Actor Steven Seagal Keen to Rebuild Europe’s First Buddhist Temple in Belgrade
Recently granted Serbian citizenship, Hollywood action star, musician, and Buddhist Steven Seagal has expressed a strong interest in reconstructing Europe’s oldest Buddhist temple in the Serbian capital of Belgrade.
Seagal was granted Serbian citizenship in a special decree signed by the country’s prime minister, Aleksandar Vucic, on 8 January. The decree followed several visits to Serbia in recent months, during which the 63-year-old martial artist met the prime minister and President Tomislav Nikolic, and suggested that he could open an aikido school in Belgrade. The government also invited Seagal to train Serbian police in aikido. The actor, a friend of Russian president Vladimir Putin, said in a recent interview that he has big plans in Serbia: “I can do a lot here . . . I really want to bring Hollywood to Serbia. I want to bring the whole film community here. I want to build great, sort of a Hollywood-film infrastructure here.” (Sputnik International)
Europe’s oldest Buddhist temple, which was consecrated in December 1929, was constructed in Belgrade by political refugees from Buddhist Kalmykia in southwestern European Russia. Two years later, the street on which the temple was built was renamed Buddhist Street, and in 1934, the temple was presented with a golden statue of the Buddha from Japan. The temple was heavily damaged during World War II, and later demolished. The modern-day Republic of Kalmykia, a Russian federal subject of less than 300,000 people, is the only European region in which Buddhism is practiced by the majority of the population. As Tibetan Buddhists, the Kalmyks regard His Holiness the Dalai Lama as their spiritual leader.
Seagal, a 7th-dan black belt in aikido, rose to fame as the star of a series of martial arts movies, including Above the Law, Under Siege, and On Deadly Ground. While his acting career has been on the wane in recent years, with many of his recent films being released direct to video, Seagal has branched out with a variety of other projects, including in the fields of music and law enforcement, and several business ventures.
In February 1997, Kyabje Drubwang Pema Norbu Rinpoche (Penor Rinpoche), a lama from Palyul Monastery in eastern Tibet (one of the six mother monasteries of the Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism) and head of the Nyingma school from 1991 to 2001, announced that Seagal was a tulku, specifically an incarnation of Chungdrag Dorje, a 17th-century tertön (treasure revealer) of the Nyingma tradition.
While Seagal’s recognition was a source of some controversy in the international Buddhist community, Penor Rinpoche responded by saying that the actor had merely been recognized, but not enthroned as a tulku. “In the case of Steven Seagal, he has been formally recognized as a tulku, but has not been officially enthroned. He has also not undergone the lengthy process of study and practice necessary to fully realize what I view as his potential for helping others,” Penor Rinpoche said in a statement. (Palyul Ling International)
Seagal to Bring Hollywood Celebrities, Build Buddhist Temple in Serbia (Sputnik International)
Steven Seagal gets Serbian citizenship after offering to start martial arts school (The Guardian)
The first Buddhist temple in Europe was built in Belgrade (gbtimes)
Interview with screenwriter Stanley Weiser (elevenshadows.com)
Statement by H.H. Penor Rinpoche Regarding the Recognition of Steven Seagal as a Reincarnation of the Treasure Revealer Chungdrag Dorje of Palyul Monastery (Palyul Ling International)
Kalmykia: Lore and Memory at the Far Side of the Buddhist World (Buddhistdoor Global)
The Kalmyk Restoration: Telo Tulku Rinpoche on a Russian Republic’s Buddhist Revival (Buddhistdoor Global)