimage places, but also enabling the Tibetan leader to solicit foreign support for his people under siege.


HH Dalai Lama together with Chogyal Tashi Namgyal
in Gangtok 1957
[PDI]


Some thirty years later my mother presented me with a little book entitled ‘Das Sonnengebet’ (Sun Prayer). I was just about to develop an interest for all things exotic, so I decided to give the seemingly simple yoga exercises a try. For several months I continued to practice the Surya Namaskars and then I must have moved on to something else that was equally exciting and new, but the flavors of discipline and sanity that came with performing a regular exercise stayed with me for much longer.

Just recently, when researching Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö’s students in Sikkim, I found that Apa Pant had not only been the highest Indian political officer in Sikkim at the time, but also that he was an ardent practitioner of the Surya Namaskar. This stirred my memory and I phoned my mother to send me the book. Unbelievably she still found it sitting on some dusty shelf.

Sure enough the same Apa Pant who had requested Jamyang Khyentse again and again for the ultimate instruction on how to meditate (as described in chapter 5 of Sogyal Rinpoche's Tibetan Book of Living and Dying) was the author whose instructions for yogic exercise I had followed with great curiosity many years before I even knew anything about Tibetan Buddhism.
Parshuram Rao Pant 'Apa Sahib', Padma Shri [1912-1991]

Apa Pant was born in 1912 as the eldest son of the Raja of Aundh. He took his M.A. at Oxford, and was called to the Bar before his return to India in 1937. For the next ten years he was involved in an unusual constitutional experiment by which his father Bala Sahib, aided by Mahatma Gandhi and Maurice Frydman, handed over power to the people of Aundh as an early test of village-level self government in British India. [see also Aundh Experiment]

HH Meherban Shrimant Raja BHAVAN RAO SHRINIVAS 'BALA SAHIB', Pant Pratinidhi of Aundh [1868-1951]

Many credit the Raja, Apa Pant's father, for popularizing Surya Namaskars as a simple physical exercise by introducing it to schools as a form of education for the all-round development of an individual. He was not only a benevolent ruler, but also an avid painter know for his beautiful illustrations of the Ramayana

Rishyashringa Lured into Ayodhya by Dancing Girls
Detail from 1911 painting by Bala Sahib

In 1948, Apa Pant was chosen by the Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru, to be India’s Commissioner in British East Africa. From 1951 to 1961 he was made political officer in Sikkim and Bhutan with control over Indian Missions in Tibet.

Apa Pant with Indira Gandhi (center) and the Queen of Bhutan (right) at Dzong in September 1958 [PDI]

In 1956 Apa Pant helped facilitate the Indian invitation to His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama to by way of the Sikkim Crown Prince Thondup Namgyal.
monks lining up in Gangtok in January 1957
for the return of the Dalai Lama from his tour of India
[PDI]

Jamyang Kyentse returned from his pilgrimage to India and Nepal around Losar 1957, just after HH Dalai Lama had returned to Lhasa via Gangtok. It was probably during this time that Apa Pant became a student of Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö. As Sogyal Rinpoche recounts in The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying:
“Apa Pant told me this story. One day our master Jamyang Khyentse was watching a "Lama Dance" in front of the Palace Temple in Gangtok, the capital of Sikkim, and he was chuckling at the antics of the atsara, the clown who provides light relief between dances. Apa Pant kept pestering him, asking him again and again how to meditate, so this time when my master replied, it was in such a way as to let him know that he was telling him once and for all: "Look, it's like this: When the past thought has ceased, and the future thought has not yet risen, isn't there a gap?"
"Yes," said Apa Pant.
"Well, prolong it: That is meditation."
In the colophon to his teaching "Opening the Dharma" Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö writes:
"This 'Opening the Dharma' was written at the request of the Governor of Sikkim, Apa Sahib, by a Tibetan holding the name of Jamyang Khyentse's emanation (from Dzongsar), stupid Chökyi Lodrö, who, with an extremely good heart, wrote uninterruptedly. May this virtue bring benefit to the Holy Dharma and to all those wandering in Samsara."
It was this very teaching that HH Sakya Trizin's sister Jetsün Kushok Chimey Luding happened to hear on radio while playing with her transistor in Sakya.

When, just after Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö had passed away, all of Gangtok was suddenly lit up by a strange, unearthly light, hours after dark, Apa Pant was the first to call and inquire what on earth it could be. (See also the recollections of HH Sakya Trizin in the film: A Tribute to Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö)

Later Apa Pant held diplomatic appointments in Indonesia, Norway, the UAR and as High Commissioner in London from 1969 to 72. As the Indian ambassador to Italy he welcomed His Holiness the Dalai Lama once again who, visiting Europe for the first time, had made it his priority to meet Pope John Paul VI.

He authored several books some of which contain several references to Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö, to whom he refers as the 'Great Khentse Rimpoche':
• Surya Namaskars: An Ancient Indian Excercise
• An Unusual Raja: Mahatma Gandhi and the Aundh Experiment
• An Extended Family, or Fellow Pilgrims
• A Moment in Time (his autobiography)
• Undiplomatic Incidents
Apa Pant passed away in 1992

Sunday, 5 July 2009

Celebrating the anniversary in France

One week ago in Lerab Ling: Ancient wisdom and high tech