Opening speech of the conference by secretary of Estonian Nyingma Marju Broder
Hello dear guests,
First event and gathering on the topic of the history of Estonian Buddhism has become true. In Estonia we already have Buddhist literature , which has piled up during decades, translated by enthusiasts and Buddhists. We even have examples of Buddhist architecture in the form of stupas on Estonian soil. It may be said that it smells like we have a Buddhism in Estonia.
Here we can also add Buddhist thankas and sculptures made by Estonian Buddhist Fellowship some time ago. Projects for Buddhist monasteries have been created. For example the first designer was Leo Lapin, who made a project for Estonian Buddhist Fellowship intending to build the first monastery.
We can freely speak of such phenomenon as Buddhist on Estonian soil, which by now already has decent history and it seems to me that we are in fact obligated to speak about the topics of Estonian Buddhist history.
The reason behind this conference is the need to research and acknowledge Estonian Buddhist history, persons linked to Estonian Buddhism and events in Estonian history related to it. As Estonia is not the only country here, on the shores of the Baltic Sea, where Buddhists live - there are some in Finland, Russia and Latvia as well - it is only natural that neighbors gather together and review what they have to say on this topic. Therefore - welcome neighbors.
Compared to India and Tibet , which are located south from us, we are among the Northern nations and therefore the name of today's event is Buddhism and Nordland.
Unfortunately the history of Estonian Buddhist has been left untouched officially by academic science. But the aim of today's event would be to gather people to fill this gap. In Estonia the orientalists from Tartu have tried to convey Buddhism to people. In addition their contribution includes a some of Buddhist texts translated to Estonian . However, they have not so far touched Estonian Buddhism and persons related to it, their biographies and historical background. And in fact they have said that they are not really interested.
During socialist times their viewpoint towards practicing Buddhists was negative. Here we can compare this to the construction of St. Petersburg' temple, where tibetologists and other researchers of the East worked side by side with Buddhists and thanks to that those years in Russian Buddhist history have been especially well preserved for the next generations.
As such attitude of Tartu orientalists towards Estonian Buddhists has prevailed for decades the history of Estonian Buddhism has to be compiled by Buddhists themselves, including all those who offer their help and enthusiasm. Tallinn University , represented by Martti Kalda , has already actively helped in organizing this event. In general this event seems to be more likeable for universities and institutes in Tallinn .
Estonian Buddhists and especially the last generation have given a lot for Estonia in ideological and cultural sense. They even played a role in the regaining of Estonian independence . Therefore it really is the time for compiling Estonian Buddhist history to show that Buddhism as ideology and worldview has been useful in political, cultural as well as ideological sense. Unfortunately even the fact that Karl Tõnisson brought Buddhism to Estonia and tried to link Buddhism and its mythology to Estonian folk religion is unknown to the majority of Estonians.
The initiative of Estonian Njingma derives from all that is linked to the past of Estonian Buddhism , roots and persons. We wish to expand the research of Buddhist topics to local historical background, research Buddhism and its presence not only in Estonia the entire Nordland.
Our neighbors in Finland have acquired Buddhist tradition even more. Russia has tolerated and supported Buddhism for centuries. A Swede Sven Hedin is inseparably linked to Tibet . Even Latvia can easily play a role in Buddhist history thanks to our Karl Tõnisson .
Therefore it is logical that Buddhism as a phenomenon has its history and tradition in Nordland, the researching and purveying of which to the next generations is our direct obligation. The fact that it was not allowed in the Soviet Union is known to all but now we have piles of freedom and the time has come to realize the fact.
Such is the motive for organizing this event.
The specific need for research about history of Buddhism in Estonia was first mentioned by Buddhist Vello Väärtnõu who has been the founder of practical Buddhist tradition in Estonia . The first Estonian Buddhist brotherhood was also founded by him, stupas constructed, which seemed impossible during the Soviet period, as well as many books and texts related to Buddhism translated and copied. At the moment he is the only estonian who has studied at a Buddhist monastery as well as spent many years in Himalayas , Asia etc. Väärtnõu is also the author and planner of this event conference "Buddhism and Nordland " .
