The holy secret of the practice
of Tonglen** is one that the mystic masters
and saints of every tradition
know; and living it and embodying it, with the
abandon and fervor of true
wisdom and true compassion, is what fills their
lives with joy. One modern
figure who has dedicated her life to serving the
sick and dying and who radiates
this joy of giving and receiving is Mother
Teresa. I know of no more inspiring
statement of the spiritual essence of
Tonglen than these words of
We all long for heaven where
God is, but we have it in our power to be in
heaven with Him at this very
moment. But being happy with Him now means:
Loving as He loves,
Helping as He helps,
Giving as He gives,
Serving as He serves,
Rescuing as He rescues,
Being with Him twenty-four
Touching Him in his distressing
( ** The meditation where we
visualize the sufferings of all mother sentient beings being
taken by ourselves and our happiness being shared and offered
to all. )
Buddha on the brain
By Steve Paulson, Salon, Nov. 27, 2006
Ex-monk B. Alan Wallace explains what Buddhism can teach
Western scientists, why reincarnation should be taken seriously
and what it's like to study meditation with the Dalai Lama.
York, USA -- The debate between science and religion
typically gets stuck on the thorny question of God's existence.
How do you reconcile an all-powerful God with the mechanistic
slog of evolution? Can a rationalist do anything but sneer at
the Bible's miracles?
But what if another religion -- a nontheistic one -- offered
a way out of this impasse? That's the promise that some people
hold out for in Buddhism. The Dalai Lama himself is deeply invested
in reconciling science and spirituality. He meets regularly
with Western scientists, looking for links between Buddhism
and the latest research in physics and neuroscience.
In his book "The Universe in a Single Atom," he wrote, "If
scientific analysis were conclusively to demonstrate certain
claims in Buddhism to be false, then we must accept the findings
of science and abandon those claims."
B. Alan Wallace may be the American Buddhist most committed
to finding connections between Buddhism and science. An ex-Buddhist
monk who went on to get a doctorate in religious studies at
Stanford, he once studied under the Dalai Lama, and has acted
as one of the Tibetan leader's translators. Wallace, now president
of the Santa Barbara Institute for Consciousness Studies, has
written and edited many books, often challenging the conventions
of modern science. "The sacred object of its reverence, awe
and devotion is not God or spiritual enlightenment but the material
universe," he writes. He accuses prominent scientists like E.O.
Wilson and Richard Dawkins of practicing "a modern kind of nature
In his new book, "Contemplative Science: Where Buddhism and
Neuroscience Converge," Wallace takes on the loaded subject
of consciousness. He argues that the long tradition of Buddhist
meditation, with its rigorous investigation of the mind, has
in effect pioneered a science of consciousness, and that it
has much to teach Western scientists. "Subjectivity is the central
taboo of scientific materialism," he writes. He considers
the Buddhist examination of interior mental states far preferable
to what he calls the Western "idolatry of the brain." And he
says the modern obsession with brain chemistry has created a
false sense of well-being: "It is natural then to view psychopharmaceutical
and psychotropic drugs as primary sources of happiness and relief
from suffering." Wallace also chastises cognitive psychologists
and neuroscientists for assuming the mind is merely the product
of the physical mechanics of the brain. And he talks openly
about ideas that most scientists would consider laughable, including
reincarnation and a transcendent consciousness.
In conversation, Wallace is a fast talker who laughs easily
and often gets carried away with his enthusiasm. I spoke with
him by phone about the Buddhist theory of consciousness, his
critique of both science and Christianity, and why he thinks
reincarnation should be studied by scientists.
Why do you think Buddhism has an important perspective
to add to the science and religion debate?
Buddhism has a lot to add for a number of reasons. Some are
simply historical. Especially since the time of Galileo, there
has been a sense of unease, if not outright hot war, between
religion and science in the West. And Buddhism is coming in
as a complete outsider. It's not theistic, as is Christianity.
At the same time, it's not just science, as is physics or biology.
And there's another reason why Buddhism may bring a fresh perspective.
While there's no question that Buddhism has very religious elements
to it -- with monks and temples, rituals and prayers -- it does
have a broad range of empirical methods for investigating the
nature of the mind, for raising hypotheses and putting them
to the test.
