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Boris Dochkaev, About My Teacher Zodva Natyrov

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Terbish, Baasanjav 


Boris talks about his religion and his teacher, the lama Zodva Natyrov:Kalmyks called the Soviet Union ‘demonic state’ (shulmin yosn). By the time the Soviet Union collapsed, our grandparents, who had lived through Siberian exile, had long passed away. In the late 1980s we began to wonder who we were, what our roots were. There were still some old people around who remembered the old times and advised us on whom we could trust. In 1986-1987 Bakula Rinpoche secretly visited Kalmykia from Mongolia. Some old women and Buddhist practitioners of matsg invited him. We listened to his teachings and memorized mantras. Thanks to Bakula Rinpoche we learnt about Buddhism. At that time, we were searching and slowly returning to our traditional belief. I myself thought a lot about religion. In 1993 I got acquainted to a Kalmyk lama (gelyung) called Zodva. Before meeting him, I talked to an old female medlegchi called Nogan, who had told me, ‘You are suffering a lot now, but you do not realize it yet. You need to see Zodva gelyung’. When I came to Zodva, he told me, ‘How long have I been waiting for you! Finally, you came! It is time when gods (buddhas) of the Kalmyk people are coming back to us. You, young people, must return to your religion. It is your time’. He taught me how to pray and said that I need to start healing people. I came out of his house and thought to myself, ‘How can I heal people? I am not a doctor’. When I returned to Zodva, he laughed at me and said, ‘So many people came to me and accepted their Buddhist deities-protectors (syakyusn). What do they do now? I do not know. Only you came back and asked me what to do!’ I bowed to his feet and asked him to be my teacher. He was delighted and agreed. He told me to visit him at the beginning and at the end of each month, no matter what happened. So, I went to see Zodva for 4 years and 6 months. I will tell you a bit about my teacher. There were two lamas in Kalmykia at that time, namely Zodva and Ulankin Sandzhi. The Dalai Lama XIV visited Kalmykia in 1991 and 1992. During his second visit, the Kalmyk authorities told him that there were two lamas in Kalmykia who had met the Dalai Lama XIII. Despite the Dalai Lama wanting to see them, the two lamas refused several times. The Dalai Lama was staying in the state dacha of Basan Gorodovikov. After some time, the Kalmyk lamas agreed to come to see him. Both were clad strangely: Sandzhi lama put on his cap backwards, with the bottom of his white shirt protruding from his belt, his shirt buttoned unevenly. He had a cigarette in his mouth. Upon entering the room, the lamas came up to the Dalai Lama and stared at him. Surprised, the Dalai lama looked back at them. All of a sudden, Sandzhi lama began to utter an ancient praise to Buddha. After four lines, he stopped and clapped his hands. The Dalai lama thought a bit, stood up, smiled and continued the praise that Sandzhi had started. After this the two Kalmyk lamas relaxed, smiled, put themselves in order and began to talk with His Holiness. The Dalai Lama asked them why they had behaved this way, to which the lamas replied that their teacher in a temple had told them that the only true Dalai Lama was the Dalai Lama XIII and that his next reincarnations might not be genuine. To test it, the lamas had learnt an ancient prayer. ‘We were testing you’, the lamas said. They also said to the Dalai Lama the following, ‘Before you arrived here, we have kept Buddha’s teaching alive in Kalmykia. Now each of us is almost 100 years old. If you had not come, we could have lived until 120 years old. Since you are here, we hand our people over to you and ask you to lead them’. They had a long conversation with the Dalai Lama. In 1995 the two lamas died one after another. Sandzhi Ulanov said to me, ‘Your teacher, Zodva, was married, he is also a doctor and an astrologist. Therefore, he should go first. I will send him to his next rebirth. Then I will read the memorial service for myself, after which I will depart’. Things happened exactly as he had told me. The two lamas also asked me to do the following: ‘We have fulfilled our mission before the Kalmyk people. Before we leave, listen to us, our disciple. Various monks will appear, they will pretend to be saints by teaching you Buddhism. But you mustn’t believe everyone. They may not be true monks, even if they will pray with their rosaries and ring their bells. They will do this only for the sake of money. You should tell this to others’. Here I am today, telling you not to trust fake monks. I myself live according to the principles of my teachers, which is: ‘Think for yourself before you go to see famous lamas’. One day I made tea for Zodva, fired his stove, and did some house chores. When I came back to his house, I saw him reading a book. At that time, he rarely got up. I looked at the book. It was written in Clear Script (todo bichig). I had never seen such a book before. I asked him what he was reading, to which he replied, ‘Fairy tales’. Our lamas were very clever, they knew Clear Script, Tibetan, Russian and Kalmyk.



Zodva Natyrov

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Kalmyk Cultural Heritage Documentation Project, University of Cambridge

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Sponsored by Arcadia Fund, a charitable fund of Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin