Статья 'The main trends in the renewal movement of Russian Buddhism at the beginning of the XX century .' - журнал 'Genesis: Historical research' - NotaBene.ru
Journal Menu
> Issues > Rubrics > About journal > Authors > About the Journal > Requirements for publication > Editorial collegium > The editors and editorial board > Peer-review process > Policy of publication. Aims & Scope. > Article retraction > Ethics > Online First Pre-Publication > Copyright & Licensing Policy > Digital archiving policy > Open Access Policy > Open access publishing costs > Article Identification Policy > Plagiarism check policy
Journals in science databases
About the Journal

MAIN PAGE > Back to contents
Genesis: Historical research

The main trends in the renewal movement of Russian Buddhism at the beginning of the XX century .

Nesterkin Sergei

Doctor of Philosophy

Leading Scientific Associate, Institute of Mongolian, Buddhist and Tibetan Studies of Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences

670047, Russia, respublika Buryatiya, g. Ulan-Ude, ul. Sakh'yanovoi, 6

Другие публикации этого автора




Review date:


Publish date:


Abstract: The object of the study is the renovationist movement in Russian Buddhism. At the beginning of the XX century, some part of the Buddhist community began the process of revising the organizational forms of its existence, revising its theoretical and practical baggage. The work focuses on defining the basic principles of the main directions of this movement, studying their goals and objectives and identifying differences in their approaches to reforming the Buddhist church in the context of the ongoing changes in the socio-political conditions of Russia at the beginning of the 20th century. As a result of the analysis of documents and archival materials, the author investigated the doctrinal and ideological foundations of the movements and their organizational forms. The study found that there were two significantly different movements that set themselves very different tasks and used fundamentally different approaches to solve them. On the one hand, the activities of Buryat enlighteners B. Baradin, Ts.Zhamsarano, etc., and such representatives of the clergy as A. Dorzhiev, Ch. Iroltuev, Ganzhurova–Gegen were designed to develop an ideological basis for preserving the national identity of the Buddhist peoples of Russia in the conditions of ideological and political expansion. On the other hand, L.S. Tsydenov and his followers set themselves a significantly different task: to reform Buddhism in such a way that it could develop in a new socio–cultural environment, in the Western culture of Russia. The task here was not so much the preservation of national identity as the development of the Buddhist tradition in a new cultural space, which indirectly solved the first task.

Keywords: Buryat Buddhism, tibetan Buddhism, sangha, tantra, neobuddism, renovationism, Russian Buddhism, Dandaron, Tsydenov, Dorzhiev

At the turn of the century in Russian Buddhism, a process began that is often called in Russian studies the “renewal” movement. A few reformers of Buddhism often named in this movement includes Agvan Dorzhiev, Choinzon Iroltuev, Tsyben Zhamsarano, Bazar Baradin, Mikhail Bogdanov, Bato-Dalai Ochirov and others, as well as Lubsan-Sandan Tsydenov, Agvan-Salnam Badmaev, B.D. Dandaron and their supporters. Their activities are often considered as integral parts of a single process of the transformation of Buddhism into a new form, “Neobuddism”. But in our view, we are dealing with two essentially different processes, with movements that set different goals for themselves and used fundamentally different approaches to address these goals. On the one hand, the activities of Buryat educators and, to a large extent, members of the clergy such as A. Dorzhiev, Ch. Iroltuev, Ganzhurva-Gegen, were part of the renewal of Buddhism that took place at the time in many countries to which it spread; and are a response to the ideological and political expansion of colonizing countries, designed to develop the ideological basis for the preservation of national identity of the colonized peoples [1, p. 26-27]. On the other hand, L.S. Tsydenov and his followers set a goal for themselves: to reform Buddhism in such a way that it could develop within this new socio-cultural environment, in the Western culture of Russia. The objective here was not so much the preservation of national identity as the preservation of the Buddhist tradition in a new cultural space, which in fact indirectly addresses the issue of national identity.