There's a common assumption that science and religion
are entirely separate domains. Science covers the empirical
realm of facts and theories about the observable world, while
religion deals with ultimate meaning and moral value. But you
don't accept that dichotomy, do you?
Not at all. In fact, most religious people don't. This is a
notion that's been brought up by Stephen Jay Gould with his
whole notion of "non-overlapping magisteria." But it's never
been true. All of the great pioneers of the scientific revolution
-- Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler, Newton, and on into the 19th
century with Gregor Mendel -- they were all Christians. And
their whole approach to science was deeply influenced by Christianity.
Religion, whether we like it or not, is making many truth claims
about the natural world as well as the transcendent world. And
now that science is honing in on the nature of the mind and
questions of free will, it is definitely invading the turf that
used to belong to religion and philosophy.
Many people would acknowledge that Buddhism has some
profound insights into the human mind -- why we get depressed,
what makes us happy and how we become slaves to our attachments.
But what does this have to do with science?
In Buddhism, the very root of suffering and all our mental
distress -- what Buddhists call mental afflictions -- is ignorance.
The path to liberation, or enlightenment, is knowledge. It's
knowing reality as it is. So despite many differences in methodology,
both science and Buddhism are after knowledge of the natural
world. But what defines the natural world? In modern science,
the natural world is often equated with the physical world,
and mental phenomena and subjective experiences are regarded
as emergent phenomena or simply functions of the brain. But
there are many other domains of reality that the physical instruments
of science have not yet been able to detect.
But science is as much about method as anything. The
scientific method posits hypotheses and theories that can be
tested. Is that something Buddhism does as well?
Not in the same way. I wouldn't want to overplay the case that
Buddhism has always been a science, with clear hypotheses and
complete skepticism. It's too much of a religion, and so there's
a lot of vested interest in the Buddhist community not to challenge
the statements made by the Buddha and other great patriarchs
in the Buddhist tradition. So there are some fundamental differences.
At the same time, science is not just science. This very notion
that the mind must simply be an emergent property of the brain
-- consisting only of physical phenomena and nothing more --
is not a testable hypothesis. Science is based upon a very profound
metaphysical foundation. Can you test the statement that there
is nothing else going on apart from physical phenomena and their
emergent properties? The answer is no.
You're saying we don't know for sure that the physical
functions of the brain -- the neural circuits, the electrochemical
surges -- are what produce our rich inner lives, what we call
Cognitive science has plenty of hypotheses that are testable.
For instance, is Alzheimer's related to a particular malfunctioning
of the brain? More and more, scientists are able to identify
the parts and functions of the brain that are necessary to generate
specific mental states. So these are scientific issues. But
now let's tap into what the philosopher David Chalmers has called
"the hard problem" -- the relationship between the physical
brain and consciousness. What is it about the brain -- this
mass of chemicals and electromagnetic fields -- that enables
it to generate any state of subjective experience? If your sole
access to the mind is by way of physical phenomena, then you
have no way of testing whether all dimensions of the mind are
necessarily contingent upon the brain.
But that is certainly the paradigm of the vast majority of
neuroscientists and psychologists. The mind is nothing more
than the brain, and what happens in the mind is strictly because
of the physical mechanics of the brain. I'm sure most of these
scientists would say it's absurd to talk about the mind functioning
independently of the brain.
Well, when you have no possible means of investigating the
mind as it might operate independently of the brain, then to
even raise it as an issue is indeed absurd. But there is one
avenue of inquiry that's been largely left out or simply repudiated.
Right now, you and I have an ability to monitor our own mental
states. Can we generate a mental image of an apple? Can we remember
our mother's face? Can we recite the opening lines of the Gettysburg
Address or some favorite poem? Are these mental images that
you generate nothing other than brain states or parts of the
brain? At this point, those are not even scientific questions
because nobody knows how to tackle them.
You have called for a new field of study, what you
call "contemplative science." What would that involve?
Contemplative science must live up to the rigorous standards
that neuroscience, cognitive psychology, chemistry and physics
have set for us. They've set the bar very high. So I'm a great
admirer of the rigor and skepticism of science at its best.
