The prehistory of this visit started in the late 80’s when I read Chögyal Namkhai Norbu’s book Talks in Conway, the so-called Green book, for the first time. It was in 1988 and I was really amazed. Before reading this book I had spent almost six years trying to practice Tibetan Buddhism, a teaching that I initially received from His Holiness the Dalai Lama in 1982 during my first visit to Buryatia. It happened that the Dalai Lama was giving teaching exactly at this time, and I was lucky to have him as my first Buddhist teacher. I practiced a lot and, truly speaking, I had no clear understanding and also no obvious success in my practice. So I was looking for people who knew about the practice of Tibetan Buddhism.
In the Soviet Union almost everyone who really knew about Tibetan Buddhism was connected to the Buryat tantric teacher Bidia Dandaron, who was actually the first Tibetan Buddhist teacher to transmit Tibetan Buddhism to people not only from Buryatia, but also to European students from Kiev, Moscow, St. Petersburg and the Baltic States. So the real experts in Tibetan Buddhism were students of Bidia Dandaron. It was Bidia Dandaron who first translated Longchenpa’s work into the Russian language. I still have this translation. It was the pinnacle of Tibetan knowledge for me.
But in 1988, when I read Talks in Conway for the first time, it was a kind of revelation for me as I recognized the real meaning of Tibetan Buddhist practice for the first time and it also clarified my vague knowledge about the Dzogchen tradition. First of all I made photocopies of this book and sent them to the leaders of the underground Tibetan Buddhists, to Bidia Dandaron’s students. I had already met them in Buryatia and St. Petersburg. Some of them were from Kiev and some from Moscow. We were all very much amazed and I started to look for a connection with Chögyal Namkhai Norbu through a British master of voice yoga.
My first time in London, I was a guest of a very famous transpersonal psychologist and biologist, Rupert Sheldrake. He introduced me to his wife, Jill Purce, who was Chögyal Namkhai Norbu’s student and organizer of the first Dzogchen retreat in Great Britain. She gave me an Italian address for Chögyal Namkhai Norbu. After returning to Moscow in April 1989 I sent a first letter to Rinpoche. Surprisingly, I received his response, and he invited me to his teaching at Merigar and also advised me to connect with Tsegyalgar to ask for other books on Dzogchen.
Of course, I connected with Tsegyalgar and got a lot of English translations of Rinpoche’s talks and teachings, and I also got a letter of invitation to Merigar, but since all letters were checked at that time by the KGB, the letter arrived a week after the beginning of the retreat. In another letter Rinpoche told me that it would be possible for me and other people interested in Dzogchen to attend his teaching at Tsegyalgar in the United States. So I was among four fortunate people from Russia to attend Rinpoche’s teaching at Tsegyalgar in the summer of 1990.
It was a great retreat based on Longchenpa’s book. We had a personal meeting with Rinpoche and invited him to Russia. I informed him about Tibetan Buddhism in Russia, told him about the translation of Longchenpa’s work and Bidia Dandaron who was a kind of root guru for many practitioners of Tibetan Buddhism there. He told us that he would come to the Soviet Union the year after his personal retreat, namely 1992. And he also said that the following year, 1991, he would send Fabio Andrico to Russia to teach Yantra Yoga.
It was great news for us, and neхt year Fabio came to the Soviet Union, visited Kiev, St. Petersburg, the Baltic States and, of course, Moscow and taught basic knowledge of Yantra Yoga. The following year, early in the spring, I think it was March, Fabio called me on the home phone – there were no mobile phones at that time – and said, “Vladimir, if you are standing up, please take a seat. Also take a sheet of paper and pen and write down what I’m going to tell you”. He said, “Rinpoche will come to Vilnius, Lithuania, in May, he will come to Riga, Latvia at the beginning of June, he will come to St. Petersburg in the middle of June, he will come to Moscow at the end of June – beginning of July, and he will come to Ulan-Ude, Buryatia, in the middle of July. Please prepare everything.”
It was a shock. It was great excitement. After talking to Fabio I called the leaders of all the cities – Vilnius, Riga, St. Petersburg, Moscow, and Ulan-Ude – and gave them the exact dates of the retreats and asked them to prepare everything well.
We started preparations in Moscow while Vladimir Montlevich started preparations in St. Petersburg. In Ulan-Ude it was Batodalai Dugarov’s team, and, as far as I remember, Nikolai Dudka and some of Dandaron’s old students helped him. In Vilnius it was Antanas Danielius and the local team.
So we started preparation in Moscow. We had people who had already studied and practiced Tibetan Buddhism, and also we connected with other people from the Gurdjieff, Christian, Sufi, and Hinduism circles who were interested in spiritual development. Our organisers’ committee consisted of myself (I was a kind of leader of the committee), Elena Antonova, Natalia Rochegova, Anna Rochegova, and Sergey Moskalev. It was a core team, so to say. We rented a school near the Timiryazevskaya metro and made all the preparations. We were in touch with all the leaders in the different cities and traced Rinpoche’s retreats in Vilnius, Jurmala (near Riga, Latvia), St. Petersburg, so we were well prepared.
We met Rinpoche at the railway station (he came from St. Petersburg to Moscow by train) with khatag (ceremonial scarves) and flowers. We drove him to the retreat place. He smiled and we were really very happy. He asked me to organize a telephone call with Rosa at Merigar and then generously explained to me how to pronounce the Tibetan alphabet. I still have this tape.
So the retreat started. There was an experienced translator but she was not able to follow the deep meaning of what Rinpoche transmitted. Finally I and another women translated the whole retreat, taking turns. Up to that time I had not had any experience in translation but I was very prepared for that work. I also translated the second retreat in 1994. It was only at the following retreat in 1996 that there were much more experienced people, Grigory Mokhin and Igor Berkhin, who translated better than me. Rinpoche taught twice each day in all cities, so it was really a very intensive program. He was young, he danced on the Mandala while he was teaching Vajra Dance, so we were very lucky to receive this supreme teaching from a realized teacher. There were a lot of students from all over the world. We connected with leaders from the world Dzogchen Community and started many personal relationships. It was a very fruitful and important time for the growing of the Dzogchen community and experiences in Russia.
Chögyal Namkhai Norbu gave his first teachings in Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, St. Petersburg, Moscow, and Buryatia in the spring/summer of 1992. If you were involved in the organization of any of these retreats or were a participant and would like to write about your experiences, or if you have photographic material, please contact The Mirror so that we can share your story in our “Pictures from the Past” section. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
Dates and contacts of these retreats taken from back issues of The Mirror:
Poland, Lodz, May 15-18, 1992
Lithuania, Vilnius, May 22-24, 1992, Antanas Danielius
Latvia, Jurmala, May 29-31, June 3, June 5-7, Jgors Lazareus, Jelena Kovalyeova
St. Petersburg June 12-20, 1992, Vladimir Montlevich
Moscow June 25-July 7, 1992, Vladimir Maikov
Buryatia, Lake Baikal, July 10-16, 1992, Batodalai Dugarov, Nikolai Dudka