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Samdan Tsydenov And His Buddhist Theocratic Project In Siberia by Nikolay Tsyrempilov

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Samdan Tsydenov

The period from the second half of the nineteenth through the first third of the twentieth century marks the highest development of Buryat Buddhism. Once a derivative and integral part of the Tibeto-Mongol Buddhist world. by the end of the nineteenth century Buddhism in Transbaikalia was subject to conditions that differed sharply from those in the remaining Tibetan Buddhist world. Accelerating modernisation and the development of capitalist relations during this period of Russian history, resulted in a revision of the center's policy towards its national minorities, thereby exacerbating internal contradictions within the centralised Siberian Buddhist monastic institutions. The epoch itself was demanding strong and non-ordinary personalities to advance ahead including those from within the ecclesiastic circles. But even against this background there seems to be no one who stands out as such an intriguing and mysterious person as Lubsan Samdan Tsydenov, a polymath, practitioner, poet and religious figure who realized his political views by establishing in 1919 a theocratic state based on the Buddhist conception of authority.

The Biography of Samdan Tsydenov

Samdan Tsydenov

Unfortunately, the materials available to modern researchers about his life are both scarce and unreliable. An unpublished historical sketch written in the 1930s by a research fellow of the Verkhneudinsk (Ulan-Ude) Antireligious Museum, Ts.M. Ochirzhapov.[1] tells us that Tsydenov was born in 1850 in the village of Kizhinga in central Transbaikalia. While still a child he was sent to Kudun monastery. and after several years of study he is said to have continued his religious education in the residency of the Pandito Khambo Lama. As Is written in the sketch.. Tsydenov became famous among the monks for his talents and eagerness to study and practice meditation, especially in the old tantric tradition. At the same time. the author portrays Tsydenov as a man with a reserved disposition. Inclined to seclusion and limiting his contact with others. However. on account of his charisma and scholarly abilities Tsydenov gained prestige among lay believers. This allowed him to eventually lay claim to the position of abbot of Kudun monastery, but he was denied this position.

Samdan Tsydenov

As compensation for his failure to obtain the abbot's throne the Pandito Khambo Lama included him among the Buryat delegates who went to the enthronement ceremony of Nicolas II[2] It is also claimed. though far from certain, that Tsydenov also received the support of some clan aristocrats who promoted him to be included in the delegation (Zhigmidon; 2). Regardless, another reason for the inclusion of Tsydenov in the delegation to Moscow and St. Petersburg, as is stated in Ochirzhapov's sketch. was the alleged plan of the delegation to arrange, If possible, a debate with the capital's orientalists. This Tsydenov was enlisted in the delegation on account of his intellectual abilities and deep knowledge of Buddhist philosophy (Ochirzhapov: 80).

Samdan Tsydenov

In March of 1896 the delegation departed by post-horses to Krasnoyarsk from which it continued on to Moscow via the newly constructed Siberian railroad.[3] Upon arriving the lay and religious representatives of the Buryats of Transbaikalia participated in the enthronement ceremony of Nicolas II in the Uspensky Cathedral of the Moscow Kremlin, and also partook in the subsequent festivities in Moscow and St. Petersburg. In addition, in the Russian capital members of the delegation were granted an audience with the new emperor.

The above-noted sketch reports of an extraordinary incident that occurred during this meeting:

Nicolas the Second.
In Petersburg Tsydenov was present at the audience with Nicolas the Second. Having refused to bow to Nicolas as the other delegates did, he had put them in an awkward position and caused bewilderment among the palace officials and the Ministry of Domestic Affairs. In reply to the other delegates, who in the person of the Pandito Khambo Iroltuev, condemned his refusal, Tsydenov said that being a gelong he must not bow to the Czar, a Christian, that his refusal is not a crime. And the fact that the delegates, especially the Khambo Lama Iroltuev, a gelong and head of the Buddhist priests of Siberia, did bow, was not in accord with the Vinaya and is a shame (Ochirzhapov: 81).

As a result of this incident Goremykin, the Russian Minister of Domestic Affairs, seeking an explanation questioned the Buryat delegation. And according to Ochirzhapov, Chief Taisha Ayushiev. the head of the delegation, had to give the following official explanation:

The incident of refusal by one of the delegates to bow to the Emperor during the audience is explained by the excessive patriotic affect that made him lose consciousness and caused mental derangement while seeing the royal person. He lived in solitude for a long period of time and had no chance to travel to cultural centers, so he considered the meeting with the Czar a unique chance and supreme happiness (81).

