Social Activities of Buddhists in Latvia by Marika Laudere

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Already At the end of 80th different new religious ideas begun to come to Latvia. At this time more freely was available before not seen a list of spiritual literature between which are mentioned authentic texts of Buddhism. The people appeared, who reading these books, tried to use showed teaching in the practice of their lives and make acquainted with it the rest. When a number of interested people begun to rise, were formed unofficial communities of Buddhists, some of them become with time like officially registered centres which begun to attract attention to different social activities. The aim of this investigation is to show the inner condition of Buddhism centre and social activities as well.

Karma Kagju

Latvian centre of Karma Kagju (Diamond Way Buddhism) is one of lama Ole Nidal and 17th Karmapa meditation centres. Its history began in year 1997 when several young people together began to search a new religious experience. Some Buddhists of Moscow Karma Kagju centre helped them. [1] After some time, Ole Nidal was invented to create a centre and a year 1997 august 20th has to be considered a creation date of the centre. When a new sangha was created an average member’s age was 23—25 years. Today it’s already 30—40 years. Members of the group confirm that people visit the centre who is over 50 years. The common official number of Buddhists is approximately 20—30 people, although it changes all the time.[2]

The centre has leader but in spite of this the members of the centre call their administration structure as militocrasy.[3] They interpreted this definition in the following way: the final decision of the problem solution makes those who do much and have a work experience.[4]

In year 2002 the centre got a permanent placing. The centre consists of meditation hall—gompa, leaving rooms and kitchen. Inside of gompa there are many thankas[5] (cloth pictures with images of different gods), bookshelf and different sacral things of Buddhism.

From the beginning, when a centre didn’t have its own placing, the activity wasn’t properly organized, the centre didn’t involve in the organization of public actions. But since 2006 Karma Kagju centre of Riga organizes Buddhism days where lectures of Buddhism take place in the Latvian University, Culture Academy and Technical University of Riga. These days are organized to give opportunity for students to learn more about Buddhism traditions and spreading of Buddhism in the science, art and philosophy. Travelling teachers take part in the days of Buddhism who tell about this religion, its practice which helps and develops spiritual skills of the person. Respondents mentioned that after Buddhism days many interested people come to the centre and try to get acquainted with Buddhism and meditate.[6] Last year there was an opportunity to watch made documentary films of Karma Kagju School where different life aspects of Buddhists were shown and function of Buddhism teaching in the west world. Besides was shown a form of Buddhism art—statues, thankas photos as well.[7]

The idea to organize Buddhism days is taken from Karma Kagju centers of German and Poland. In these countries Buddhism of Karma Kagju exists already more than 30 years and such actions happen regularly.[8]

Karma Kagju centre of Riga is occupied with book translation of lama Ole Nidal and edition in latvian language. Already all meditations are translated and the main book of Ole Nidal The Way Things Are: a Living Approach to Buddhism for Today’s World. It’s planed to translate the rest of lama’s books. One of the centre members is occupied with it.[9]

Each year the centers of Karma Kagju plan guest lectures of teachers which can visit every interested person. In the centre of Riga lectures usually take place once a month or after a month and half. The main aim of travelling teachers is to give information about Buddhism. It takes place in the centre or in the rented rooms to make acquainted a brighter rang of interested people with Buddhism. Mainly this is Buddhist lectures about Four Noble Truth and different aspects of people’s life. After a lecture you can ask personal questions or about practice of Buddhism as well. Once a year lama Ole Nidal visits Latvia and gives a public lecture where about 400—500 people come together.[10]

Drikung Kagju

The second community of Buddhists was created in the 90th is Drikung Kagju. At first the action of the centre took place in Riga, till in 2005 began to build a place in Baltezers, but in 2006 the building was officially opened. In connection with this place exists a legend that already in the 20th century of 20th year’s lamas of the Tibet foresaw that was build a Buddhist temple “between two white lakes”, but in which country—they didn’t know it. In this time Baltezers in Latvia haven’t begun to dry up and divide in two parts with earth width.[11] Near to the centre is built a treatment centre of Yoga and Tibetan Healing centre, there are also basics for building of stupa.

In the centre are officially registered more than 30 people, but lectures of teachers visit a big number of people. The age of community members begins from 25 years.[12] Officially registered members have rights to vote, take part in conferences, and decide who will be directors of the centre because Drikung Kagju centers have usually three leaders who provide the activity of community.[13]

All things which are in the centre have decorative and symbolic meaning. In the gompa the Drikung Kagju school. Near to the altar there are baskets with modern adopted texts and texts of Tibet Buddhists in the authentic language. All colors of the gompa matched with 5 elements. Four of them are traditional: an air, water, fire, earth and the last is a space.

Around the centre are hanged many flags—lung ta—‘wind horses’. They are hanged to bring happiness for people. They are hanged with right side against the sun. The sun should light up it. They symbolize inconstancy and demonstrate it at the same time, because they loose their appearance on the wing. On the flags are written mantras or wishes. It is considered that with a help of the wind it reaches the entire world.[14]

Together with practice of Buddhism Drikung Kagju is occupied with healing and teaching of yoga. The training takes place in the form of practical lessons and seminar. Healers of Tibet come regularly there who make diagnostic and corrections of patience and take part in teaching programs of the centre. Tibetan Healing and Yoga centre is the first educational establishment in European Union which have an authority to teach specialists of yoga in recognized level of state. Like teaching programs they offer also programs of yoga master and yoga physician.


Ganden is a Buddhism centre of Tibet Mahayana which aim is to explain teaching and methods how to integrate them in everyday’s life for each person who is interested in it. This centre works as part of the international organization Foundation for the Preservation of Mahayana Traditions (FPMT) which combines more than 130 centers in different countries. The aim of organization is to save and give over next generations a teaching of Mahayana Buddhism, to offer an educational system and provide social care of some kind.[15]

In year 2000 director of the centre Mahayana in Melbourne Uldis Balodis came from Australia for preparation of Dalai Lama’s visit. Besides he began to read lectures in Latvian Culture Academy and for all interested people in private. Step by step was created a group of interested people which 2003 have registered officially a centre.[16]

The kernel of the centre form those who work there from the very beginning but during some time joined also new people which look for their own religious identity. There are not much permanent members of the centre, but approximately there are 15—25 people.[17] An average age of members of the centre which respondents indicated is 25—30 years. When monks visited Latvia from Western Europe then they have admitted that an average age of sanghas members in Ganden centre is very young, for example in London it is 40—50 years. It is explained in the following way: in Western countries the idea of Buddhism has appeared very early.[18]

The director works with the stuff of the centre and coordination of member’s activity. In spite of this also works a council which makes decisions. On of the members centre is responsible for activity program. He contacts with teachers, organizes teaching to provide a work of the centre, makes also informative function with the aim to get acquainted people with activity of the centre.[19]

Rooms of the centre consists of kitchen, library and gompa where are thankas, different statues, throne on which are sitting teachers who came from India and Nepal. In the centre there is also a prayfull desk.

One of public activity which attracted attention society is Maitreyas project. Ganden is responsible for its organization. Already two years (2007 and 2009) took place an exhibition of relics. Like relics they are meant like pearls similar to crystals which are founded after cremation ashes of teachers. They are called ringsell and they confirm about high spiritual achievement of dead teachers. Buddhists believe that these pearls include live existence of teachers in physical form which gives the same bless like presence of teacher.[20]

The aim of project is to collect money for building of 152 meters high Buddha Maitreya in the city of India Kushinagar. It is meant like the biggest sculpture of Buddha in the world. It is planed to build in Kushinagar also a temple and monastery, meditation hall and exhibition hall, library and hotel. Local citizens and guests will have opportunity to learn how to meditate and get an education which will be tended to spiritual development of the person which will promote a potential of love and sympathy. Collected money as meant for children which comes from poor families: for their education and free treatment in foreign hospital.[21]

Community of Theravadas Buddhists

Latvian Buddhism community of Theravada connects and supports people who want to practice Theravada Buddhism, want to learn and practice meditation of Viapassana. The beginning of community is connected with wish of many people to learn meditation. At the first time in year 1997 members of the stuff have invited to Latvia to teach a teacher Ajahn Viradhammo of Latvian origin. From that time each year in Latvian’s districts and in Riga take place meditation seminars—retreats. Only in year 2005 the community was officially registered. About 15—25 people visit weekly meditations, but bigger number off people take part in retreats.[22] In community are engaged people of different ages—beginning from 18 years and the oldest age is approximately 75 years. The main management organ of community which makes all decisions is a board which consists of 8 people. To make a balance it consists of 4 men and 4 women.[23]

Community of Theravadas Buddhists doesn’t distinguish especially with its activities, although from 2007 1st September till 2008, 29th February with support of council bureau of North Ministries in Latvia has realized a project Social integration with the help of meditation. This innovative project was accomplished with cooperation of Latvian invalids and their friend union Apeiron and partnership organization—Wat Thai Norway and Thailandska Buddhistiska Foreningen i Sverige. Integration foundation of society financed a project.[24]

The aims of project: to integrate different social groups (people with and without movements damages representatives of different social groups and cultures); to learn meditations methods which helps to improve a quality of life, to less depression and prevent a stress; to use an innovative approach for promotion of social integration.[25]

There were 8 educational seminars which where connected with meditation practice and traditional realization and concentration exercises. The activity took place in different Latvian parts, in Riga as well, to help to understand for big number of Latvian population connected questions to promote sympathy and understanding.[26] The idea of project was based on supposition like individual who develops and cultivate such values like sensuality, sympathy and ability to make changes in the nearest surrounding, besides it makes changes in the society general. The aim of this project wasn’t make to believe participants in Buddhism or to become Buddhism, but to get acquainted with those described values which can help to create a democratic, socially responsible surrounding in Latvian society.[27]

In general 134 people took part within this project.

You can make the following conclusions by seeing the community of Buddhism:

1. All centres are interested in attracting of new members, therefore achieving a definite development period, communities of Buddhism began to involve in achievement of different projects and activities which can attract a bigger number of society to Buddhism and by offering to visit centres and take part in meditations as well.
2. The main aim of activities is knowledge of people about Buddhism religion, its using in practical life as well.
3. Together with educational function of people some of activities are addressed to improvement of person’s inner health condition.
4. Social activities are orientated to different auditory. They attract attention of different age groups and social rang.

More successfully in the social field works the centre of Karma Kagju which is occupied not only with the organization of public activities like Buddhism days which are orientated mostly to youth auditory, but also to translation of Ole Nidal books and edition as well. With informative activities is occupied also Ganden centre, which participates not only in realization of Maitreya project, but offers also to watch educational FPMT films about Buddhism for all interested people in the centre. Besides the centre of Drikung Kagju is occupied with commercial services—treatment and training of yoga specialists. Because of this reason has happened a split and as a result a Buddhist community of Drikung Kagju divided in two parts. From all mentioned communities the smallest activity has a Buddhist community of Theravada which is tended mostly to inner activity but not to external.

In general by judging the activities of the centre you can say that Buddhism operates successfully in the social field and attracts attention of society. Especially it is applied to the average generation of population, to teenagers as well who are open minded to new religious ideas.


  1. Interview Nr. 3 [13.12.2008. Meza street 11/13—1, Riga, Latvia. Man. Member of the group.] (Audio record. Archive of the author.)
  2. Interview Nr. 2 [13.12.2008. Meza street 11/13—1, Riga, Latvia. Man. Member of the group.] (Audio record. Archive of the author.)
  3. Military authority
  4. Interview Nr. 11 [04.04.2009. Meza street 11/13—1, Riga, Latvia. Woman. 1983. Member of the group.] (Audio record. Archive of the author.)
  5. cloth pictures with images of different gods
  6. Interview Nr. 3 [13.12.2008. Meza street 11/13—1, Riga, Latvia. Man. Member of the group.] (Audio record. Archive of the author.)
  7. Rone L. Budisma dienas Rīgā//Neatkarīgā Rīta Avīze.—2009.—13.okt.—15. lpp.
  8. Interview Nr. 3 [13.12.2008. Meza street 11/13—1, Riga, Latvia. Man. Member of the group.] (Audio record. Archive of the author.)
  9. Interview Nr. 11 [04.04.2009. Meza street 11/13—1, Riga, Latvia. Woman. 1983. Member of the group.] (Audio record. Archive of the author.)
  10. Interview Nr. 3 [13.12.2008. Meza street 11/13—1, Riga, Latvia. Man. Member of the group.] (Audio record. Archive of the author.)
  11. Interview Nr. 9 [04.04.2009. „Ainavas” , Baltezers, Riga district, Latvija. Man. 1978. Member of the group.] (Audio record. Archive of the author.)
  12. Interview Nr. 9 [04.04.2009. „Ainavas” , Baltezers, Rigadistrict, Latvija. Man. 1978. Member of group.] (Audio record. Archive of the author.)
  13. Interview Nr. 6 [03.04.2009. Marijas street 19, Riga, Latvia. Woman. 1961. Member of the group.] (Audio record. Archive of the author.)
  14. Interview Nr. 9 [04.04.2009. „Ainavas” , Baltezers, Riga district, Latvija. Man. 1978. Member of the group.] (Audio record. Archive of the author.)
  15. Official home page of Ganden: (31.01.09)
  16. Interview Nr. 4 [01.03.2009. Miera street 11—1, Riga, Latvia. Woman. 1964. Member of the group.] (Audio record. Archive of the author.)
  17. Interview Nr. 4 [01.03.2009. Miera street 11—1, Riga, Latvia. Woman. 1964. Member of the group.] (Audio record. Archive of the author.)
  18. Interview Nr. 5 [01.03.2009. Miera street 11—1, Riga, Latvia. Woman. 1977. Member of the group.] (Audio record. Archive of the author.)
  19. Interview Nr. 4 [01.03.2009. Miera street 11—1, Riga, Latvia. Woman. 1964. Member of the group.] (Audio record. Archive of the author.)
  20. Teivane V. Budas svētība Latvijai garīgo relikviju izstādē//Latvijas Avīze.—2007.—17. sept.—12. lpp
  21. Official home page of Maitreya project: (07.03.09)
  22. Interview Nr. 14 [27.02.20010. Gertrudes street 27, Riga, Latvia. Man. 1966. Member of the group.] (Audio record. Archive of the author.)
  23. Official home page of Community of Theravadas Buddhists: (12.02.2010)
  24. Interview Nr. 14 [27.02.20010. Gertrudes street 27, Riga, Latvia. Man. 1966. Member of the group.] (Audio record. Archive of the author.)
  25. Official home page of Community of Theravadas Buddhists: (12.02.2010)
  26. Interwiev Nr. 15 [27.02.2010. Sapieru street 1a-1, Riga. Man. 1974. Member of the group.] (Audio record. Archive of the author.)
  27. Interview Nr. 14 [27.02.20010. Gertrudes street 27, Riga, Latvia. Man. 1966. Member of the group.] (Audio record. Archive of the author.)

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