Buddhism in the Lake Baikal

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Mindful of the fact that philosophy and religion of Buddhism “ripened” from age-old wisdom of Asian nations, it is reasonable to allude to the origins of Indian philosophy of life, to basics of their views on the unity of the coexistence of all living things. This is reasoned by the fact that lots of ancient beliefs, which originated in this country, blended in with Buddhism. An ancient Indian epic "Panchatantra" is narrative of a mighty banyan-tree which towered in a country Dakshinatyam next to a city called Mahilaropyam, and it served a shelter for travelers, and a refuge and grace for numerous living creatures:

“The gazelles are sleeping in the shade at the bottom,

Its branches are a peacock shelter

And leaves are full of insects.

Bees are flying and scurrying

And honeydew is a bait for them,

It brings happiness to all who is around it

A blessed tree - not a burden,

A patron and a friend”.

“Benefactorism” of mighty banyan-tree can be called a symbol of Buddhist perception of universal harmony in nature and an example of interdependence and mutual aid between all living things on earth. Worldly and philosophical circumstances also contributed to Buddhist solicitous attitude towards plant kingdom. Legends have it that a founder of Buddhism-Gautama Buddha was born under the Ashoka tree, “attained enlightenment” under the Bodhi tree, preached his new doctrine in mango groves and in the shade of banyans and died in thickets of sal tree. Following old Indian beliefs Buddhism established tree-cult and from then onward Buddhism,like no other religion, maintains a close association with the plant kingdom and nature at large. Accordignto Buddha the fundamental principle of spiritual salvation of a man is a compliance with this rule: to protect the lives of all living creatures and cause no harm to them. Among the ten negative human actions in Buddhism, the first one is considered to be a murder - the intentional killing of living creatures - whether human, animal or even insect.(111p). In Sanskrit treatises there is an expression "sarvabnuta-hita", which stands for “kindness to all living things”, not only to humans.

The idea of human-animal association finds a further confirmation in Buddhist belief in rebirth of human soul into animals at different cycles of rebirth. If Buddha himself was a swan in his previous life, then there is no point in seeing animals as inferior beings. At the same time a man taking care of the animals, received extra "dividends" to improve his fate in future reincarnations.

According to Buddhist world-view animals could and did become patrons of humans as well as express their external and individual nature. It finds a confirmation in a Buddhist calendar of twelve-year cycle represented by names of twelve animals. There are many legends about the history of this calendar. Here is one of them.

Once right before New Year Buddha summoned all the animals in the world. But only twelve arrived showing their respect and obedience. As promised before, Buddha rewarded them by gifts and by naming the years after them in the order in which they arrived: mouse, ox, tiger, rooster, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog and boar. Having the years in their “possession” each animal passed on its typical features to owned year. According to Buddhist beliefs, people born in the year of twelve-year cycle, have respective features of the animal. Depending on what year a person was born, it is possible to know his character, strong and weak points, to foretell his future. And these positions did not lead to opposition of a man and animals.

Man and nature association is well expressed Zen –Buddhism by the Japanese. D. Suzuki writes: “Zen calls us to treat nature as a powerful well-wisher and patron which lives up to the same principles as a man and it’s always ready to favor our aspirations if they are noble and reasoned. By no means can nature be an enemy to man, threaten his life, or be some kind of violent and ferocious force capable of crushing us as long as we don’t crush it and make it tame or serve us”. In ancient times similar ideas were manifested in the Baikal region but not by faithful Buddhists. .

The Russians got their initial ideas about peculiarities of Buddhist cult system upon coming into contact with the Buryats and Tungus in the Baikal region. The cult system was practiced by Mongolian-speaking people nomadising to the south-east of Baikal. In 1653, when the envoys of P. Beketov paid a visit to the Mongols, they came back with a story to tell: The Prince, who hosted them, prays to idols which are silver and gold-filled and in front of them there are two big bowls filled with some unknown liquid; the bowls are surrounded by candles which light all days and nights and they exude some powerful aura…”

However Russian authorities contributed to Buddhism’s advent in Pribaikalye and Transbaikalia. Officially Buddhism was recognized in Russia by decree of empress Elisabeth in 1741 and now the territory was open to Mongolian lamas (Buddhist monks) to authorize local Buddhist temples etc...The actions of the czarist authorities were quite reasoned. Expanding to the east, Russia was interested in development of Buddhism tailored to realization of foreign policy. In order to establish power in border regions, particularly, in Mongolia, Russian government sought to use Lamaist clergy, to act as patrons of Lamaism before Mongolian aristocracy, which became an ardent fan of Tibetan Buddhism since the 17-th century. Another fact to be considered is loyalty of Buddhists (the Buryats and the Kalmyks) towards the Russian government. Czarist authorities, represented by Lamaists, entered into alliance with active and sensible body capable of influencing the public when needed.

