Sunday, February 23, 2020

Buddhist Leader Named ‘Sexist of the Year’ by Buryat Feminists

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 16 – The leaders of Russia’s four “traditional” religions often get in trouble precisely for their traditionalism which involves not only slavish deference to the political authorities but also support for outmoded values of the past, including views on gender roles that are not only out of date but clearly wrong.

            A Russian Orthodox hierarch is currently under fire for saying that Russian women are “genetically programmed by God” to have at least eight children and that any Russian woman who lives with someone who is not her husband is “an unpaid prostitute,” views that have disturbingly gained support not only among some Orthodox Christians but among Muslims too.

            Less is heard about the ways in which Buddhism, the Russian Federation’s fourth “traditional” religion fits this pattern. But a fresh scandal in Buryatia, the center of the Buddhist Taditional Sangkha of Russia, involving its head, Khambo-lama Damba Ayushev, unfortunately fill that gap (

            After Aushev denounced what he called “the matriarchate” in Buryatia for being “uncultured,” Buryat feminists from the “I am Freedom” movement declared him to be the republic’s “sexist of the year.”  And accompanying that award, they published a large number of his earlier statements that justify that “honor.”

            But some of his other remarks highlight the fact that sexism is not his only shortcoming. He has been involved in financial shenanigans with republic officials that forced Vladimir Putin to intervene on his behalf lest the situation in Buryatia get out of hand (

            Aushev has returned the favor. He is now quoted by the Buryat feminists as saying “When people ask me: ‘Whom do you love more – the dalai lama or the president?’ I say ‘Listen, dear comrades, who feed me and gives my elders money? A big foreign lama or the president of the country?”

            The khambo-lama has little influence over the Buddhists of Tuva or Kalmykia or over Russian converts to Buddhism, almost all of whom look to the Dalai Lama rather than to him. And while he does have some support among Buryat Buddhists, he is clearly losing much of it with his unfortunate and offensive comments, even if he has the backing of Vladimir Putin.

            It now appears that most of that support arises not from religious considerations but from political ones: Aushev has been a leader in calls to revive the Buryat language and folklore and clearly has friends at court in Moscow. Now that he is under attack, he is likely to play up both themes, something that could set the stage for new conflicts in Buddhist Buryatia.

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