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Tibetan Reform and the Kalmyk Revival of Buddhism

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image of Inner Asia

The anti-religious campaigns of the Soviet Union in the 1930s eradicated Kalmyk Buddhism from the public sphere. Following perestroika the Kalmyks retain a sense of being an essentially Buddhist people. Accordingly, the new Kalmyk government is reviving the religion with the building of temples and the attempted training of Kalmyk monks, yet monasticism is proving too alien for young post-soviets. According to traditional Kalmyk Gelug Buddhism authoritative Buddhist teachers must be monks, so monastic Tibetans from India have been invited to the republic to help revive Buddhism. The subsequent labelling by these monks of 'surviving' Kalmyk Buddhist practices as superstitious, mistaken or corrupt is an initial step in the purification of alternate views, leading to religious reform. This appraisal of historical practices is encouraged by younger Kalmyks who do not find sense in surviving Buddhism but are enthused with the philosophical approach taught by visiting Buddhist teachers at Dharma centres. By discussing this post-Soviet shift in local notions of religious efficacy, I show how the social movements of both reform and revival arise as collusion between contemporary Tibetan and Kalmyk views on the nature of true Buddhism.


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