Ochirzhapov also claims that this explanation satisfied the authorities. but it left Tsydenov himself unsatisfied, since he allegedly was not happy that Ayushiev had not revealed the true motives of his behavior. Despite the incident Tsydenov was awarded with a silver medal to be carried on the Adreevsky ribbon.[4]

A.M. Pozdneev

The same source also contains information about Tsydenov's alleged meeting with the famous Russian Mongolist A.M. Pozdneev who. as the author maintains, considered Tsydenov's views as reformatory directed to the development of "the mystic direction based on the ethics of Yellow-hat (Gelukpa) sect" (Ochirzhapov: 82).

Of course, how accurate these descriptions are of the actual events is hard to gauge. Indeed, we need to keep in mind that these events are not recorded in official documents, but only in unpublished historical sketches written by the research fellows of the Antireligious Museum of Ulan-Ude in the 1930s, i.e. at least thirty years after these events, and probably on the basis of oral sources.

Even so, a couple of years after returning to Transbaikalia Tsydenov left the monastery and started living in seclusion in Soorkhoi with some of his disciples. There he devoted himself entirely to the practice of the tantric yidam Yamantaka, and these many years of living in solitude strengthened his spiritual prestige in the eyes of common believers. In fact, the fame of Tsydenov and his followers went far beyond the valley of Kudun. The high prestige of Tsydenov in that period is explained not only by his religious devotion and tantric practice but also by his openly anti-monastic views.

Yet, in spite of that, in 1907 Tsydenov was appointed abbot of Kudun monastery. However, the new position did not make Tsydenov interrupt his solitude, rather, the monastery's affairs were managed by assistants. After nine years of running the monastery in this way, it became the reason for Pandito Khambo Lama Itygilov to remove him as abbot. The evidence for this is the petition Itygilov addressed to the Russian Minister of Domestic Affairs dated March, 1917, in which inter alia Tsydenov states:

I do not need the abbot's position itself, I had agreed to take it only due to the insistence of the people. i.e, parishioners of the datsang. I am not craving it. In this circumstance I solely want the rules of the religion that are broken by groundless caprice to be rightly observed. That is why I am applying to Your Excellency with this petition for the sake of the restoration of the broken justice."[5]

Tsydenov thus lost his position as abbot and never regained it, which had consequences for his clansmen.

Nevertheless, other events were to have even more impact beginning with the Czar's abdication and the subsequent civil war. Moreover, in 1917-1920 the regime of Cossack Ataman Semyonov was established in Transbaikalia and it concluded a strategic alliance with the Buryat self-government — the Buryat People's Duma. However, in reaction to this alliance a group of the Khori Buryat aristocracy, which had earlier been driven out of local power, tried to restore their lost positions in the region. To this end they effectively used the people's discontent with the People's Duma's administrative and economical reforms, especially their failure to get control in Khori aimak, in order to inspire protests. The main reason for the protesters open violation of the Buryat People's Duma's orders was the Duma's acceptance of Semyonov's demand to recruit young Buryat men to the People's Militia - Tsagaan Sagdaa -in the fall of 1918.[6]

Ultimately, these escalating tensions resulted in the anti-Bolseviks to declare an independent theocracy. However, the question of Tsydenov's personal promotion of this independent state on the territory of several of the Khori Buryat's aimaks remains open. It seems obvious to us that a single person, even such an extraordinary and strong one as Tsydenov, could hardly initiate such a drastic development. As K.M. Gerasimova rightly notes, "the theocratic initiative of Samdan Tsydenov could not become the phenomenon of the mass public existence without the organisational support of Khori Buryat nobles, clansmen and clergy (2003:126)." An idea that is confirmed by the fact that after Tsydenov disappears from the political arena the movement of his followers, the so-called Balagats, was still active until 1929.

Nevertheless, in February of 1919 after the Kizhinga Credit Association asked on behalf of the banners (khoshuuns) or Khori aimak for Tsydenov to take them under his protection. Samdan Tsydenov proclaimed himself Dharmaraja of Three Worlds and a holder of the religious and civil spheres of authority. Tsydenov's retinue started organizing the petitions from the population of various khoshuuns and somons to be included as citizens in the newly established state. The petitions were supported with substantial material offerings. Over 13,000 men asked to become subjects of the state. Some obscure sources say that the population of the Chikoy, Bargujin and Aga aimaks wished to enter the state as well. And with this support Tsydenov ordered a commission to establish the government and other institutions of the new state officially entitled as Kudunai erketei balgasan. They then initiated administrative and terminology reforms, and started creating state institutions, excluding one — a military. It had been proclaimed that the state was to be established on the principle of ahimsa - non-violence. Moreover. the central idea of the state was to keep its subjects outside of all military conflicts.

