Lama Zopa Rinpoche at the second day of his teachings in Moscow organized by Ganden Tendar Ling. Russia, May 2017, Photo by Renat Alyaudinov.

While Lama Zopa Rinpoche was in Kalmykia, Russia, in May 2017, a traditionally Buddhist area of Russia settled centuries ago by migrants from Mongolia, he stayed at the former home of Geshe Tenzin Dugda (Tib.’brug-sgra), a Tibetan geshe who lived in Kalmykia for many years. Lama Zopa Rinpoche had known Geshe Dugda in the 1960s. 

Geshe Tenzin Dugda in Kalmykia, 2011. Photo courtesy of

Geshe Dugda (1938-2012) was part of the first generation of Tibetan exiles who fled Tibet in 1959 to follow His Holiness the Dalai Lama into exile. He left Tibet at the age of 20, and later helped rebuild Drepung Gomang monastery in the southern Indian state of Karnataka. After years of dedicated work rebuilding the monastery as well as completing his studies, he received the geshe lharampa degree, the highest academic qualification in the Gelugpa tradition. In 1995, Geshe Dugda moved to Kalmykia on the advice of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, becoming the first geshe in the small republic. He spent 17 years helping to revive Buddhism in Kalmykia, including building temples and bestowing numerous teachings and initiations. He gained large numbers of Dharma students, not only from Kalmykia, but also from other regions of Russia. He continues to be revered in Kalmykia for his warmth and kindness as well as his contributions to the restoration of Buddhism. When Geshe Dugda died, he remained on his meditation seat for four days.

The house where Lama Zopa Rinpoche stayed in Elista, where Geshe Dugda lived. This is his altar. Elista, Kalmykia, Russia, May 2017. Photo by Ven. Lobsang Sherab.

Lama Zopa Rinpoche spoke about Geshe Dugda on May 30, 2017, during his teachings in Moscow, mentioning that Geshe Dugda had been present when Rinpoche and Lama Yeshe first met Zina Rachevsky in Ghoom, near Darjeeling, India. Here is what Rinpoche said:

There were two monasteries in Ghoom, one built by the Indian government, I don’t know the story, and the one where the monks who came from Tibet lived. One time my teacher, Lama Yeshe, was there in the room with my teacher, other teacher, who helped me in Tibet become a monk at Domo Geshe’s monastery and …  brought me to India.

Later on, one monk who lived in Kalmykia and taught, was leading vinaya practice, reviving sojong in the monastery, he taught Dharma for so many years in Kalmykia, he was there, he spoke English few words, he thought the lady was my friend, her name was Princess Zina Rachevsky… [Kopan] started from her. The monk Dugda opened the door a little bit, saying, “Oh, here is your friend”. She came with blond hair, wearing a Tibetan sweater sold at the Darjeeling bus station, simple sweater, blonde hair, she came inside. Actually she didn’t come for us, came for Domo Geshe who had passed away, because she read Lama Govinda book, three books, he went in Tibet and met Domo Geshe, told his story, so she came to look for Domo Geshe.

Zina Rachevsky, possibly 1967. (Photo used with permission of the estate of Zina Rachevsky.)

But Dugda, the monk, misunderstood, and thought she was my friend. Lama Yeshe put big mug, then big kettle, then offered full, she drank, that day she drank completely. Since from that time for many years I never saw her drink Tibetan [butter] tea … she came for one hour to discuss, I knew some English words and I tried to translate for Lama Yeshe. Then after one month she invited us to Darjeeling to her house … nine months we lived like that, then she went to Sri Lanka, from Buxa, we were supposed to go to Sri Lanka to start a Dharma center, but that time relation not good with India so we didn’t go. Then Lama said go to Nepal, then started like that Kopan Monastery, Lama built Kopan and I built Lawudo at the same time. From there we started one month course. … This is because we met the first student, Princess Zina Rachevsky … .

Started from Geshe Dugda who lived in Kalmykia, taught many students, he died two or three years ago, he would have been so happy to meet me in Kalmykia but he died before I came. I felt sorry about that.

The meditation seat of Geshe Tenzin Dugda where he sat in meditation after passing away in 2012. Elista, Kalmykia, Russia, May 2017. Photo by Ven. Lobsang Sherab.

Watch videos and find transcripts from Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s teaching in Russia:

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.