But William James, who's one of my intellectual heroes, suggested
we have a triadic approach. We should study the mind by way
of behavior and brain studies, but, first and foremost, he said,
we should study the mind by observing mental phenomena directly.
But what he didn't have, and neither did any of his contemporaries,
was a rigorous methodology.
Is that what Buddhism offers -- a rigorous methodology?
Yes. I'm not saying we should fuse religion with science. Rather,
we should select very specific methodologies from Buddhism and
other contemplative traditions where the ability to monitor
the mind has been honed over thousands of years -- beginning
with the training of attention and then using sophisticated
methods for investigating the nature of the mind, feelings and
the very nature of consciousness itself during the waking state,
the dream state, even during deep sleep. Now, because of the
great advances in transportation and communications, we have
easy access to the Taoist tradition of China, the Sufi tradition
of the Near East, the Buddhist tradition of Tibet and Southeast
Asia. I'm convinced this would add much greater depth and breadth
to the types of questions that are raised in modern cognitive
In science, you have a hypothesis that's tested, and
it can be disproved. Does that happen in Buddhism?
On its home turf, frequently not. But I'm also waiting for
a neuroscientist to tell me how the hypothesis that mental states
are nothing more than neural states will be repudiated. I don't
see that as a testable hypothesis. So there's a fair amount
of dogma, not in science per se but in the minds of scientists.
Likewise, there's plenty of dogma in the minds of Buddhists.
But Buddhism at its best -- and we go right back to the teachings
of the Buddha himself -- encourages a spirit of skepticism.
He said, "Do not take my statements to be true simply out of
reverence for me. But rather, put them to the test." Well, if
you do that, you should be able to repudiate them as well as
Well, let me ask you about that. I know there is a tradition,
particularly among advanced contemplatives, that you have your
meditative experience, and then you talk about it, you analyze
it, and your peers critique it. Does that really happen? When
someone comes out of meditation, would someone else say, "Sorry.
You didn't do it right"?
Absolutely. You know, Buddhism, like any other tradition, is
subject to degeneration. So if you and I headed off to India
or Nepal or Tibet, we'd find plenty of Buddhist meditators who
are simply going through rote ritual, who are just trying to
come up with the right answers at the end of the book. But when
Buddhism is really thriving, it's exactly what you described.
You go into a three-year retreat, where you are meditating eight
to 12 hours a day. You're training the mind. You're investigating
the nature of the mind. But you're probably not doing that in
entire isolation. You're in consultation with a mentor who's
going to review your experience and help you deepen your experience.
You'll be questioning your insights. So [your] relationship
with your mentor is analogous to working on your Ph.D. with
a mentor. If at any point your research becomes flaky or not
up to snuff, the mentor is there to say, "No, that's a dead
end. This is not good research." This happens frequently in
the Buddhist contemplative tradition when it's really robust
Has that happened to you? You've meditated for decades.
And you were a Buddhist monk for 14 years. Did you have your
meditative practice analyzed and critiqued?
I can imagine that might be kind of humiliating.
[Laughs] No. Take the first long retreat I did in 1980. I was
a monk at the time. I'd just spent the last 10 years in very
rigorous theoretical and practical training in India and in
a monastery in Switzerland. And then all I wanted to do was
go to the lab -- basically, go into a meditation hut and spend
eight, 10, 12 hours a day meditating. Well, I had the tremendously
good fortune to have the Dalai Lama as my personal mentor. So
he guided me in the meditation. I would meet with him every
few weeks. I would discuss the practice and he'd give me feedback.
I was living in a little hut in the mountains above Dharamsala,
India. I went into a five-month solitary retreat. Somebody brought
me food once a week. I was meditating 10 hours a day. I was
honing my attention skills. And I would consult with the Dalai
Lama. I would consult with other yogis up there on the hill
about technique and problems that were arising. They would draw
from their decades of experience to help me. And I started to
adapt some of these methods for myself as a Westerner who grew
up in America and Europe, rather than as a nomad at 14,000 [feet]
up on the Tibetan plateau.
Did you have profound mystical experiences? Did you
have moments of what might be called enlightenment?