When talking about history of Buddhism in Estonia we have to start with the first Buddhist in Estonia and the father of Estonian Buddhism - Karl Tõnisson .
In Estonia little is known about Tõnisson and as a result of writings by Gerodnik and Remsu, he is considered a freak and retarded lecturer. More appropriate would be to see him as a mahasiddha, which would be more objective because those mystical Buddhists acted differently from regular citizens and the attitude in Tibet towards them was not always positive, not to mention Estonia and the time when Karl Tõnisson lived.
With regard to those writings a wrong image of him has been created. Mahasiddhas can never be gray and boring in their lives, through history they have all been personalities. I consider it only natural to put barefoot Brother Vahindra to that category.
Estonian folk wisdom raises the idea - tell me who your friends are and I will tell you who you are. At this point it is worth mentioning the fact that Buryat monk, scholar Agvan Doržijev who worked as a teacher for the 13th Dalai Lama communicated with Estonian Buddhist monk Tõnisson for years and even appointed Brother Vahindra as the representative of St Petersburg Buddhist temple in 1920.
Doržijev, Tõnisson and baron Ungern von Sternberg as well as Ja Lama were all friends. Maybe it is time to rehabilitate them from the lying brought on by Soviet historians.
The Buddhism brought to Estonia originated from Buryatia and in fact we should start from Buryatia because this remote land by the lake Baikal is welded to the last 100 years of Estonian history. Karl Tõnisson studied Buddhism first in Buryatia and other Estonian Buddhists have walked the same road. It can be said about Buryats that they have unintentionally helped the spread of Buddhism on the shores of the Baltic Sea .
So far Tõnisson as a Buddhist has been a subject of interest for Vello Väärtnõu who has researched and collected materials from both Estonia as well as Buryatia . Mait Talts has researched the life and activities of Vahindra f or years, written articles about Tõnisson and his student Lustig - therefore he should be considered the first researcher of history of Estonian Buddhism.
It must be said that the contribution of Tiit Pruuli in finding original Estonian Buddhist materials and bringing them to homeland has been very valuable. Thanks to him Karl Tõnisson's biography written by Lustig , Lustig's diaries, all the materials left to Burma after the deaths of Tõnisson and Lustig reached us. Often the fact how Tibetans went to get Buddhist teachings from India over Himalayan Mountains is mentioned. I think that after 100 years this recovery operation by Tiit Pruuli can be assessed likewise.
Estonians have a personal bodhisattva in the form of Tõnisson - why not research and popularize this subject then as it is a part of Estonian history and Buddhism. During the socialist period we were forced to hide or pretend that nothing is known about Buddhism in Estonia as if there was not any Buddhist in Estonia. However, by now Buddhism has become a tradition and historical fact here and now this fact has to be included to general Estonian history as it deserves.
It is the more important considering the fact that history of Buddhism in Estonia comprises such unique persons who are known in the whole world. For example baron Roman Ungern von Sternberg who was raised and went to school here. His name is respected in Buddhist Mongolia and Buryatia and being his compatriot is a positive mark for modern Estonians in the eyes of people there.
Ungern as a Buddhist is unknown in Estonia, although already the media of tsar Russia wrote about the baron as Buddhist with family traditions as well as about Ungern studying Mongolian, which shows his interest towards Mongolian culture and Buddhism. So far much has not been talked and discussed about baron's fight against the red to create a Buddhist-theocratic state. Last period in his life was dedicated to a fight for Buddhism and the preservation of Buddhist culture. This list of historical persons contains a lot of names who have fought in the name and for Buddhism against communists.
Even Bidja Dandaron who was from Buryatia and whose life work was also destroyed by communists and who has visited Estonia cannot be left unmentioned, which once more proves the relations of Buryats to Estonians . Karl Tõnisson and his friends were all extremely interesting individuals and I think that this does not end the history of Buddhism in Estonia - in fact it could be said that such shining people are only the beginning.
That would be only a short summary on the topic of history of Buddhism in Estonia.
So, who is organizing this event? The answer is simple - Estonian Nyingma. And what is Estonian Nyingma? This is a name used by old Taola or Estonian Buddhist Brotherhood . They are the people who have taken care of the only stupas we have.
It also includes a number of people from the younger generation who have been active in making this event work - the founder and leader of Taola V ello Väärtnõu as well as from former times Peep Paasian with his friends, from younger generation Ristjan Talv and a number of young Taola members from Pärnu county who all belong to Nyingma tradition created by Taola and who have helped to organize this gathering here with money, deeds as well as thoughts.
That is Estonian Nyingma , which is now 24 years old and there is no lasting older tradition in Estonia .
Karl Tõnisson brought the teachings of Gelug tradition from Buryatia and Väärtnõu started from the same school, although he has never considered himself to be of Gelug tradition and has always preferred as Nyingmapa . The tradition brought by Tõnisson only lasted during his time.
Writer August Gailit was a Buddhist, Valmar Adams was probably at some point interested in Buddhism, plus some known figures. However, Buddhism did not gain wider popularity before the 80s when the first stupas appeared in Estonia. People from East as well as West came to visit them and this increased the interest towards Buddhism as a worldview.
The plan is to speak about all this in the future and if there is possibility and strength then also publish something in written form. This presumes that the foundation is wider and whole institutions are taking part. That would enrich local history and implies to the vitality and ability to absorb new cultural phenomena of Estonians.
Good cooperation with Tallinn University helps the cooperation in the field of history of Buddhism to gather momentum.
If this front would be increased further by universities, enterprises, people who would like to help us in writing new pages into our cultural history, then all are welcome.
The idea is to make this event last longer, which also demands greater number of people. However, as a final result we would also have a history of Estonian Buddhism, which would of course be late in time when compared to that written by Taranatha. But it still shows the small steps of this little nation in the ideological fields of world culture.
As history is a subject in which other nations and geographical areas take part but first of all of course neighbors then the first choice of guests derives from that. In time we are planning to invite people from countries where Estonian Buddhists have been. Here we should immediately mention Mongolia - Ganden monastery . Ganden was interested in taking part of this event but at last moment the monk cancelled.
Next year they will certainly be here because the topics Ungern von Sternberg, Dorzijev and Ja Lama are very close for them. We have had correspondence with Kalmyk s on the same topic and they are interested in participating next year because this year the announcement did not come early enough.
But we still have guests from Russia who immediately agreed to come according to Russian hospitality and tradition, which was already founded during the construction of the temple of St Petersburg. It is the more significant considering the fact that the tradition of Oriental studies in Russia is among the oldest in the world. They are certainly helpful in comparing two states and nations of Estonia and Russia from the aspect of Buddhism. A paper was sent to our event by famous orientalist Vladimir Montlevitsh who could not come. Director of Kozlov's museum Andreyev, whom I met during Dorzijev's festival in St. Petersburg, literally helped in making this event become true.
However, as always Buryats have also played a role. Cirendari Sanbuyeva and Buryat cultural association Aa-Ganga in St Petersburg have helped in arranging things between Estonia and Russia .
And of course we cannot leave unmentioned people like Anti Kidron, Leo Lapin, Priit Kelder, Tiit Pruuli who immediately agreed to participate. Unfortunately Tartu University continues with the game of silence on the topic of Buddhists and their history existing in Estonia. I turned to the Tibetan Cultural Association with a proposal to give information to people in Tartu about the event in Tallinn but Maret Kark refused even that. In Buddhist sense it might not be good to take so sharp attitude towards world. Historical flexibility and tibetological sensibility would be more profitable.
Big thanks also to interpreters-graduate students of Tallinn University who are helping here today as well as to Ester Eggert and her friends for help in organizing work. As the speech has more or less covered those terms, names and geographical points, which relate to this event, I would once more like to welcome all spectators and participants who considered it necessary to honor such first even in the field of history of Estonian Buddhism with their presence.