Sunday, July 7, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Russia’s Two Million Buddhists Mark Dalai Lama’s Birthday

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 7 – Buddhists in the traditionally Buddhist republics of Buryatia, Kalmykia and Tuva and Buddhist communities in Moscow, St. Petersburg and other major Russian cities yesterday marked the 78th birthday of their Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, who now lives in exile in India.

                In a message to the Dalai Lama, Telo Tulku Rinpoche, the supreme lama of Kalmykia, said that “over the course of many centuries you have been spiritual teacher of the peoples of Kalmykia, Buryaia, and Tuva, the defender of the Buddhist faith, [and] the preserver of the teachings of the Buddha (

            “We pray for your soonest visit to our country and sincerely thank you for your valuable courses for the Buddhists of Russia which you arrange each year in India, courses that help each of us along the path of wisdom and compassion” and your efforts “to bring joy and happiness to all living things.”

            Choidoji Budayev,  chairman of the Lamrim Buddhist Community in Buryatia, also expressed the hope that the Dalai Lama would soon visit his republic. “He promised us to consecrate our shrines and monasteries and we believe that this will happen.” And Buyan Bashky, the chairman of the administration of the Union of Buddhists of Tuva, said that the Dalai Lama “by personal example inspires people.”

            Although it receives less attention than the three other so-called “traditional religions” of Russia, Buddhism has been recognized as such from tsarist times. It spread to Russia in the 16th and 17th centuries among Kalmyks and Buryats who came from Mongolia. And despite persecution in Soviet times, it has remained vibrant in those republics as well as Tuva and spread to other parts of the Russian Federation as well.

            Since 1991, the Dalai Lama has made several visits to Russia, the most recent in 2004 to Kalmykia, but Chinese objections to such travel has limited their number. And Beijing has not changed its position on that even after the Dalai Lama in the spring of 2011 resigned as the head of the Tibetan Government in Exile.

            For the last four years, the Dalai Lama has organized annual training sessions for Buddhists from Russia. This year, these are scheduled to take place in December. Russian Buddhist groups cooperating with him in this regard include the Buddhist Center of Buryatia, the Central Hurul of Kalmykia, the Union of Buddhists of Tuva, and the Moscow-based Foundation for the Preservation of the Cultural and Philosophical traditions of Tibetan Buddhism.


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