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


Buddhism in Tibet

Some lamas denounce the killing of animals; but the monastery store rooms are piled high with the carcases of muttons and yaks, killed for the use of the monks. But how to cause the death of the animals without sinning? Again the law of Buddha is circumvented. The animals chosen as victims are driven to the edge of the rocks so that, falling, they kill themselves.

It is noticed that in the monasteries, the Mongol lamas are often regarded with greatest importance. We asked a Tibetan lama of considerable rank to discuss with us a high metaphysical subject, a subject which should have been very close to him. The lama avoided it by saying: “But a man cannot have read everything!” It is strange to notice that the Mongols even now make pilgrimages to Tibet, not realizing that their spiritual potentialities are equal to those of the Tibetans. Even the number of commercial caravans traveling to Tibet has become insignificant. During five months on the main trade route we saw only three such caravans.

Many strange offers are brought to us! A lama offers to arrest the snow clouds and melt the snow. This meteorological phenomenon is offered at a very reasonable fee—altogether, for two American dollars. We consent. The lama pipes on a bone flute, crying out his conjurations. But he is a business man and he gives us an ostentatious receipt for our two dollars. We keep it as a unique curiosity. It is of no consequence that the snow continues to fall and it becomes still more bitterly cold. The Tantrik is not discouraged. He places some sort of paper wind-mills above his black tent and through the entire night he howls into the horn made of human bones…

In a corner of a shop, sits the owner, a lama, laboriously turning his prayer wheel. Many sacred objects are piled together with his goods. On the walls, hang images of Shambhala and Tsong kha pa. And in the opposite corner of an adjoining room stand great kegs, filled with the local wine made by the same lama, to intoxicate his people. The lay people as well as the lamas drink viciously. And even small children demand money for whiskey, so that one might think intemperance was ordained by Buddhism.

Certain lamas, who agree to carry loads by caravan, throw them away on the road, saying they are not responsible because they are lamas. The same lamas affirm that Buddha forbade labor, agriculture and uncovering the depths of the earth. This is an invented slander against Buddha himself, who sent his pupils to work in the fields, in order to help the villagers. As was indicated in old scriptures, even a Bodhisattva must have some type of craftsmanship at hand. Thus was labor extolled by the Teacher and thus are labor and knowledge slandered by some uncultured lamas. Another typical picture: An honored officer of the Tibetan army which pursued the Tashi Lama in 1923, assured foreigners that Eastern Buddhists drink and smoke. He repeated constantly that he is a religious man, and expressed his willingness to transmit to a monastery our donation of thirty-five dollars. Afterwards we had proofs from this monastery that this true lamaist transmitted only ten dollars to the monastery, retaining for himself the remaining twenty-five. When he was exposed, he simply refused to send the twenty-five dollars to the monastery, again repeating that he was a religious man.

A lama-diplomat in the special confidence of the Dalai Lama goes into a rage when he learns that we have contributed one hundred narsangs to a monastery for oil for the image lamps. He says: “You must know that our monks will appropriate your money for themselves and never will light the image lamps. If you wish that the holy images should be honored with lights you must buy this oil only from me.”

A lama ranking as an abbot, says: “Our monks are savages. You have seen some lamas in Sikhim or Ladak but do not think that our Tibetan lamas are like them.” The same lama warned us that the monks would beat us with stones.

A lama approaches your tent and into your very car beats a drum until you give him a handful of sho (Tibetan money). But in ten minutes, probably believing that you have already forgotten his face, he removes a part of his attire and with the same shamelessness he gives you no rest, just as your sho do not give rest to his piety.

In Central Tibet, in the district of Shekar, you are approached by several lamas, without prayers, but with a word familiar to everybody who visits the bazaars. To your astonishment, you can quite clearly distinguish the word of the bazaar beggar—”Bakshish.” This “Bakshish” on the lips of the lamas depresses one. From where comes this multitude of wasters and idlers?

Lamas, even of the yellow sect, sometimes marry. But they claim that if their services for the Dalai Lama are valuable then His Holiness consents to annul the marriage and even gives them high posts. We were shocked to hear that the people call their ruler the “pocked monk.” The temples most often are ill-smelling and dirty, and quite close to their walls, all sorts of bargaining and bribery go on. How isolated are the few dignified individuals, in this market of ignorance! How many monasteries lie in ruins; how many walls are already crumbling! You feel that these ancient monasteries and castles were built by a people quite unlike the present Tibetans. The former kings of Tibet and the great Dalai Lama the Fifth were distinguished by their vast energy, to which the Potala bears witness, the only imposing and significant structure of all Tibet.

Some more pictures from reality! The pious servant of the Dalai Lama, became sick on the road, and out of compassion we took him into our caravan. With great care and with our unreplaceable medicines, we brought him as far as Tibet. But here at once he left us and with “piety” devoted himself to betraying us. What covenant of Lamaism has ordained treason?

A general of a princely line, invites you to his own camp, sends his special officers for you, accepts your gift, bows in reverence before the sacred objects and zealously tells his rosary. But afterwards his entrusted officer communicates that the general has announced to the government that you came to him of your own accord, imposing yourself without an invitation.

A chieftain of a large settlement asks permission to pull out three hairs from the beard of your camel; they possess great magic power! And he will sew them into the “lamaistic” amulet on his breast. A head of a dead camel is a very precious matter in Tibet. They pay up to twenty narsangs for one—to such an extent is this object needed for fortune-telling.

A lama, with an air of deep mystery, offers to sell you miracle-working pills. They are of great power and cure all diseases. When you appear unconvinced of the need of this purchase, the lama, as the highest recommendation, informs you that the formula for these pills includes the excrement of His Holiness or of some high lamas.

Then comes a pious-looking Lhassan, attendant of a high personage, bringing an amulet for sale. This amulet completely guarantees safety against bullets. The amulet is of such power that the cost is no less than three hundred rupees! He explains that the amulet is guaranteed and blessed by a very high lama. Since there is so complete a guarantee of safety you suggest that he perform a test on himself. But the religious man prefers to confine his test to a goat, meanwhile continuing to assure you of the complete power of the amulet. But when you do not agree to permit the goat “to be the goat” the Lhassan departs very indignantly.

We saw many monasteries. And we also saw numerous lamas coal black with dirt. When you see these faces and arms, black and shining as if polished, issuing from dirty red rags, you may associate them with many things, but never with Buddhism. It seems impossible that they can affirm that Buddha and Tsong kha pa ordained this unmitigated dirt.

Near a sacred mendang, half covered with slabs of sacred inscriptions, is stretched the decaying carcass of a dog and the same sacred inscriptions are covered with human excretions. Never have we seen such pollution of stupas or mendangs. In Sikhim or in Ladak even the oldest monuments of religion, though no longer used, are never so desecrated. No foreigners or strangers are near Tibetan monasteries so you may be sure that some religious Tibetans alone are responsible for such sacrilege. The sacred stone inscriptions are thrown on the fields discarded. Many stupas and mendangs have fallen into ruins.

Near Lhassa exists a huge flat site of stone where corpses are hacked and thrown to the birds of prey, dogs and pigs. It is a custom to roll oneself naked on these remnants of corpses for the preservation of one’s health. No one can explain from where comes such a strange belief. But the Buryat, Tsibikoff, in his book on a pilgrimage to Tibet, assures his readers that His Holiness the Dalai Lama has fulfilled this absurd ritual, in imitation of certain animals. I quote Tsibikoff for this information because I cannot presume on my own responsibility to accuse the Dalai Lama of such non-Buddhistic action! What has this to do with Buddhism?

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: