Nicholas Roerich Estate Museum in Izvara
Nicholas Roerich
Estate Museum
in Izvara


Buddhism in Tibet

The waves of human intelligence, human faith and religion, are a true ocean of enlightenment, as you mark their ebb and flow. It is not discouraging to see recessions of the human spirit because at the same time in another part of the world you may see the spirit ascending still higher and attaining new summits of knowledge. Hence if something shows retrogression somewhere, we know that at the same time elsewhere the same substance has conquered new spaces. This is the true spiral of evolution.

During the last four-and-a-half years we visited an entire chain of Buddhist countries: we admired India with its sacred sites, which commemorate the personal travels of the Blessed Buddha, where the loftiest thoughts and the most inspired art creations have been spread. We visited Ceylon. We heard the many beautiful reminiscences of Java and Bali. We sensed how many new discoveries could still be made in these memorable sites. If Anuradhapura is but slightly explored, then Sarnath—so central a site—is still concealing numerous relics under its untouched hill. And the scenes of the birth and departure of Buddha are still unexplored, in the jungles where the mighty roots carefully envelop the treasures.

We have seen Sikhim, land of heroes, land of the most beautiful snows, where so many aspiring spirits have been exalted, where so many caves and rocks are enveloped in sacred memories.

We passed Kashmir where the soil conceals numerous monuments of the labors of Ashoka’s followers. We rejoiced in Ladak with its remarkable legends, with its sacred pride at being the patrimony of Geser Khan, so often identified with the Ruler of Shambhala. We studied the magnificent images of Maitreya which bestow upon Ladak their benediction for a happy future. In Khotan, the sands cover the remains of Buddhism and yet, in this place, is the great ancient Suburgan, the hope of all Buddhists; because on this spot the Age of Maitreya shall be acclaimed by a mysterious light over the ancient Stupa.

When we approached Yarkent and Kashgar it seemed that we had traveled far from the path of Buddhism. But it is just in Kashgar that you can see the old Stupa, which is comparable in grandeur to that built by Ashoka in Sar-nath. And in the same district, surrounded by the Mosques and Moslem cemeteries, you can see the entrances of the Buddhist caves, unapproachable as eyries. We enjoyed visiting the remarkable cave-monasteries in the Kuchar district, the former capital of the Tokhars. Although all the relics are removed and scattered, the charm of these constructions remain, and one feels that in the subterranean caves are hidden many more relics covered by the care of time. Karashahr, the Black City, capital of the Kalmuks, where the chalice of Buddha was preserved after it left Peshawar, has many evidences of Buddhism. Although it is Lamaism — not pure Buddhism — you can feel the traces of religion. The Kalmuks dream to find once again the chalice of the Blessed One. One may hear the same faith expressed in their nomad monasteries, made up of movable yurtas, in the foothills of the “Celestial Mountains,” T’ien Shan. The Altai Mountains have identified themselves with the name of Buddha. It is said that the Blessed One, after visiting Khotan, visited the great Altai, where stands sacred Belukha. In Oirot, where the nomadic Oirots await the Coming of Buddha, the White Burkhan, they know that the Blessed Oirot is already traveling throughout the world, announcing the great Advent.

Buryatia and both Mongolias offer the most remarkable material for study. We verified the legends about the Ruler of Shambhala having visited in Erdeni-dzu on the Orkhon, and the Narabanchi monastery. Everywhere, these legends about the visitations of the past and the coming Advent, have the utmost significance for the population. In Ulan Bator Khoto they plan to erect a Dukhang, dedicated to Shambhala, where an image of the Ruler of Shambhala is to be placed. The Province of Kansu, with its cave temples, suggestive of Tun Huang, recalls the flourishing days of Buddhism. Some unexpected images and inscriptions are to be found on the rocks in the environs of Nanshan. Although Tsaidam has not many Buddhist monuments, yet the lamas of Tsaidam, under the influence of the great Kumbum monastery, are learned, and revere the name of Tsong kha pa. In Bhutan, as we have heard, Buddhism — or rather Lama-ism — is in the hands of a few learned lamas. The high standing of the scholars of Buddhism in Burma, China and especially Japan, is well known.

