Thursday, September 22, 2016

Buddhism Spreading in Russia despite Increasing State Repression

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 22 – Buddhism, which is practiced in Russia not only in Tuva, Buryatia and Kalmykia but among other peoples as well, is increasingly active in erecting shrines and pilgrimage sites; but as it does so, it has attracted the attention of the Kremlin and already fallen victim to the highly restrictive Yarovaya laws.

            The exact number of Buddhists in the Russian Federation is unknown. The three traditionally Buddhist nations, total more than a million; but many scholars have suggested that there are at least as many more adherents of the ancient faith among Russians and other nationalities in that country.

            In Soviet times, they were subject to some of the harshest repressions of any religious group, largely because they did not have prominent defenders in the outside world and thus could be attacked with impunity.  But after 1991, Russia’s Buddhists hoped to recover much of what they had lost, including their contacts with the Dalai Lama.

            In the last few months, the community has attracted more attention than at any point in the past with the launch of construction or the completion of the building of shrines in Volgograd oblast, Tuva, and Buryatia and the scandal in which a Daghestani defaced a Buddhist statue in Kalmykia.

            In reporting on these developments, Andrey Melnikov of “NG-Religii” says that this construction boom is “indirect evidence of ‘the reawakening’ of the most eastern of the traditional religions of Russia,” something new because that community has generally functioned as a closed community (

            Melnikov cites the view of Andrey Terentyev, the editor of the journal “Buddhism of Russia,” that despite these vents, there hasn’t been any particular activation” of the community, although whether that is his real view or an expression of his concern that to say otherwise might invite more official attention and a further crackdown.

            Indeed, Terentyev says life for Russia’s Buddhists has become more difficult “after the adoption of the so-called Yarovaya anti-terrorist package of laws.”  There have been two cases already in which Buddhists from abroad have faced problems with visiting Russia and another in which a prominent Buddhist has put off a visit to Russia.

            Now, it appears to be the case, he continues, that it is not only the Dalai Lama who cannot easily visit Buddhists in Russia but that some of his followers face the same problems.  And it is especially a matter of concern that Russian officials are equating such people with terrorists.”

            The Dalai Lama may not have helped the situation in Russia by a comment he made while on a visit to France. He joked that with Russia’s help, the headquarters of NATO might be shifted to Moscow, a remark that Russians and the Kremlin are unlikely to find amusing (

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