Lama Zopa Rinpoche with the Minister of Culture of Kalmykia, Hondor Badmaevich, Kalmykia, Russia, May 2017. Photo by Ven. Roger Kunsang.

From May 20 to 24, 2017, Lama Zopa Rinpoche taught in Elista, the capital of the Republic of Kalmykia, an autonomous region within Russia. Rinpoche taught on Atisha’s Lamp of the Path and gave two initiations. He also attended performances of traditional music and dance (see videos below).

Kalmykia is a Buddhist area whose people are descendants of migrants from Mongolia. Rinpoche was hosted there by Telo Rinpoche, the spiritual leader of the Kalmyk people, who organized Rinpoche’s visit and teachings. American-born tulku Telo Rinpoche has been active in the reestablishment of Buddhism in Kalmykia since being chosen as its head lama in 1992. He also serves as the honorary representative of His Holiness the Dalai Lama in Russia.

Lama Zopa Rinpoche with Telo Rinpoche in Kalmykia, Russia, May 2017. Photo by Ven. Roger Kunsang.

Lama Zopa Rinpoche was greeted with great warmth and respect as soon as he crossed the border into the small republic. A group of Kalmyks, including a geshe, ordained Sangha, and numerous people in local costume, had driven for several hours to welcome him to Kalmykia and offer him tea. Rinpoche also received a grand welcome when he arrived in the capital, Elista.

After lunch on the way to Elista, Rinpoche posed for photos with the family who offered lunch and others, Kalmykia, Russia, May 2017.

In Elista, Rinpoche stayed at the former home of the late Geshe Tenzin Dugda (Tib.’brug-sgra), who passed away in 2012. Geshe Dugda, born in Tibet in 1938, moved to Kalmykia in 1995 at His Holiness’s request, and played an important role in re-establishing Buddhism there.

Rinpoche gave teachings in a temple built in Elista in 2005 called the Golden Abode of the Buddha Shakyamuni, one of the largest Buddhist temples in Europe.

Lama Zopa Rinpoche and others approach the Golden Abode of Shakyamuni Buddha, the temple in Elista, Kalmykia, Russia, May 2017. Photo by Ven. Lobsang Sherab.

Rinpoche’s assistant, Ven. Roger Kunsang, reported that the visit to Kalmykia went very well, with more than a thousand people attending teachings and initiations, including the Kalmyk minister of culture. Kalmyk attendees were deeply grateful for Rinpoche’s visit and expressed enthusiastic devotion for him, as well as requesting him to return as soon as possible. Rinpoche mentioned that he would like to have a 100 million mani retreat take place regularly in Kalmykia.

Kalmyk dance offered to Lama Zopa Rinpoche, Elista, Kalmykia, Russia, May 2017. Photo by Ven. Lobsang Sherab.

Also while in Elista, Rinpoche enjoyed a beautiful cultural dance and song offering (see videos below). Afterwards, Rinpoche blessed all the dancers and musicians as well as all who were in the theater for the performance.

Lama Zopa Rinpoche visiting the older temple in Elista, where the monks live, Kalmykia, Russia, May 2017. Photo by Ven. Lobsang Sherab.

Kalmykia is in the southwest of the European part of Russia, north of Georgia and bordering the Caspian Sea. There are approximately 150-200,000 ethnic Kalmyks. Telo Rinpoche has been working there to restore Buddhism—suppressed for decades—since becoming head lama in 1992. There are now many Buddhist temples in Kalmykia, and numerous young Kalmyk men are being trained at Tibetan monasteries in India.

The Maitreya Project Heart Shrine Relic Tour visited Kalmykia in 2008. Read more about that visit, and the recent history of Buddhism in Kalmykia, here.

Lama Zopa Rinpoche at a press conference with all the media of Elista, Kalmykia, Russia, May 2017. Photo by Ven. Lobsang Sherab.

Watch four short YouTube videos of the Kalmyk cultural performances attended by Rinpoche here:

See more photos from Rinpoche’s visit to Kalmykia in this new FPMT photo gallery:

Read about Telo Rinpoche and the restoration of Buddhism in Kalmykia here:
and here:

Lama Zopa Rinpoche is the spiritual director of the Foundation for the Preservation of Mahayana Tradition (FPMT), a Tibetan Buddhist organization dedicated to the transmission of the Mahayana Buddhist tradition and values worldwide through teaching, meditation and community service.