Social Structure Of Buddhism Groups In Latvia by Marika Laudere

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Marika Laudere
Daugavpils
Latvia
e-mail: marika.laudere@inbox.lv

Master of Arts Degree in History, the subbranch of the History of Culture. Member of The Latvian Association for the Study of Religions.



SOCIAL STRUCTURE OF BUDDHISM GROUPS IN LATVIA



Since independence of Latvia at the end of 80th and at the beginning of 90th in the religious and cultural space appears Buddhism which ideas gain an acknowledgement among many people therefore the first informal groups of Buddhism are created. At the moment 6 official registered communities of Buddhism are acting in Latvia: dzogchen community “Padmalinga”; Drikung Kagju community which consists of two groups: Drikung Jamze Ling Dharmachakra centre in Baltezers and Riga Drikung Ngaden Choling, Karma Kagju centre, Community of Theravada Buddhism, Ganden and Riga Zen centre. Thanks to its activity Buddhism becomes more known in the religious and cultural space of Latvia and its ideas experience a certain flourishing among society. The aim of this research is to open social structure of Buddhism communities by analyzing the inner activity of Buddhism communities. The main research material consists of 33 interviews which are collected during field research from year 2008 till year 2011.

1. The characteristic of members of community

1.1. The number of members

All groups of Buddhism have a characteristic tendency that communities were formed by a small number of members at the beginning of its activity that has reached an average of 30-35 people by increasing step by step. During field research was noticed that the biggest number of people is registered in all groups than it is noticed on weekly practices which the members of communities accomplish collectively.

One of the first members of “Padmalinga” group recollects that approximately twenty active members have acted in the community in the beginning, later its number has increased: “Somebody comes up to but actually there are not such proportions because a Buddhism is not a missionary and therefore a teacher does not come because he wants to give a teaching there to have students by his side. If he is invited and if he can he comes.”[1] More than 70 people are taken on officially in the centre at the moment but meditations and practises are visited by a little number of people. [2]

Those people who helped to prepare a visit of Dalai Lama to Latvia in year 2000 have became the first members of meditation centre Ganden. At the moment the kern of the centre create those who acted in it already since its creation but during time also new members have joined it. The respondents explained that the centre is visited by 5 till 15 interested people. The intensity of interest defines the intensity of teaching – when special seminars are arranged then the centre is visited by more interested people.[3] When there are not teachers in the centre then number of interested people becomes less. [4]

The head of Ganden centre mentioned that the number of members group depends on many factors, for example, many are not able to visit often a center because of health problems, another – because of family’s conditions or because of another reasons, however these people don’t loose relationships with community: “There are very rarely those who have said that never and no way will come, in such a way their connection is saved, but if there is an activity or necessary resources then all come back again”[5]. As an approximate number of members the head of Ganden centre has mentioned the following numbers: “We have to apply a statistics to Ministry of Justice, we have indicated 20, in my opinion. When it is a general number then twenty persons come approximately to the teaching but I can say in general 30-40 persons who are added to the list as obligatory”.[6]

One of respondents of Riga Karma Kagju centre explained that a very little group of people practiced Buddhism in the community at the very beginning: “At first 5 persons, somebody more, somebody less, somebody came periodically, then went away then appeared again. ‘There were such people who stayed all the time constantly. There was less form in the very beginning, later there was more”.[7] The number of members is doubled now and the centre is visited regularly by 20-30 persons approximately. However the lectures of teachers visit sometimes till hundred of interested people.[8]

There is the same situation also in Drikung Kagju community regarding number of group members. In general more than 30 people are registered in the communities of Drikung Kagju.[9]

The community of Theravada Buddhism has less people regarding number of members. One of administration members has mentioned that new people always take part in Monday’s meditations who come to make acquaintance with Theravada Buddhism and to try to practice it.[10] However the biggest number of people participates in seminars of meditation or retreats, approximately 30-40 persons. The shortest three days retreats gain the biggest interest where the biggest number of people takes part because they are usually organized on weekend when people have a possibility to forget their usual everyday life to devote themselves to meditations and to practice more freely.