Well, the word "enlightenment" has been used in so many different
ways, I won't tread on that mine field. Eighteenth century Europe
itself went through an Enlightenment, but I'm not sure that
would be an enlightenment in my category. So for me to make
any claims about enlightenment would be counterproductive. Did
I find any transformation of consciousness? Did I find attention
skills honed? Did I experience states of consciousness that
I'd never experienced before such sustained meditative training?
The answer is yes, yes, yes. But what a mature meditator is
even more concerned with than those epiphanies -- those moments
of revelation or breakthrough -- is the overall impact on the
quality of your life, your way of engaging with other people
and dealing with adversity. Is it helpful? Does it give you
a clearer sense of reality? If it doesn't, then I say meditation
is merely a hobby. If it does, then meditation can be something
very central to developing greater mental health and clear engagement
with reality itself.
I've heard that your father was a Protestant theologian.
It does raise the question of why you became a Buddhist. Why
has Buddhism resonated with you in a way that Christianity has
Well, it's a personal issue. You're quite right. My father
was -- and is -- a Christian theologian. We have a loving and
very trusting relationship. The fact that he is a Christian
theologian definitely had a profound impact on the course my
life has taken. As I was growing up, from the age of 13, I had
a very clear sense that I wanted to dedicate my life to science.
And so I immersed myself in chemistry, biology, physics and
calculus. At the same time, my religious background had made
a very deep impact on my life. But what really struck me very
painfully -- I would say existentially -- was the profound incompatibility
between science and the whole worldview of Christianity, with
God being the creator, responding to prayer, and human identity
being that of an immortal soul. Basically, everything was God
saturated in this Judeo-Christian view. On the other hand, in
the scientific worldview I was simply a body, an animal. There
was no creator. There was no ethics in nature. It was just Darwin.
It was a great big machine. And I looked at these two worldviews
and said, "Wow, these are incompatible."
So I basically went AWOL from Western civilization for 14 years.
I picked up one book on Buddhism when I was 20. It was like
a starving man picking up some fragrance of hot baked bread.
So I spent a year studying the Tibetan language in Germany,
where I was spending a year abroad. And then I bought myself,
literally and metaphorically, a one-way ticket to India. I wanted
to go live with Tibetans and explore as deeply as I could this
Buddhist worldview. It's not just a religion. It's not theistic.
It doesn't posit the existence of God as standing outside of
creation, governing it, ruling it, punishing the wicked and
rewarding the virtuous. It doesn't have any of that. Nor is
it materialistic, flattening my very existence to being an epiphenomenon
of my brain.
You've suggested that there might be certain functions
of the mind, certain aspects of consciousness, that don't have
a material foundation.
Advanced contemplatives in the Buddhist tradition have talked
about tapping into something called the "substrate consciousness."
What is that?
Just for a clarification of terms, I've demarcated three whole
dimensions of consciousness. There's the psyche. It's the human
mind -- the functioning of memory, attention, emotions and so
forth. The psyche is contingent upon the brain, the nervous
system, and our various sensory faculties. It starts sometime
at or following conception, certainly during gestation, and
it ends at death. So the psyche has pretty clear bookends. This
is what cognitive neuroscientists and psychologists study. They
don't study anything more. And they quite reasonably assume
that that's all there is to it. But as long as you study the
mind only by way of brain states and behavior, you're never
going to know whether there's any other dimension because of
the limitations of your own methodologies. So here's a hypothesis:
The psyche does not emerge from the brain. Mental phenomena
do not actually emerge from neuronal configurations. Nobody's
ever seen that they do.
So your hypothesis is just the reverse from what all
the neuroscientists think.
Precisely. The psyche is not emerging from the brain, conditioned
by the environment. The human psyche is in fact emerging from
an individual continuum of consciousness that is conjoined with
the brain during the development of the fetus. It can be very
hampered if the brain malfunctions or becomes damaged.
But you're saying there are also two other aspects
Yeah. All I'm presenting here is the Buddhist hypothesis. There's
another dimension of consciousness, which is called the substrate
consciousness. This is not mystical. It's not transcendent in
the sense of being divine. The human psyche is emerging from
an ongoing continuum of consciousness -- the substrate consciousness
-- which kind of looks like a soul. But in the Buddhist view,
it is more like an ongoing vacuum state of consciousness. Or
here's a good metaphor: Just as we speak of a stem cell, which
is not differentiated until it comes into the liver and becomes
a liver cell, or into bone marrow and becomes a bone marrow
cell, the substrate consciousness is stem consciousness. And
at death, the human psyche dissolves back into this continuum.
