Dalai Lama and Kirsan Ilyumzhinov

I have long wanted to tell about activities of Ilyumzhinov as the first President of the Republic of Kalmykia and his enormous contribution to the revival of Buddhism in Kalmykia.    

I want to remind you that Ilyumzhinov headed the Republic of Kalmykia and FIDE at almost the same time. And it was not by chance that he had to solve similar problems both in Kalmykia and in FIDE. Revival of the chess world and revival of Kalmykia became his main concern for many years. And it so happened that in carrying out this mission he was fortunate enough to meet a man who with confidence can be called "the man of the Renaissance." I am referring to His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama.


As Ilyumzhinov recalled, he first met the Dalai Lama in Moscow in 1991. He was then 29 years old. “For me, a young Buddhist, it was a miracle to just see him, touch him and drink tea with him... When I came to say hello he squeezed my hand tightly, put it to his chest and laughed. I had a deputy badge then. I was a deputy of the Supreme Soviet of the RSFSR. He looked at the badge and said: “What is this?” I said: “Parliament of the Russian Federation”. And he said: “You are so young and you are already a deputy." I was going to ask him about Buddhism but he wanted to talk about politics. I also thought about asking him if I was right to choose politics instead of business.  But he was first to talk; I did not have time to open my mouth before the Dalai Lama said: “That's right. You are young, you must do it. ”

Of course, one of the most important achievements of Ilyumzhinov was that he was able to build trust and friendship with His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama. His Holiness is not only the spiritual leader of the world’s Buddhists but also an unquestioned authority, a real spiritual leader of the Kalmyk people. And although the 14th Dalai-Lama used to visit Kalmykia before Ilyumzhinov was elected president of the Republic of Kalmykia, the people of Kalmykia have recognized the restoration of the lost connection between the main spiritual teacher and themselves during Ilyumzhinov’s presidency.
Compared with other Russian regions where Buddhism is practiced, today’s Kalmykia is closest to its spiritual teacher. In 1993, Ilyumzhinov organized the first pilgrimage to India, Dharamsala, where the residence of His Holiness the Dalai Lama is located. He himself headed the delegation of 20 people including the chairman of the parliament of the Republic of Kalmykia, minister of education and minister of culture. Kalmykia Television filmed a report on this pilgrimage. From that moment began the true revival of Buddhism in Kalmykia.
In an interview, given before the Dalai Lama’s visit to Kalmykia in 2004, Ilyumzhinov noted: “There were about a hundred Buddhist khuruls and libraries in Kalmykia before the Great October Socialist Revolution. After the deportation of Kalmyk people in 1943 to Siberia all Buddhist khuruls were blown up and destroyed. And not a single Buddhist khurul was neither restored nor built in Soviet times. In 1992, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama visited the Republic of Kalmykia.
And I, as a Kalmyk and Buddhist, was a little ashamed that we had no place to accept His Holiness the Dalai Lama. After all, we just took him to the bare steppe. His Holiness consecrated the site for the construction of the main Kalmyk Buddhist temple. They could not build it for a long time because there was no money. In 1993, I was elected President of Kalmykia and invested my personal funds. We built the main Buddhist temple of the Republic of Kalmykia in 1996. After that, we built 30 Buddhist temples more. Now there are 33 Buddhist temples and pagodas in Kalmykia.”
Today, when the world knew about Buddhist temples and stupas built under Kirsan Ilyumzhinov’s presidency, when the city of Elista became a tourist attraction of Russia - the Russian “Buddhist East” - it seems incredible that quite recently, before his election as president, Buddhism was completely ousted from the life of Kalmyk people. There was not a single Buddhist temple in this steppe republic before Ilyumzhinov’s election.   There was not a single Buddhist stupa. In an incredibly short historical period, Kirsan Ilyumzhinov managed to recreate from scratch all the infrastructure needed for revival of Buddhism - traditional Kalmyk religion. And now, during the 2004 visit, His Holiness the 14th Dalai-Lama gave teachings in Syakyusn Syume, the first Buddhist temple in Kalmykia, the construction of which he consecrated in 1991.
And in the same 2004, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama consecrated a place in the centre of Elista for construction of the largest Buddhist temple in Europe, “The Golden Abode of the Buddha Shakyamuni”. This temple was built in Elista in record time. Today, it is the main tourist attraction of Kalmykia, the most valuable gem that adorns the city of Elista. 
It should be noted that everything that Ilyumzhinov did for revival of Buddhism in Kalmykia and to establish the spiritual connection of the people with His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, was done not by chance. We all come from childhood.  In one of his interviews, Ilyumzhinov explained the origins of his reverent attitude to Tibetan Buddhism: “I remember when I was small, about five or six years old, my parents left for work, my grandmother closed the doors, curtained the windows and took out such a small Buddha statue from the trunk (I remember the smell of naphthalene: the fur coats were kept there). Then she laid a rug on the floor and lit a lamp.
She prayed and made me pray. When I asked her why we did not pray in the open and why we did not go to church she answered looking out the window: “You will grow up, you will build a church, and people will go there.” I performed my grandmother's order: I built the largest Buddhist temple in Europe - 64 meters high. ”
Once again I would like to note that it is impossible to overestimate the contribution to the spiritual revival of the Kalmyk people rendered by Kirsan Ilyumzhinov and His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama. The blessing that forms today the spiritual basis of life of an entire nation, fills it with joy and hope until recently was completely inaccessible. Today, Kalmyk people, because of their spiritual connection with the most powerful source of goodness and holiness in the person of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, have become not only open to the world, but the world has opened to them. This is a priceless gift, for which we have to be grateful to fate and "Ilyumzhinov era."   

Sandzi Buvaev