Russian Buddhism explained

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Vodka, Lenin, Moscow. When you think about Russia, these terms often come to mind. But what about Buddhism? Not a concept often associated with Russian history or lifestyle. According to Dr. Baatr Kitinov of Moscow State University, however, Tibetan Buddhism in Russia is not only an integral part of Russian religious history, but it is a force that is experiencing a substantial comeback in today's Russian society.

In Russia's current religious climate, Tibetan Buddhism is under the strong influence of several religious forces. From the West, Orthodox Christianity has become an integral part of the country's religious makeup. From the Middle East, fundamental Islam has secured its presence in the adjoining Russian countryside, strengthened recently by the migration of Muslims from Afghanistan following the U.S. anti-terror campaign last year.

In this competitive religious melting-pot, however, Tibetan Buddhism has somehow managed to maintain its place in the sun. Dr. Kitinov, from the Center for Indological and Buddhological Studies spoke to University of Calgary students and faculty on Tue., Sept. 17, and outlined the rocky road that the religion has traveled and described Russia's current Buddhist condition.

"All Russian Buddhist regions are today situated in the borderlands, and Buddhist leaders are having problems maintaining the situation under control and preventing the spread of non-traditional religions and beliefs into Buddhist regions," Kitinov explained.

"When we study the current situation in Russia about Buddhism, we can see that it has sustained considerable impact from religious influence, domestic and foreign Russian affairs.

"Furthermore some politicians and even lamas in Russian Buddhist republics completely or partly consider Tibetan Buddhism as an intruding or ‘foreign' presence. So it's possible to say that for political reasons, Russian Buddhism becomes more and more dependant on the will of politicians," he continued.

Despite the increasing political strain, many Russian politicians consider Buddhism a bridge between Russia and the Eastern countries in which Buddhist religion plays an important role.

According to Kitinov, today's Russian Buddhists are searching for a spiritual figurehead to guide them into Russia's religious future.

"Modern Russian Buddhism needs a compassionate figure who can unite all the regional forms of this religion, and who can lead the people and act in a way that gives them hope," said Kitinov, asserting that Tibetan Buddhism in Russia is in fact experiencing a resurgence despite tough political and religious circumstances.