Riga Zen centre acts less regarding number of members from all groups of Buddhism. It consists of 6 persons: “We are 6 active but there are people who come from time to time. It is a small group”. Such not a big number of members is connected with creation history of community and small activity.[11]

1.2. The age of group members

The communities of Buddhism centres are also similar regarding the age of members of the groups. Mostly people of middle age-about 30-40 years act in these communities, although there are elder members and younger members. The age of people in each community depends on offered way of Buddhism and beginning year of activity of community, for example as community “Padmalinga” has acted since year 1990 the average age of members reaches already 40-45 years now. Riga Zen centre is the newest regarding the age where the average age of members is about 30 years.[12]

When the activity of Riga Karma Kagju centre has began the new sangha was created where the average age of members of the groups is 30-40 years. The members of the groups affirm that the centre are visited by people who are over 50 years[13] who have great-grandsons and the children of existed members of community come to the centre and take part sometimes in meditations: “The generation of children of Buddhists grows up already and they come to the lectures also sometimes or to help, it is like second generation”[14]

The children participate sometimes in meditations also in Drikung Kagju community as one of members of this community has affirmed because the parents who practice Buddhism take children with.[15] In general the average age of this group of Buddhists reaches 35-40 years: “The average age could be approximately 35-40. There are younger and also elder members. The are also pupils and people of pension age”[16]

The average age of members of Ganden centre, as respondents have indicated, is 30-35 years: “Over 30, maybe, there are quite elder people over 30 years and a little bit more than 30 years but the average age is approximately 35 years. Sometimes people over 60 age visits the teachings”.[17] However in spite of this during the field research there was fixed that the centre is visited also by people of old age but it happens mostly when monks or teachers come from abroad.

The creator of the centre Uldis Balodis has explained the attitude of Ganden centre against different age stages in the following way: “This depends on our fate. If in Latvia, for example, there would not be a centre of Buddhism, it would be more difficult to find a teacher, but a certain age stage do not exist.”[18] The openness of the group of all ages of people confirms also one of members from community: “The age stages do not exist, I say it myself, because when I started to practice Buddhism I was not 18. There is not such age stage, only this that such young people who are less than 18 years very rarely come to our centre. All visitors are over 18.”[19]

The age limitation exists in the community of Theravada Buddhism in difference with other communities. The community does not take persons who are younger 18 years. As one of members of the group has explained they depend on their parents thus problems of different ways can appear. In general the community is visited by people from 18 years but as a respondent has mentioned an elder person is approximately 75 years.

1.3. The ethic structure

Analyzing communities of Buddhism regarding ethic structure we should make conclusions that the community Padmalinga consists mostly of Russian language speaking people: “There are more Russian people in the community, Latvian people not so much. When it started exactly this moment was close to Russian people. Latvian speaking people there were very few.” [20]

At the very beginning Riga Karma Kagju sangha was mostly also a community who speaks Russian language. It is connected in such a way that the Buddhism of Karma Kagju has come to Latvia from Russia and the centre supports close relationships with the Karma Kagju community of Moscow: “Maybe that is so because it has come in the beginning through transfer from our Russian friends. How do we communicate – of course, Russian. I have also simple friends connections from Moscow. It has started simply through Russian people. Lama says – you should do more to attract people because the Buddhism does not have a nationality.”[21] The situation has changed now because the centre is visited by many Latvian people.

As observation and gained interviews show during field research the correlation of Russian language speaking people is characteristic also for Drikung Kagju community but there are more Latvian language speaking people in Buddhism community of Ganden and Theravada.

1.4. The organizatoric structure of groups

The structure of management and separation of duties between members of community are needed to act completely and organize its activity. In this connection each community organizes its own activity in differnt ways. However each group follows to the principle which is rooted in concrete schools of buddhism, traditions or line communities in the world.

The activity of „Padmalinga” community organizes a chosen group of fellows from members of community - ganchi. It consists of sectors of three colors which symbolize three functions which are connected with each other. When these functions cooperate together the fulfillment of tasks of all communities is provided. The blue sector symbolizes a mind of the person or knowledge. It coordinates teachings and courses, leads collective practices, supports contacts with another communities and instructors and takes care of literature and digital records. The red sector symbolizes energy of the person and it means a movement. Its duties are to provide a technical provision of activities, to carry out improvement work, to provide hire of the rooms, to organize an electronic mailing of information within the community and to support international contacts as well. The yellow sector who symbolizes a body of the person takes care of material well-being. It fulfils an account of fellows and provides an account of fellow’s money and shopping, make financial reports. The responsible persons are elected usually for one year.[22]

The centre of Riga Karma Kagju has own head but in spite of this as respondents mention the democratic structure exists. The head is most probably a nominal person who is mentioned usually in the documents. The head of the centre has taken the biggest responsibility already since creation of Riga Karma Kagju centre. He has organized and taken responsibility for the provision of the placing where is situated now the centre and all payments were registered on his name. In spite of this, as members of the centre explain themselves the centre is ruled by militocracy.[23] They interpret this term in the following way: this is a principle when, that, that who makes more and decides also, for example, when any question is decided the different opinions are taken into consideration but the final decision is made by those who make more and have a certain experience in work.[24]

The director of the centre rules the Ganden centre who has a main function to provide a activity work of the centre: she makes payments for public utilities, makes reports for state establishments about activity of the centre, coordinates an activity of another members of the centre.[25] A person who is more favorable karmic, brings more use, becomes a director and it is not connected with any abilities of the person. The head of Foundation for Preservation of Mahayana Tradition chooses a director of the centre exactly by this aspect whom is sended a list of candidates to where he chooses one of them and confirms it. In connection with this that the previous director of the centre has gone to Nepal the new director was elected in the centre in year 2010.

