10 years of the Longsal Stupa in Izhevsk, Udmurtia

Artyom Taranenko, photos by Boris Busorgin

At one of Chögyal Namkhai Norbu’s first retreats in Moscow, Andrei Kochurov from Izhevsk (capital of Udmurtia region in Central Russia) approached Rinpoche and presented him with a range of local problems, explaining that he lived in the most depressed region of Russia. Indeed, Udmurtia at that time occupied one of the first places in the number of suicides. It was the end of the 1990s and life in that period was hard. Rinpoche said that this phenomenon is well known in Tibet and the reason for this may be a provocation that affects more than one generation. He advised Andrei to build a stupa to subdue harmful influences and, if it was impossible, to do the collective practice of Guru Dragphur more often. The Izhevsk community at that time was just being formed and did not have either the financial or organizational resources for such a project. The conditions for this became ripe only ten years later.

By that time, the community in Izhevsk had grown and strengthened and in 2009 Rinpoche named it Kungaling (“a place of all-encompassing bliss”). Community member Azat Galeyev did a lot for the new ling: he bought the premises, fully equipped it and supported many initiatives. It was Azat who sponsored the construction of the stupa.

In the realities of our country, it was difficult to approve such a project. At first, the Izhevsk community tried to obtain permission to build a stupa as a Buddhist religious building, but the documents were not signed. In the end, Azat in his Izhevsk circles proposed to erect the stupa not as a stupa, but as a memorial to health, prosperity and harmony – a kind of monument dedicated to the common good. At the same time, he promised the local authorities to improve the city boulevard, and the permission to build the stupa was finally obtained.

Viewing the place chosen for the stupa construction and first works in order to lay foundations.

At the end of 2010, Natasha Sinyaeva from Kungaling told me that they were going to build a stupa and, since they wanted to coordinate everything with Rinpoche, asked me to help with the translation. So, I entered into correspondence with Rinpoche, the architect, Giovanni Boni, and the Shang Shung Institute.

Along the way many interesting stories happened. When it became clear that everything was going well, Azat asked me to go and get a tree for the sogshin or life force of the stupa. The sogshin is cut down according to certain rules: you need to check that it is done by people who did not kill, did not steal, do not have terrible diseases and do not abuse alcohol. I went to a wonderful village in the Krasnoyarsk Krai in Siberia called Cheremshanka, which, as it turned out, is famous for the neopagan Vissarion sect located there.

At first I doubted whether it was worth taking a tree from there, but from my experience with Rinpoche, I knew that if something is developing, although it seems strange, there is no need to ask a lot of questions, you need to relax and do it. And it happened that for a pine tree I had to go neither to the Crimea, nor to Buryatia, nor to Kalmykia, but to the Krasnoyarsk Krai. The sectarians turned out to be nice people who have a normal attitude towards Buddhism.

Painting and preparing sogshin

To process a tree, you first need to soak it for three months in running water, and then dry it for three months. It was -35 C outside and I asked Azat what to do. Azat said that when you cut the tree down, you will need to get a trawl or semitrailer for transporting oversized cargo and drive 30 km through the taiga [boreal forest], where there are no people living, but there is a lake. Then you will need to cut a hole in the ice and drop the tree in there. However, it was not clear how we could pick it up in the spring, because there was a swamp, and the all-terrain vehicle might not be able to get there.

When I arrived at the place, people told me: “We have never seen this, but yesterday before your arrival, a thawed patch opened up in the ice.” They had a sawmill on a hill with a river flowing below. It was so cold that everything froze. When I was doing practice there, the bell burned my fingers through two pairs of gloves, the milk when being poured froze just as it was filling the serkyem holder. And then a thaw-hole opened below, just to throw the logs there. There were many events that aroused my enthusiasm.

I stayed there and got a cedar for the sogshin, explained what should be done and how, and practiced very well. After that I phoned Azat and, since Giovanni Boni and Migmar Tsering were going to visit Kungaling soon, I offered myself as a volunteer. So, in mid-February 2012, my wife Nadya and I got into the car and drove from Moscow to Izhevsk.

Construction process

Then work days began. The stupa arose in an absolutely miraculous way. We calculated that it took nine months from the moment the city council signed the documents to the moment when we closed the bumpa (upper crown) and the stupa was ready. If we consider that the stupa is the Buddha’s body, then it went through the entire period before a person’s birth.

According to tradition, the first stupa to be built is the Stupa of Perfect Victory, a symbol that Buddha defeated Mara and attained enlightenment. The same form has been built at Kunsangar North and Kunsangar South. First, we prepared the place. Rinpoche told us how to consecrate it. We made serkyem, an offering to the local guardians.

When they opened the earth to dig the pit for the foundations, a dry rain fell: there was no rain itself, but thunder roared and lightning flashed. Lama Rangrig Rinpoche told us that according to Tibetans it was a good sign. After that, we put into the pit what needs to be suppressed: weapons, knives, ammunition, ancient arrows. We also collected syringes, since drug addiction in Izhevsk is a big problem. Then the next layer was laid – what we want to obtain, the so-called symbols of prosperity: a well-fed life represented by five grains, wealth represented by precious stones that we bought especially, a real diamond from Azat, as well as money, Tibetan medicines and offerings sent by people from Dzogchen communities all over the world.

Relics sent by Chögyal Namkhai Norbu

According to Rinpoche’s essential instructions, we laid tsatsa (clay Buddha statues), practice books, and Longsal teachings.The texts of the teachings were collected from all the Gars so that they were in different languages. Books were mainly given by Kunsangar North and Merigar West. It was very nice to receive texts from Argentina. Tsegyalgar East, where the Dance of the Song of the Vajra was discovered, sent a piece of wood from the first mandala that Rinpoche danced on. Tashigar North sent some earth from Margarita Island. On Rinpoche’s advice, the mantra scrolls were replaced with CDs: we collected the entire corpus of Buddhist teachings, Santi Maha Sangha teachings, Longsal teachings transmitted up to that time by Rinpoche, and recorded them on durable laser (or CD-) disks made using special technology and brought from America.

