Datsan Gunzechoinei, the main historic Buddhist monastery in the Russian city of St. Petersburg, appealed for help on 26 April as it struggles with the impact of the global coronavirus crisis. A message published on the monastery’s website and Facebook page revealed the difficulties that the lamas from the monastery have been facing in recent weeks as a result of a nationwide lockdown.
Datsan Gunzechoinei was erected in St. Petersburg in 1909–15, becoming the first Buddhist temple in northwestern Russia, under the guidance of His Holiness the 13th Dalai Lama Thupten Gyatso (1876–1933) and the Buryat Lama Agvan Dorzhiev (1853/4–1938). The temple is maintained as a place of Dharma practice for scholars and students of the Gelug school of Vajrayana Buddhism. Over the years, it has helped thousands of people, but the current crisis has forced the lamas to seek support.
Quarantine measures were put in place in Russia at the end of March, blocking the activities of the temple and forcing it to close its doors to visitors. As a result, the head of Datsan Gunzechoinei, Buda Balzhievich Badmaev (Lama Jampa Donyed), and the other lamas have faced many difficulties—from paying bills to providing for the basic needs of the temple and the people working there. It is well known that the maintenance and running of such a large monastic complex in St. Petersburg incurs serious costs.
The monastery usually welcomes visitors from different parts of Russia and from around the world, who come to the monastery and receive continuous help and service. The lamas provide daily prayers and support for people with various problems—from illnesses to daily struggles, even helping pregnant women. During the global coronavirus pandemic, the monks have advised everyone to follow the recommended protections from the disease, to remain calm, and to use the period of social isolation as a time for spiritual practice.
From 28 March, when the quarantine non-working week was declared throughout Russia, Datsan Gunzechoynei was officially closed in order to prevent the spread of coronavirus. Hurals (prayers) continued to be held in the temple, but without any visitors. The lamas also continued to read the daily prayers and the special ritual text Five Sutras of Elimination of Negative Causes (Bur: Taban Haryulga), aiming to offer protection from the virus. The text consists of the sutras of five powerful female deities: Sitatapatra, Prajnaparamita, Green Tara, White Tara, and Simkhamukha, and was originally intended to eliminate illnesses, obstacles, bad dreams, negative thoughts, harmful influences, and so on.
From 30 March, the datsan was closed even to lamas and monks, and all online programs, such as lectures, classes, tours, as well as the daily services that were previously held on the territory of the monastery, were canceled. A week later, daily prayers were restarted, with online streaming, and the videos can be viewed on the datsan’s YouTube channel.
Financial support for this historical Buddhist monastery can be made directly through its website. The lamas of Datsan Gunzechoinei express sincere gratitude for any donations that can be received during this difficult period.
At the time of writing on 29 April, global confirmed SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus infections were reported to have reached 3.12 million, with 932,530 recovered and 217,212 deaths confirmed. Russia has so far reported 93,558 confirmed cases and 867 deaths.*