The council acts also besides the director which makes decisions as a director. One of the important vacancies of the centre is a coordinator of the programme who is responsible for the programme of activity.[26] He makes contacts with teachers, organizes teachings to provide turnover. The informative function can mention as one of the functions of coordinator. He will try to acquaint more people with the activity of the centre. One of members of the centre fulfils some organizatoric activities.

The council coordinates the activity in the community of Theravada Buddhism which is elected by members of the community. The council consists of 8 people who make decisions about organization of activities, financial means and other questions which touch the activity of the community. The council elects traditionally 4 men and 4 women for observing the equality of sexes. The collective meetings of people who practice Buddhism are arranged and each who practices Buddhism in the centre has rights to ask to be heard.[27]

Those who are officially registered in the centre have rights to vote, to take part in meetings, decide of the vacancy of the director in the community of Drikung Kagju because the centers of Drikung Kagju have usually odd heads who provide the activity of the community.[28]

1.5. Financial means

All groups of Buddhists in Latvia exist mostly from charities which are collected during different activities or teachings. Some teachings or activities have a certain entrance fee. In spite of this the money of membership is collected also in the community and its community has detected a volume and a principle what and in which way it is paid. The one of membership is 15 LVL[29] in the centre of Karma Kagju. In difference with the centre of Riga Zen centre where each member has to pay obligatory 10 LVL every month a membership of Karma Kagju is not an compulsory requirement” “There is a membership fee, 15 LVL for one month but they are paid, in my opinion, by 15 people, not so much.”[30] The membership fee is necessary not only for payment of public utilities; it is used to cover a credit for provision of the placing of the centre and a repair as well.

Financial expenditures of “Padmalinga” community are covered mostly from money of members and charities. The differentiation of member’s money exists in the group and it defines a belonging level of the member of the group which foresees the financial reliefs for participating in seminars and camps, or subscription of the newspaper of the community “Mirror”[31], for watching payable broadcasting in the internet. There are 5 money levels: facilitated – when a person doesn’t have many incomes; standard, which consists of 60 euro in year; supportive and then there is honorary those who are higher. Each person chooses one of the levels what he is able to and then he pays by this principle, what he is able to give. In case if a person is out of financial means but he has a wish to come and to practice a teaching then it is not asked a member’s fee: “People pay nothing who don’t have money. Those who have money-they can pay. All depends on understanding of each person. If there is money-you can pay. If not-nobody insists on.”[32]

The member’s fee existed at the beginning of activity of Ganden centre what the creator of the centre Uldis Balodis tried to introduce however it was cancelled with the time and the centre acts now mostly from charities.[33]

The member’s fee of Drikung Kagju consists of minimal sum: “The member’s fee exists but it is very minimal: it is one lat and who wants more he gives more in month. This is simple a collection for room rent.”[34] The another respondent added that in connection with crisis situation in Latvia such member’s fee is not obligatory: “Depending on situation of this moment-how each has an ability because the desired there is, this is minimal, but then charities and all how to overcome a situation because there are people who are out of work. What of member’s fee can be in this situation because a person has very big problems.” [35]

2. Social contacts

2.1. The cooperation with the groups of Latvian Buddhists

In spite of this that communities represent the same religion and differs only directions, there is not a close cooperation between groups of Latvian Buddhists however friendly relationships are supported. Sometimes when any group organizes some big public activities then the help is asked form another communities. The biggest cooperation is between Buddhism community Ganden and Drikung Kagju and between Ganden and Theravada as well. Sometimes general practises are arranged. Those Buddhism groups like Dozgchen, Dzen and Karma Kagju don’t involve into organization of common activities.

2.2. The cooperation with foreign groups of Buddhists.

Latvian centres of Buddhism cooperate mostly with centers of Buddhism which are connected with their Buddhism school, tradition or line. The financial help and an opportunity also to go to study and to practice Buddhism in another centres or temples can appear in cooperation with abroad.

