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Challenges for Reviving Buddhism in Kalmykia

Alexander Berzin
Elista, Kalmykia, Russia, October 2009

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I have been very happy to be able to attend this conference, and I’ve found it very inspiring because the topic, “philosophy in the dialogue of cultures,” suggests many things. From one point of view, “philosophy” can be understood in terms of Buddhology, the scientific approach, and “ culture” can refer to the traditional forms of Buddhist spiritual practice. But on another level, we can see a dialogue between traditional society and modernization, globalization. In the face of globalization, there’s a great threat that everybody becomes swallowed into one grand global culture. And in response to that, it becomes very important for individual cultures to somehow maintain their cultural identity.

Kalmykia faces a very special challenge in this regard because a great deal of its culture was repressed for many years, and specifically its Buddhist culture. This situation unfortunately has also been the case with several other cultures of traditional Asian Buddhism. And therefore each of these cultures has to face, either now or hopefully in the future, the process of revival. But even revival of Buddhist culture is very difficult because of, again, the pressures of globalization. Because now there are all the various forms of Buddhism available and they also play a role, or have an influence, in terms of the revival of Buddhism. So it’s a very delicate balance to revive the traditional forms of Kalmyk Buddhism. How do you integrate, or do you not integrate, other forms of Buddhism? And how do you integrate not only Buddhology, but modern technology and science, etc.?

Therefore I am very happy to see that people here are taking very seriously this challenge. And it is my hope that you realize that the example of what you’re doing is something which can be very helpful for other cultures that are Buddhist cultures that are facing similar challenges. Because one of the benefits of globalization is that we share our knowledge and experience. And so it’s my hope that the reports and the findings, now and in the future, of this process here in Kalmykia will not stay limited just to Kalmykia. And that it does not remain merely in the Russian language, but that you translate it into at least English, if not other languages, and make it available to share your knowledge and experience with the world. So this conference has been a great step in that direction and I encourage you to go further. And I am very happy and honored to play perhaps a little role in this process. Thank you.