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Life of the Only Buddhist Community of Kyrgyzstan

3,257 religious organisations are registered in Kyrgyzstan, including only one Buddhist. It was hard to find it since Kyrgyzstan has no pagodas. However, there’s an unusual summer house in Gornaya Mayevka near Bishkek, which is called by Buddhists “The place of path”, run by a Buddhist monk.

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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.

The only registered Buddhist community in Kyrgyzstan is called “Chamsen”, which is translated from Korean as “liberation”. It exists since 1996, and the initiators of its creation were ethnic Koreans.

In Kyrgyzstan, Buddhism has two branches – Nipponzan Myohoji and Karma Kagyu. Chamsen is not a supporter of any single school and it’s open for all Buddhists wishing to join it. According to Oleg Tsoi, chairperson of the organisation, their community has nearly 100-120 members, mainly Koreans, Russians and Kyrgyz.

Photo: CABAR.asia

A Buddhist mini-pagoda, or usually called “The place of path”, is located 30 kilometres from Bishkek, in the village of Gornaya Mayevka. It functions since 2001 and is run by monk Aleksey Shmyglia, a follower of the traditions of Nipponzan Myohoji Buddhist order, which was brought to Kyrgyzstan by a famous monk Junsei Terasawa back in 1993.

Aleksey Shmyglia. Photo: CABAR.asia

— I was born and grew up in Kazakhstan, and I became a monk in 1996 in Moscow, where master Terasawa was at the moment. I was 21 years old then and I considered myself a Buddhist for 2 years by then. The age and experience are not mandatory in Buddhism. One can become a monk in a day, while others can spend ten years and fail. Everything depends on a person and their willingness to devote oneself to the ideas of Buddha. It was then when I started to visit Kyrgyzstan and then I stayed here.

Junsei Terasawa is a Japanese Buddhist monk. He is the head of the Nipponzan Myohoji Buddhist order in Ukraine, Russia and Central Asia. Consultant of the International Peace Bureau in Geneva (Switzerland), known for its peacemaking and anti-war activity.

There’s a stereotype that monks should reject everything; in fact, it’s not exactly so. We devote our life to the teachings of Buddha to keep and share knowledge; but it doesn’t mean we have to reject our relatives and stay away from them.

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

It’s been more than twenty years since I became a monk and I do communicate with my relatives. The monks dedicate the virtues of their activity to the good of others, first of all to their parents.

There Buddha relics are at the altar of “The place of path”. They are considered the most significant sacred thing in Buddhism. They were brought to Kyrgyzstan by Junsei Terasawa.

I am not married and not going to marry so far, but there can be married ones among monks. For example, if a married person becomes a  monk, he is allowed not to get divorced. Or sometimes it happens that a monk wants to get married. However, it’s a deviation from the primary principles of the Buddha’s teachings.

Our purpose is not to campaign for Buddhism or to attract followers. We try to contribute to the spiritual development of people.

We do it because fewer people nowadays are able to dedicate themselves fully to the spiritual practice. Although originally a married person who wants to become a monk should get divorced. Nowadays, some traditions, including ours, allow some exemptions. And it seems like the Orthodox Christianity: regular and secular clergy – unmarried and married monks.

Photo: CABAR.asia
At first, we rented the apartment for spiritual practices, and then we decided to acquire a fixed place. Our master Junsei Terasawa suggested settling down in Gornaya Mayevka because of the beautiful environment there. We spent donations to buy the summer house and we still live on donations of the Buddhists. This is not a pagoda; it’s just a place for spiritual practices, that’s why it’s called “The place for path”.Our purpose is not to campaign for Buddhism or to attract followers. We try to contribute to the spiritual development of people. Those who come to us are not necessarily the members of the order or deem to be such. We share our knowledge, practices, and experiences with anybody who wants to accept the same with no strings attached. For example, up to hundred people can visit our place from time to time during major holidays, and these can be absolutely different people and they can be other than Buddhists.
Photo: CABAR.asia

The place of path is open to everyone. When I wrote the article, there were three visitors there, three from Altai and one from Moldova. People usually learn about the monk in Kyrgyzstan and such a unique summer house that receives all those interested in Buddhism by word of mouth.

Matvei Sharov:

I am from Moldova and going to India by hitchhiking. This is how I’ve made it to Kyrgyzstan. I’ve learned about “The place of path” from my Ukraine-based acquaintance, who has also stayed here when he was hitchhiking to China. Here I take part in morning and evening practices. Since Buddha’s teachings are close to me, I like these practices; moreover, one shouldn’t necessarily be a Buddhist to take part in them. Also, participation doesn’t mean you stop being a Christian or a Muslim, and become a Buddhist.
Aleksei Maikov has been living for over a year in the Buddhist community in Gornaya Mayevka:

Aleksey Maikov. Photo from personal archives

— I was born in Altai in a secured family, where parents brought me up with love and warmth. However, due to my selfishness and temper, the situation has worsened.  My sister pointed me towards the way out of the situation and advised me to go to her acquaintances to Kyrgyzstan. Here I got to know Buddhism for the first time. Before that, I partially knew about the Christianity, yet I was not interested in it.

Many things have changed in my life since then. I started taking part in prayers, I learned how to be grateful for everything I have in my life, to be more attentive to people. I am learning to be modest and mild-tempered.

This helps me in my everyday life; I am learning to treat everything with love: my work, people, earth. Sometimes it can be hard and I become angry, but it’s never easy, it’s a test we should try to stand, wrestle with ourselves. And when one becomes mad at anyone, one should rather treat that person with empathy. If we respond evil with evil, we’ll maintain this chain instead of “breaking the chain”. These are simple truths of life, but I’ve had to meet the right people to understand them.

Tamga Tash are stones engraved with Buddhist mantras dated back to the 8-9th centuries. They are located in the southern shore of Issyk Kul, 2 km away from the village of Tamga. The rocks are honoured by the Buddhists throughout the world as holy rocks. Photo from the personal archives of A.Manulik
There are also the remains of few pagodas in Chui valley in Kyrgyzstan dated back to the 7-9th centuries AD and the image of Buddha in Issyk Ata. 

Schools of Buddhism

There are lots of schools of Buddhism in the world. Their variety, according to monk Aleksei Shmyglia, can be explained by the fact that preachers have focused on different aspects of teaching in different times and in different places. They have described it in a form understandable to the audience and tried to adapt it to the fundamentals of the national religion and beliefs of adherers, while maintaining the essence of the teaching.

Aleksandr Manulik. Photo from personal archives

Karma Kagyu is one of the four main schools of Tibetan Buddhism, which is mainly devoted to the practice, i.e. meditation. This school has over 700 meditation centres in almost fifty countries beyond Tibet – in South-East Asia, Europe, North and South Americas, as well as in Australia and New Zealand, including almost 100 in Russia and one in Bishkek, represented by Aleksandr Manulik:

— Buddhism is like a pharmacy. If we have some kind of pain, we won’t buy all the drugs, we buy only one drug, which we need at the moment. Otherwise, it won’t do us any good, or can even kill. The same is true for Buddhism – everyone takes whatever he needs from it. That’s why it has so many schools. We co-exist peacefully and we don’t mind it.

I first met Ole Nydahl at the meditation course in Krasnodar in 2008. And then I started practising the Karma Kagyu tradition in Bishkek. Later on, my friends interested in Buddhist meditation practices joined me. We started practising regularly and thus we organised the meditation centre.

Ole Nydahl is the first European who was officially recognised as Lama and meditation teacher in the Buddhist tradition of Karma Kagyu. He has founded over six hundred Buddhist centres all over the world. Since early 1970s, Ole Nydahl has travelled, given lectures, held courses and founded Buddhist centres. 

We are open to everyone who looks for us. Since Buddhism means no marketing, we don’t self-advertise. Five to ten persons attend our practices now. Also, we have many sympathisers who rarely visit us, but associate themselves with our tradition.

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

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