In response to these developments in early May of 1919 the Russian authorities arrested Tsydenov and members of his government. However. within a month Tsydenov found himself set free, and this was to happen three more times. Under Semyonov's regime Tsydenov was arrested, but every time the authorities, not wishing to strain the relations with the Buryat population, preferred to set him free. Every time Tsydenov returned from prison to Kudun valley the people considered it as evidence of his magical abilities and invulnerability. Thus within the period from the day the state was proclaimed until May 1920, the date of his last arrest, the administrative bodies of his theocratic state functioned simultaneously with those of the Buryat People's Duma, and then the Buryat-Mongolian Autonomous Region of the Far East Republic.

Even so, information about the date and circumstances of Tsydenov's death are also very scarce. The available sources say that after the last arrest of Tsydenov by the authorities of the Far-East Republic he was jailed in Verkhneudinsk where he stayed until 1922. After that he was to be exiled to an unknown remote settlement (Ochirzhapov:51). Vladimir Montlevich, without mentioning the source of the information, quotes a certain Tsygan, a person who had apparently become acquainted with Tsydenov in prison, who claimed that he met Tsydenov at the Verkhneudinsk railway station from whence he, according to his own words, "was going to Italy" (1993:35).

The Thought of Samdan Tsydenov

As some of his contemporaries stated and which is confirmed by the available documents, Tsydenov had a keen interest in Western scientific developments, world religions besides Buddhism, as well as the social order of European countries. In the recently published diary of a Russian ethnographer, Moisey Krol', who did some explorations in Transbaikalia in the late nineteenth century, there is a short story about his rather unexpected meeting with Tsydenov in August, 1893.

During the couple of days Krol' spent in the residence of the 'Holy Lama' in Kizhinga he had to answer the latter's numerous questions about [[Wikipedia:Christianity|Christianity]], Western philosophy, and the European worldview. After these sessions he wrote the following in his diary:

Who knows how many years he harbored all these questions in his soul which he vented on me? I do not know whether I have managed to satisfy his hunger for knowledge but he learnt from me the worldview about which he had no idea before we have met... And again he will withdraw into himself; again he will remove venerating Buryats from his seclusion cell with a single gesture, but now so many ideas will be left imprinted in his mind that he needs the remaining life to think over them in the breaks between chanting Tibetan sacred books and fulfilling the duties of a spiritual pastor...(2004: 80)

An even more revealing confirmation of how significant Europe was for Tsydenov is found in a poem he composed in 1896 devoted to the enthronement of Nicolas II.

The Mongolian text of this poem, published by Damdinsüreng in his 1959 anthology of Mongolian literature, is entitled "Oytaryui-dur niysünem" ("Flying in the sky," 541-47). In the concluding remarks to the text Damdinsüreng points out that only some fragments of the poem are included in the anthology. However. when the original Tibetan text of the poem was recently discovered in the archives of the Khangalov History Museum of Buryatia, it became clear that in the text published by Damdinsüreng all the passages about the enthronement ceremony and the audience with Nicolas II are omitted. Whether Damdinsüreng made these cuts, or if the text he had was already incomplete remains unclear.

Regardless, the Tibetan text of the poem has a long title: "The new song inspired by the great joy of accession to the inviolable diamond throne of the mighty Cakravartin, deity established by Heaven, Czar Nicolas, eulogizing the enthronement, narrating briefly about the glory of Russia strengthened with mighty two capitals, called 'Repeatedly gazing at the awesome Bengal and African lions in the gardens of JoIoki."[7] In the colophon, Tsydenov explains the circumstances of composing the poem that have no analogues in Buryat literature:

White Tara
When he, known as an emanation of Tara Cintamanicakra, lord of human beings, Nicolas ascended to the inviolable diamond throne in his country I had prayed to the gods of long life and had performed the rituals for his well being. When I had seen his beautiful golden face and had felt great joy I started writing these words of eulogy devoted to the festivities of the enthronement of the mighty protector of all sentient beings and to the court's nobility who attended the ceremony. The joyous speech, which is like the Tree of Life for the Teaching and sentient beings of high, medium and low mental abilities, a glorious Garuda with bare pounce, had been narrated by Guru Samdan Namdol in the gardens of Mahesvara in the best of all the cities mirage-like Saint Petersburg, Ugolnevsky region, Liteinyi prospect on the third floor of building No. 50, apartment 47 and accurately written down in the light of two electric lamps by my disciple Agvan Darjai.
The first year after the enthronement of the great Nicolas the Second on the 25th day of the sixth Mongolian month of fire-male-monkey year of the 15th Rabjung. This new song about the fame of Russia and magnificence of the monarch composed for mundane amusement was written in the golden capital of the State. Being especially adapted for easier understanding by all the court nobility it eulogises the person of the Czar. Although it had been presented to Prince Esper (Egory?) after l had returned back home l made some additions to elucidate the meaning of some words in the draft I had brought with me. And let this song with its heavenly purity excite a perfect and brilliant bliss in all sentient beings!
Under the name of Samdan I am not well known, l am better known by other names such as Siberian master of poetry Egesigtü Sattva.

