The 8th International Conference Buddhism & Australia
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Foundation of a practical Buddhist tradition in Estonia by Vello Väärtnõu
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Estonia's short period of independence was interrupted by the Soviet occupation in 1941. Ideological control checked the growth of Buddhist ideas, and the Buddhism practised by Tõnisson lost its continuity. During the Soviet occupation, religious activity was prohibited and punishable, which meant that not many Buddhists could practise their faith, not much literature was available and there were no specialists in Buddhism. Under the communist regime, the Buddhist monasteries in Russia were destroyed, and orientalists and Buddhist teachers were killed or imprisoned. All this also had a direct influence on Estonia after the occupation.
At the beginning of the 1970s, suitable conditions for Buddhism as a way of life to spread to the practical level began to develop. The intellectual interest in Eastern culture and Buddhism increased in Estonian cultural circles, but Buddhism was merely an intellectual game and there was no practical approach to Buddhism.
At the end of the 1970s, Vello Väärtnõu, who was an artist and who openly declared himself a Buddhist, decided to establish the first Buddhist Sangha and Nyingma tradition in Estonia, because the tradition imported by Tõnisson had already lost its continuity. Väärtnõu made contacts with the Ivolga Monastery in Buriatya, the only Buddhist monastery in the territory of the Soviet Union. He studied in the Ivolga Monastery from 1976–1987 and became the first Estonian with a monastery education and the title of Geshe.