The brooding drone of Tibetan prayer wrapped the Buryat supplicants in a ponderous brume. Muffled against the sharp day, they opened their offerings, vodka, milk, tarasoon (vodka made of milk) and cakes, filling tables before the new temple. Huddled together, they prayed, waiting for the opening ceremony.
Lyonya, my brother in law, and I had made the twenty-five minute drive across the steppe from Ulan-Ude to Ivolginsk, the center of Buryat Buddhism in Russia. We came to witness the climax of work begun by a local business woman in 2006, building a temple to the Green Tara, a female form of Bodhisattva. A Bodhisattva is a person who is able to reach nirvana but delays doing so out of compassion in order to save suffering beings. (Mahayana Buddhism) Aesthetically, the architecture and carven details were marvelous, there is a mystical beauty to Buddhist temples. But any time I walk Buddhist temple grounds, I am haunted by heavy emptyness, a disquiet sitting in my soul. I asked Lyonya what he felt, he said “I feel sad for my people, sad they are being decieved”. Prayer wheels spun, coins dropped, candles flickered, flags fluttered, monks orated, big-whigs toured, temple-dogs scavanged, sacrifices sat, the people sent up shivering prayers.
The Hambo Lama, spiritual leader of Buddhism in Russia, addressed the crowd in Russian and Buryat. He explained the virtues of the Green Tara, praised, haraunged, and humored the crowd in turn. Other dignitaries and ranking monks said their peace, while green helium baloons were circulated throughout the crowd. Glowing like floating emeralds against a powder blue sky, they were the day’s highlight, delighting toddlers and their parents alike.
Eternal God, light your hope’s fire in the people’s hearts.