The poem is written in a very complicated manner, lavishly filled with poetic metaphors, references to classical Indian mythology, religious-philosophical lyrics and splendid panegyric elements. It is curious, however, that in the parts where the author narrates about his personal impressions of Moscow and Saint Petersburg one can see the strong influence of the Tibetan traditional descriptions of Buddhist Pure Lands. As a comparison I would cite an example from a classical composition of this kind — "Wise mirror reflecting the structure of Sukhavati Land" by the famous Chakhar Lubsan Tsultim:

Saying about the virtues of the buildings and houses in the Pure Land of Sukhavati it is worth to mention the following: they are embellished with various gems. Some have pillars of red corals, ceilings of blue beryl, golden roofs and walls of crystal, floor of white corals. The gates and windows. are made of different jewels. The buildings are of hundreds thousands stories. Fences and up- and downstairs are of precious stones.
People of that abode have food in abundance. One has only to think of what he wants the precious bowls are getting filled with the meals of any colour, aroma and taste.[8]

Describing Moscow Tsydenov follows the same pattern:

The beautiful buildings reach the sky, and the clouds encircle them. When I took a closer look at the city and got a good look of the clay and stone buildings I've made sure that their nature is the five precious qualities, they are embellished with all the riches, literally covered with them. The houses lined like mountain ranges and their towers reaching the sky are filled with the ocean of treasures that can compete with those of Vaisravana. There are no hungry ones here. The local meals are cooked of precious cereals of hundreds of tastes that can satisfy all.
Many-storied buildings have gates either in the middle, or at the sides. Inside of them there are stairs winding round like spirals of shells so one can lose his direction easily. In the transparent crystal domes of the houses reaching the sky one's eyes feast upon the sites of heavenly spheres like in the festival of meeting with the abode of gods! Floors in the palaces and temples are like surface of a mirror in which either people or patterns are reflected as if one is at the bank of a lake. It is striking how blue colour of the rocky mountains, blue rays of the light melting in the space of the sky are used here instead of paint! All these incomparable many-storied buildings, surface of the concrete walls look as if they are miraculously multiplied. Suddenly, the human bodies start multiplying without limits until it is not possible to distinguish the body and its reflection. And one quickly loses one's bearings here.[9]

Despite the picturesque scenes of the two capital cities of Russia that occupy the main part of the poem they, nevertheless, serve only as a background for the description of the merits of the main personage of the poem — Nicolas II.

Tsydenov's admiration of the outer magnificence of the Czar, the splendor of the monarchical power of the empire is effectively reflected in the artistic portrayal of the ritual of coronation in the Uspensky Cathedral of the Moscow Kremlin:

After that. when the ritual of enthronement was being performed, thousands of people like the dust of all the earth gathered as a humming crowd. On a high pedestal decorated with golden networks of heavenly beauty, on the big golden path covered with carpets equal to those of Persia, the clergy in golden robes and the long-haired state preceptors — the followers of the Self-Existent who from the sphere of emptiness with a sole materializing word in six days had created the whole World, Adam and Eve, progenitors of the humankind famous for having increased the human race, gathered. They make a circumambulation holding a golden cross, sprinkle with holy water and expel evil spirits. In the moment the kingly head of this mighty Cakravartin determined by the power of eternal Heaven, god of gods of the world was being ordained to power, like a sacrificial lamp it had been encircled with a rippling ocean under the curtains of clouds of nobles that had come into the Uspensky Cathedral in splendor headed with the object of the whole world's admiration, queen of all sentient beings, Alexandra, along with brave and wise ministers with their retinue floating like the moon and the sun in the sky. And in that very moment, as a symbol of the victory over enemies, commanders fired a volley from more than a hundred guns that, as it seemed, could destroy an army of demons. And the whole universe from bottom to top got embraced with the splendor of ecstatic cries of the ocean of clergymen and loud dragon voice-like tolling of bells. When the sole father, Vishnu of the gods, was putting the precious crown on his head and received the kingdom, that had subjugated two-three universes, into his hands, he had been encircled by wise heroes such as the King of Siam, who arrived from the country of India, where Tathagatas of the three times had shown twelve deeds, and other splendid monarchs of different countries. And amidst all this magnificence he is sitting grasping in his left hand a symbol of the globe and in his right hand a scepter decorated with a vajra. And when with a smile of a hundred of thousands of universes he raised his body of the mighty expeller of enemies his dress embellished with the auspicious symbols sparkled at the edges. When his holy body decorated with the best Garuda necklace with inlaid precious stones, excited like heavenly bees in the gardens of Sankapadma, had risen above the summits of Vindhya, the clouds of people burst with ecstatic hurrahs! And with the faces shining with smiles the peoples raised their hands to the sky with the crown on the tips of their fingers. I thought then that with this one who had placed his lotus feet on the heads of hundreds of millions of two-legged, the mightiest and richest of all the greatest monarchs Mahesvara himself is not able to compete.[10]

