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


Buddhism in Tibet

Among the many things related by the local populace, one remembers that the custom of polyandry is still practised, and not only among the followers of the “black faith,” Bon po, but also among the orthodox followers, Geluk-pa. If you ask them whether the old books indicate such customs, the people only smile.

It is also said that the house built by the Dalai Lama in European style at his summer residence at Norbuling, has been demolished by order of His Holiness and that in its place a palace is now being constructed, Potang, in Chinese character. It is rumored that during the erection of the European house black rites were performed and that since then, fortune has forsaken Tibet. One often hears of fortune having left Tibet also in connection with the peculiar behavior of the Lhassa officials.

But let us not forget that a considerable part of the population belongs to the sect of Bon po, to the “black faith” which rejects Buddha altogether, and claims a completely unique protector and guide. They openly consider all Buddhists as enemies and recognize the Dalai Lama only as a civil ruler without religious power. These people are very assertive and do not permit Buddhists and lamaists to enter their temples. In their rituals everything is reversed. They revere some mysterious gods of Swastika. They perform their lamaistic rituals invertedly, not considering themselves Tibetans and completely isolating themselves from Lhassa. Among them, the lowest type of Shamanism, sorcery, and dark-incantations are practised. One might imagine oneself in the Middle Ages. But the name of Buddha is not protected by Lhassa. And the Lhassa officials do not protest against the anti-Buddhistic incantations. Outside of this multitudinous sect, there exists a great number of savage tribes with special dialects, at times so different they cannot understand each other. Nomads and forest-dwellers practising the lowest grade of fetichism, smear the sacrificial stones with grease, with the full sanction of the Lhassan government. They worship stone arrows and revere the most absurd amulets. To my astonishment, I saw an amulet around the neck of such an individual, and he told me that it was given to him by the Dalai Lama himself. I will not draw any conclusion from this. The ignorance of this savage people is simply appalling.

So, eliminating all the harmful and ignorant conditions, we see that conscious reverence for the higher Teachings in Tibet is maintained by small numbers of people, of whom many are in far-off hermitages. Tibetans themselves say that the enlightened teaching of Buddha needs to be purified in Tibet; it is necessary to make the lamas subject to far more serious State examinations, ejecting the ignorant and idlers from the monasteries. Only then can the lamas be reestablished as high teachers of the people.

Did the Dalai Lama, during his unusually long rule, make any attempts to purify the teaching, clogged by ignorance? Did he try to reestablish the original austere monastery Vinaya-discipline, in order to raise the understanding of labor and to eject superstition? We have not heard of such attempts. Not in secrecy, not in fear, can religion be purified, but in solemn dignified actions. Of course, we must not forget that it is not simple for the Dalai Lama to do anything for religion. If you think that a command of the Dalai Lama beyond the walls of Lhassa is worth much, you are mistaken. We had an ostentatious, broadly inclusive passport of the Dalai Lama’s government; yet under our very eyes, the people refused to fulfil the commands of their ruler. “We do not know Devachung (the government),” said the Elder. And the officials in different dzongs only invent methods, each in his own way, to interpret the text of the document in proportion to the generosity of the gift for which they shamelessly hint. We have heard how delegated messengers to the Dalai Lama disappear on their way. We have seen how the letters addressed to His Holiness are thrown torn on the road. Very recently the Lhassan government put on the market sacred objects which belonged to the Tashi Lama. Into the hands of traders passed the rare ancient Tankas and other sacred images blessed by high priests. Thus was this Blessing regarded by the government which claims to be religious! The Maharajah of Sikhim told us with great pain of this act of barbarism. The principles of life are distorted. Not we, but Tibetans themselves, remarked this. They understand that without intercourse with other countries, lacking a strong spirit of its own, Tibet is excluded from contemporary evolution.

It is inconceivable to imagine how often the given commands of Buddha and his closest followers in Tibet have degenerated. We recall the remarkable works, full of vital wisdom, of Asvaghosha and Nagarjuna, the hymns of the hermit Milaraspa and the canon of Atisha and the great Amdosian, Tsong kha pa. Would these Guardians of the teaching have permitted impious demonstrations here? Could they have reconciled themselves to these lies, betrayals and superstitions, which have penetrated to many classes of people, especially the ruling class. During the British Expedition to Lhassa in 1904, Dr. Waddell relates in his book how the Tibetan government intimidated the British by pretending that forty thousand men from Kham were impatient for battle and the government was unable to restrain them. But not a single warrior revealed himself. This boasting appears very characteristic in the mouth of some Tibetan officials. Sir Charles Bell, in his Tibetan dictionary, gives such phrases as “Do not lie” and a second, “Again do not lie,” and “Do not lie or otherwise you will be whipped.”

Exaggeration sometimes reaches such a point that a pitiful clay-beaten hut, in a document of Tibetan officials is termed, “a majestic snowy palace.” The title of the Lhassa government, stamped even on the sho, the poor copper coins, boastfully proclaims the blessed government to be “victorious in all directions.” At the root of such boasting lies ignorance, through isolation from the entire world. The Buddhists of Ladak, Sikhim and Mongolia, who have come close to the outer world, manifest far more enlightened thought. Ignorance gives birth to boasting; and self-praise to the unlimited lie.

Near such sacred places as Kapilavastu, Kushinagara, Bodhigaya and Sarnath, where passed the life of the Blessed One himself, near India, with its great Vedic wisdom, only uplifting signs should exist.

Those venerable lamas who, in an enlightened life of labor, follow the covenants of the Blessed One, will not take for themselves what has here been said. This pertains to the ignorant and harmful falsifiers. The best lamas will say with us in the name of true teaching, “Depart, Shaman! You have not taken part in evolution. The Blessed Buddha denounced thee, Shaman! Arise, enlightened pupil of the true covenants, because you alone can call yourself a lama-teacher of the people. Only through learning and labor shall you realize what is knowledge, truth, fearlessness and compassion.”

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: