Monday, April 21, 2014

Buddhism in Europe, Siberia, and Asian Russia

Dhr. Seven and Amber Larson, Wisdom Quarterly
The European Vajrayana Buddhist Gold Temple (
Massive Lake Baikal, Siberia, Russia
The early history of Siberia is greatly influenced by the sophisticated nomadic civilizations of the Scythians (Pazyryk culture as far west as modern Ukraine) on the west of the Ural Mountains and Xiongnu (Noin-Ula) on the east of the Urals, both flourishing before the Christian [common] era. The steppes of Siberia saw a succession of nomadic people, including the Khitan people, Altaic people, and the Mongol Empire
The Buddha, Indo-Pakistan/Afghanistan, Gandhara
In the late Middle Ages, Tibetan Buddhism spread into the areas south of Lake Baikal. A milestone in the history of the region was the arrival of the Russians in the 16th and 17th centuries. This was contemporaneous and in many regards analogous to the European colonization of the Americas (and the formation of the USA). When Russia was an empire, Siberia was an agricultural province and served as a place of exile. More

Eurasian people, as in the Caucasus region, traveled north taking Central Asian Buddhism with them, most notably the Kalmyks.

They settled along the Caspian Sea in Kalmykia opposite formerly Buddhist Kazakhstan, the only indigenously Buddhist region in Europe.

This should come as no surprise when we understand that the Buddha, who had blue eyes, was born in the "Middle Country" (Majjhimadesa/Kamsabhoja). 

This refers to the land between East and West, in what is now historically Buddhist Afghanistan (i.e., Bamiyan, Mes Aynak, Tepe Narenj), once the northwest frontier of India (Jambudvipa). The Silk Road went right through making the area very rich but susceptible to invasions by various empires including the American military-industrial complex.

Map of Silk Road routes over land and sea, which allowed the Dharma travel across Asia
Buddhist Europe (S.U./
The "Longer Discourses of the Buddha" (Digha Nikaya 1.90-95) tells a story of the Buddha's people, the Shakyans, possibly Western history's Scythians. From an Indian point of view, they are "foreign." The Buddha describes them as extremely "proud." 

The Brahmin Ambattha (the youth Ambattha-mānava from Ukkatthā or the "Middle Country" of Uttarapatha, who later became a Buddhist) describes them as "fierce, rough spoken, violent, wanderers (referring to their itinerant or nomadic lifestyle, often incorrectly translated as "menials"). They do not respect Brahmins nor pay homage to them." 

Silk Road through Gandhara, Greek Bactria
In that area, the administrator-Brahmin caste (brahmanas) was subordinate to the warrior-nobles (kshatriyas). 
Upon visiting Kapilavastu, the Shakyan capital and the Buddha's hometown, Ambattha explains them as those who "sat upon high seats in meeting halls, engaging in laughing, rough playing, poking each other with fists and fingers and paid no regard to [Ambattha a Brahmin who felt he was deserving of their regard because of his caste status]."
In referring to the Buddha, the "Sage of the Scythians," Shakyamuni (DN 3.144), he is fair (golden hued) with blue eyes.

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