So this consciousness is not made of any stuff. It's
not matter. Is it just unattached and floating through the universe?
Well, this raises such interesting questions about the nature
of matter. In the 19th century, you could think of matter as
something good and chunky out there. You could count on it as
having location and specific momentum and mass and all of that.
Frankly, I think the backdrop of this whole conversation has
to be 21st century physics, not 19th century physics. And virtually
all of neuroscience and all of psychology is based on 19th century
physics, which is about as up-to-date as the horse and buggy.
So not everything in the universe can be reducible
to matter, to particles?
According to quantum field theory, string theory and quantum
cosmology -- cutting-edge fields of 21st century physics --
matter itself is not reducible to matter. And Richard Feynman,
the great Nobel laureate in physics, commented very emphatically,
"We don't know what energy is." He said it's not stuff out there
that has a specific location. It's more like a mathematical
abstraction. So matter has been reduced to formations of space.
Energy is configurations of space. Space itself is rather mysterious.
And so when I introduce this theme of a substrate consciousness,
it's not something ethereal that's opposed to matter. Matter
is about as ethereal as anything gets. But could there be this
continuum of substrate consciousness that's not contingent upon
molecules? From the Buddhist perspective, yes. But again, this
frankly sounds like one more system of belief.
I have to say, you could put a religious spin on all of this.
What you're describing as substrate consciousness sounds a lot
like how people talk about God. There is some kind of divine
presence that's outside the material world but somehow intervenes
in our material lives.
I think we're jumping the gun there. In the Buddhist perspective,
the substrate consciousness is individual. It's not some great
collective unconscious like Jung talked about. In the Buddhist
view, it's an individual continuum of consciousness that carries
on from lifetime to lifetime. That's not God. Beyond that is
this whole third dimension, the deepest dimension, called "primordial
consciousness." This has certain commonalities with Christian
mystical notions of God beyond the trinity. It has a thoroughly
and deeply transcendent quality to it. And that's way beyond
the pale of scientific inquiry. But when I speak of substrate
consciousness, I think it would simply be a mistake to say that's
God. If you want to relate this to something in Western religions,
you might say it's the immortal soul. Christianity really has
nothing to say about the existence of your continuum of consciousness
prior to your conception. There's nothing in the Bible that
says, where was Steve Paulson 70 years ago? Where did your stream
of consciousness, your identity, your soul, come from? But Buddhism
has a lot to say about this.
Here in the West, we have on the table three large hypotheses
about the nature of human consciousness. One of these looks
really good from a scientific perspective. Your consciousness
is a product of the brain. Damage the brain and your consciousness
evaporates into nothing. Now what's the experiment by which
you repudiate that hypothesis? Well, all the mental states you're
studying are by way of the brain, so the answer is nada. So
it's not scientific and it's not testable, at least not yet.
We have another major hypothesis. You die and your soul carries
on to heaven or hell in the Protestant tradition. You go there
and it's forever. Or in the Roman Catholic tradition, you have
another couple of options -- limbo and purgatory. But these
are all one-way tickets. You can't say, I didn't like it in
purgatory and then come back. My point here is the Christian
hypothesis is not testable scientifically. It may be true, but
it's not a scientific hypothesis.
Of course, the Tibetan Buddhist tradition has reincarnation.
Is that testable scientifically?
Well, here's the hypothesis. Your psyche emerged some time
while you were in your mother's womb. It's continuing to evolve,
and eventually it's going to implode back into the substrate,
carry on as a disembodied continuum of consciousness and then
reincarnate. There's the theory in a nutshell. Is that one testable?
My short answer is yes, I think this is a testable hypothesis,
and in principle it really should be able to be repudiated.
But we're also looking for positive evidence.
There are two types of studies being done at the University
of Virginia. One is by Bruce Greyson. He's got a very good track
record of doing rigorous, objective scientific studies of alleged
-- I'm choosing my words carefully here -- alleged out-of-body
experiences and near-death experiences of patients undergoing
surgery. Does it ever happen that a person, while being under
general anesthetic, has an out-of-body experience and can actually
perceive something, as they hover above, that only the surgeons
see? That's an empirically testable question. And Greyson is
studying this scientifically.
