- Buddhism is an indigenous religion of a number of Russia’s ethnic groups and national minorities, including the Kalmyks, Tuvans, and Buryats. Nationwide, there are approximately 70,000 Buddhists in the Russian Federation. Nearly all of these follow the Lamaist school, which is associated with Tibetan Buddhism and part of the Mahayana branch of the religion, though immigrants from China and Vietnam practice Theravada Buddhism. A small number of ethnic Russians have also converted to Buddhism in recent years. There are Buddhist temples in Moscow and St. Petersburg, which serve various diasporic communities of Buddhists.The history of the faith in Russia dates back at least four centuries to when imperial expansion began to include areas in southern Siberia and the Russian Far East. In the 17th century, the Mongolic Kalmyks migrated to the lower Volga region, establishing the only Buddhist community on the European continent. Tsarist authorities were relatively tolerant of Buddhist inovertsy (non-Orthodox subjects), while the Soviets attempted to mold the faith and its leaders to fit the ideological needs of the regime. In post-Soviet Russia, Lamaist Buddhism (along with Orthodox Christianity, Islam, and Judaism) is recognized by the 1993 Constitution of the Russian Federation as a “native” religion, and is thus free from the restrictions placed on nonindigenous faiths such as Protestantism and Scientology. In the traditionally Buddhist regions of the Russian Federation, a spiritual revival has been under way since the late 1980s; this is particularly true in Kalmykiya where President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov has funded the building and renovation of temples. In Asiatic Russia, traditional forms of shamanism are often syncretisticly incorporated into the practice of Buddhism.The spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism, the Dalai Lama, has twice visited the faithful in Russia, once in the early 1990s and again in 2004, sparking criticism from China. The Ivolga Datsan, a monastery located in Buryatiya near Lake Baykal, is the most important Buddhist site in the Russian Federation.
Historical Dictionary of the Russian Federation. Robert A. Saunders and Vlad Strukov. 2010.
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