It was very interesting to work with Rinpoche. We coordinated every step with him, without deviating from his instructions. If he said that the architect is Giovanni, then for the architecture we worked with him. Giovanni is known for having worked on the ASIA projects at Rinpoche’s request, has traveled to Tibet, built bridges, schools, and made calculations for many projects in the Dzogchen Community. During the construction of our stupa, Giovanni came to Izhevsk, worked with architects who drew up the project, corrected mistakes, and discussed work with the builders.

Meeting with Rinpoche regarding stupa construction. Tenerife, 2011.

It was great working with Migmar. Migmar had lived in Tibet and came to Italy on Rinpoche’s invitation. He knows all the finer points: what kind of wood is needed, what technology is used, in what order everything should be done, etc. Migmar explained and showed how to process the sogshin and wrote the mantras on it. He also organized a cultural program: he spoke about Tibetan cuisine and nutrition at the local university and taught a course on Tibetan thangka painting at a local dharma center.

In general, this stupa, in a sense, went beyond all limitations. People from the Vissarion sect cut the cedar for us. When these logs were brought to Izhevsk, they had to be cut to shape, and the owner of the sawmill, a Tatar, personally sawed the logs on the machine. When we made two thousand tsatsas, they had to be fired somewhere. We talked with some ceramic artists, but they said that such a form could not be cooked otherwise it would burst. Azat had an acquaintance at the Izhstal metallurgical plant, where steel is smelted for weapons, and he suggested trying to fire them there. As a result, an acquaintance, an Orthodox man, fired the tsatsas in the hardening furnaces of Izhstal, having studied the day before on the Internet the right temperature, the technology and time of firing. There were almost no defects during firing.

Filling the stupa with tsatsas and relics

Each person who participated in this process treated it very responsibly. It was similar to how people used to carry out party assignments in Soviet times. It turned out that the stupa was made not only by Buddhists, but by a wide variety of people who were lucky to receive such an opportunity.

Apart from the vase with relics sent by Rinpoche, Lama Yonten Gyatso from the Jonang school and Lama Rangrig Rinpoche sent two additional vases. We really wanted Rinpoche to come, but then it was already difficult for him to move and he travelled only where he was most needed. Therefore, we decided to fill the stupa at the same time as Kunsangar South. When the vase was laid in the Crimea, we did everything together via webcast. We actively interacted with the Ukrainian community, and the Dnepropetrovsk people made the Longsal symbol for us, exactly the same as the one used at Kunsangar South.

Ritual of putting the vase and other precious objects into the stupa via webcast from Kunsangar North.

When the stupa was completed, we were very afraid that Orthodox radicals would try to demolish it, stain it with paint, as in the case with the stupa erected in Murmansk in the north of Russia. I don’t remember anything like this ever happening. On the contrary, elderly ladies come and read that if you go around this place three times and make a wish, it will come true, after which they go around the stupa and cross themselves in front of the Buddha. Newlyweds come there after their wedding to make a wish.

I also have a personal example. The doctors told my boss’s wife that she could not have children. Once, while walking, they saw the stupa and decided to walk around it and make a wish. The boss thought: “I have a company, I have an apartment, I have money, I have a beloved woman with whom I live. Let’s have some kids.” A month later, he returned home and found out that he would be a dad. Exactly one year after the construction of the stupa, on its first birthday, three wonderful, healthy girls were born to him and his wife.

Once, while I was working on the stupa hanging lungta, a woman came up and told me that her son and daughter-in-law, both doctors, got good jobs in Kazan after circumambulating the stupa. Children are also very fond of stupa. Once on Viсtory day, a teacher led schoolchildren to the eternal flame located nearby, and they hurried up to the stupa to run around it clockwise and make a wish.

Installation of the Buddha Amitabha and the Longsal symbol

Thus the stupa has become an interfaith monument where everyone comes. For everyone it’s their own personal practice. It is very touching and joyful. Nobody thinks, “This is Buddhism, so we won’t go there, because only Buddhists should be there.” There are always flowers on the stupa, even in the most frosty weather. For the new year, children put cards with wishes and bring sweets. When there was a broadcast of the Olympics in Sochi, after watching the broadcast a crowd of people went around the stupa so that our team won.

The project team was like a Gakyil: Azat Galeev, the yellow sector, provided money, Natasha Sinyaeva, the red sector, largely thanks to her energy the stupa was built, my wife Nadezhda Vasilenko and I, the blue sector, remained in touch with Rinpoche and made sure everything was done correctly. Boris Busorgin was there at all stages of the construction, took photographs, participated in practices, and was engaged in the improvement of the stupa. Olga Tretyakova, Ira Mukhametshina, Lev Gordon, Ira Korobeinikova, Lena and Dima Dolgovs and other members of the community also came and helped.

Finally the stupa is ready

When everything was finished, it was such a joy, as if after a hot day, sweat and mud, a heavy rain showered down and cleared everything. Azat threw a party for everyone. According to Tibetan tradition, all workers should be satisfied, so a huge table was laid in the gönpa, local celebrities were invited, and everything went well. In upcoming 2022 it will be the stupa’s 10 year anniversary.

For me, building a stupa was a service. We coordinated every step with Rinpoche. Later, on behalf of the Kungaling Gakyil, I wrote a letter to Rinpoche, saying that we had done everything, and Rinpoche replied, “You did everything right.” For me it was the highest gratitude, to hear from my teacher that we had done everything well.

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