The spiritual head of the Kalmykia Buddhists, Telo Rinpoche, has expressed great regret at the attitude of a delegation from the Tibet Autonomous Region after they declined to enter the main Kalmyk monastery on June 22, 2004. The delegation was on a five day visit to the republic.
Talking to the Tibetan service of Voice of America (VOA) and Radio Free Asia (RFA) on June 25, 2004, Telo Rinpoche said he was awaiting the visit of the delegation, led by Jampa Phuntsok, head of the Tibet Autonomous Region Government, on June 22, 2004 when three officials, a Tibetan and two Chinese from the Chinese Embassy in Moscow, came in advance to check the monastery. He said that after they saw the portrait of the Dalai Lama in the monastery they indicated that the delegation would not be able to visit the monastery in that situation. “Although they did not directly ask me to remove the portrait of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, it was clear that they wanted this to be done,” Rinpoche said.
“I told them directly that His Holiness is the root teacher of all the Kalmyk Buddhists and there is no way that I would remove the portrait,” Rinpoche added. “I told them I don’t have anything to hide from them and that I do not wish to mix politics in this issue,” Rinpoche continued. “I do not wish to hide our reverence to His Holiness the Dalai Lama as the Kalmyk people have had a connection with him since the fourth Dalai Lama. The Kalmyk people would feel greatly offended if I were to remove the portrait,” he added.
Thereafter, the officials appear to have telephoned the main group, which was then visiting the Russian Orthodox Church. When the delegation arrived at the road leading to the monastery they told Rinpoche that they would not be able to enter the monastery.
“I told them that it is their decision whether they wanted to come into the monastery or not, but that I would not remove the portrait at any time in the hope that they will come in,” Rinpoche told RFA and VOA.
They then said that they would like to be received outside the monastery and would like to offer some gifts to me. “I told them that if they are not coming in, there is no reason for me to be receiving them,” Rinpoche said. “I told them that in the Kalmyk tradition it is considered greatly inauspicious to be exchanging gifts outside your place,” he said. He said he then excused himself and went into the monastery.
The delegation members then phoned the authorities in Beijing, apparently seeking advice, according to Rinpoche although he did not know what they decided.
Despite this attitude by the Chinese officials, Telo Rinpoche saw off the delegation when they left Elista for Moscow on June 25, 2004.
There has been much international interest in the development of Kalmykia since the collapse of the Soviet Union. The Economist of December 18, 1997 wrote about the revival of Buddhism there saying, “Alone among the states of Europe, Kalmykia has Buddhism as its dominant religion. The veneration for the Dalai Lama was strong enough to survive decades of Soviet repression.” The New York Times did a profile of Telo Rinpoche on June 12, 2004 in which it talked about the influence he had on the Kalmyk people.
“Mild as he is in his manner, his pedigree carries weight among the Buddhists here,” the New York Times said.
Telo Rinpoche was recognized in the early 1990s by the Dalai Lama as reincarnation of the spiritual leader of the Kalmyk people. Although Rinpoche told the New York Times that he did not feel the presence of his previous incarnations in him, the paper reported, “But people who knew the latest Telo Rinpoche say they see similarities in the two men’s ways of thinking.”
In an interview to the Rocky Mountain News, published on June 12, 2004, Rinpoche talked about his efforts to meet the spiritual need of the Kalmyk people. The paper said, “He says he concentrates exclusively on his present life; while the acts of a previous incarnation may affect his happiness, his wealth, or other parts of his life now, he can’t do anything about that. But his present deeds can affect how he will live in a future incarnation. He is most proud of building 29 temples in Kalmyk over the past 12 years.”
“We have revived our traditions, we have revived our culture,” Rinpoche told the Rocky Mountain News.
There were five Tibetans in the delegation as well as three Chinese who were working in Tibet. In addition there were several diplomats from the Chinese Embassy in Russia accompanying the delegation, according to Rinpoche.