Kirsan Ilyumzhinov: We built churches with our own money and donations from people, friends and investors who contributed millions of dollars

In 1993, when I was elected president of Kalmykia, there was not a single church there - neither Buddhist nor Christian. There was one dilapidated house of worship in Elista, where Father Zosima (bishop of the Russian Orthodox Church, archbishop of Solikamsk and Chusovskaya - Ed.) served.

At meetings with veterans, I remember what my grandmothers and grandfathers told me: “Please, don’t pay much attention to business but build at least a small Buddhist prayer house so that we can pray there, learn about weddings (usually Kalmyks go to church to find out which day is the best for the wedding) and burials.”
Here are my memories of Buddhism. When I was little, about five or six years old, as soon as my parents left for work, my grandmother would close the doors, curtain the windows, and take out such a small Buddha from the chest (which I remember smelled of mothballs); laid a rug, hung a Buddhist tank and lit a lamp. She prayed and made me pray.
When I asked her why we didn’t pray openly, why we didn’t go to church, she answered me, looking out the window: “You will grow up, build a church, and people will go there.” I fulfilled my grandmother's wish; I built the largest Buddhist temple in Europe: 64 meters high. In general, I built 46 Buddhist temples, prayer houses and stupas in Kalmykia.

In Elista, on the central Lenin Square, a prayer drum was made. 10 million prayers are written in this drum. I spun it once, and felt as if I had read prayers 10 million times.

I also helped the Russian Orthodox Church. With the help of Lord Almighty, because he provided the money. All these temples and churches were not financed from budget funds, but with my own money, the money of my family, my friends and people of Kalmykia. We built 22 Orthodox churches and he Kazan Cathedral in Elista. The Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Alexy II came in 1997 for its consecration. And he stopped in the village Priyutnoye in the Holy Cross Church. It was the first church I built as president, although I am a Buddhist myself.
Before the deportation of the Kalmyk people, until 1943, there were several dozen Buddhist temples and one Holy Cross Cathedral in Kalmykia. When the Kalmyks returned from Siberia in 1957, we didn't even have a single prayer house ...
In 1993, I was elected President of Kalmykia and I decided that we would build a Buddhist temple. And it happened. And, by the way, Kalmykia is the only republic in the European part of Russia and in Europe that professes Buddhism. 400 years ago, we brought Buddhism from inner Mongolia and from China to Russia. And His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama is our spiritual leader. Was Buddhism Oppressed or not? When I started building temples, no one bothered me. We could not take money from the state treasury, because the church is separated from the state.
And so, the temples were built on donations from citizens, thanks to my friends investors, who gave millions of dollars for this. And in Kalmykia, we have built the largest Buddhist temple in Europe, which is 64 meters high. And in the village of Priyutnoye, an Orthodox Church of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross was erected. I am grateful to His Holiness Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Alexy II, who then not only came to consecrate the temple, but also issued a special decree on the formation of the Kalmyk-Elista diocese. I am also grateful to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia, thanks to which the Dalai Lama was able to come to us and consecrate the place where we built the temple.
In 1993, I signed an agreement with His Holiness the Dalai Lama to revive traditional Buddhism. And the Dalai Lama began sending dozens of teachers to us in Kalmykia. Also, every year I sent dozens of our children to Indian and Mongolian monasteries, where they studied not only Buddhism, but also Tibetan medicine, Tibetan astrology. Many now work both in Kalmykia and in America not only as Buddhists, but also as scientists and doctors.
We opened Syakusn-Syume on the outskirts of the city of Elista. It was the first Buddhist temple, the site of which had been consecrated by His Holiness the Dalai Lama. In 1991, he was in Kalmykia at the invitation of our believers. The temple was very difficult to build. Then I donated my first million for its construction, and I was wondering why the Dalai Lama didn’t consecrate a place in the centre of the city.
"Dalai Lama" means "ocean of desires". Just look at him and your wishes will come true. In 1993, I organized the first pilgrimage to Dharamsala, where the residence of His Holiness the Dalai Lama is. The delegation consisted of 20 people: the Chairman of the Parliament of the Republic of Kalmykia, Minister of Education, Minister of Culture and others.
I asked the patriarch for permission to take priest Zosima with me on the pilgrimage.
And he also went with me. When we arrived at the site, they put us in small rooms, which didn’t resemble hotel. I remember a concrete floor, a basin, a toilet outside. The second time I arrived, we were living together with Buddhist monks.
How much did I spend on building churches and Buddhist temples? Does it really matter? This is self-realization. If I have made any money, I would use it for a good cause.