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


Buddhism in Tibet

We shall not draw any general conclusions. In fact, we shall always recall with special joy those happy manifestations which we saw on the way. We know many fine things about the Tashi Lama. I am glad to state what reverence surrounds his name in Mongolia, China and everywhere. I recollect some fine personalities among the High Lamas who followed the spiritual leader of Tibet in his flight. One recalls the sympathetic face of the abbot of Spitug; the old abbot of Tashi-ding in Sikhim, a carved medieval image; the Mongolian lama who busied himself with the translation of algebra; the sincere and industrious abbot of Ghum; the gelongs and skilful artists of Tashi lhunpo. With pleasure and satisfaction we shall always remember the exalted spirit of Geshe-rinpoche of Chumbi. But all these good people are far from Lhassa. With them we would, as several years ago, meet in trust and friendship, and would speak, in the peace of the evening twilight of the mountains, about the highest subjects.

The guarding of the covenants of Buddha, imposes a high responsibility. In the prediction of the approaching advent of the illumined Maitreya, you can see the steps to the creative evolution. The great conception of Sham-bhala obliges one to incessant accumulation of knowledge, obliges one to enlightened labor, and broad understanding. Is there a place, together with this exalted understanding, for the lowest Shamanism, and fetichisms? The fearless Lion-Sanghe incessantly fought against superstition and ignorance. He would have ejected all hypocrites from their self-appropriated possessions. Mme. David-Neel, who spent several years in Tibet, near the Tibetan boundaries, quotes a Tibetan prophecy about the purification, soon to come, of Lhassa from its poisonous elements. We had occasion to become convinced that such belief is held among the folk masses, who in a peculiar but quite decisive way, isolate themselves from the Lhassa government. The Hor, the tribes of the Tibetan uplands, asked us not to confuse them with the Lhassa Tibetans. The people from Amdos and the inhabitants of Kham always emphasize their distinction from the Lhassans. And of course the Mishimi and all kinds of forest and savage tribes believe themselves to be quite free from any influence from Lhassa. All these peoples, outside of Lhassa, speak quite openly against the Lhassa officials. They quote the prophecy that a new ruler from Shambhala, with numberless warriors, shall come to vanquish and to establish righteousness in the citadel of Lhassa. From the same people we also learned that, according to the prophecy which has originated from the monastery Tanjyeling, the ruling Dalai Lama is called the thirteenth and the last. From some monasteries also originated the prophecies that the true teaching shall depart from Tibet and return again to Bodhigaya, whence it originated.

Tibet calls itself the heritage of Buddha and the guardian of the true teaching. Thus, the accepted responsibility is great. Isolation and ignorance have created misconception—some of the Tibetans hate the Chinese; they look from on high on Ladakis, Sikhimese and Bhutanese. Tibetans are afraid of the English and Russians. They do not trust the Japanese and do not allow the learned Japanese Buddhists to enter their country. They turn away from Moslems; they call the Buryats oxen; they treat the Kalmuks arrogantly. They consider the Mongols as their serfs. They hate the Hinayana of Burma and Ceylon. Thus, one perceives a strange mixture of human hatreds, which have nothing in common with the peaceful, all-comprehending teaching of Buddha. This ignorance forces these Tibetans into apparent hypocrisy, for although they despise all neighbors and every one in the world, they are not averse to using for profit every one of the enumerated nationalities. Electric light and Western machinery are temporarily forbidden now in Lhassa but some Tibetans like very much to receive as gifts all Western products.

Under such circumstances, the populations can no longer forbear. Rebellions are rising. Litang and Batang, the most fertile parts of Eastern Tibet, are again occupied by the Chinese. In the fall of 1927, there were misunderstandings with the Northerners of Horpa. At present there is an uprising in Eastern Tibet. It is said that the governor and five hundred soldiers were killed. Some Tibetans told us that several lamas are leading the rebellion. The arrow of war—this peculiar sign of mobilization—wrapped in red silk, followed our caravan for several days. Even in such a special case the population would not come to the aid of the Lhassa government alertly. Instead of sending a specially despatched rider they preferred to send out this urgent message on the yaks of a stranger’s caravan going ten or fifteen miles a day. The powerful garrison of Shigatse was moved, and at the Nepalese frontier, from Tingri, half the garrisons have been taken.

Obtaining evidence of the actual conditions in Tibet, of course depended on a personal knowledge of the language. Through local interpreters it is not possible to approach the sensitive, complex apparatus of religious strata. But we were fortunate in this circumstance and therefore we can speak about the reality of Tibet: my son, George, has so mastered the Tibetan language, that, according to the Tibetans themselves, he is regarded second only to Sir Charles Bell whom they consider the authority in their language. In this manner of personal intercourse with the people, in true contact with the life, we became acquainted with the unadorned truth.

It is my custom to look on all circumstances with a tolerant eye. I gathered sympathetically everything that I could find in Sikhim, Ladak, Mongolia which was worthy. When the great teachings are demeaned and a pure philosophy is defiled, one should affirm it with full justice and frankness. I do not speak in order to attack the Tibetans. I know that the best Tibetans will agree that all that is related here is the truth, and is useful in the approaching rejuvenation of Tibet.

Certainly as in every country, in Tibet live two consciousnesses—one illumined, evolving; the other, dark, prejudiced, hostile to light. But we as friends, certainly wish that the first should prevail and that this light should lead this country towards the steps of beautiful commandments for the betterment of spiritual life. Before me is an exquisite image of the Dalai Lama the Fifth. Again remember that this builder could uplift the country to high pages of history and progress. He was so needed for the State, that even his death was temporarily concealed.

A similarly illumined and constructive consciousness just now is so needed for Tibet to strengthen the high traditions of the past for the happiness of the future. We can affirm that inwardly, Tibetans are open to Spiritual rejuvenation.

Forseeing the future, Buddha said: “The teaching is like a flame of the torch which lights up numerous fires; these may be used to prepare food or dispel darkness. But the flame of the torch remains unchangingly aglow” (Sutra 42).

Now in Ladak and Sikhim, the enlightened lamas erect great images of Maitreya as a symbol of the approach of the new era; they—the solitary ones—understand how much purification and resurrection must be achieved without delay. These can still adorn the words, “Let the light be firm as adamant; victorious as the banner of the Teacher; powerful as an eagle, and let it endure eternally.”

Kampa Dzong
May 19, 1928

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: