Passport magazine: Russian lifestyle
Home Archive February 2012

About Us

From the Publisher

Contact Us

Current IssueArchive
Restaurant GuideRestaurant ReviewsInternational Food BlogsWine TastingsTravelMoscow EmbassiesAirlines to RussiaMoscow AirportsCustoms and VisasResidence permitMoscow Phone DirectoryMuseums and GalleriesWi-Fi Hot Spots in MoscowClubs!Community ListingsMoscow Downtown MapMoscow Metro MapRussian LinksInternational Links
Advertise with Us
Our Readers - a profileAdvertising RatesDistribution List
Click for Moscow, Russia Forecast
Our Partners
Knights of the Vine RUSSIA


The Lesser Known Buddhists
monin Europe’s eastern corner, thousands of miles from the religion’s Asian heartland
Saransh Sehgal

Much of Europe has remained unaware that Buddhism is a religion that is not practiced only in east Asia, but is also a mainstream faith in secluded pockets of Eastern Europe. However, in the mecca for international chess: the Republic of Kalmykia, in the Republic of Buryatia and in the Republic of Tuva within the Russia Federation, Buddhism is recognized as being their traditional religions and its people the Kalmyks, Buryats and Tuvans are collectively given a name as “Russian Buddhists”.

Buddhists await the Dalai Lama. Photo by Saransh Sehgal

A bag especially given to Russian Buddhists for the Dalai Lama teachings in December 2011

Buddhism made the journey to Russia in the 17th century from Tibet via Mongolia. Today, there are over three million Buddhists in the Russian Federation, most of them Kalmyks. The kind of Buddhism practiced in Russia is lamaist in nature, similar to that followed in Tibet and Bhutan, and Russian Buddhists recognize Tibet’s spiritual head the Dalai Lama as being their supreme spiritual authority. They embody the Gelugpa School (“the School of Virtue”) of Tibetan Buddhism in the Mahayana tradition, that is, “the broad path” of salvation from endless rebirth in the world of suffering.

Russian Buddhists have been able to practice their faith freely since the fall of the Soviet Union, and were able to do so for many years before that. They have built dozens of monasteries known as Datsans. Buddhism, with its focus on interfaith and social harmony has spread throughout Russia, as was witnessed by the construction of a Buddhist temple in St. Petersburg in the beginning of the 20th century.

There are now over 200 Buddhist organizations registered in Russia. Important Buddhist texts have been, and are now being translated into Russian, and Buddhist spiritual and educational prose is being published. However the surrounding economic situation casts its long shadow over Buddhists, with the north coast of the Caspian, where Kalmykia is situated, being the second poorest region in Russia. For them the quiet and kind philosophy of Buddhism is a real solution in the hard reality they live in.

A special area close to the Dalai Lama

The Supreme Lama of the Kalmyks is Erdne Ombadykow, a Philadelphia-born Kalmykian. His Holiness Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama recognized Ombadykow as the reincarnation of Telo Tulku Rinpoche, a Buddhist saint who could supposedly bring back animals from the dead. Ombadykow was brought up as a Buddhist monk in a Tibetan monastery in India from the age of seven, and currently resides in Elista—the Kalmykia capital where Kalmyks and other Russian Buddhists revere him as a holy figure and seek his blessing. He travels a lot, spending time with his family in Colorado and arranging religious trips for Russian Buddhists to listen to the Dalai Lama’s discourses in India.

Russian Buddhists walk the narrow streets of the Himalayan town Dharmsala.

Religious life is bustling in Russia. However there are also a lot of politics involved. Religion and politics have always gone hand in hand in this country. For seven years now, the Russian authorities have consistently turned down Russian Buddhists’ requests for the Dalai Lama to visit. In 1979, the Dalai Lama made his first visit to the Soviet Union. After 1994, the Dalai Lama was received devotedly when he visited Russia’s three Buddhist republics. But as Moscow’s trade with China became more and more important after 2004, Russia stopped giving the Dalai Lama visas.

Russian Buddhists receive Dalai Lama’s teaching in India December 2011

Because it has proved impossible to bring the Dalai Lama to Russia and to the Kalmykia region in particularly, Russian Buddhists have become frequent pilgrims to India to seek blessings and listen to the teachings of their supreme spiritual leader over the last few years.

Russian Buddhists await the arrival of the Dalai Lama during the teachings

This year, 1,500 Russian Buddhists went on a pilgrimage to the Buddhist Holy Land. Many were there for the first time, and could be seen wearing traditional Buddhist clothing in the small colorful Himalayan town of Dharamsala in northern India, which is the exile base of the Dalai Lama, and also the home of thousands of Tibetan exiles, including the government in exile.

The Russians attended a special programme of teachings organized for them by Ombadykow from the December 19th- 21st. Included in the programme were the Dalai Lama’s teachings on the Fulfillment of Destiny (Tokjo Dunlekma and Geshe Langri) and Thangpa’s Eight Verses of Training the Mind (Lojong Tsik Gyema). Russian Buddhists could be found clutching FM radios listening to Russian translations of the teachings. Simultaneous translation was also offered in English, Chinese, Japanese, Spanish and Korean for the thousands of devotees who made the pilgrimage from other parts of the world.

Russian could be heard on the streets of the Himalayan town Mcleod Ganj, in upper Dharamsala. Pilgrims from different groups in Elistra greeted each other in the town’s narrow streets, while many sampled Tibetan culture and some were enjoying eating Tibetan dishes like the momos.

Russian Buddhists
outisde the residence
of the Dalai Lama in
Dharamsala, India

Tibetan monks offered their special butter tea along with Tibetan tea cakes during the teachings. One of the highlights of the three-day event was when the Dalai Lama was awarded an honorary degree from Tuva University by Telo Rinpoche (Ombadykow).

“The Russian Academic Council of the Tuva State University has decided to confer an Honorary Degree on His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet for his outstanding contribution to the development of science, and his personal contributions towards solving pressing issues such as protection of human rights, promotion of religious harmony, conservation of the environment, and the strengthening of moral and ethical principals in society,” said Telo Rinpoche.

Whilst addressing Russian Buddhists, the Dalai Lama said, “Today’s teaching is mainly for Buddhist followers from the Russian republics of Kalmykia, Buryatia, and Tuva. Your ancestors followed Buddhism for many hundreds of years. Many Buddhists from these regions in the last couple of decades have become great Buddhist scholars after completing their studies from Buddhist institutions in Tibet.

“Just listening and having faith is not enough. One has to practice it, religion should make you think and change for the betterment of oneself and for happiness in the community,” said the 76-year old Spiritual Head and Nobel Peace Prize winner.

Nina, a Buddhist devotee from Russia said, “We need to hear more about the teachings of the Dalai Lama. We are happy to be here and to see the Dalai Lama and we want to know more about his teachings.”

“It is my first time in India to seek the blessing of the Dalai Lama, and this is the biggest ever occasion in my life. The Living God filled our days with the teachings of kindness and compassion,” said Darimya, an elderly Russian Buddhist, with a smile.

 Copyright 2004-2012 +7 (495) 640 0508,,
website development – Telemark
OnLine M&A Russia Deal Book
Follow Us