Buddhism: Beginning of New Religion in Estonia, a Country that was in the Sphere of Christianity for Centuries

Buddhism was brought to Estonia at the beginning of 20th century, by a man called Karl Tõnisson

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Statue of Buddha. Pixabay

November 12, 2016: The founder of Buddhism in this world is Buddha Shakyamuni. He was born as a royal prince in 624 BC in a place called Lumbini, which was originally in northern India but is now part of Nepal. ‘Shakya’ is the name of the royal family into which he was born and ‘Muni’ means ‘Able One’. His parents gave him the name Siddhartha. At the age of 29 years old he retired to the forest where he followed a spiritual life of meditation and attained enlightenment under the Bodhi Tree in Bodh Gaya, India.

A brief overview of the history of Buddhism in Estonia-

Brother Vahindra

Buddhism was brought to Estonia at the beginning of 20th century, by a man called Karl Tõnisson (1882-1962), also known as “barefoot Tõnisson” or Brother Vahindra. He was one of the very first Westerners embarking on the Buddhist faith as a monk. Karl Tõnisson was a colorful and eccentric figure but he was not taken seriously at the time and often regarded as a fool.

Brother Vahindra left Estonia and shifted to Latvia and became a citizen over there, known as “Karlis Tennisons.” He was designated the first Buddhist Archbishop of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania by the thirteenth Dalai Lama. He was the first Estonian to visit Lhasa, the capital of Tibet with his only devoted disciple, Friedrich Lustig (1912-1989).

Karl Tõnisson died in a temple in 1962 and declared as a ‘bodhisattva’ – in Buddhism; a ‘bodhisattva’ is similar being a saint in Christianity, a spiritually evolved person. He was the first Estonian declared a saint was a Buddhist.

Other Devotees

Uku Masing (1909-1985), an Estonian philosopher, picked up the torch and started his own exploration into Buddhism which resulted in series of lectures and a book – “Budismist” (“About Buddhism”). He was also a founding member of the Estonian Oriental Society in 1935. The society had to shut down after the Soviet Union invaded Estonia in 1940, but was re-established in 1988. Linnart Mäll, who started his studies there was Masing’s student and became a teacher for many future Estonian Buddhologists. Mäll translated many Buddhism’s basic texts into Estonian.

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Resistance to the regime

The Soviet era marked the end of most religious practices and education in the country. Christian denominations maintained their activity on a much smaller scale, membership of other religious communities dwindled remarkably.

On the one hand, this situation was a perfect for the emergence of religious intellectual luminaries to attract common people. However, Buddhist resistance to the Soviet occupation of Estonia was peaceful in accordance to their basic religious principles – Buddhist texts and contemplation instead of battle-axes and wrath.

Estonian Buddhist Brotherhood- Taola

There was also a group called the Estonian Buddhist Brotherhood – also known by its nickname, Taola – that was established under the guidance of Vello Väärtnõu in 1982 in Tallinn. It was a self-funding organization. Taola members were specialized in a different field of Buddhist studies and the idea was to spread the religion’s way of thinking among Estonians.

They also built the first stupa in Estonia – in artist Jüri Arrak’s summerhouse at Pangarehe. Three more stupas followed and were built from 1984-1985 in Tuuru village in western Estonia.

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At the present time

Buddhism is no easy way out for posers. It’s a religion. Despite, of its seemingly lax structure and lenient image there are a hierarchy, stipulations, and requirements to consider and follow. It’s about decision and devotion – make up your mind and then stay on the chosen path – above everything else.

According to 2011 census, 1,145 people in Estonia defined themselves as Buddhists. However, this indicates how many people consider themselves Buddhist and not the number of members in Buddhist communities.

– by Ruchika Kumari. Twitter: @RuchiUjjaini

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