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Buddhism in Yakutia: The World’s Northernmost Buddhist Temple

The world’s northernmost Buddhist temple Datsan Dashi Norbulin. From yakutiamedia.ru

The Russian Far East in Northeast Asia is the easternmost region of Russia and the Asian continent. It is administered as part of the Far Eastern Federal District (FEFD), which is the largest and the least populated of Russia’s eight federal districts. The Russian Far East is home to many indigenous populations. Although the majority of the people living in the region are ethnic Russians, 3.3 per cent of the population of the FEFD identify as Buddhists. In three of the 11 federal subjects in the district we find important centers of Tibetan Buddhism, developed by the Buryats in the region: Buryatia, Zabaykalsky Krai, and Yakutia (Sakha).

Yakutia (Yakut: Саха Сирэ), officially known as the Republic of Sakha (Yakut: Саха Өрөспүүбүлүкэтэ), is the largest federal subject of Russia, located in northeastern Siberia, in the FEFD. It is known for its climatic extremes and can claim to be the coldest area in the Northern Hemisphere. 

Dandar Lama consecrates the land for Datsan Dashi Norbulin. From facebook.com

The Yakuts, or the Sakha, are a Turkic ethnic group, the easternmost indigenous community of Turkic peoples and the second-largest indigenous group in Siberia after the Buryats. Some archaeological and ethnohistorical data suggest that Yakuts share common ancestral roots with the Buryats living near Lake Baikal. Almost 50 per cent of the population in Sakha is Yakut, while Russians make up 37.8 per cent, and Buryats are 0.8 per cent—or around 7,000 Yakut Buryats, most of whom are Buddhists. 

In 1998, the Buryat community in Yakutia contacted Ivolginsky Datsan in Buryatia with a request to send a lama. Buryat teacher Yeshe Dandar Lama (Dmitry Zhalsaraev), a graduate of Buddhist University Dashi Choinkhorlin (From Tib: “Land of the Auspicious Dharma Wheel”), was sent to Yakutsk, the republic’s largest city.

Religious service at Datsan Dashi Norbulin led by Dandar Lama. From facebook.com

When Dandar Lama arrived in Yakutia, he found that the local Buddhist community had nowhere to gather and practice. To start off with, Dandar Lama founded a religious organization in Yakutsk called the Lotus Buddhist Community. Later, in 2009, a decision was finally made to build a monastery. During the same year, at the initiative of the Lotus Buddhist Community, construction began in a pine forest some 12 kilometers from the center of Yakutsk. The unique structure became known as the World’s Northernmost Buddhist Temple Datsan Dashi Norbulin (From Tib:“Auspicious Precious Stone Garden”). Construction was funded by voluntary donations and with the participation of people from all over the world.

The construction of the temple was preceded by several auspicious signs. In 2002, His Holiness the Dalai Lama presented his portrait and a khatak (ceremonial scarf) to pilgrims from Yakutia as a blessing for the construction of the temple. In 2006, His Holiness sent a gift to the Lotus Buddhist Community with a sacred bumpa (ritual vase), medicinal herbs, magic grains, and prayer leaves to lay the foundation for the temple. In 2008, plans for the construction of the temple were presented to the Dalai Lama during an audience in Dharamsala, during which he blessed the project.

Religious service at Datsan Dashi Norbulin. From o-buddizme.ru

The temple was constructed over a five-year period and Dandar Lama was appointed as abbot. The consecration ceremony was held by Pandito Khambo Lama Damba Ayusheev on 2 October 2014. The Yakut Buryats received not only a Buddhist temple, but also a cultural center where they can study the Buryat and Tibetan languages, hold exhibitions, and organize cultural and educational events.

Another Buddhist community, called Namsal, was established in Mirny, the administrative center of Mirinsky District in 2013. The community serves to unite all Buddhist Buryats living in the city. With the help of the community and by the efforts of fellow devotees, a Buddhist dugan (small temple) was built in Mirny. The resident lama, who performs regular religious services, is Erdeni Lama.

Mirny Dugan. From facebook.com

Related features from BDG

Buddhism in Buryatia: The Palace of the Legendary Sandalwood Buddha
Buddhism in Buryatia: Boudhanath Stupa Replica in Kizhinginsky Datsan
Buddhism in Buryatia: Datsan Rinpoche Bagsha
Buddhism in Buryatia: The Palace of Vajrasattva Buddha
Buddhism in Kalmykia: Construction of a Stupa as a Symbol of Unity
Buddhism in Siberia: Aginsky Buddhist Academy

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