Shadzhin-Lama of Kalmykia: “Nobody Can Replace Ilyumzhinov in Assistance to Buddhism"

Born in the family of Kalmyk immigrants in the United States, Telo Tulku Rinpoche (the secular mane Erdni Ombadykow) declared his intention to become a monk being as early as four years old. After meeting with the Dalai Lama when he was six years old, he studied the Buddhist disciplines at the Drepung Gomang monastery in India for 13 long years.
Telo Tulku Rinpoche first visited Kalmykia as a member of the delegation of the Dalai Lama XIV in 1991. After the first meeting with his historical homeland and the invitation to lead the process of spiritual revival of the republic he was elected Shadzhin-Lama (the head of the Buddhists) of Kalmykia in 1992.

Since then, more than 30 temples and the houses of worship were restored and built in the steppe region. After 2005, the residence of Telo Tulku Rinpoche is the main temple of Kalmykia - ‘The Golden Abode of Buddha Shakyamuni’. Now it is the largest Buddhist temple in Europe.  
Your Holiness, what are the priority tasks for the full development of Buddhism in Russia?  
 – The primary task is to preserve the purity of traditions and teachings of the Buddha in this very difficult time. Over 2550 years Buddhists managed to maintain the purity of the monastic and mundane discipline and we must continue to make every effort to do it.
After the Revolution of 1917 the Buddhist clergy and believers in Russia had passed through the great ordeals, having lost many values both material and spiritual. Can we revive what have been lost and return to the pure monastic traditions, which are the basis of Buddhist teachings- dharma? I think, yes. But it would take much time and efforts. Let me remind you that the spiritual discipline was absent in Russia for 70 years, however we are witnessing a gradual revival not only of Buddhism, but also of other religious traditions today.
There are constant changes in the modern world and Russia is no exception. Society is facing many challenges - the political, economic and moral. We need a spiritual discipline and a code of the moral and ethical principles corresponding to the real world in order to overcome these difficulties.
There are all the reasons to think seriously about the Buddhist approach in solving the vital social problems and finding a way to offer the principles of the Buddhist ethics to the society. I am sure it will bring the big benefit to the society and contribute to its improvement.  
Do not you think that your absence in the Interreligious Council of Khambo Lama of Buryatia as well as the Tuva Khambo Lama is justified? Probably, it's time to correct this situation?
– It is important to realize that, unlike Orthodoxy Buddhism in Russia, and not only in Russia, has never been centralized. Kalmykia, Buryatia and Tuva became part of Russia in the different years. Incidentally, Kalmykia was the first: we recently celebrated its 400th anniversary).
The spiritual life of every nation was developing separately; however, they all maintained close ties with Tibet. This becomes evident even after a superficial acquaintance with the historical sources.
Nevertheless, only the Buddhist Traditional Sangha of Russia is represented at the federal level today. This organization that has no connections with the main Buddhist organizations of two other republics- the Associations of Buddhists of Kalmykia and Tuva. Our voices are not heard, and our interests are ignored. This has to be changed and the sooner the better.  
What, in your opinion, could and should be the Buddhist education in Russia? Are you satisfied with ‘The Basics of Buddhist Culture’ and the practice the introduction of this subject in the schools as a whole?  
 – I believe that the introduction of the subject ‘The fundamentals of world religions’ in schools to be the right and timely step, since this subject helps to open our children’s hearts. I am deeply convinced that the more knowledge we have about the different cultures and religions the better
On the other hand, this subject was introduced too quickly and without the proper preparation. The teachers who were to teach that subject had not been trained as they should. But, nevertheless, it's a good start, and I hope that the work in this direction will continue.
As you know, Kalmykia was selected as one of the regions where the experiment of teaching of the basics of religious cultures has been carried out. The positive results are evident because, above all, the clergy of Kalmykia provided the great help to the teachers to help them to understand the multi-faceted philosophy of Buddhism. Moreover, we meet with the students of schools and other educational institutions on the regular basis. We read lectures and hold seminars.  
Has the situation of Buddhism in Kalmykia changed after Kirsan Ilyumzhinov left the presidency?  
 – Without a doubt, Kirsan Ilyumzhinov has done much for the revival of Buddhism. Moreover, it is important to remember that he provided the assistance not as the state official or the head of the republic. It was his personal contribution as a citizen and as a Buddhist of Kalmykia. Of course, we are sorry that he is no longer the head of Kalmykia. Nobody can replace Kirsan Ilyumzhinov in the assistance to Buddhism.  
What is the relationship between Buddhists and other religions in Kalmykia?  
 – The representatives of various religious institutions have mutual friendly relations in Kalmykia. We conduct the open dialogue and discuss the issues directly and frankly without fear to hurt anyone's feelings. I am pleased to note that we all have no problems. And even if we had some, then we would openly discuss them and find a mutually acceptable solution.
I think it happens because Kalmykia realize that for all the dissimilarity of the philosophical foundations of the different religions they all seek to benefit humanity. I was very grateful to the Orthodox Bishop Zosima who after the meeting with His Holiness the Dalai Lama said "he has very much in common with the Orthodox zealots” when he was the bishop of Elista and Kalmykia. This willingness to respect and understand the values of other religions does truly unite the people.  
You are the one of the initiators of the teachings of the Dalai Lama to Russian Buddhists in India. Do you really think that the teachings done so far from Russia would be able to influence the Russian Buddhism?  
 – In my opinion, the events of the past years have proven that the teachings carried out even at such a great distance from Russia have many advantages. First, people get into a new environment in the different part of the world; get acquainted with the culture of other countries. They make a pilgrimage to the holy places and meet with the representatives of the Buddhist philosophers of different areas, High Lamas, monks. All of this cannot be reached by staying in Russia.
And, of course, the most important thing is that they can come into contact with the wisdom of His Holiness the Dalai Lama to receive his blessing and learn his philosophical teachings and initiations. We all know that the years of His Holiness go by; however, our requests to grant him an entry visa to Russia are rejected on a regular basis.
Thus, the meeting with him in India and other countries is still our only opportunity to learn from him and maintain contact with him. And that brings enormous benefit to everyone. I am deeply convinced that the teachings of the Dalai Lama of Russian Buddhists, even if they are carried out in India, have the most significant influence on the state of Buddhism in Russia. And this influence, no doubt, will be expanded.

Alexey Belov