August 24, 2009,
Ivolga Datsan, Buryatia
PRESIDENT OF RUSSIA DMITRY MEDVEDEV: Bandida Khambo-lama, lamas,
I am very grateful to you for inviting me here and giving me the chance to visit the famous Ivolga Datsan.
As the head of a country with many religions, I have visited many different places of worship, Orthodox churches, mosques, and now I have the opportunity of visiting this place that is sacred to all of Russia’s Buddhists.
This monastery, built in the 1940s, is truly unique and makes a very strong and unforgettable impression with the distinctive nature of the place and its architecture. Of course, also of special significance is the fact that it was here that Russian Buddhism began its revival after the decades of persecution that religion, including Buddhism, underwent in our country.
It is heartening to see that the monastery is growing all the time and today has become a major cultural and educational centre for Buddhism in Russia. Russia is in a special position in the sense that it is the only country in Europe in which Buddhism is recognised as one of the traditional religions. For more than three centuries now this, one of the world’s oldest religions, has been practised by peoples native to this country: the Buryats, Kalmyks, Tuvans and other peoples. Buddhism’s philosophy and spiritual practice have had a deep-reaching influence on the customs and traditions of all who live here and all who follow this religion. Of course, the unique Buddhist culture is an integral and greatly valued part of Russia’s common historical and cultural heritage. Russian Buddhism’s spiritual leaders take part in the country’s public life and have been right in the thick of events. One of the most outstanding examples in this respect was that of Bandida Khambo Dashi Dorzho Itigilov, whose datsan we just visited, and whose life we remember also for the great and selfless patriotism he showed during the years of World War One.
The Buddhist community is undergoing a spiritual revival today. Old monasteries have been restored and are receiving the faithful once more, and new temples are being built. The lamas have worked very hard to revive forgotten Buddhist traditions. The most important religious texts are being translated into Russian, and spiritual and educational literature is being published. As far as I know, there are now 203 Buddhist religious organisations registered in Russia.
Religion has a special role to play in every country’s progress, in Russia too, in developing and building people’s moral character. Russia’s Buddhists are making an important contribution to strengthening inter-faith dialogue and social concord in our country.
I recently expressed my support for a number of ideas put forward by the heads of our traditional religions on including the foundations of religious culture in Russia’s national school curriculum, and the foundations of secular ethics for those who do not wish to attend a class on religion. I also gave my support to the proposal to introduce the office of chaplains in the armed forces.
The state authorities and the representatives of our different religions follow the same common goal of hoping to have as positive an influence as possible on young people’s upbringing. Of course, world outlook and the formation of people’s character are issues that affect state, public, and religious institutions equally. This is therefore important to me not just as leader of the country, but also as someone who wants to find common ground for cooperation between the state and our traditional religions in order to contribute as much as possible to developing our country (as we still have many problems to work on), developing and supporting our people, and developing the foundations of our public life, supporting moral values.
I am therefore very pleased to be here today. I am ready to discuss with you any matters you wish to raise, and ready too, to talk about life in general and any problems you might want to bring to my attention. Please go ahead.
BANDIDA KHAMBO-LAMA DAMBA AYUSHEYEV: Mr President,
We are very pleased that you accepted our invitation and have found the time to come here to the Republic of Buryatia and visit our Ivolga Datsan. A visit by the head of state is a big event for our Buddhist community. It is our view that the traditional Buddhist religion does all it can to help and support the work of Russia’s President and Government. We are very pleased to note that your visit serves precisely to confirm what I have just said.
We, Russia’s Buddhists, have throughout the centuries understood the tasks before our country’s leadership. We constantly support and pray for our country’s well-being, for our people’s good health, and for peace and harmony throughout our land.
We think that Buddhists should help this land in which we live, this country we love. At the same time, it is our duty to help our faithful. In other words, we believe that we should serve loyally, not create problems, not establish any special conditions, and not demand anything in return from the country’s leadership. We give our full support to the decision you have taken on religious studies in school, and also on establishing a clergy in the armed forces.
Here in the Republic of Buryatia, in the Trans-Baikal Territory, in Irkutsk Region – the areas where Buryat people traditionally live – we have peace and harmony. We try to help our fellow Buddhists and build peaceful coexistence between the different religions, with our Orthodox brothers, of course, and with the other religions present here. We realise that the country is facing a difficult time at the moment. This crisis has come upon us not through our own fault, but we are making an effort to help our faithful.
The leaders of Russia’s Sangkha, the Khambo-lama, and the rectors of the Buddhist University and the council of the chief datsan are very pleased to have this opportunity to meet with you. We now have a modern system of Buddhist education and have achieved a good level of growth that we can be proud of. We have our Buddhist philosophy. We have revived all of the Buddhist movements that existed in Russia before the revolution and are training our own people now. Our teachers have studied the Buryat language. I can say to you that today, everything is going fine.
DMITRY MEDVEDEV: Thank you, Bandida Khambo-lama.
You were right in saying that our country is not going through the easiest time right now, due to the difficulties in the global economy and in our own economy. But our country is nonetheless strong, powerful, and economically diverse and well-prepared. We will overcome all of the difficulties, of course. We have the resources we need to help develop the traditional religions that have existed in Russia for centuries now, including Buddhism. We have no need to turn to foreign assistance in this respect. We can deal with our own problems and find the support we need to help our people, to help our Buddhist community to restore its monasteries and palaces.
I think that in this respect we have a prosperous and even harmonious situation. My visit here today is yet further evidence that the relations between our traditional religions, between the traditional faiths and the state, the rule-of-law state, are developing in the right direction.