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Obama's call for "change" resonates in Buddhist padyatra

A coverage by Kripa Krishnan, PTI. Click here to read flash news (shorter version) at source and carries the complete coverage. This story is about young people from around the world who believe that they are the harbingers of change and step out to make it happen! Drawing parallels between His Holiness and the newly elected President of the United States of America, Barack Obama, the story is about people - volunteers like Carrie Lee from Los Angeles have been inspired by Obama's clarion call of "change" to take up volunteer work in the remote areas of the world like the villages in the upper reaches of the Himalayas with His Holiness to spread the ideals of Drukpa Lineage and popularize the Lineage's humanitarian efforts during the 400 kilometer yatra.

Manali, Jun 1 (PTI) What does Barack Obama have in common with the Gyalwang Drukpa, spiritual leader of the 800-year-old Buddhist sect? The answer involves some hundred volunteers who march alongside the monks and nuns of the faith through the Himalayas on a 'padyatra'.

Many of the volunteers like Carrie Lee from Los Angeles have been inspired by Obama's clarion call of "change" to take up volunteer work in the remote areas of the world like the villages in the upper reaches of the Himalayas they will be crossing during the 400 kilometre yatra.

"I have been a disciple for past 5 years and we have seen a spurt in the number of volunteers from the US. With Barack Obama coming to power, there has begun a huge movement in the American youth to go out in the world and do good.

"The president's message of making the change you want has made us look for ways to make a positive difference around the world and this is a perfect opportunity," said Lee, a finance lawyer by profession who also manages the LA centre of the Drukpa lineage.

The number has gone up from just a handful during the faith's first padyatra in 2007 to the more than hundred people who congregated in the foothills of the Himalayas for this year's 'pad yatra' which was flagged off from the Kardang monastery in Lahaul, Himachal Pradesh on 25th May and will culminate in the Hemis festival in Ladakh later next month.

The faith's leader, the Gyalwang Drukpa was also all praise for the first African American President of the US whom he called a "new dawn for America as well as the world".

"Obama has filled everyone with a positive enthusiasm. He is the new dawn for America as well as the world. He has promised a lot and I hope that he is able to fulfill them because he has provided hope to many people. The President has called for action and his people are following him," said the Gyalwang Drukpa told PTI in Manali.

The lineage which is a part of the Mahayana school of Buddhism, has followers and centres around the world from Mexico to Vietnam, and attracts volunteers from across the globe.

"We have a increasing number of international lay persons joining us for the pad yatra and we welcome everyone who comes and joins us. We will have more people joining us during the second phase of the pad yatra from Leh to Hemis," said the Khamtrul Rinpoche from Bhutan.

While many have joined the yatra for spiritual purposes there are many who have been attracted by the humanitarian aspect of the exercise which will see them trek across the treacherous slopes of the snow covered mountains.

The yatra is also a fund raising event, aiming to raise 30 dollars per km which will go towards setting up schools and health care centres in the Himalayan villages.

While Paul Vincent, a French man who has been living in a village near Mandi for the past 5 years, decided to undertake the pad yatra to receive spiritual guidance from the Gyalwang Drukpa, his brother Fabrice Vincent who was here to visit him decided to join the pad yatra after coming to know of the philanthropical projects run by the lineage. "The pad yatra will also spread the message of environmental protection among the villagers, and the funds raised will help provide for building of schools and hospitals in the villages cut-off from the outside world. That is what attracted me the event," said Fabrice who is a psychologist by profession.

Kunzang Lhamo from Australia who has been a follower of the faith for the past 20 years, said that Buddhism is gradually becomimg more popular across the world as new technology like the Internet helps the teachings spread far and awide.

"The holy leader of the lineage is a keen blogger, and it is one of the bright sides of globalization that through technology, the message can be received by millions despite the physical distance. I attribute the growing number of international followers to that factor," said Lhamo who is a teacher by profession.