Details of the conditions of Buddhism in the above-mentioned countries may be outlined separately as the material is vast. For the moment it is most important to outline the conditions of Buddhism in Tibet because Tibet has been regarded by many as a citadel of living Buddhism. And many Europeans dream of finding in modern Tibet, possibilities for unearthing the true teaching of Buddha. We entered Tibet with the best hopes and the highest expectations.

In the year 1923, as is known, the Tashi Lama was compelled to depart from Tibet. The reasons for this unprecedented departure are unclear. One hears of misunderstandings between him and his fellow-ruler, the Dalai Lama. One hears that the Tashi Lama was arraigned by Lhassa, for his attentions to the West. One hears that Shigatse and Tashi lhunpo, by order of Lhassa, were oppressed by heavy taxes. One hears that in the old prophecies, this unusual departure of the Tashi Lama was prophesied. And before his departure the Tashi Lama ordered frescoes to be painted in his personal apartment, in symbolical subjects, revealing the entire itinerary of his approaching departure. This unprecedented exodus suggests much which one can only surmise. In any case the spiritual leader of Tibet could not longer endure the reality of the present situation of his country. With three hundred riders the revered Tashi Lama escaped through wild and impenetrable Chantang, pursued by several military detachments. Quite a host of cultured abbots and lamas of the monasteries followed the exalted refugee. The details of the flight of these worthy ones do not lack in heroism. The once celebrated Tashi Ihunpo, monastery residence of the Tashi Lama, has now become deserted beyond recognition. And, bereft of its spiritual leader, Tibet became a prey to the intrigues of the retrograding lamaistic parties. By his departure the Tashi Lama revealed a strong spirit and deep penetration into the current moment of Tibet. In different parts of Tibet the people tremulously ask, “Will the Tashi Lama return?” It is difficult for them to be without their spiritual leader, whose name is veiled with sincere reverence.

During our stay in Tibet, crossing several of the provinces of this country from the extreme north to the south, we met people of various ranks, beginning with the high officials, favorites of the Dalai Lama, and ending with the dark savage nomads. I will not give my personal conclusions here. I will only repeat the outspoken statements of the Tibetans or mention what I have seen personally. The reader may draw from it his personal conclusions about the state of religion in Tibet.

Tibet has been wrapped in the reputation of being a country of high religious covenants, a country where everything is based on religious foundation. Let us examine if Buddhism actually exists within Tibet or whether we find rather complex conceptions there instead. In Tibet there are devout followers of the true spiritual San-gha established by the Blessed Buddha. As in its former days Tibet still is the scene of serious research into the literature and the knowledge of natural forces.

We are receptive to lofty legends and fairy tales, but life is life, and we must take it in its full reality, recognizing the high and the base. If we find that the superstitious people are being terrorized with crude manifestations, we must expose this, because a high teaching has nothing to do with terrorization and superstition. From what the Tibetans themselves reveal, you understand that the high teachings of Buddha, of his enlightened followers, of Mahatmas, take place in general outside the walls of Lhassa.

Let us observe several pictures from contemporary Tibetan reality among the low-class lamas. I shall be the photographer and you shall be judge:

Here are some lamas, who on their sacred rosaries, calculate their commercial accounts, completely concerned with the thoughts of profit. Did Buddha ordain such usage of sacred objects? This custom suggests the low Shamanistic conventions. The prayer wheels are turned by water. Windmills and clock-works are used for the same mechanical process. In this way indolent pilgrims are freed from all expenditure of energy. They enjoy themselves and everything must work for them! Can it be possible to relate this to the covenant of Buddha?

Museum Address: 188414, Izvara Village, Volosovo District, Leningrad Region, Russia.
Phones: +7-813-73-73-273 (group tours); Phone/Fax +7-813-73-73-298 (general)
Museum Director: Cherkasova Olga Anatolievna E-mail: