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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
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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.

– Prepared by Ruchika Kumari of NewsGram. Twitter: @RuchiUjjaini

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Spiritual Ideas Sore At The World Hindu Congress

A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new -- when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance.

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Government invites entries for first National CSR Awards VOA

At its best, speeches at the recently concluded World Hindu Congress echoed the soaring spiritual ideals evoked by Swami Vivekananda in Chicago 125 years ago.

Even Mohan Bhagwat, Sarsangchanalak of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), focused essentially on the need for unity and patience among Hindus while fighting obstacles, of which, he said, there would be many. The burden of excavating implied accusations in Bhagwat’s speech fell to his critics.

At the plenary session, the moderator requested speakers to address issues of conflict without naming the speakers or their organisations in the interest of harmony. Other speakers sought to unite the followers of all the great religions that took birth in India — Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism and Jainism.

Some of the speakers from Bhagwat to Swami Swaroopananda of the Chinmaya Mission, framed the issues before Hinduism in a moral paradigm. Ashwin Adhin, the Vice President of the Republic of Suriname, began his speech in chaste Hindi, later quoting cognitive scientist George Lakoff: “Facts matter immensely. But to be meaningful they have to be framed in terms of their moral importance.”

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Buddhism relates sins to the characteristics one adopts. Pixabay

The dissonances, between the spiritual and the mundane, were to emerge later on the fringes of the seminars which were part of the Congress. Many of the delegates appropriated to themselves the mantle of a culture besieged by proselytising faiths. There were speakers who urged Hindus to have more children to combat their ‘dwindling population’. Posters warned Hindus of the dangers from ‘love jihad’ (Muslim men ‘enticing’ Hindu women).

In one of the sessions on the media, filmmaker Amit Khanna noted that religion had always played a prominent part in Indian cinema, starting with the earliest mythologicals. “Raja Harishchandra”, the first silent film, he said, was made by Dadasaheb Phalke in 1913. He sought to reassure the audience on the future of Hinduism. “Over 80 percent of Indians are Hindus,” he said adding: “Hinduism has survived many upheavals for thousands of years. Hinduism has never been endangered.”

Other speakers, lacking spiritual and academic pedigrees, drew on an arsenal of simulated anguish and simmering indignation.

The nuances of history pass lightly over the ferociously devout and it took little effort to pander to an aggravated sense of historical aggrievement.

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Swami Vivekananda used to stress upon the universal brotherhood and self-awakening. Wikimedia Commons

At one of the debates, the mere mention of Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister, elicited sniggers and boos. The speaker hinted at ‘Nehruvian socialism’ which had made the Indian economy a non-starter. He concluded with a coup de grace, to a standing ovation: “Nehru did not like anything Indian.”

The poet Rabindranath Tagore, who composed the Indian national anthem, had spoken of his vision of a country where the “clear stream of reason had not lost its way”. At some of the discussions, even the most indulgent observer would have been hard put to discern the stream of reason.

The image of a once great civilisation suppressed by a century of British rule and repeated plunder by invaders captured the imagination of many in the audience. Hanging above it all, like a disembodied spirit, was the so-called malfeasance of Nehru, the leader who had won the trust of Hindus only to betray them in the vilest manner.

These tortured souls would have been well advised to adopt a more holistic approach to Hinduism, and history, looking no further than Swami Vivekananda, who once said: “The singleness of attachment (Nishtha) to a loved object, without which no genuine love can grow, is very often also the cause of denunciation of everything else.”

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The Hindu population in Pakistan is about 1.8% according to the 2018 census, 0.2% more than that of the 1998 and the 1951 figures.

Historians have informed us that Nehru preferred his father’s intellect over his mother’s tradition but he was never contemptuous of religion. While he undoubtedly felt that organised religion had its flaws, he opined that it supplied a deeply felt inner need of human nature while also giving a set of values to human life.

In private conversations some delegates spoke of how their America-born children had helped persuade them to drop their pathological aversion to gays and lesbians. Despite their acute wariness of perceived cultural subjugation, the irony was obviously lost on them that Article 377 of the Indian Penal Code,(which criminalises gay sex) recently overturned by the Indian Supreme Court, is a hangover from the Victorian British era-embodied in the Buggery Act of 1533.

In the face of the upcoming elections in the US, Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi’s decision to speak at the conference was a political risk. With a newly energised political Left, even the perception of being linked with “fascist” or sectarian forces could be political suicide in the critical November elections. Despite vociferous appeals to disassociate himself from the Congress, Krishnamoorthi chose to attend.

“I decided I had to be here because I wanted to reaffirm the highest and only form of Hinduism that I have ever known and been taught — namely one that welcomes all people, embraces all people, and accepts all people, regardless of their faith. I reject all other forms. In short, I reaffirm the teaching of Swami Vivekananda,” Krishnamoorthi said.

Given the almost pervasive abhorrence of anything remotely Nehruvian among a section of the delegates, it was a revelation to hear the opinion of Dattatrey Hosable, the joint general secretary and second-in-command in the RSS hierarchy. Speaking on the promise of a newly-resurgent India, Hosable said in an interview to Mayank Chhaya, a local journalist-author-filmmaker: “A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new — when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance.”

Also Read: Triple Talaq Now Banned in India

The quote is from Nehru’s famous Tryst with Destiny speech delivered to the Indian Constituent Assembly on the midnight of August 14, 1947 — proof, if any is needed, that the force of Nehru’s ideas can transcend one’s disdain of him. (IANS)