A statue in honor of the bodhisattva Maitreya has been constructed in the Russian republic of Kalmykia. Standing 15 meters high and weighing in at 30 tonnes, it is the largest image of the future Buddha in the Russian Federation and in Europe. The statue stands on land belonging to Lagan Dardeling Monastery (Kal: Lagan Dargyeling Khurul) in Lagan, the administrative center of Lagansky District, a few kilometers from the Caspian Sea.
The grand consecration ceremony for the statue was held on 22 September—an auspicious date chosen by Telo Tulku Rinpoche, shadjin lama (head lama) of the Kalmyk people and honorary representative of His Holiness the Dalai Lama to Russia, Mongolia, and the members of the Commonwealth of Independent States. The Ministry of Culture and Tourism and the district administration prepared a rich cultural program for the occasion. Minister of Culture and Tourism Elbikov Khongor Badmaevich described the ceremony as a “significant event not only for the residents of the republic and Russia, but for Buddhists around the world.” (Золотая обитель Будды Шакьямуни)
Maitreya is a bodhisattva who will appear on Earth from Tushita heaven, achieve complete enlightenment, and teach the Dharma as a successor to Shakyamuni Buddha. The name of the future Buddha is derived from the Sanskrit term maitri, which means “loving-kindness.” In Mahayana Buddhism, he is revered as the embodiment of all-encompassing love. In Kalmykia, Buryatia, and Tuva he is known as Maidari.
The idea of constructing a statue of Maitreya in Lagan arose in 2010 after the successful completion of the Maitreya Project Heart Shrine Relic Tour* in the three Buddhist republics of Russia.** The project of Lama Zopa Rinpoche, which tours the world, features a precious collection of more than 1,000 sacred Buddhist relics found among the ashes of Buddhist masters and brought to the region in 2009 by Telo Tulku Rinpoche.
The esteemed Gelug teacher Lama Zopa Rinpoche explained the importance of the Maitreya statue: “In the near future, wars will rage in the world and many will suffer. Everywhere on Earth hunger will break out, killing many human lives. The whole world will be covered by diseases, from which many will not be healed. In these conditions, the more Maitreya statues are built, the more successfully we will be able to reduce suffering and completely overcome them. The construction of the statue of the Loving Buddha will fill with love and kindness the hearts of all the inhabitants of this world and especially in Lagan, Kalmykia, and Russia.” (Asia Russia Daily)
In 1992, during the second visit of His Holiness the Dalai Lama to Kalmykia, the Tibetan Buddhist leader consecrated a site in Lagansky District where Lagan Dardeling Monastery would be built. Three years later, in May 1995, the khurul opened and was given its name by Telo Tulku Rinpoche. It was the first Buddhist temple built in accordance with all the canons of Buddhism. On 30 September 2017, a new monastery opened next to the old building. The resident teacher of Lagan Dardeling Monastery is Lobsang Zundu (Vitaly Mankirov), a Kalmyk monk, who has helped with the completion of the statue and with the development of the Buddhadharma in the republic.
The residents of Lagan have supported the construction of the statue in different ways, and the work has been funded mainly by public donations. A significant portion of the project was sponsored by Mergen Naktanov, a well known businessman in the region. Holy items and substances were brought from Buddhist monasteries in India to be enshrined inside the statue, including sacred Buddhist texts, mantras, and relics. Telo Tulku Rinpoche also offered a copy of the sacred Tibetan canon in two parts: the Kagyur (Kanjur), the translated words of the Buddha, and the Tengyur (Tenjur), translated commentaries on the teachings of the Buddha.
At the beginning of August, the artist Jigme Lodoy performed a ceremony to “open the eyes” of the Maitreya statue. This consecration of newly created statues and painted Buddhist images is performed in the belief that the image can thereby be endowed with spiritual properties and become equal to the living Buddha.
On 6 September, the statue was blessed by Khen Rinpoche Geshe Lharampa Lobsang Gyaltsen, the 80th abbot of Drepung Gomang Monastery in India. He and a delegation of monks performed a ritual of purification for the image of Maitreya. The esteemed lama visited Lagan during his program in Kalmyka from 3–6 August, when he performed prayers at Lagan Dardeling Monastery and met its resident lama, Lobsang Zundu, as well as members of the administration of Lagansky District municipality.
* Lama Zopa Rinpoche Visits Kalmykia (Buddhistdoor Global)
** Buryatia, Kalmykia, and Tuva.