In the 19 century a Buryat chronicler W. Yumsunov wrote about the origins and the role of Buddhism. “In the past Buddhism was not wide-spread, there were few Buddhist monks. Some practiced shamanistic beliefs, and they saw no difference between virtue and sin and did not grasp the doctrine. It was a hard time when life seemed to be endless and everyone believed in his own self-righteousness and it resulted in respective manners. People would group together into clans and subclans. It was the time of robbery when livestock and property were reaved away and all were armed cap-a-pie with bows, arrows, quivers, armor, helmets and guns and the latter served for robbery and murder.

From then on Buddhism was spreading progressively. Lamas and khuvaraks increased in number and Buddha’s great doctrines were translated into Mongolian and later published. Familiarizing themselves with those doctrines people now were able to see the difference between virtue and sin. And then there was adoption of the whole philosophy and from then on they learned the laws to live by-both tough and mild. Harsh tempers tamed ...”.

However Buddhism was not quick to enjoy popularity among Transbaikalian population and much less among the buryats(kudarinskii and Olkhon) residing in Pribaikalye. This struggle is reported in the articles of “Horinsky Civil Codes”- one of the most important law-documents of the Buryats which dates back to 1851. Here is one for you: “We are aware that some Buryat clans living side by side with the Buryats of Selenginsky administration are ignorant of the rules and laws of Buddhism and thus they still keep to their out-of-date customs which contradict ours. For instance, when someone passes away they never ask lamas for funeral service but instead the dead was dressed up, then left somewhere in steppe or forest with bows, arrows, quiver and some other stuff needed for human living; likewise a well-loved horse was left with saddle and some other horse harness. Out of necessity to prevent Selenginsky buryats, particularly those residing not far from kudarinsky and tunkinsky buryats, from aforementioned actions we decree: it is recommended to ask lamas for funeral services…violation of this rule is subject to punishment”

It was a struggle tooth and nail and victory went over to the newly arrived religion. “Tibetan lamas started carrying on a stubborn fight against shamanism which was unable to resist a cultural world-view and moreover while in Tibet lamas gained a good expertise in struggling against other beliefs (making concessions and engrossing them by Buddhist doctrines) (329, v. 2, p.168). leaders of shamanism had to leave their native lands. M. Zomonov and I. Manzhigeev cite as an example Zayasha baabai (father the savior) - a famous shaman who fled Transbaikalia from lamaistic pursuit and took refuge in Pribaikalye at the cape Bahan.

When it came to cases of hostile attitude towards shamanism Buddhism here faced resistance by people and had to search “back-ways”.

We learned through the history of world religions that some of them established power over believers by force and rival religions were persecuted. However there were cases of compromising nature when elements of other religions (especially primitive and pagan) were not suppressed but blended in with a given religion. This “gambit” resulted in some psychological asperities: people still lived by their old traditions and a new religion was set on already existing values. No wonder religious consciousness of people were of contradictory character. The presence of such phenomena was noted by IA Berdyaev: “What we call a dual-faith, i.e. merging of Orthodoxy and paganism, was an explanation to contradictious nature of Russian people and at the same time it revealed a perfect whole of divinity and nature in russian religion”.

Buddhism entered the same path while fighting against shamanism. In particular, some Buddhist aspects were adjusted to local conditions, inclusion of shamanistic cults into Lamaistic system. Lamas tried not to make a stand against principal shamanistic gods and spirits and as a result they succeeded in bringing buryat shamans on their side. For instance, Gudzhir Tengri (Gudzhir - celestial), a popular shamanistic god, was proclaimed equal to Buddhist god Mahakala and all the features and functions of shamanistic god were passed to Buddhist god.

Buddhism borrowed from shamanism quite a lot of ceremonies to honor nature. Thus, a female ceremony to cult of the Earth was likened to female images of Buddhism ( goddess Lhamo, Hariti, Vasudkhara etc.). Trees were a symbol of life progress and a home for the spirits and their cult got the next step forward. According to Tibetan medical sources an insult aimed at the spirits of water, earth, tree, stone ranks among causes of diseases.

An ancient cult of tribal “oboos” craved a considerable attention of lamas and thus they were exposed to the process of “lamaization” taking place all over Buryatia. It resulted in loss of legends about oboo’s ezhins (patron of the spirits) and shamanistic invocations to “ezhin” were also condemned to oblivion as they were replaced by Buddhist prayers and heroes of Buddhist legends and myths. In some cases oboo’s ezhins would get new Tibetan names and even portrait bust of lamas.

