Non-Ethnic Buddhism in the Russian Empire and the USSR

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The Tibeto-Mongolian tradition of Buddhism flourished in the Russian Empire among the Mongol peoples of Buryatia and Kalmykia and the Turkic people of Tuva. However, starting in the nineteenth century, interest began to also grow among the non-ethnic Buddhist population, both in academic circles and those seeking a spiritual path. The term “non-ethnic” is used here to mean the Tibeto-Mongolian tradition of Buddhism practiced by persons from non-Buddhist ethnic backgrounds. This is better than calling these persons “converts” or “converted,” as is often done in sociological literature. Most often such people find the Buddhist teaching themselves; no one “converts” them. The term “non-ethnic” is a common term for such persons, as, for example, in the article by Venerable Gunasekara, “Ethnic Buddhism and Other Obstacles to Dharma in the West,” Buddhism of Russia, no. 40. Despite the severe persecution of Buddhists during the Soviet period, interest remained and blossomed once more with the relaxation of religious restrictions in the years immediately before the dissolution of the USSR.