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Eric Gourlan

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Datsan Ivolginsky

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        Russia: Buddhist centre in Datsan Ivolginsky
        The Buddhist centre Datsan Ivolginsky is located in Buryatiya (Russia), 35km from the regional capital Ulan-Ude. Ivolginsky is a natural water source, which was blessed by a Dalailama in the past – all the living quarters and the temple are close to the source. Ivolginsky Datsan was founded in 1946 and was a museum at the time. In 1991, the institute Dashi Choinkhorling undertook educational work with regard to attracting young Buddhist students. In 1999 it was licensed as an educational centre where Buddhism is taught, the only one in Russia.
        Its mission is to promote Buddhist traditions in Russia, in particular in Buryatiya. The centre offers to prepare monks to become future lamas. Of course not all students become lamas, but many do after 3-5 years of study. After this, they are sent to different parts of the world and they teach as lamas in various Buddhist centres.
        It is very important to learn foreign languages and so the curriculum comprises Mogolian, Tibetian, Russian, Buryiat and English. Those languages are as important as the other subjects. The most gifted students also study Sanskrit. Other subjects taught are Buddhist philosophy, geopolitical history, traditional medicine, mathematics, astrology, rites and learning of religious texts. Only an elite is taught about the effects of medical plants and only a lama can make the selection of who is allowed to study this particular matter.
        The same is true for the drawing of "tankas". This is an art whereby pictures are painted on cloth and they represent the history of Buddhism via its culture.
        "Shogdi" is a game of question and answer, which is also practised in Datsan Ivolginsky. One student asks a question on any topic imaginable and one or more students reply to this question as accurately as possible. This exercise often takes three hours and is carried out in the temple of reflection.
        This reportage shows the everyday life of the monks, who come from various horizons, as Ivolginsky Datsan hosts all individuals who have one common trait: sincerity. Those who have made a mistake when they embarked on this journey leave themselves.
        I lived with those men, shared their daily routine and I am grateful for the wisdom and life-enrichment that they have shared with me.
        A big thank you to all!

Eric Gourlan