Vienna, April 9 – Senior officials in the Buryat Republic in the Russian Transbaikal have denounced as “extremist” the Tibetan Buddhist trend let by the Dalai Lama. While this statement may be intended to curry favor in Moscow and Beijing, it is already outraging Buddhist leaders in the Russian Federation itself.
At a meeting at the end of March, the Buryat Republic’s Council on Religious Affairs issued a statement saying that Tibetan Buddhism represents a form of religious and political “extremism,” against which officials in the three Buddhist republics of the Russian Federation – Buryatia, Tuva and Kalmykia -- need to defend themselves.
That provoked a sharp dissent by Kensur Choi Dorzhi Budayev, chairman of Russia’s Central Buddhist Board. In an online posting, Budayev, who often has been at odds with Buryat officials, said that this latest declaration was a dangerous threat to the stability of the country (http://www.buryat.mongolia.info/?p=160#more-160).
(The Central Buddhist Board was set up after World War II and, as such, is the oldest and until recently the most influential organization among Russia’s Buddhists. But Russian officials have sponsored the emergence of a number of other Buddhist groups in recent years in order to limit the influence of the Board and its outspoken leader.)
If Russian officials seek to isolate Russia’s Buddhists from Tibetan Buddhism, Budayev continued, this may win them friends in the Chinese government, but it will certainly “lead to the destruction of the spiritual culture not only of the Buryat people but also that of the Kalmyks and Tuvans,” who also follow the Tibetan form of Buddhism.
In his declaration, Budayev, head of the largest Buddhist organization in the Russian Federation, said that “we consider this declaration as an attempt by the state not only to block” communication between Buddhist groups but also as a measure intended “to completely change centuries-old Buddhist traditions.”
As such, the Russian Buddhist leader argued, it represents “the crudest possible interference in the internal affairs of a religious confession,” thereby threatening inter-religious and inter-ethnic peace across a large swath of the Russian Federation. Those responsible for this “baseless” statement must publicly apologize, he said.
In August 2006, the Dalai Lama said in an interview posted on the Russian website, http://savetibet.ru/, that given Chinese oppression of his homeland Tibet, Buddhist Russia, along with Mongolia, “will play the predominant role” in the preservation and growth of Tibetan Buddhism in the future.
Budayev at the time welcomed that vote of confidence by the leader of his faith, but many Russian officials are nervous not only about offending the Chinese government but also by the distinct possibility that Tibetan Buddhism could help unite the Buryats, Tuvans and Kalmyks against ethnic Russians.
And consequently, at least some of these officials – as appears to be the case with members of the Buryat Council of Religious Affairs -- are trying to promote the idea of a uniquely “Buryat Buddhism,” “Tuvan Buddhism,” or “Kalmyk Buddhism” with no ties to Tibet or to each other.
Budayev’s reaction suggests that he is among those most opposed to such a campaign, but in the new environment, his very outspokenness could cost him his position at the Central Buddhist Board just as, a decade ago, similar remarks led to his ouster as head of the Buddhism community in Buryatia.