Opening speech by Vello Väärtnöu at the opening of international conference "Buddhism and Nordland 2008"

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Honourable guests,

The view of the world according to Buddhist astrology is that the phenomena in our universe are in constant movement and in endless change. The human body goes through many developments and changes on its path from birth to death. If birth is the starting point on this path through time, then our lives are one great movement from birth towards death. The same is true about the conference „Buddhism and Nordland“. It develops changes in time and will disappear into eternity; leaving a trace in our history, culture and intellect until it itself fades. I’m not saying that our conference is at its final phase of existence, on the contrary, we still have ahead many interesting gatherings, conversations, presentations and cooperation, but one day it won’t exist in this form. It’s my opinion as a Buddhist about our current situation.

Since all the participants of the conference derive more or less from Buddhism it would be good if we could find a place in our memory for thinking that all apparent, visible, hearable, with form and without, material and spiritual things in this world have the tendency to fade either through changes or alterations.

Honourable guests, I would like to congratulate you because the international conference „Buddhism and Nordland“already takes place for the second time. We can compare its development with a two-year-old child, who has just starting learn how to move in this world, or sansara, and our conference is only generating first verbal thoughts and images(?) The academic school and world of understandings would come for our conference after some year’s time. So therefore, we have time to thoroughly learn and get to know the common subject of our research, which is Buddhism and its history in Nordland.

I would like to thank again all those, who came here with their research, thoughts or ideas and shared them with others.

It would be quite logical to assume that the academic science and scientists as well as Buddhist have a lot of work to do on the field of Nordland Buddhism. By writing down our history of the Nordland Buddhism, we also add to the history its changes in time according to the original sources, where it’s derived from. As well, we explore the phenomena what it has brought with itself and what it has created in our cultural and spiritual life. What Buddhism has sowed into us, will enrich our lives, society, way of thinking and culture, creating new spiritual concepts, or even, vital values.

In addition to scholars, there are various people, who contribute to the effective organising and progress of the conference. Because of their work, the effort of the speakers will reach our audience swiftly and without problems, thus also contributing to the spirituality of our conference.

We can thank the secretary of Estonian Njingma Marju Broder for organising the very first conference as well this year’s conference. She works under the aegis of Estonian Njingma to fulfil the ideas of this project, also by contributing much of her own income and materiality to the success of the conference. She also has many helpers and organisers, who I’m sure, do their best.

I would also like to bring out those scholars and speakers, who participated in the previous conference „Buddhism and Nordland 2007“, which was also the first one.

Again, I thank you all, who contributed to the idea of „Buddhism and Nordland“with their own research and participation and with that laid the cornerstone of the conference.

In 2007, at the birth of our conference, the following people either participated in person or forwarded their work: Vladimir Montlevitš-Russia, Alpo Ratia-Finland, Alexandre Andreyev-Russia, Priit Kelder-Estonia, Natalia S.Yakhontova-Russia, Anti Kidron-Estonia, Tuula Saarikoski-Finaldn, Tiit Pruuli-Estonia, Marju Broder-Estonia, Leonhard Lapin-Estonia and as well many Buddhists of Estonian Njingma and listeners of the conference. They all can be called as the founders of our conference „Buddhism and Nordland“.

We can call this an international conference, because last year we had participants from countries that have one common connection - the Baltic Sea. Those, who lived during the socialist era might find that the word „pioneer“ has a negative connotation but we always have to adapt, learn new ideas, concepts. It will probably require the reassessments of many phenomena and concepts, because socialism is long gone and exists only in history books.

Now, a few words about the idea of the conference The idea of the need to research Buddhism and its’ history, and to gather academic scholars as well Buddhists for discussions, for me formed already in 1985. During that time, socialism had spread across many continents. I found that researching it in Estonia is absolutely vital because Buddhism had already made its first steps at the beginning of the century. During the soviet occupation no one was interested in researching the history and the cultural features of Buddhism in Estonia. It seemed even more impossible to expand the idea of researching Buddhist history in Nordland together with academic scholars, because the country I lived in was surrounded by the Iron Curtain.

Then the communist way of thinking and attitude was very common in the society. The proposal to create a team and project of research where scientists and Buddhists would study the history of Buddhism in Estonia and Nordland together would also mean that the authorities had those people acknowledged insane. I shared the idea of studying Buddhism in Estonia and Nordland and to have the study published with some of my friends and acquaintances. Back then those people participated in the work of Estonian Njingma, which was then called Taola. Now the new Republic of Estonia allows us freely approach the history of Estonian Buddhism and the conference „Buddhism and Nordland“under Estonian Njingma became a reality. Therefore, this conference phenomena „Buddhism and Nordland“ is organised and financed by Estonian Njingma, which is the basis for the Estonian followers of Tibetan Buddhism njingma school. The school of Tibetan Buddhism has functioned in Estonia since 1982 and is by now 26 years old. So, the history pages of Estonian Buddhism could have a place for Estonian Njingma already for decades. Unfortunately all other Estonian Buddhist organisations and groups that exist at the moment have developed years later. When looking back at the activity of Estonian Njingma and its participation in the history of Estonian Buddhism, we see that Estonian Njingma and its members have left a mark in the field of Buddhist translations, fine arts, handicraft, sculpture, Buddhist sacral architecture and as well in politics and revival of the republic that Estonian Njingma is proud to admit.

Conference „Buddhism and Nordland“ has brought together people from Estonia, Sweden, Finland, Russia, Latvia, China and elsewhere. Buddhism exists in all those countries and has spread and left a mark in the consciousness of the people living there. We can rightfully say that Buddhism in the Nordic countries has existed for a long time. The purpose is to find those heroes from our history, who by overcoming themselves brought us the knowledge and ideas of the East and Buddhism. Many of them conflicted with the local monotheist ideology, the local power and the political atmosphere. Some, who had risen to the peak of popularity had fallen – if I may say so – because of their wrongly chosen political orientation. For example, the world-famous explorer of Asia and the unique personality from Sweden, Sven Hedin. He may have suffered the most because of the political changes and wrongly chosen views.

In Estonia, von Holstein was the first who introduced Buddhism and the first person who offered the teachings of Buddha to crowds of people was already then famous Buddhist Karl Tõnisson. Brother Vahindra, as people called him, belongs with his activities in the history of Latvian and Russian Buddhism. His roads took him to Buriat, Kalmyk, Mongolia, China and years later to Thailand and Burma, where he died as a saint in Rangoon. As well many other places he visited during his lifetime may be added to this list. I can only imagine the discussions that would become of his travels that were noted down by his student Lustig. Already during the last conference Tiit Pruuli, who studied journalism, revealed doubt about what the personal student and travel companion Fredrich Lustig had written about Tõnisson. But where then should we derive from when writing history, when even the written biography of the holy man’s closest student can be questioned.

Tõnisson was an absolutely unique and original personality. Tõnisson tried to spread the idea of pan-baltoonia, a similar idea of pan-mongoliaism, in his books. When we study his life we can see the his connection with such known people as the Buriat and teacher lama Agvan Dorzijev, a military Buddhist Roman Unger von Sternberg, who grew up and was educated in Tallinn, and was the descendent of an old nobleman family, Kalmyk Dza lama, Esper Uhtomski and others who shared the same idea of a Buddhist theocratic state at that time period. We can also assume that they all knew and kept in touch with each other to some extent.

It would be a mistake not to mention the army of orientalists and tibetologists that existed in Russia during that time, because their contribution to budhology and tibethology was of international capacity and extent. Likewise, the materials and diaries about the people and events of that time, where we can find enough material about the history of Buddhism for all of us, are worth mentioning. All the Nordic countries have their pioneers, who supplied their country and companions with the ideas and culture of Buddhism. And one of the ideas and goals of our conference „Buddhism and Nordland“, is to find out and value those people.

In the future we’ll place the main emphasis of our conference work on the Buddhism history of the Nordic countries, but it’s only fair that in support of the truth we will involve also other countries that will help us to understand more generally and truthfully how Buddhism spread to Nordland. Ideas are influenced and changed on their path in the world by climate, language, translation errors, mythology, customs, traditions, ruling ideology etc. We can speak of Buddhism in Estonia that was originally imported from Buriat, since Karl Tõnisson went there to study and many other Estonian Buddhists were taught by Buriat lamas and the Gelug School. I myself also started many years ago from Buriat, because there was no njingma school in the Soviet Union. They claim that Tsingis-khan was a Buriat, so, to study amongst the famous Mongol tribe members the spiritual Buddhist expansion is far from unfruitful and meaningless.

Buddhism in Estonia in the 1990s was mainly directed to the teachings of Drikung School, whereas compared to Buddhism in the 1980s, the first practising Buddhist school in Estonia was njingma. Estonia also has a parallel with Tibet since the first school that dominated there was also the njingma school, as it was in Estonia. So, one of the goals of our conference is also to find out the religious heroes and history of Buddhism that every country in Nordland has.

I would like to emphasise once more that our interest should not end with studying the history of Buddhism, but also any other topic connected with Buddhism or eastern thinking or stories would equally be interesting. Through that, the society will also benefit new and interesting materials that the conference „Buddhism and Nordland“mediates.

A purpose on its own is to make the materials of the conference available also via internet, because it would help to draw more attention to the topic. Information provided on paper in the form of a book would need more work and would not spread so quickly, as well, people should spend their own money. Therefore, all who participate in this conference with their research and materials will share their work and knowledge with other people for free. This form of information exchange would be a noble idea, even ideal, since the conference „Buddhism and Nordland“is also open to all participants and listeners. Derived from pure spirit, I might add.

All that has been said about the future of the conference is still on the level of an idea or thought and will need more work. The reason to hold „Buddhism and Nordland“is there, as well the idea, and the first form of the conference. It has been proven to be quite functional, so working to enrich our intellectual culture by doing the right thing successfully, is only worth doing together.

I think that with this speech I have brought out some ideas and thoughts that are close to my heart. In addition I have shared some of my own suggestions for the future existence of our conference in order for the intellectual benefit to be even greater and more substantial in a several years time.

So – on behalf of Estonian Njingma to all in the audience – welcome to the sacred event „Buddhism and Nordland“ and all the best of luck and achievements in our cooperation!

I hereby call the conference „Buddhism and Nordland 2008“ open!