The emergence of the reform movement is at the time of Tsarist government reforms in Transbaikalia. It came in response to the Russian expansion and to the policy of the Tsarist government of forced assimilation and Christianization of the Buryat people [2, p. 211-231].

Renewalists sought to preserve their ethnic groups from assimilation, while leaving at the same time the opportunity for the Buryat people to join the Russian, “European” culture, based on the national religion of Buddhism. [ нат львовна]......

The renewal process, as it was understood by the first of these groups, can be divided into two components: the administrative and philosophical/doctrinal. The first involves a change in the administrative structure of the church; the means of election of administrative positions in Buddhist monasteries – Hambo Lama, abbots of monasteries, treasurers, etc.; principles of distributing the monastery’s income; the rules of determining the church budget; restrictions on personal expenses of lamas for their living expenses; a change in the mechanisms of financial controls; and the definition of new principles of the relationship between lamas and parishioners. Philosophical/doctrinal renewal had the goal of reforming doctrine and religious practice in accordance with the principles of a certain “original”, “early” Buddhism as they were presented to representatives of the movement. This “early” Buddhism appeared to them as a philosophical and ethical teaching, the following of which does not involve carrying out certain types of rituals [3].

One of the reasons for the revision of the existing foundations of monastery life is a critical assessment of the actual status of the monastic discipline within the sangha and the systematic violation of scholars and lamas of inter-monastery charters. Opponents of the Renewalists as represented by L. Tsydenov and his followers largely agreed with this criticism. L. Tsydenov, for example, going into seclusion away from Kudunsky datsan, said of the prevailing style of monastery life; “The monastery is samsara.” [4, p. 264] The issue of limiting personal property of the lamas to the Vinaya laws appeared in almost all renewal congresses; however the basis of the proposed reform was a change to the principles of the formation of Sangha leadership.

Administrative reform had several stages. A start was made at the Second Buryat Congress.

The next stage of the administrative reform attempts of the Buddhist Church on the basis of renewal beginning that began after the establishment of Soviet power. The agenda of the Council went from questions about the organization of the lamas’ way of life according to the rules of Vinaya to the reorganization of the spiritual administration, the improvement of Tibetan medicine, the study of European science by the lamas, the nationalization of preaching and teaching the Buddhist religion, changes in the rules of initiation into scholars, and to abolishing the cult of reincarnated beings and diviners [5].

The tendency to limit self-governance of the spiritual community by the laity, which took place in a legislative project of 1917 as well as a new project in 1922 became further developed. As a religious organization – a subject that the new legislation was directed at – the Sangha (spiritual community) was not involved, but rather the “parish community.” The concept was borrowed from the Eastern Orthodox Christian custom. The composition of the community were laymen and the priesthood that spiritually supported them; that is, the vast majority in the parish community were laymen, under the control of which (by virtue of their equal representation of clergy at a general meeting of the parish) was the whole inner life of the Sangha. The Hambo Lama and abbots, under the new legislation, were deprived even of those regulatory powers that the law in 1917 gave them, by which the Hambo Lama, as the head of a Church, had the right to issue decrees on the rules of the internal life of the clergy and the structure of the monasteries themselves, and the legalization of these orders did not require the approval of a collegial council [6].

The new legislation enabled any layman not only to require a report on the activities of the clergy, raise the question of convening a special meeting and the re-election of the Board, but also to be elected to monastery Council as a full member. In fact, the Buddhist clergy was put in a position where its activity was not regulated by the provisions of the canonical monastic rule (Vinaya), and / or regulations of Mahayana and Tantra (for those who have taken the appropriate vows), but by the decisions of “activists” from the laity, who under the proposed legislation could easily get a majority in the parish council. This not only solved the important problem for the new government of control over the clergy, but also greatly weakened the influence of lamas on the laity, since the power of the clergy to influence decisions was sharply limited.

There is no doubt that the true authors of the legislation were not only (or, rather, not so much) renewal movement figures as representatives of the new Soviet government. One can assume that the desire to limit Soviet influence of the old church on the masses to some extent found sympathy among the renewalists. The old church was seen as a conservative force that prevented the construction of a new state, which they hoped to lead. In this vein, in a slightly later period, E. Rinchino, who at the time had already become an almost completely sovereign dictator in Mongolia, being fascinated by the idea of creating a “state of all Mongols,” wrote his friend D. Sampilon: “The Mongols and other peoples of Central Asia are too primitive and cankered by Buddhist clericalism and are ill suited to create such a state (i.e., a Panmongolian Empire).” [7, p. 124]

In place of the old church organization was come to a different, updated, dominating power which was to have a new church and surrounding elite. The possibility of a broad influence of the laity on the processes in the church appealed to renewalists also because a large part of them (perhaps the majority of the most active leaders), were in fact laity: Buryat intellectuals and a few Eastern Studies specialists who were in any way part of the church hierarchy and were not perceived by traditional lamas as “their own”. In the eyes of the clergy, they were still very young (E.D. Rinchino became chairman of the Central National Committee of Buryats in 29 years, C. Zhamsarano led the alliance “The Banner of the Buryat People” in 26 years, and B. Baradin became a prominent ideologue of the renewal movement in the 27 years), and while seen as being educated people, their claim to the reform of Buddhism was not recognized as being well founded, if only because they were not seen as competent in the matters they undertook to reform. We must remember that the standard course of study of Buddhist philosophy lasted 18 years, and its completion is roughly equivalent of getting a modern higher education and receiving a certificate of completion that testified only that one has learned the basics of the creed. The basis for a person being capable of developing reforms was seen as through the practical implementation of the teachings in contemplative practices, often in multi-year solitary retreats and demonstrate clear signs of this realization (Tib. dngos sgrub). So the immediate associations with the word “reformer” among educated Buddhists at the time were such names as: Tsonkhapa, Atisha, Padmasambhava. For contemporaries to justify their place in this line would be difficult. Laity reformers had authority among the clergy more as secular leaders of the Buryat people, closely tied to government structures and themselves engaged at different times in public office; so the possibility of legitimizing their inclusion in the structures of church governance as equal to clergy gave them, of course, a great opportunity to influence the religious policy of the church.

It must be said that deviations from the rules of Vinaya in the monastic life of the Buryat clergy were criticized in the first third of the last century not only by representatives of the renewalists but also by their opponents - and the followers of L. Tsydenov as well as even some “traditionalist conservatives.” Apparently, the established way of life in Buryat monasteries largely served as a brake on the normal development of religious life.

Some legislative provisions cited above reflect concerns which have been a violation of Vinaya, in particular the ownership of personal property in excess of the statute and the violation of the order of distribution of profits. However, treatment of these issues is one of the most difficult parts of Vinaya has a lot of very refined points relating, in particular, to determining the differences between ownership of property as personal property and the personal use of the property belonging to the community, etc. The means to resolve property issues from the proposed legislative project was very simple and, in fact, is as follows: 1) all personal property of the clergy will be socialized and passed to the monastery commune; 2) all the property of the commune is declared the property of the people. This program is very different from Vinaya, which developed a very complex system of collection and distribution of community donations, carefully specified issues of usage of community assets and unconditionally condemned as a grave sin the assignment of Sangha property to the laity (“the people”). The legislative project was more like a collective farm cooperative charter drawn up for the purpose of eventual confiscation of the association’s property. In fact, the adoption of the charter, which would give a carte blanche to the government to confiscate church property, as a goal of the Congress, was not made secret by its organizers. Faced with stiff resistance by clergy from the perspective not only of the socialization of property, but the actual transfer of it under the control of the Soviet government, A. Dorzhiev reminded the Council of the tragic fate of the bishops of the Orthodox Church who opposed the confiscation of church property by the state. As a result of stormy debates, legislation on the immediate confiscation of property was replaced by a general formulation which, however, gave ample opportunity for the confiscatory practices of the state [8, L 56].

It is obvious that renewalists made big compromises in the hope of stable relations with the Soviet authorities, hoping to keep control over the situation. However, as is now becoming well known based on archival documents made available in recent years, the entire campaign to “renew” the church was designed by government authorities as a major provocation aimed at causing a split among lamas, reducing the influence of the church among the people, and, ultimately, to end it its power altogether general, regardless of the chuch’s political loyalty.

The good relationship of A. Dorzhiev with the Soviet government in the first years after the revolution was called upon first off by the geopolitical interests of Tibet and Russia, and the role A. Dorzhiev could play in the implementation of government plans, given his ties to the Tibetan government and the Dalai Lama himself. By the 1930s geopolitical ambitions were postponed and gradually ceased to be considered by A. Dorzhiev. His appeal to the Soviet authorities to protest against ever-increasing oppression in Tibet remained without consequence [9, L 21-23].

The other doctrinal area of the reform of Buddhism was to “cleanse” it from, according to Renewalists, later additions and return to some “original” Buddhism, “the Buddhism of Shakyamuni,” as he was known in Western renewalist circles. This Buddhism was represented as a philosophical and ethical teaching, atheistic in nature and devoid of any ritual component.

This idea was borrowed from the university-educated part of renewalists from Western Buddhist Studies and Buddhist theosophical literature. In addition, it corresponded well with the theoretical views of the Roerich couple, who rather closely cooperated with Renewalists (for example, Elena Roerich wrote a paper “The Foundations of Buddhism”, which the renewalists positioned as a statement of Buddhism with the new positions). The Roerichs believed that in the coming of the new era, “the Age of Aquarius”, the basis of the universal religion will be ethics, and the practices of meditation, so characteristic of Buddhism, would lose their meaning. This teaching has acquired the name “living ethics.”

Such an interpretation of Buddhism, greatly simplifying it, was withdrawing from its baggage not only the development of a system of psychological training, but also a rich philosophical heritage, preserved by Tibetan Buddhism and reproduced in its entirety in Buryatia, and drove all Buddhist philosophy to its reduced form, as contained in the Pali Canon. This activity of the Renewalists mostly did not bear fruit. The lamas of the older generation who were acquainted with the reform movement that we interviewed on the subject that lamas were not familiar with the interpretation of Buddhist philosophy, offered by the renewalists and “followed the Madhyamika-Prasangika, according to the teachings Tsongkhapa” (According to the information of Balbar-Bagsha. He is the only living Lama today of the “old” generation. He was still a young man when he emigrated with a large group of lamas of the Tsugolskii monastery to China in order to avoid the “renewal” movement, and completed a classical education in Tibet) [9].

An entirely different approach to the reform of Buddhism was demonstrated by L. Tsydenov and his followers.

The goals that Lubsan Sandanov set were not to create models of Buddhism that could hold together a national ethnicity and preserve it in the face of foreign cultural expansion, but rather to provide a translation of the Buddhist tradition in Western culture. As such, the problem of the spread of Buddhism in the West first took shape, apparently, in Russia. Russia was in a unique position - it was the only country with a dominant Western culture, within which Buddhism in its traditional form was represented over several centuries.

The high adaptability of Buddhism to new cultures is due to the fact that in this religious tradition, the criterion of adequate translation is not the reproduction of its symbolic forms and, even more, not its institutional features, but the ability to reproduce the state of consciousness, defined as “enlightenment”, the main characteristic of which is the just “signless”. The ideal form of expression is silence (in speech), or a blank sheet of paper (in a letter).

Fullness of silence in words is determined by the characteristics of the recipient, but does not express the truth, and in this case the preferred word (in the broad sense) of the culture in which the preaching is spoken. This explains the relative ease with which Buddhism express itself in new cultures, creating its salient national forms and maintaining, at the same time, its own identity.