These data imply that Buddhism was introduced in Pribaikalye at a swift rate. The data of 1741 collected in Eastern Siberia indicated that the majority of the Buryats adhered to shamanism while Buddhism had only 150 lamas and 11 datsans (Buddhist temples). However according to 1845 data there were 85,060 Buddhists and 3514 lamas. In 1848 a total number of Buddhists including those in Transbaikalia was 125,000 and 4546 lamas.

Buddhism enjoyed a great popularity among olkhon buryats as they succeeded in combining both Buddhism and shamanism and who preferred not to refine upon Buddhist philosophy. V.A.Obruchev reports about European missionary who paid visit to “Buddhist pagans” in central Asia, but he got reincarnated influenced by Buddhist doctrines.

“And Obruchev quotes this quatrain by Schopenhauer:

You headed off to foster knowledge

But turned out to be a pupil again.

And the eyes through a scotch mist

Caught sight of the universe wonders.

But regarding local votaries, Obruchev writes: “I believe olkhon Buddhists should not be given credit as they do not deserve it. It is doubtful whether they know the real name of Buddha Shakyamuni, say nothing of his doctrines. However they keep a tight hold on these beliefs and weird Hindu deities that it would be hard to turn them from it” (223, p. 99).

Buddhists were quite knowledgeable about Lake Baikal as there were reputable buryats to run around with them, usually those who were born or lived previously in Eastern Siberia. The first Russian to visit a forbidden capital-city Lhasa at the beginning of the 20th century was G.Ts. Tsybikov, buryat by ethnicity. The Buryats were also known to be in Dalai-lama’s midst. One of them was Agvan Dorzhiev, a man of great ability and talent. He studied at a school run by Gusinoozersk datsan. In the 80-s of the XIX century, he left for Tibet, Lhasa forming a part of pilgrim group. They were not guided by desire to worship idols, but primarily by desire to gain insight into buddhist philosophy - tsanit which revealed Buddhist world-view. He was well aware that lamas who studied the philosophy in Lhasa ranked high and were prioritized over those who did not. While in Lhasa, Agvan showed his best worth. His talent and energy craved a considerable attention of his teachers. He would rise to higher monks levels and finally he obtained the highest educational degree “Hla”, granted after a public tsanist contest.He was the foreigner to obtain this degree. Due to his high achievements Dorzhiev was appointed a Tsanit-hambo-lama to Dalai - Lama and later advanced to the position of the first minister, responsible for domestic and international policy of Tibet. In late 90th Dorzhiev visited Transbaikalia, then he paid visit to Peterburg and European countries as a plenipotentiary ambassador of Dalai-Lama. Agvan Dorzhiev aspired to merge Tibet and Mongolia under Russian protectorate. In 1903 when the British invaded capital-city Lhasa, Dalai - Lama and Agvan Dorzhiev took refuge in Urga (presently Ulan - Bator). A. Dorzhiev was a talented and dynamic personality. In the closing stages of his life he he made great efforts to advance Buddhism in Baikal region.

Now we’d like to draw your attention to Buddhist perception of environment set out by Erdeni Galshiev (1855 - 1915), lama to Kodunskii datsan (Horinskky district of Buryatia). In late 19-th century for more than ten years Galshiev studied at the Tibetan center for Buddhism and obtained one of the highest educational degrees “Doromba” from monastery Braibun, the faculty of goman. In early 20-th century E. Galshiev wrote an essay which is considered to be buryat literary classic. “Mirror of Wisdom”. The work consisting of 1000 ordered quatrains is replete of wisdom and admonitions for all life’s emergencies. Here are some of quatrains, mostly the ones concerned with nature and living things.

(675) Do not offend your horse or any other animal

For they are made to better your lot

In case you want to check it

Imagine a human to be ridden

(824) True, cattle was sent by God

But not to feed a man

If you dare question this

Consider you being food for cannibal.

(829) If you took life of a living thing

Then give your life as a follow-on.

(833)Wolves, snakes can do much spoil on

But how about dogs and humans?

They also can be cruel

Should we consider killing all?

Nowadays these admonitions are bygone and out of tune with the modern time.

(789) Do not take lives of living creatures

No matter big or small

As life of a tiny louse

Can cost you quite a lot

(832) The clothing with the lice on it

Should not be hanged or washed outside

For such asperities like frost

Will cause a death of the reincarnated.

It is worthy of note that Japanese Buddhist monks took up the same “unsanitary” attitude on blood-sucking creatures and it’s backed up with a Japanese philosopher D. Suzuki’s highly colored description (see sect. “Dreams for Russia”). According to these admonitions a human is fully and solely responsible for his ill acts towards living things and alternatively, his care and attention given to them are rewarded:

(901) If hunters put animals to death

They’ll pay the penalty by laying down their lives

If God let wash our sins away

Then killers would be guiltless

(962) Consider living things being your parents

Who always lend you helping hand

And then you’ll see your temper tamed

Your heart and soul are full of mercy.

In terms of ecology, Buddhism (Lamaism) consolidated the unity of a man and nature. Thus, a man could be free from sufferings on condition that all “trees, grass and field” are “buddized” fulfilling their potential to attain enlightenment of mind like Buddha did. A man is obliged to assist living beings in attainment of Buddhahood. .

The question arises as to whether nowadays we witness mysterious, weird phenomena of both Buddhist and shamanistic nature. This phenomenon is similar to a rare UFO case: there are facts, but no ground to believe it’s a natural phenomenon.

A. Pavlyuchenkova reports several cases when people observed at first hand the existence of otherworldly power. Here is one for you.

“One of my acquaintances, a mountaineer, told a scary story about two tourists which took place on Khamar-Daban mountain chain. So the story has it that a couple was climbing the mountain and stopped at the foot of the passover where the woman saw oboo- a bush with some cloth on it and a stone pile. The wife said:

- Wait, I'll tie some piece of my handkerchief on the bush for luck

- What a nonsense! – replied the husband. – Let’s move on.

- I won’t unless we tie it- objected the wife.

Then the husband took his hand-axe out, cut the bush down and chuck it aside. So when they were moving on, the wife suddenly turned her ankle. They bandaged the ankle and it was agreed to get back in a while.

- Have a seat over here, boil some tea. In the meantime I’ll take some pictures around-said the husband and passed from her view. She never saw him after.

The author of the book had to reckon with lots of rationally-inexplicable facts while dealing with people and settlements in the Baikal region. An overturned car in a really flat area usually indicated that a driver was neglectful of the tradition to “offer some drink” to the Gods and heavy injuries were usually a result of disparagement to the sacred sites,- such facts indicate that we should not deny weird but real “otherworldly” power”.

In September 2002, the incorruptible body of Lama Etigilov (Itigilov) made a world-shaking splash. He died at the age of 75 in 1927 as a true Pandito-Hambo - Lama, true minister of religion and practician because his death came at the time of the meditation before his followers in lotus posture. He left a testament which stipulated that his body should be exhumed in 75 years. So in 2002 Itigilov’s body was eventually exhumed by Buddhist monks who were astonished to observe no signs of physical decay, very well preserved, with whole muscles and inner tissue, soft joints and skin. Spectrum analysis of his tissue samples (hair, skin pells,nail cut) led researchers to the conclusion that the protein structure had not changed and matched that of a living person. Some claim that Itigilov is in a state of Samadhi-a state of meditative absorption where all concepts cease and one is unaware of the passage of time. It's like falling asleep, except you remain aware. You can't consciously bring yourself out of samadhi, because there are no conscious thoughts, but after a while it ceases of itself, like waking from a sleep.You cannot die or be physically harmed while in samadhi. Buddhists believe that monks in a state of Samadhi could be found in Tibetan caves.

There is a poem in ancient Indian Dhammapada about a crowd of dead people on a river bank who wish to cross the river in pursuit of eternity. But a few succeed as they fail to surmount the hurdles.

Few cross over the river

And feel all one to anger and grace

They did not win the death

But simply rise above it.

Itigilov lama is likely to form a part of those favored few. It seems that land of Pribaikalye, like Tibetan mountains, favors those who led goodly lives and deserved to rise above the death. At present, Itigilov’s body is in glass sarcophagus in Ivolginsky datsan which is 100 km from Lake Baikal. Itigilov is like “Mecca” for pilgrims and according to numerous legends the sight of the lama has vitalizing effects attracting more and more people.

2008 marked an opening of a Palace named after Pandito - Hambo - Lama Dashi - Dorzho Itigilov. This palace named Etigel-dugan is located in Ivolginsky datsan and the incorruptible body of the lama is placed here. Lamas “at service” “for eternal monk”, believers and non-believers claim that they visited a living man. In 2009 the palace experienced an inflow of celebrities: a Russian president D.Medvedev, a TV-presenter A.Sharapova, DDT group leader Y.Shevchuk, a finnish actor V.Khaapasolo etc.