Members of Karma Kagju can visit the centre of Riga also from another countries and trips of experience exchange are organized as well when some members of the group go for a long time to visit a community of Karma Kagju of another country. The members of Karma Kagju centre from Riga have an opportunity to visit also offered courses or lectures of another centres.[36]

There is a possibility to go abroad not only to make recollections but to be involved also into voluntary work. The members of Ganden centre go mostly to FPMT centre of London. In this time the participant of voluntary programme live in the centre and is engaged in household things. The stay in the centre is for free, it is paid also a pocket-money.[37]

Each member of Ganden centre has an ability to go to study to any temple of India or Nepal. The trips to India and Nepal are practiced also in the communities of Drikung Kagju. The opportunity to go to study abroad offers also a group of Drikung Kagju. The cooperation with abroad has also the centre of Riga Dzen like another communities. There is an opportunity to visit the temples of Kwan Um dzen Buddhism in Korea to make a long practice. The members of the centre go to make retreats also to the centres of Poland, Lithuania and Hungary. [38]

Thanks to cooperation with foreign centres in Latvia there is a possibility to receive teachers abroad and arrange their lectures because not all members of groups have an ability to go to any foreign centres and get there a religious experience, for example the instructors come every year to Dzogchen community Padmalinga to read seminars, Yantra yoga, the dance of Vajra dance and give a teaching as well. These are lectures of travelling teachers in the community of Karma Kagju what are planned every year. Such lectures happen usually once a month or after month and half. The main aim of travelling teachers is to give information about Buddhism. There are lectures usually in the summer but sometimes in the day. They are organized in the centre, also in the rented rooms to acquaint a brighter circle of interested people with Buddhism. The travelling teacher comes sometimes with a certain theme of lecture but he may ask what of theme could be interesting and chooses then a theme. The questions can be asked after the lecture – personal also and questions about practice of Buddhism as well. The same teachings take place also in the rest of rooms of the communities.

***

By researching the social structure of Buddhism groups can make the following conclusion:

1. The given dates in the field research confirm that the registered number of members of community is bigger than the number of regular visitors of group activities.
2. The average age of people (about 30-40 years) act mostly in the communities of Buddhists in Latvia although there are young people and elder people in the groups.
3. Each community of Buddhists in Latvia organizes its activity in different ways. Besides each group follows to the principle which is established in concrete schools of Buddhism, in the communities of traditions or lines in the world.
4. Financial means of Buddhists communities in Latvia create mostly charities which are collected during different activities and teaching courses. There is an entrance fee for some teaching courses and activities. The member’s fee in the communities as well which volume and principle defines the group itself whom and in which way should be paid it.
5. In spite of this that Latvian Buddhists group represents one religious system, between them don’t exist a close cooperation although friendly relationships are supported.
6. The communities of Latvian Buddhists cooperate mostly with foreign Buddhists centres which provide a connection with concrete Buddhism school, tradition or line. In cooperation with abroad appears a help in financial way and a possibility to go to study and practice a Buddhism in any foreign centres or temples.

Footnotes

  1. Interview Nr. 18 [29.05.2010. Dubrovina park, Daugavpils, Latvia. Man. 1956. Member of the group.] (Audio record. Archive of the author.)
  2. Interview Nr. 32 [29.01.2011, Skarnu street 22, Riga, Latvia. Man. 1964. Member of the group.] (Audio record. Archive of the author.)
  3. Interview Nr. 4 [01.03.2009. Miera street 11—1, Riga, Latvia. Woman. 1964. Member of the group.] (Audio record. Archive of the author.)
  4. Interwiev Nr. 23 [01.07.2010. Miera street 11 – 1, Riga, Latvia. Man. 1985. Member of the group.] (Audio record. Archive of the author.)
  5. Interview Nr. 24 [02.07.2010. Miera street 11 – 1, Riga, Latvia. Woman. 1961. Member of the group.] (Audio record. Archive of the author.)
  6. Interview Nr. 24 [02.07.2010. Miera street 11 – 1, Riga, Latvia. Woman. 1961. Member of the group.] (Audio record. Archive of the author.)
  7. Interview Nr. 19 [01.07.2010. Meza street 11/13 – 1, Riga, Latvia. Man. 1978. Member of the group.] (Audio record. Archive of the author.)
  8. Interview Nr. 2 [13.12.2008. Meza street 11/13—1, Riga, Latvia. Man.. Member of the group.] (Audio record. Archive of the author.)
  9. Interview Nr. 28 [13.09.2010. Kr. Valdemara street 5, Riga, Latvia. Woman. 1980. Member of the group.] (Audio record. Archive of the author.)
  10. Interview Nr. 16 [03.04.2010. Marijas street 19, Riga, Latvia. Man. 1974. Member of the group.] (Audio record. Archive of the author.)
  11. Interview Nr. 27 [28.01.2011. Ģertrudes street 5, Riga. Latvia. Woman. Man. 1989. Member of the group.] (Audio record. Archive of the author.)
  12. Interview Nr. 30 [29.01.2011. Ģertrudes street 5 , Riga. Latvia. Woman. 1977. Member of the group.] (Audio record. Archive of the author.)
  13. Interview Nr. 2 [13.12.2008. Meza street 11/13 – 1, Riga. Latvia. Man. Member of the group.] (Audio record. Archive of the author.)
  14. 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.)
  15. Interview Nr. 29 [13.09.2010. Kr. Valdemara street 5, Riga. Latvia. Man. 1979. Member of the group.] (Audio record. Archive of the author.)
  16. Interview Nr. 26 [12.09.2010. Matisa street 68b , Riga. Latvia. Woman. 1959. Member of the group.] (Audio record. Archive of the author.)
  17. Interview Nr. 23 [01.07.2010. Miera street 11 – 1, Riga. Latvia. Man. 1985. Member of the group.] (Audio record. Archive of the author.)
  18. Balodis U. Viņš atveda Dalai Lamu uz Latviju//Vakara Avīze Vakar Ziņas. – 2002. – Sept. 17th. – p. 10 – 11.
  19. Interview Nr. 23 [01.07.2010. Miera street 11 – 1, Riga. Latvia. Man. 1985. Member of the group.] (Audio record. Archive of the author.)
  20. Interview Nr. 32 [29.01.2011, Skarnu street 22, Riga, Latvia. Man. 1964. Member of the group.] (Audio record. Archive of the author.)
  21. Interview Nr. 20 [01.07.2010. Meza street 11/13 – 1, Riga. Latvia. Woman. Member of the group.] (Audio record. Archive of the author.)
  22. Official home page of Dzogchen community „Padmalinga”: www.dzogchen.lv (14.05.2011)
  23. Military force (http://www.slovarnik.ru/html_tsot/m/militokrati8.html)
  24. 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.)
  25. Interview Nr. 24 [02.07.2010. Miera street 11 – 1, Riga. Latvia. Woman. 1961. Member of the group.] (Audio record. Archive of the author.)
  26. Interview Nr. 4 [01.03.2009. Miera street 11—1, Riga, Latvia. Woman. 1964. Member of the group.] (Audio record. Archive of the author.)
  27. Interview Nr. 13 [27.02.2010. Ģertrudes street 27, Riga. Latvia. Man. 1966. Member of the group.] (Audio record. Archive of the author.)
  28. Interview Nr. 6 [03.04.2009. Marijas street 19, Riga, Latvia. Woman. 1961. Member of the group.] (Audio record. Archive of the author.)
  29. 1 LVL is about 1,43 Euro
  30. Interview Nr. 19 [01.07.2010. Meza street 11/13 – 1, Rīga,, Man. 1978. Member of the group.] (Audio record. Archive of the author.)
  31. Interview Nr. 17 [04.04.2010. Gertrudes 5, Riga. Latvia. Woman. 1960. Member of the group.] (Audio record. Archive of the author.)
  32. Interview Nr. 32 [29.01.2011, Skarnu street 22, Riga, Latvia. Man. 1964. Member of the group.] (Audio record. Archive of the author.)
  33. Interview Nr. 23 [01.07.2010. Miera street 11 – 1, Riga. Latvia. Man. 1985. Member of the group.] (Audio record. Archive of the author.)
  34. Interview Nr. 28 [13.09.2010. Kr. Valdemara 5, Riga. Latvia. Woman. 1980. Member of the group.] (Audio record. Archive of the author.)
  35. Interview Nr. 26 [12.09.2010. Matisa street 68b , Riga. Latvia. Woman. 1959. Member of the group.] (Audio record. Archive of the author.)
  36. Interview Nr. 3 [13.12.2008. Meza street 11/13—1, Riga, Latvia. Man. Member of the group.] (Audio record. Archive of the author.)
  37. Interview Nr. 5 [01.03.2009. Miera streetiela 11 – 1, Riga, Latvia. Woman. 1977. Member of the group.] (Audio record. Archive of the author.)
  38. Interview Nr. 30 [29.01.2011. Gertrudes street 5 , Riga. Latvia. Woman. 1977. Member of the group.] (Audio record. Archive of the author.)