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Russians find solace in Buddhism as monasteries flourish - The Asian Age

Gareth Jones ()
19 August 1997

Title: Russians find solace in Buddhism as monasteries flourish
Author: Gareth Jones
Publication: The Asian Age
Date: August 19, 1997

Dmitry knew exactly what he wanted to do after quitting the Army, although
his decision dismayed his parents and surprised his former comrades.

"My aim is to become a Buddhist monk. I have been reading up on Buddhism
for many years and ave visited several Buddhist countries," he said.

He is one eight young Russians following a five-year course of study in
Tibetan Buddhism at the Ivolginsk Datsan (monastery) in the rolling hills
of Russia's autonomous Republic of Buryatia in southern Siberia.

"Of course is was never easy sticking to Buddhist teachings in the
environment of Russian Army barracks, but nobody tried to stop me believing
what I wanted," said Dmitry.

"My parents were not too pleased about me becoming a Buddhist. They think
that if you are born a Christian that is the way you should stay," he
added, grinning broadly.

"It's much easier studying Buddhism here. It is the most important centre
in Russia and we have a very good teacher; a Tibetan monk," said Alexei,
who was having his hair shorn by their third room-mate, Vladislav.

The Dalai Lama, Tibet's exiled spiritual leader, who has visited the
monastery, is the spiritual head of the Yellow Hat Sect to which most
Russian Buddhists belong.

"We have seen an upsurge of interest in Buddhism over the past 10 years
since the collapse of the old Soviet. 16 new temples have been built," said
Mr Bato Tsidipov, a on religion who works for Buryatia's regional government.

"People come from all parts of Russia, Ukraline and beyond to visit the
monasteries and temples and to study Buddhism."

It is not surprising that Buryatia, lying between Siberia's vast Lake
Baikal and the Mongolian border, should be at the forefront of Buddhism's
revival in the former Soviet Union.

Its indigenous people. closely related to the Mongols, began converting to
Tibetan Tantric Buddhism in the 17th century and the region boasted more
than 100 temples and dozens of monasteries before the 1917 Bolshevik

Brutal clampdown on religion in the 1930s. Soviet dictator Josef Stalin
sent thousands of lamas to the Gulag and destroyed scored of monasteries
and temples. However, in an unusually tolerant gesture, and in recognition
of the Buryat people's contribution in World War II, Stalin allowed a
couple of Buddhist monasteries, including Ivolginsk, to be rebuilt in 1946.
In the later Soviet period official policy towards Buddhists relaxed and
monks were allowed to travel to Mongolia to study. (Reuters)

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