So basically, the premise here is that consciousness
can exist outside the body. I've heard that Greyson has started
these tests but so far hasn't come up with any results.
Quite so. As you can imagine, the National Science Foundation
is not exactly jumping over itself to fund this type of research.
Nor is the NIH [National Institutes of Health]. This is outside
the paradigm. They're not interested in providing funding for
things that challenge the foundations of materialism. So basically,
it's like asking the Catholic Church to pay for research to
show that Jesus never lived.
OK, that's one test for out-of-body experiences. What
Well, lo and behold, at the same university -- they have some
chutzpah over there -- the University of Virginia, Ian Stevenson
is now retired from the psych department. He's not a Buddhist,
he wasn't a Hindu, and he didn't believe in reincarnation. Forty
years ago he heard anecdotes of children maintaining that this
wasn't their first life and giving detailed accounts of their
alleged memories of past life experiences. So he started studying
it. On a shoestring budget, he and a team of researchers did
this for about 40 years. And about halfway through, he wrote
a book called "Twenty Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation."
He scanned thousands of accounts of children, throwing out most
of them because they were either false or the child could have
heard about it from parents, relatives, television and so forth.
He then selected 20 cases where the accounts given by the child
wound up being true when they were subjected to objective corroboration.
He couldn't see any way the child could have known this information.
But he also said in that book, "I don't believe in reincarnation.
But I don't know what else to do with these twenty cases because
I can't see any other way to explain them."
And then he did another 20 years of research and wrote another
book, "Where Biology and Reincarnation Intersect." It showed
the empirical findings of more cases of children giving these
very detailed accounts of past life experiences. And usually
they were not glorified, like I was Cleopatra or Einstein or
somebody spectacular. No, [it was like,] I was a philanderer,
and one of the husbands of the wives I had sex with shot me
dead because I cuckolded him. So that's not very glamorous,
but that was the recollection of one of these children. This
is empirical evidence. It should be scrutinized rigorously,
but not thrown out dogmatically.
This raises some interesting questions about Buddhism.
Is Buddhism a religion or is it something else? Because there
are some people in the West who say we should strip Buddhism
of any vestiges of the religious or the transcendental. For
instance, Stephen Batchelor, in his book "Buddhism Without Beliefs,"
writes, "The Buddha was not a mystic. His awakening was not
a shattering insight into a transcendental truth that revealed
to him the mysteries of God. He did not claim to have had an
experience that granted him privileged, esoteric knowledge of
how the universe ticks." Is Stephen Batchelor right?
[Laughs] I've known Stephen Batchelor for almost 35 years.
We were monks together for years, both in India and in Switzerland.
To come up with this picture of the Buddha, you have to bring
out a carving knife and chop off great sections of the most
authentic accounts we have of the Buddha's own teachings. You
simply have to ignore and pretend he never said an enormous
number of things he did say. I think Stephen, my dear friend,
has recast the Buddha in his own image as an English skeptic
who was raised in an agnostic background, who really doesn't
believe in anything nonphysical.
So we should forget trying to strip Buddhism of its
transcendentalism. You haven't quite come out and said it, but
you're suggesting we should stop saying Buddhism is not a religion.
Well, we have to be very cautious when we take these Western
categories -- religion, science, philosophy -- which are deeply
and inextricably embedded in our Judeo-Christian and Greco-Roman
heritage. But I have to add a footnote to our conversation about
reincarnation research. The Buddhists have been looking at this
critically and empirically for 2,500 years. They're not waiting
with bated breath to see what the people at the University of
Virginia come up with. They, unlike psychologists and neuroscientists,
have been exploring mental phenomena directly. And they have
specific strategies for going into a deep meditative state,
directing your attention backward beyond the scope of this lifetime,
directing it back to past lifetimes and coming up with memories.
So you have a template here.
This could be studied, together with skeptics. Train very advanced
contemplatives to tap into this substrate consciousness -- this
storehouse of memories from past lives, if it in fact exists
-- and do this in conjunction with neuroscientists and psychologists.