Based on the foregoing, the success in the transmission of the tradition it is necessary, first, to ensure continuity in the transmission of an enlightened state of consciousness, which is achieved through a long practice of meditation, and secondly, to update within the tradition as a wide expanse symbolic expression of the doctrine in order to facilitate the search of reference for a new culture ways of expression.

L.S. Tsydenov aimed to mobilize the theoretical and methodological resources of Tibetan Buddhism, in order to avoid a narrow interpretation of the doctrine in the framework of the Gelug school. Each of the schools of Tibetan Buddhism has its own version of the teachings and form of presentation that evolved over the centuries, adapting to the socio-cultural, political and economic realities in which these schools existed. By the end of the 18th century the territorial and administrative spheres of influence of these schools had been definitively determined, and they began to develop more and more in isolation from each other. A negative consequence of this isolationism is that the debate on theoretical issues between schools had practically disappeared, and the scholastic element in dogma had grown significantly, leading a certain narrowness in preparing students and reducing the creativity of the schools in general. This was well understood by the leading representatives of the schools. As a reaction to this in the 19th century, a “nonsectarian” movement called Rime came about in Tibet.

L. S. Tsydenov developed this approach in Buryatia. Unlike renewalists, who sought to keep the content of Buddhism to a certain philosophical and ethical core, adapted for the wider acceptance of believers, which inevitably led to a certain superficiality, he aims to maximize the theoretical and practical potential of Tibetan Buddhism. He drew from not only Gelug heritage, but also other major schools: Nyingma, Kagyu, Shije and Sakya. The Nyingma school was rarely practiced in Buryatia, but in the neighboring Tuva, this tradition was fairly well represented. The theoretical basis of this practice is the Dzogchen teachings. Its formation was developed in Tibet by the famous philosopher and yogi Longchenpa (Natsog-Randol), who left as his legacy multi-volume collected works. His final work, “Karnatantra: the Great Doctrine Called ‘Mirror of Means of Deep Meditation,’” combining the teaching of Dzogchen and the Mahamudra, was translated into the Buryat language by Agvan Silnam Dorzhi (D.Badmaev), L.S. Tsydenov’s teacher and supporter. The teaching of the Mahamudra from the Kagyu and Shije schools was introduced into the range of practices. Kagyu, before the establishment of Gelug as the dominant school, was fairly widespread in Mongolia, and the main practice Shije (gcod) is represented in Mongolia and Buryatia even at present. However, the tradition of the teachings of Tantra Hevajra, which belongs to a class of anuttaratantra and is the foundational tradition in the Sakya school, was impossible to receive in Buryatia. This is because the Hevajra Tantra is usually not transmitted in the Geluk tradition. The rare Gelug practitioners who practiced it usually received initiation into the system from Sakya teachers, but rarely passed it down in their tradition, which is why it never came to Buryatia. This state of affairs was particularly characteristic of central Tibet, but on the border of the Gelug world, such as in China, this rule was not followed strictly. Agvan Silnam was sent to Beijing and received tradition of Hevajra from the Beijing Hutukta, along with a library of literature on this system. This collection of books, right up to the 1980’s, when the Sakya teachings became more widely available in Russia through Tibetan teachers, was the only available literature on the Hevajra Tantra in our country. Initiation into the system was transmitted by Agvan Silnam to L. S. Tsydenov and a small circle of close disciples, which was the beginning of its dissemination in Russia. Thus, the L.S. Tsydenov and his followers had all the “cream” of the teachings of Tibetan Buddhism, which allowed the inclusion in practice of the most effective methods of different traditions without “school” restrictions [10, p. 262-263].

In the practical implementation of the teachings, L.S. Tsydenov accentuated the need for intensive and prolonged yoga practice in solitude. Thisis not the organization of the monastic way of life in accordance with the code of Vinaya as with the “renewalists,” held priority in his tradition.

Lubsan-Sandan Tsydenov spent more than twenty years in contemplative practice in retreat, surrounded by his students. Many of his followers, leaving the monasteries, practiced Vajrayana “in the world,” which allowed not only teaching, but also the system of its practical implementation to be preserved in the future, during the destruction of the monastic system. The tradition of L.S. Tsydenov was accepted and developed in neobuddism by B.D. Dandaron.

In relation to secular authorities, Lubsan Sandan took the position of maximum distancing, even before the declaration of the state of independence of the areas that considered themselves under his spiritual guardianship. The move was triggered by attempts to draft Buryats into the army, which each of the contending sides tried to do.

The short-term nature of the theocratic state was well understood by its leaders, but its existence, even for a relatively short period of time, saved his “subjects” from being drawn into internecine fratricidal war. Also (and this may be just as important), its creation, sanctified by the authority of Lubsan Sandan had a symbolic character. It created in the minds of its followers a norm of relating to unjust power - not to be complicit in its affairs, but that gave power to the spiritual resistance in the coming years. It seems no coincidence that in those regions of Buryatia that were part of the movement, Buddhism was revived earlier and more intensely.

Each of the projects reviewed here of Russian neo-Buddhism had its reasons and its followers, and the story of each of them is not over yet - they have their own extension (ideological and organizational) in modern Buddhist communities. Assessing their impact on the subsequent processes of revival of Buddhism after its almost complete destruction in the late thirties, it can be noted that the ideas of A. Dorzhiev in large part determined the nature of the organization of monastic life in the postwar years, after the formation of the Central Spiritual Administration of Buddhists. The Charter of the organization in many ways follows the provisions advocated by A. Dorzhiev. The experience of the followers of L.S. Tsydenov of organizing meditation communities was in demand in the practice of Dharma centers that organize their activities around a tantric master. The first such community in Russia in the post-war years it was formed around student of L.S. Tsydenov – B.D. Dandaron.

Rinchino E-D. Oblastnicheskoe dvizhenie v Sibiri i sotsial-demokratiya. Stat'i. Rukopisi. Pis'ma. – Ulan-Ude, 1994. 136 s.
Tsyrempilov N.V. Buddizm i Imperiya. Buryatskaya buddiiskaya obshchina v Rossii (XVIII – nach. XX v.). Ulan-Ude: Buryaad-Mongol nom kheblel, 1913. 338 s. ISBN 978-5-905958-03-8.
Baradin B. Buddizm kak kul'tura Vostoka, yazyk i pis'mennost' i zadachi yazykovogo stroitel'stva. Gosudarstvennyi arkhiv respubliki Buryatiya (dalee – GARB), f 1-p, op. 1, d. 956, kor. 51, ll. 8-13.
Dandaron B.D. Izbrannye stat'i; Chernaya tetrad' / Materialy k biografii / Istoriya Kukunora / Sumpa Kunpo. Avt.-sost. V.M. Montlevich. – SPb.: Evraziya, 2006. – 688 s.: ill. ISBN 5–8071–0204–5.
GARB, f. 643, d. 7, ll. 4–11.
GARB, f. 1-p. Op. 1. d. 657.
Rinchino E.-D. / Pis'ma Dashi Sampilonu // El'bek Dorzhi Rinchino. Dokumenty. Stat'i. Pis'ma.-Ulan-Ude, 1994. 148 s.
GARB, f. 1-p. Op. 1. d. 657.
Interv'yu s Balbar-bagshoi. Arkhiv avtora.
Nesterkin S.P. O dvukh napravleniyakh razvitiya v obnovlencheskom dvizhenii rossiiskogo buddizma // Humanistic Base Texts and the Mahayana Sutras. Tartu: Centre for Oriental Studies University of Tartu, 2008. 374 p. P. 249–269.
Link to this article

You can simply select and copy link from below text field.

Other our sites:
Official Website of NOTA BENE / Aurora Group s.r.o.
"History Illustrated" Website