H.H. the Dalai Lama Visits Tannu Tuva

The following article is from the Winter, 1993 issue of the Snow Lion Newsletter and is for historical reference only. You can see this in context of the original newsletter here.

by Marina Kenin-Lopsan translated by Bill LeGallee


by Molly McGinn and Gary Wintz

The lost land of Tannu Tuva, an area the size of the state of Washington nestled between northwestern Mongolia and Siberia, is finally in the news, thanks to the good graces of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. On September 19, 1992, His Holiness became the first Dalai Lama in history to visit Tuva.

The Republic of Tannu Tuva, which has a proud tradition of both shamanism and Tibetan Buddhism, was an independent country until swallowed by Stalin in 1944. The Communists destroyed all the nearly twenty-five lamaseries and executed many monks. Today, however, like other Gelugpa regions of the former Soviet Union such as the republics of Kalmykia and Buryatia, Tuva is rediscovering its traditional spiritual links to Tibet.

On our two visits to Tuva last summer, we met young Buddhists who, following instructions from their grandparents, had recently unearthed sutras and thankas hidden in caves during the Stalinist repression. They returned them to newly restored templesa revival prophesied by their elders. We were also hosted by the speaker of Tuva's parliament who himself studied Buddhism and Tibetan language in Mongolia. He is Mr. K.A. Bicheldei and the key person behind the invitation of H.H. the Dalai Lama to visit the Turkic-speaking people of Tuva.

Arrival in Kyzyl

At nine o'clock in the morning on September 19th a small jet delivered the eminent guest and his party to the airport of Kyzyl, the capital of the Republic of Tuva. With a smile, the Dalai Lama stepped onto Tuvan soil. The President of the Tuvan Republic S.D. Oorzhak and Representative of the Supreme Soviet K.A. Bicheldei offered His Holiness a traditional refreshment, and he in turn presented the republic's leaders with white silk scarves in a gesture of greeting. Oorzhak spoke a few words of welcome.

His Holiness's words sounded in reply: Thank you very much for such a warm and hearty welcome on the occasion of my first visit to Tuvan soil. I am very glad. Your warm words have touched me deeply and I am very grateful to you. I liked the milk and tsam-pa very much. It is just the kind of food Tibetans love. Thank you. Thank you very much! The thanksgiving was accompanied by the Dalai Lama's sincere and contagious laughter.

That day twenty thousand people gathered on the city's central square. The Dalai Lama ascended the theatre steps, blessing children and grown-ups on the way, and sat on a throne. In the name of the people Oorzhak turned to him with words of welcome, and asked him to fulfill the people's desire: to consecrate the new Tuvan state flag.

I am very happy to consecrate the new state flag of Tuva. I shall pray that under it will develop democracy, freedom and enlightenment of all the people, and that you succeed in eliminating the obstacles and difficulties in your worldly lives, also by mastering the use of the methods and wisdom of Buddhism Even though over the course of many decades our connections were interrupted, it has not kept you from preserving in your hearts a deep link with the Tibetan people and the Tibetan culture, and I hope that now that you have attained freedom we may strengthen and resurrect it. I can see it clearly. If we Tibetans can somehow assist the restoration of Tuva's national culture and of Tuva's Buddhist culture, we will do everything we can to help you. We look upon this as our sacred duty, our obligation. In your country's transitional period the people are experiencing many hardships and burdens. And at this time it is very important to hold onto courage and to believe strongly that, regardless of all the complexities, you will achieve that for which you strive. And I would like also to emphasize especially that at this time you all need to be more patient with one another and try to set aside petty differences which exist among you, and concentrate your powers on achieving the main goal.

That day the Dalai Lama was shown national dances and throat singing. His Holiness visited a yurt, the native Tuvan dwelling, where he was treated to tea, and later an official dinner.

On the second day His Holiness gave a religious teaching to in Kyzyl's central square and bestowed bodhisattva vowsthe pledge to struggle not to harm any otheron all who wished.

Visit to the Tuvan Countryside

On September 21st, His Holiness took a helicopter to meet with the residents of outlying districts. Having landed next to the village of Xayirakan, the Dalai Lama spent a few minutes greeting its residents. He questioned children and adults: How old are you? What grade are you in? What languages are you studying? Do you speak Tuvan at home? Then, before a reverently attentive gathering, His Holiness recited aloud a program of mantras.

The gathering moved to the village shrine room, located in an ordinary house, where His Holiness blessed the altar. With his perceptive gaze he turned his attention to the holy books and became interested in how they had managed to be saved through the difficult years. He opened one at random, and with an exclamation of joy and surprise, found an ancient but well-preserved copy of the Diamond Sutm. His Holiness proceeded to chant it aloud in a rhythmic and fluently femiliar lashion. A little later he was at the ruins of the Upper Chadan monastery, where he was also met by crowds. There he happened to see that one man was carrying another copy of the Diamond Sutra. As he later said, although in Buddhism omens have little significance, the feet that he had twice seen the Diamond Sutra was an auspicious sign for his being in Tuva.

Concluding the Visit

On September 22, the last day of the visit, a press conference was conducted for the Nobel Peace Prize laureate. In his speech His Holiness said that his first visit to Tuva was unforgettable and it had awakened the very highest feelings. He asked the journalists to convey his regards to the Tuvan peopleI will be praying for you, he said. The Dalai Lama also answered questions. He might visit Tuva again. He asked the Tuvan people to pray for the Tibetans, whose fate is not an easy one. He told how he was worried about the threat of nuclear war, ecological problems and unregulated growth of the birth rate. To the amusement of the audience he said his very greatest friend is himself. He analyzed in detail the interrelationship between China and Tibet. He explained the subtlety of the Buddhist teachings.

His Holiness later visited the right bank of the Yenisei, where a new monastery is being built. He blessed it and named it. A warm meeting with the townspeople followed the ceremonies.

Mr. Bicheldei then hosted a reception at his home for His Holiness. An agreement between the two governments was signed for the years 1993-95, one outcome of which is that three lamasspecialists in teaching, languages and medicinewill come to Tuva to help prepare novices. Fifteen Tuvan monks will also be sent to the Dalai Lama's residence in India for training. His Holiness gave Oorzhak and Bicheldei 1500 U.S. dollars toward the construction of new-temples in Tuva.

A three-hour videotape of the Dalai Lama's visit to Tuva is available for $17.00 from Friends of Tuva, an international organization dedicated to raising awareness of Tuvan culture. Inquiries should include a self-addressed, stamped envelope, and be sent to: Friends of Tuva, Box 70021, Pasadena, CA 91117. Other items are also available.

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