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A Bit of Zen in Tashkent: The Structure of the Only Functioning Buddhist Temple in Central Asia

Buddhism in Uzbekistan is the fourth largest religious group by the number of followers in the country after Islam, Christianity and Judaism. It is practised by 0.2 per cent of the population. This is the only place in Central Asia with the functioning Buddhist temple.

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*This publication was prepared as a series of CABAR.asia articles dedicated to raising awareness on religious diversity in Central Asian countries. The authors do not seek to promote any religion.

One of the first Buddhist monuments inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List have been found in Uzbekistan. The country has about 20 monuments in total, the majority of which are located in Termez and the surrounding area.

Yang Ki Hoon. Photo: 24.kz

One of them is a group of temples Fayaz-tepa, a starting point in the history of the Buddhist temple in Uzbekistan. An Uzbek-Japanese expedition led by academician Edward Rtveladze has carried out excavations here. One of his students, a monk from South Korea Yang Ke Hoon, who held a PhD in history and also took part in excavations in Termez, has decided to stay in Uzbekistan and found the first temple in the country.

Moreover, according to Buddhist prophecies and beliefs, Buddha Maitreya is more likely to come to the territory of modern Uzbekistan.

According to Buddhist prophecies, Buddha Maitreya is the future great prophet who will reach complete enlightenment and will bring the new teaching to the people and who will be recognised by all Buddhist movements.
See also: Life of the Only Buddhist Community of Kyrgyzstan

Since 1991, the temple is called “Jaeunsa” (“Compassion”), of the largest in Korea Buddhist Jogye Order. It is located on the outskirts of Tashkent and is the only functioning Buddhist temple in Uzbekistan and throughout Central Asia.

The temple had been located within the city previously, but a few years ago it moved to the suburbs of Tashkent, to Dadakhodzhaev Street. The previous site was too small. Photo: hook.report/M.Shavkatov
A new plot was purchased by joint efforts, renovated, and the yard was arranged according to the Buddhism rules. The territory contains a small pond with lotuses and fish. Photo: hook.report/ M.Shavkatov
The temple contains a lot of book racks, a piano, and a prayer room with the statue of Buddha in the centre. Photo: hook.report/ M.Shavkatov

The temple doesn’t depend on the state. It was built at the expense of Yang Ki Hoon and now it functions at his expense and also the donations of the followers. The followers from South Korea, who work in Tashkent or have their businesses there, bring candles and incenses.

The main teaching practised here is Son Buddhism, or more known to the world as Zen Buddhism.

Zen is one of the largest and widely spread schools of Buddhism in East Asia. Its philosophy is based on the meditation, which can lead to enlightenment. During practices, Zen Buddhists concentrate their thoughts on what they do here and now.
According to assistant master of the temple, Aleksandr Hegai, they have 100-150 worshippers in total, mainly Koreans, both local and newcomers. The temple is open to any person interested in the culture and traditions of Buddhists:

Aleksandr Hegai. Photo: hook.report/M.Shavkatov

— People visit our temple because they look for inner peace and harmony, which we reach through meditation.

The findings in Surkhandarya and other regions raised interest to Buddhism. Monks from South Korea, Thailand, Myanmar, Japan have visited our temple. This is one of the reasons why our master has been in Uzbekistan for almost 30 years now.

In addition to the search for self and for harmony, people visit the temple for educational purposes – Buddhism is one of the most ancient global religions, but many people in our country still don’t know anything about it. That’s why local guides organise trips to the temple; sometimes history teachers do that to show and tell their students about this teaching.

Anyone can come here at any time and the master or I can tell about the religion, history of the temple, and the niceties of Buddhism.

See also: Kazakhstanis in Search of Nirvana: How Buddhism Came to Kazakhstan

Sunday services are held here every Sunday, and meal is usually served afterwards. There are also special holidays when up to hundred visitors come to the temple. In addition to the service, followers come here just to pray or meditate.

Unlike South Korea, where monks can live in monasteries, if they want, monks don’t live permanently in the temple. But the temple is always open to all people regardless of their sex, ethnic background or religion.

Photo: hook.report/M.Shavkatov

The scope of temple’s activities will be expanded in the long-term – the ritual centre, a large hall for prayers, office and a banquet hall for wedding and other ceremonies will be built. But at the moment the territory issue is pending.

Last year, Zangiata hokimiat wanted to seize a part of the plot intended for the temple to expand the road, namely the yard and all territory up to the prayer hall, 21 metres.

Unlike the rest of lawsuits regarding private property appropriation, it could end with disaster – in Buddhism every plot has its own sacred meaning and rules. Any disturbance deprives the temple of its value and significance.

Concerned about this issue, monk Yang Ki Hoon and the members of the temple have repeatedly applied to hokimiat and written letters to the president’s website in an attempt to solve this issue at a local level.

Last October, the map of the road was adjusted. But on December 27 it turned out that the administration again decided to build the road in the territory of the temple.

As a result of negotiations, both parties have reached a compromise. A plot equal to the seized one will be allocated to monks and the followers, where the new temple will be built. They hope it will be its last and final spot.

This publication was produced under IWPR project «Forging links and raising voices to combat radicalization in Central Asia»

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