Russia looks to Nepal for embellishing Buddhism bond

IANS, December 31, 2005

Kathmandu, Nepal -- Once suppressed by the communist regime, Buddhism is again flourishing in Russia. And Moscow wants help from Nepal to embellish its bond with the religion.

"Buddhism is the fourth biggest religion in Russia after Christianity, Islam and Judaism," says Sergey F. Kiselev, director of the Russian Centre of Science and Culture here.

Travelling lamas from Mongolia and Tibet first introduced the religion in Russia as far back as the 17th century.

Today it is estimated that there are about 300,000 Buddhists in Russia, concentrated mostly in the Buryat, Kalmyk and Tuva republics, in Chita region, in Leningrad and in other cities.

On Tuesday, Elista, capital city of the Russian republic of Kalmykia on the Caspian Sea, saw the inauguration of a new Buddhist temple, the tallest Buddhist shrine in Russia.

"We invite Nepal's Buddhists to build stupas in Kalmykia," says Muchaev Valeri, assistant minister for law and justice in the republic.

The 50-year-old, a Buddhist himself, was in Nepal with a delegation of other Buddhists from Russia to visit Lumbini, said to be the birthplace of the Buddha, and other renowned Buddhist shrines in the Himalayan kingdom.

Valeri attributes the growth of Buddhism to the years of perestroika and glasnost.

Though the reign of the tsars tolerated Buddhists, when communism overtook the former Soviet Union, there began a ruthless and systematic suppression of religious institutions.

In the 1930s, all Buddhist religious buildings in Kalmykia and Tuva were destroyed as well as most stupas in the Buryat republic.

"Buddhists were put into prisons or exiled," says Valeri. "My father was sent to Siberia."

However, after World War II, some monasteries were allowed to reopen and regulate under official control. In the late 1980s, Buddhism revived with new monasteries and permission to print religious literature.

"Buddhism is a very modern religion," says Hiranya Lal Shrestha, Nepal's ambassador to Russia, explaining its popularity.

"It advocates moderation, is against expansionism and nurtures world peace."