Believers and ministers of the religion differ in interpreting present principles of Buddhism and significance of its creator. A.A.Kuznetsov, a writer and a predecessor, described in his sketch a meeting with Bair lama in a cabin of “G.Y. Vereshagin” ship. So Bair lama seems to be quite sceptical about present religious and ethical awareness.

“-We are facing challenging time as it’s the era of Buddha Shakiyamuni-the era of deception. And Buddha Maitreya is a distant prospect.

Once these two Buddhas argued over the issue of taking responsibility for our era. They could not reach a consensus. Finally they agreed to sit vis-а-vis in lotus posture before a lotus would grow out in front of one of them. The lotus was supposed to flourish in front of the one who would take upon himself the era. But somewhere halfway Buddha Shakiyamuni did not manage to hold out this difficulty and opened his eye to see the flower had already grown out in front of Maitreya. Then he took the flower away from Maitreya and put it in front of himself.

In due time, they opened eyes and found the flower in front of Sakyamuni. Then Maitreya said: “I’m well aware that the flower had grown out in front of me but anyway let the era belong to you. But bear in mind that your era will mark deception, violence, betrayal, falsehood, theft and it’ll favor people like you. As for honest people, they’ll be out of honor”. And the era of Shakyamuni came. All will remain unchanged until the era ends”.

The philosophical parable about inferiority of our time can be applied to attitude towards nature. People display hypocrisy as our actions are repugnant to our words when it comes to environment protection. But nature abhors deception and violence. Thus a nature-oriented approach is required.

One cannot overstate past and present influence of Buddhism in terms of implementation of the ideas and traditions tailored to protect the environment in the Baikal region. That is due to the fact that Olkhon and Khudarinsky buryats adhered to shamanism in their religious interests. This is evidenced by the following facts. For instance, all datsans and dugans (small-size chapels) located in Irkutsk region sprang in early 20-th century under the auspices of Dalai Lama’s teammate-Agvan Dorzhiev. But the majority of them ceased to exist due to various reasons. Thus, the dugan founded by A.Dorzhiev on Olkhon island not far from ulus Kharantsi, is now the settlement called Khuzhir and it’s a living space fro two families. Aluzhinsky Dugan was built in early 1990th in the steppe not far from the district center of Ust - Orda and it was dedicated by Mongolian lamas. But at present the dugan does not work properly as Buddhist prayers are not popular with Ust-Ordinsky buryats.

However neither the parable about the two Buddha’s confrontation nor minimum contribution to environment protection of the region cannot down-grade the religion itself which preaches tolerance and mutual understanding between all living things. Dalai - Lama XIV made some points while visiting Biakal region in 1991.

Firstly, he got inspired to know that the eternal truth of Buddhism, development of this religion and its influence on human inner life arouse so much interest among the population. His Holiness wished the developing of inner culture on people: “the higher it is, the richer is human inner world”.

Secondly, he was deeply impressed by a close cooperation between nations, primarily between Russians and Buryats: “Our religion is known to preach a peaceful coexistence and friendship not only between different nations and nationalities, but between all living beings that inhabit our planet”(Buddhism, 1992, № 1).

Aforementioned impressions by Dalai-Lama can be both applied to human environmental awareness. On the one hand, spirituality and human inner culture should be manifested in human attitude to nature, and on the other hand, friendship among nations should serve as a guarantee of intercultural tolerance as well as guarantee for environment protection: “ Peace concept involves harmony between people and harmony between man and nature”.

2005 marked a new pilgrimage place on Ogoi island, Small sea, which is called Buddhist stupa. The shrine (8 metres) is made of special concrete and has three steps, dome and spire. There are Buddhist relics inside the Stupa: mantras, copies of books brought from Nepal, jewelry, weapons and thousands of tiny clay stupas. Ogoiskaya Stupa is the only stupa dedicated to female deity-to mother of all Buddhas. Buddhists believe that a visit to the island, praying at the stupa and internal appeal to Buddha will help to overcome difficulties and circumcise. But on the other side of the story are nature conservation bodies that feel concern as they believe that the flow of visitors will result in the island pollution. I and my colleagues happened to visit the island in 2008 and 2009, so based on our experience I can state that the sacred place and the territory around are treated with due care. 

See also

Literature

  1. A.D. Karnyshev "The Many Faces of Multilingual and Mysterious Baikal"© BSU Publishing House, 2011

Выходные данные материала:

Жанр материала: English | Автор(ы): Karnyshev A.D. | Источник(и): The Many Faces of Multilingual and Mysterious Baikal. Ulan-Ude. 2012 | Дата публикации оригинала (хрестоматии): 2011 | Дата последней редакции в Иркипедии: 30 марта 2015

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Тематический указатель: Irkipedia English