Thursday, June 20, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Tuvans Create Buddhist-Orthodox Council, Reflecting Wishes of Dalai Lama and Moscow Patriarch

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 20 – Religious leaders from the Kyzyl bishopric of the Russian Orthodox Church and from the Union of Buddhists of Tuva, with the enthusiastic backing of the republic’s political elite, today formed a Buddhist-Orthodox Inter-Religious Council to serve as an interface between the government and the faithful and help both overcome social problems and tensions.

            Sholban Kaara-ool, the head of the republic, told the group that he was pleased that the leaders of the two faiths had taken this step, one that Patriarch Kirill had proposed when he made his first pastoral visit to the republic, and a move that reflect “the special energy” among believers there (

            “There are few regions both the Dalai Lama and the Patriarch of All Rus have both visited,” he continued, and it has been a honor to receive these “two great spiritual leaders” and to observe the cooperation between the Buddhists and Orthodox Christians each of them called for.

            Bishop Feofan of Kyzyl and Tuva and Tenzin Tsultim,, the kamba-lama of Tuva, told the gathering that the council was being set up to coordinate “the joint activity of the traditional religious organizations” and “the strengthening and development of dialogue” between the two of them.

            Such dialogue and cooperation, the two of them said, were necessary to ensure and support “inter-religious and inter-ethnic peace, the achievement of accord and stability in society, the prevention of conflicts on an ethno-confessional basis, the strengthening in society of traditional spiritual values and dialogue with the organs of state power of the republic.”

            The two religious groups elected both a presidium and confirmed the membership of an experts group, consisting of both ethnic Tuvan (and presumably Buddhist) and ethnic Russian (and supposedly Orthodox Christian) scholars from local universities, to provide advice and carry out research in support of the council’s goals.

            Sholban Kara-ool in his remarks added that “friendship between peoles is especially strong if there is agreement on basic platforms like traditional faiths.  Like seeds thrown on fertile ground, all these efforts of our spiritual leaders will bear fruit.” That is what Patriarch Kirill wants and it is what the Dalai Lama said he also hopes to see.

            In Tuva, the republic head continued, “all religions and traditional faiths coexist peacefully. This is our achievement which must be protected and increased.” But he added, “we understand that competition exists between confessions.” Every individual has a right to choose, but “for us, the fundamental cooperation of the traditional religions is very important.”  

            He said that he was particularly pleased that the council would work closely with the government and at the government could cooperate not with the Orthodox Church and the Buddhists of Tuva separately but rather together, thus making joint actions and the development of common positions easier.

            Such cooperation, of course, might focus on common holidays, Sholban Kara-ool concluded, but it could also help address the far from simple social situation in the republic, including the problems of alcoholism, drug addiction, and “the psychological adaptation of people to new circumstances.”

            At least three things make this otherwise somewhat obscure development important.  First, it could set a precedent for the formation of such councils in other regions, starting with the Buddhist republics and extending into the Muslim ones.  Second, it could prompt an expansion of the definition of “traditional” religions, especially in places with many Protestants or Old Believers.

            And third, in Tuva itself, the invocation of the authority of the Dalai Lama in this way indicates that the Buddhists of the Russian Federation, including primarily the Tuvans, the Buryats and the Kalmyks, are likely to step up their pressure on Moscow to allow the exiled Tibetan leader to come for another visit, something that will inevitably complicate Moscow’s relationship with Beijing.  


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