The Kalmyks: Buddhists of Europe

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Vladimir Pachkov, SJ

 Vladimir Pachkov, SJ / Buddhism / 24 August 2021


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When we talk about traditional religions that have been rooted for centuries in Europe, obviously we think first of all about Christianity, Judaism, and also Islam. Buddhism is considered a religion of  South and East Asia: one immediately thinks of India, the birthplace of this religion, but also of China, Japan, Korea and their cultures, which seem quite exotic in the eyes of  Europeans.

However, in Europe – if we mean Europe in a geographical sense, that is, as that part of the territory between the Atlantic Ocean in the west and the Caucasus and Ural mountains in the east – there lives an entire people who profess Buddhism: the Kalmyks.

Their understanding of themselves and their mentality is characterized by their belonging to two worlds: the Russian and the Mongolian. They embody the concept of Eurasia, being an Asian people living in Europe.

Buddhism among them is an example of a “border culture.” The Kalmyks, who by religion, language, culture and origin clearly belong to the “East,” to “Asia,” now live in a cultural and religious world that arose in the Middle East (Christianity and Islam). This is the first encounter of its kind in history, and it still remains decidedly unique.

 

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