In 2009 Saint-Petersburg Datsan Gunzechoinei celebrates 100 years birthday since its foundation by Buda Badmayev

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In 2009 Saint-Petersburg Datsan Gunzechoinei celebrates 100 years birthday since its foundation.

The Buddhist community in Saint-Petersburg started to form much earlier, in the late XIX century. It was founded mostly by the natives from the traditional Buddhist regions of Russia – Buryatia, Kalmykia and Tuva and foreign Buddhists (Chinese, Japanese, Saimese). In the city there were many Russian Buddhists too – mostly representatives of higher society and libelal intelligentsia. However the crucial moment in the dissemination of the Buddhist philosophy was the construction of a Buddhist temple-monastery. The initiator of the construction was the envoy of Dalai Lama XIII – a buryat scientist Agvan Lobsan Dorzhiev (1853/54-1938).

March 16, 1909 Dorzhiev acquired on the northern outskirts of Saint-Petersburg - Staraya Derevnya - a land plot, which was located in front of the picturesque Elagin island and its one side went to the river Bolshaya Nevka. The place was quiet and isolated and this fact in the best way met the requirements of the Buddhist construction canon. The first service in a newly built temple was held in 1913 when on the occasion of the 300th anniversary of the Romanov dynasty the Head of Buddhist community of Russia Pandito Khamba XII Lama Dasha-Dorzho Itigelov arrived to the capital (today he is known as the “incorruptible” lama). In summer 1915, in the midst of World War II, a large cathedral temple, monastery, an equal of Tibetan “tzogchen-dugan” appeared in St. Petersburg. It included a dormitory for the monks and visiting Buddhists (the present address is: Primorsky pr, 91). The Datsan of St.Petersburg became the first Buddhist temple in the north-western Russia.

In the early 30-es of XX century in USSR the lamas were persecuted, many lamas of St. Petersburg were shot dead or sent to camps, the property of datsan was demolished; the building of datsan was used by the authorities as a military station. Since the 1960s it hosted the laboratories of Zoological Institute. The temple was returned to adherents in 1990. The Datsan of St. Petersburg Datsan enters the Buddhist traditional Sangha of Russia – an organization that consolidates the Buddhist monasteries and Gelugpa school fellowships. “Gunzechoinei” in Tibetan means “the Principle of the saint teachings of Buddha all the Compassionate”. Since 1997 datsan Gunzechoinei is headed by Jampa Donjod (Buda Badmaev).

The Datsan in Saint-Petersburg is open for believers every day from 10 till 19 pm, day off is Wednesday. At 10.00 am the morning service is held, and at 15.00 pm – afternoon hural (prayer) is held. The ritual side of Buddhism is diverse: prayer, mass ceremonies, offerings to the temple, meditation practice. Buddhist rites go with a believer since its birth until death. Common Buddhist holidays are the ones that are celebrated according to Lunar calendar.

Every year in February and March New Year – Sagaalgan is celebrated. Usually before celebration of the New Year Buddhists do purification rituals to leave away the sins, sorrows and misfortunes. A large number of believers are attracted by Dugzhuuba special ceremony during which two fires are lit on the territory near datsans. In one of the bonfires all the sins of the community are symbolically burned, and in the other one - the personal troubles and misfortunes of every individual. Worshipers beforehand make dough of flour and water, small pieces of which they roll over the body as if picking all the negative emotions, bad thoughts and bad deeds onto them. Then these tabalens – symbols of evil, are put into a piece of cloth or a small bag so as not to touch them directly with already cleaned hands. Then the worshippers bring them to datsan and throw into one of the fires. At the same time, the Lamas of the Buddhist temple prepare so-called "rubbish" – a high pyramid made from edging, paper and dough and crowned with a skull and all this reminds an arrowhead. With the ritual prayer people "put" the bad karma of the community over the past year into the "rubbish", and then it is solemnly burned in the separate fire as a symbol of spiritual purification.

In April and May a trinal holiday is celebrated: the birth of Buddha, his awakening and his soaking into nirvana. In datsan there are prayers with festive processions, gifts and offerings.

In November and December there is a holiday of a thousand candles (Zul). Zul is devoted to the Day when the founder of the Tibetan Gelugpa school – Rje Tsong –Kha-Pa went into Nirvana, he is also respected in Tibet as the second Buddha. This day numerous candles are lit inside and outside of the datsan.

Apart from it, the major Buddhist holidays are: Duynhor-Hural - the Kalachakra holiday Maydari-Hural - the circuit of Maitreya, Lhabab duysen - Buddha's descent from Tushita heaven. In the Buddhist lunar calendar there are also special days for prayer - days called as Otoshi, Lamchig Ningbo and Mandal Shiva, which are held every eighth, fifteenth and thirtieth lunar day of the month, respectively.

Every Saturday worshippers of St. Petersburg datsan can visit the Abbot’s lectures on philosophy and practice of Buddhism.

Every year Buddhist teachers arrive to St. Petersburg datsan to give lectures and twice a month Avalokiteshvara Retreats (seclusions) for believers are processed. Every year special groups of lamas are invited by the abbot to erect a mandala. Mandala is a two-dimensional representation of the deity palace and it is constructed from multi-colored sand. When composition is over a special colorful ceremony devoted to the destruction of the mandala is held.

In September 2009 the datsan was visited by the monks from Goman monastery Drepung (South India) that were in Russia within the art-festival "Russia - India - Tibet. The monks built a mandala of Green Tara and also showed a few acts from the famous mystery Tsam. Mystery Tsam - a ritual dancing, a colorful theatrical presentation of the Buddhist explanation.

In August 2007 for the first time in Russia St. Petersburg datsan hosted a display of the Buddhist relics - ringsels that remain behind after the burning of the Buddhist teachers bones. These relics now travel around the world, and in the future they will be placed at the base of a large statue of Buddha Forthcoming – Maitreya which is going to be built in the state of Kushinagar (India).

In June 2009 a big event happened in St. Petersburg datsan: the head of the Buddhist Traditional Sangha of Russia XXIV Pandito Khamba Lama Damba Ayusheyev held a ceremony of blessing the mosaic image of the White Tara. Tara ("Savior") - the most popular female image in the Buddhist pantheon. There are 21 forms of Tara, the most respected ones are - the two peaceful forms: White Tara and Green Tara. The Merciful Sagaan Dara Ehe (White Tara) is the deity of meditation in long life practices. 245 years ago, in 1764 Catherine II, in recognition of the fact that Buddhism is one of the state religions of Russia, created the position of Pandito Khamba Lama - head of the Buddhists of the Eastern Siberia and Transbaikalia. In 1766 the Buryat Lamas, in their turn, recognized Catherine the Great as the embodiment of White Tara on the earth - for her benevolence towards Buddhism and humane governance. After Catherine the Great the Buddhists of Russia favored every governor of Russian empire in the form of White Tara. The tradition was broken only during the Soviet regime, when the Buddhists as well as the ministers of other religions were persecuted and the Buddhist monasteries and temples were destroyed.

Blessing of the mosaic panel was held during the Decade of Buddhist culture which was first held in St. Petersburg. The Decade was held by the Datsan Gunzechoyney and St. Petersburg Charity Foundation "The society of Buryat culture" Aya-Ganga” together. In future we plan to hold such decades every year.

Every two years the Datsan Gunzechoyney and the Society of Buryat culture "Aya-Ganga" organize the scientific and practical conference "Dorzhiev reading” which brings together scientists from various institutes and museums and Buddhist lamas as well. These conferences (in summer 2010 there is a plan to hold the IV Dorzhiev reading) help to the mutual enrichment with knowledge between the secular and Buddhist scholars.

The events in St. Petersburg datsan can be found on the website www.dazan.spb.ru. Here the Buddhist lunar calendar is published and you can also ask questions lamas on-line.

At the Sergey Andreev’s pictures there are:

1. New Year service
2. The ritual of blessing the White Tara (in front – the Abbot of St.Petersburg datsan – Buda Badmaev, behind – the Head of the Buddhists of Russia XXIV Pandito Khamba Lama Damba Aysheyev).
3. The monks from Goman datsan create mandala of Green Tara in St.Petersburg datsan.
4. Mystery Tsam.