If I had unlimited funds, I'd say this is one of the most important
questions we can ask. Make this a 20-year research project,
well funded, with all the skepticism of science. Make sure you
have some hardcore atheists involved, but ones who are open-minded
and not just knee-jerk dogmatists. And then put it to the test.
In 20 years, I think you could come up with something that could
repudiate or validate a startling, truly astonishing hypothesis
that there is such a substrate consciousness.
Removing Obstacles to Development of Buddhism in Russia
Translated by Anton Cooper, savetibet.ru, November 26, 2006
Kalmykia, Russia -- Thousands residents
of the Russian Buddhist republic of Kalmykia gathered yesterday
in Elista¡¯s magnificent new temple ¡°The Golden Abode of the
Buddha Shakyamuni¡± to take part in a large scale ritual intended
to remove obstacles on the path of the spiritual development
of Buddhist teaching.
<< The Torgyak ritual was performed in the Kalmyk
Republic's capital of Elista, with the ¡°The Golden Abode of
the Buddha Shakyamuni¡± as backdrop
The Torgyak ritual, led by the Ritual Master Yelo Rinpoche,
who came to Kalmykia especially for the occasion, became part
of the great three day prayers conducted annually in Kalmykia
to mark the end of the passing year.
¡±We have long dreamed to resurrect the centuries long tradition
of Buddhist rituals which had been transmitted in Kalmykia from
generation to generation, but which was interrupted in the dark
period of Russian history¡± says the head lama of Kalmykia, Telo
Tulku Rinpoche. ¡°This only became possible three years ago thanks
to the help of the Gyudmed monks who specialize in Tantric practice
The Tibetan monks from Gyudmed monastery invited by Telo Tulku
Rinpoche have undergone a fifteen-year course of study in Tantric
ritual practices. For the last five years, they have visited
Kalmykia each year, and are sincerely happy to see the resurgence
of the Buddhist republic in the south of Russia. For the Torgyak
ritual they prepared a special ritual weapon, called ¡°torma¡±
which was consigned to the flames at the end of the ritual as
a symbol of the removals of all possible obstacles arising on
the path of a person dedicated to Enlightenment.
¡°I sincerely believe that these rituals will bring great benefit
to the people our republic, as since the time when we have started
to conduct them on a yearly basis, I myself, have seen the marvelous
fruit they bear,¡± says Telo Tulku Rinpoche.
The Torgyak ritual was first conducted in Kalmykia in November
of 2004 on the eve of the visit by the spiritual leader of Tibetan
and Russian Buddhists, His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
During that visit, miraculous for Russia¡¯s Buddhists, who had
had no chance to see their spiritual leader for twelve long
years, His Holiness the Dalai Lama consecrated the future spot
of Elista¡¯s central temple. It was precisely in this temple,
which was later named by the Dalai Lama ¡°The Golden Abode of
the Buddha Shakyamuni¡± that prayers were delivered yesterday
about the removal of obstacles for thousands of Kalmykia¡¯s residents,
as well as numerous guests from Krasnodar, Rostov, Volgograd
For the majority of guests from various Russian cities, the
Golden Abode of the Buddha Shakyamuni, ever more frequently
called the center of Buddhism in Europe, this is the only place
where they can touch the multifaceted phenomenon of Tibetan
Buddhism in its original clarity.
We have heard much about the powerful and beautiful Tantric
rituals of the Guydmed monastery, but thought that we could
see them only in the south of India,¡± said Tatiana Liutovich,
who came to Kalmykia from the city of Krasnodar. ¡°We are truly
grateful to Telo Tulku Rinpoche for inviting the Tantric monks
of Gyudmed, allowing us to become witnesses to this amazing
¡±We are delighted that Tibetan Buddhism is receiving a second
birth on Russian soil,¡± she added.
Subsequently, Tibetan and Kalmyk monks will conduct Yangdrub,
a ritual of flowering and wellbeing and close with the Tangra
Kanso, a ritual which turns to the Dharma protector deities
for aid and support.
¡±We come together to accumulate spiritual merit. We pray as
a single Buddhist community, and with the blessing of the Buddha,
our prayers shall be heard,¡± says the head lama of Kalmykia,
Telo Tulku Rinpoche.