My friend Zhargal is a Buddhist Lama. I had the honor of meeting Zhargal at a conference on Buddhist peoples in Ulan-Ude. The purpose of said conference was to help Christians to better understand Buddhist beliefs and worldview. Zhargal was our resident Buddhist expert.
Of the several forms of Buddhism, Lamaism, or Tibetan Buddhism is what is practiced here in Buryatia. Lamaism has other names, Vajrayana, Tantric Buddhism, and Mantrayana to name a few. Tibetan Buddhism traveled from Tibet, through Mongolia and to
Buryatia in the early 1700’s. It spread throughout the region of “Zabaikalye” or “beyond Baikal” to the extent that the eastern Buryat tribes consider themselves Buddhist. The western tribes, who live in “Prebaikalye” or “before Baikal”, remain strictly Shamanist. For reference, Irkutsk is on the western side of lake Baikal, in the area occupied by western Buryats, whereas Ulan-Ude is on the eastern side, where the eastern Buryats live. Lamaism is always a mix of local religions and Buddhism, so here what you find is Buddhism mixed with Shamanism.
Zhargal and I met together at “Silk Road” cafe. Over some hot cappuccino we discussed the foundational beliefs of faith in Jesus, and Buddhism. We agreed on two things.
1. There is a lot we don’t agree on.
2. We really enjoyed each others company.
Having agreed on that, we ate dinner together, Sharbin and tea with milk. A good old-fashioned Buryat meal. If you are wondering, “what on God’s green earth is Sharbin?”, you take some ground meat, beef, mutton or viande de cheval (horse meat), mix in salt, pepper, and onions, slap it in some dough, fry it in a pan, and it comes out like a stuffed, fried “meat pancake” if you will. Lousy on the veins, but very tasty.
Zhargal and I have met twice now. Our conversations cover meat, scripture, soccer, the four noble truths, ghosts, Jesus, the eightfold path, meat, and why people do bad things, not necessarily in that order. We grin when we meet each other, because we have become good friends.