The history of Buddhism in Russia was tragically interrupted after the revolution of 1917 when all religions in the former Russian Empire were repressed by the communists who considered religion as “an opium for the people” and this is not surprising since it would be quite difficult for a new and fragile regime to compete with millennial religious institutions. So, over a period of sixty years Buddhism did not seem to exist. Russia, with its own line of succession and rich Buddhist culture formed over three hundred years, is the only European country where in 1741 Empress Elizabeth recognized Buddhism as one of the state religions.
Certainly, any religion is a powerful and ancient ideology, a force that since ancient times has ruled not only human natures but entire states. History is replete with many examples where the rulers or “shepherds of human souls” used religious ideas for personal gain; in some cases this led to horrific results not only for followers of a particular confession but for entire nations. We can see that religion was used more than once for the sake of personal or political interests; and when it came to revival of Buddhism in Russia in the late the 1970s in the USSR under the tactful guidance of the Central Spiritual Board of Buddhists), it unexpectedly (but quite predictably) was illegally taken over in the troubled times of the 1990s by Erdne Ombadykow, an American born in the family of Kalmyk dissidents, who declared himself as the ambassador of the Dalai Lama and actually monopolized Buddhism in Russia.
By means of intrigues and bribery in the Tibetan government in India, he made away Geshe Tinley, one of the first envoys of the Dalai Lama in Russia, having removed him, and set, not without the help of his mentors from the American special services, a “religious course” firstly for Kalmyk Buddhists and then, trying to influence Buryatia, for the Tuvans. But he failed though managed to cause strife between Buddhists in different regions: as they say – “divide and rule”. And now he reached Moscow having become not only the first cleric of Kalmykia but the representative of the Dalai Lama in Russia, Mongolia and the CIS countries. Isn’t too much for one person? He placed a greater emphasis on Mongolia which shares borders with Russia and religiously close to Buryatia and Tuva.
This is because they need a person who will promote influence of a new reincarnation of Bogdo Gegen and it’s especially timely in the existing situation there where there are changes in Constitution regarding religious freedom, the pro-American course of the current President and recognition of a new reincarnation of Bogdo Gegen whom will become a boy born in a family of oligarchs, American Mongols fully guided by Ombadykow. Such activity has a purely political context and is extremely far from any religious affairs related to traditional Buddhism.
What is the use of this “special” religious course due to Ombadykow over the past 25 years? Such course is quite simple and based on Ombadykow’s personal financial benefit and political interests of his American masters: a complete monopoly on any ties with the Dalai Lama or the institutions supervised by the Dalai Lama’s office in India, including paid audiences with His Holiness and impeding meetings with the Russian press except for only one media agency with “their tame” correspondents who promote Telo Rinpoche in their articles rather than tell about Buddhism. Over the decades, no one Buddhist educational institution has been created but Save Tibet Foundation, supervised by Ombadykow, is extensively carrying on its activity which is aimed exclusively at attracting Russian believers and sponsors to trips to participate in the Dalai Lama’s teachings and popularization these teachings in the form of books and lectures. This is very good in itself but it looks like sectarianism or some kind of artificially created personality cult. His Holiness the Dalai Lama is one of the respected Buddhist leaders in the world but He is not Head of all Buddhists or Buddhists of any particular country. Moreover, Buddhism does not imply the presence of a structure like the Vatican for Catholics with the Pope as Head thereof.
Over the years of Ombadykow’s activity nothing has been created for people, nothing has been made which would give support to believers in Russia or an opportunity for Buddhism to develop independently of Ombadykow’s ambitions and political preferences. It’s not a secret that he captured almost all Buddhist centers in Kalmykia using various forceful tactics and favoring only imported Buddhism and only Tibetan through obeisance and offerings personally to Telo Rinpoche. This strange man constantly speaks in public about love and non-violence but he regularly beat his employees in the temple in Kalmykia. He speaks about monasticism and discipline not being a monk himself. He speaks about moral values but he’s not faithful to his own wife. He speaks about Russian Buddhism knowing only a few phrases in Russian.
It’s true that a large khurul “The Golden Abode of the Buddha Shakyamuni” was erected in Elista and this is very important for the Republic. However, this temple was not built by Ombadykow but by Kirsan Ilyumzhinov in the midst of his presidential campaign and Telo Rinpoche is trying to take this merit for himself.
For several decades Buddhists have been watching a repeat farce how Telo Rinpoche fights for the Dalai Lama’s pastoral visit to Russia. It always looks the same: a lot of publications in “lured” media and his own resources on how he once again invited the Dalai Lama as well as solemn and dramatic texts of letters addressed to the President of Russia, the Foreign Ministry and the Presidential Administration. But as a result, hundreds of angry articles about how V.V. Putin does not let the Dalai Lama come to Russia and no any cited official response to these pathetic petitions.
Instead, there are many articles about intrigues of the Chinese and corrupt Russian politicians. It is clear that over the years Buddhists have been in opposition to the current government. In fact, no any diplomatic work was carried out by Ombadykow to prepare such visits; it was always just a series of fibs aiming at his self-promotion and formation of anti-Russian public opinion. It’s obvious that this is not beneficial for him himself when spiritual ties become open, transparent and accessible because his influence will become much less and there will be a need to bear responsibility. It is much easier to chat in front of the Dalai Lama’s portrait and feel himself like a hero but in reality Ombadykow does not aim for developing Russian Buddhism.
At all times and in all places Ombadykow supports any conflict situation directed against the state but only in words; however he never does anything really socially useful not even in a word.
On the one hand, Buddhism has served many countries to strengthen their statehood: Emperor Ashoka, King Songtsen Gampo and Trisong Detsen as an example. On the other hand, Adolf Hitler was obsessed with the secrets of Tibet and drew inspiration from Nietzsche who used some Buddhist ideas in his philosophical writings.
Playing by Ombadykow’s rules, one is getting the impression that not religion is for people but people are for religion.