Discuss the state of Russian Buddhism in light of its repression during the Russian Revolution.

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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I think that the history of Buddhism in Russia is a fascinating topic.  It flies in the face of what is traditionally understood regarding the Soviet Union and its relationship to Religion.  Given the massive size of Russia, the nation encompassed Buddhists and those who followed the Buddhist forms of worship, primarily seen in the Kalmyk people who settled in the "Far East" portion of Russia.  When the Russian Revolution took hold, an overall disdain for religion became the norm in the government.  Adding to this is the propensity to be able to physically assault Buddhists more freely because of their small numbers in terms of people as well as their belief system.  The Soviet Union was led by individuals who were able to stamp out Buddhism by suggesting that it was a religion that lent itself to serving as spies for the Japanese Government. Consider some of the first "receptions" that Russian Buddhists received in the earliest days of the Russian Revolution:

In the first years of the Soviet regime, a military unit was stationed in the grounds of the Buddhist temple. The interior of the temple was seriously damaged, statues and manuscripts were destroyed, and soldiers used paper with ancient Tibetan texts to roll their cigarettes.

In the 1930s, under Stalin and like so many other groups in the Soviet Union, the Buddhist population was subjected to much in way of torture, alienation, political marginalization and extermination.  During World War II, the basement of Buddhist temples served as factories for Russian soldiers to make weapons of war.  With the fall of the Soviet Union, greater Russian interest in Buddhism emerged, with more people seeking it out as a potential "answer" for a nation that has been in search of them for some time.  New temples are opening in Russia today and serve as evidence for how change is happening regarding Russia and Buddhism.

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