Telo Tulku Rinpoche, the shadjin lama(head lama) of the Kalmyk people, met scholars from the Russian Buddhist republic of Kalmykia on 30 September to discuss the possibility of establishing a center for Buddhist higher education. At the beginning of the 20th century, there were several centers of Buddhist higher learning in Kalmykia, called tsannid chöra (philosophical monastic schools), which were destroyed during the Soviet period.
During the meeting, held at the central khurul (monastery) of Kalmykia, the Golden Abode of Shakyamuni Buddha, Telo Rinpoche explained that the idea of creating such an educational institution had first been hatched some time ago, but the lack of specialists, time, and technical know-how did not allow for the project to be implemented. Now, Telo Rinpoche said, there are specialists, along with accumulated experience and an understanding of how to realize the project; the only thing that remains uncertain is the financial aspect.
One of the reasons why this issue is being discussed now is related to changes to federal legislation in Russia. The State Duma* received a bill according to which all clergy who receive spiritual education abroad must undergo re-certification in Russia.** The shadjin lama commented on the changes during the gathering: “Since there are no proper Buddhist educational institutions within the territory of the Russian Federation, there can be no question of re-certification for Buddhist monks.”
Earlier in September, Yonten Gelong, administrator of the central khurul of Kalmykia, explained to Russian media the negative consequences of this law on the development of Buddhism in Russia: “In Kalmykia there is no registered spiritual and educational institution. So if this law is adopted, all the clergy working in the republic, both Russians and those invited from India, will not be able to carry out religious activities since they all received education abroad. This will have an extremely negative and even disastrous effect on the revival and further development of Russian Buddhism.” (RIA Novosti)
In an interview for the newspaper Vzglyad, Gelong observed that for many centuries the clergymen of traditional Buddhist regions of Russia all received their education abroad—first in Tibet, and more recently in India and Mongolia. He added that most of the spiritual teachers who now teach Buddhism in Kalmykia, Buryatia, Transbaikalia, Tuva, Moscow, and St. Petersburg all graduated from monastic universities in China, India, Mongolia, Nepal, and other countries (Vzglyad).
Another important initiative that was discussed during the meeting between Telo Rinpoche and the Kalmyk scholars was the organization of a new Buddhist international conference. The previous conference, “Buddhism in Dialogue between Eastern and Western Cultures,” was held in the Kalmyk capital Elista in September 2015, marking the 10th anniversary of the Golden Abode of Shakyamuni Buddha. The shadjin lamaappealed to the assembly of scholars to maintain contact with Russian and international scientific centers and with individual scholars and continue their work.
The attendees decided to set up a council under the guidance of the shadjin lama, with the aim of working toward creating an institution for a Buddhist higher education and to organize an international scientific Buddhist conference by the end of this year.
* The lower house of the Federal Assembly of Russia. The upper house is the Council of the Federation.
** Bill No. 992354-7 on amending the Federal Law “On Freedom of Conscience and on Religious Associations” in terms of improving the legal regulation of the activities of religious associations, 21 July 2020.
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