In this fragment. as in others. Tsydenov directly refers to the Russian monarch as a cakravartin, being aware and even stressing the fact he is a non-Buddhist. As a rule, this title had been used within the boundaries of the Buddhist world, and the rulers that bore this title positioned themselves as Buddhist. Referring to Nicolas II as cakravartin seems to be even more important than all the other metaphors the author uses for describing the might and splendor of the Russian Emperor, either Indo-Buddhist: Tara Cintamanicakra,[11] Vishnu, Indra, Rama, devatideva, competing with Mahesvara; or Mongolian: determined by eternal Heaven. Comparing the Russian Emperors and Empresses to gods, the bodhisattva Tara, and designation of them as destined by Heaven are all typical for Buryat Buddhist eulogies. However, unlike all these metaphors the title cakravartin directly introduces Nicolas into the sphere of the Buddhist conception of power.

In this regard the following expression of the author's admiration of the audience with the Czar seems to us no less important: "The satisfaction of meeting with face-to-face the one who had estabished the laws that accord to Dharma [italics added], from the meeting that in a row of births is a happiest chance is like purchasing excellent goods."[12] The characteristic of the Czar highlighted by italics fully agrees with the dharmaraja, or the monarch who rules according to Dharma. In this case Dharma should be not be understood as Buddhism, since Tsydenov realised that Nicolas was not a Buddhist, but as a certain universal moral law in agreement with which a pious monarch rules.

One more detail that should be discussed in this regard is related to the alleged refusal of Tsydenov to kowtow to the enthroned Nicolas during the audience. We learn about this from Ochirzhapov's sketch, the relevant passage or which I have already quoted above. This extraordinary act may seem to us disagreeable to the spirit with which Tsydenov was composing his eulogy of the coronation and the audience. Indeed, in the poem we find a totally different description of what was going on at the audience.

Like a moon amidst the stars, the unforgettable Lord that charms minds had come out along with his spouse.
As in the moment when the surface of the extended ocean gets covered with the ripple of waves, my body got covered with golden clothes of shivering hairs. Having bent in a bow and prostrated myself thrice I have offered the objects symbolizing the wish of long and strong life welcoming scarf and a statuette of a long-life deity.[13]

This is clearly the opposite of that recorded in Ochirzhapov's sketch and we can rightfully wonder which is correct. On the basis of Tsyedenov's poem it seems as is Ochirzhapov's representation is amiss. Though should we entirely dismiss the story of Tsydenov's refusal to bow before the Czar?

In the pages of his own work Tsydenov makes himself prostrate before the Czar thus revealing his view of the Czar as a sacral figure. The poem can therefore be considered as a reflection of a certain ideal state of things, whereas the reality could disagree with it. In other words. Samdan Tsydenov may not have been ready to kowtow to the Emperor in the concrete situation, but internally, the monarch, as a holder of sacred authority, was considered by him as a figure worth worshipping. This explanation may, of course, not be very convincing. Indeed. Tsydenov's refusal could also be explained by `excessive patriotic affect that made him lose consciousness and caused mental derangement' as well.

Regardless of what actually happened, however. it seems likely to suppose that a Buddhist monk who wrote such an extended and panegyric eulogy of the splendor and magnificence of the monarchy that was only partially related to the Buddhist religion, must also have considered the monarchy itself as sacred in some fashion. Thus, one can only imagine what effect it could have had on one who considered the Czar as a divine person when it was announced in the Russian newspapers in the summer of 1918 that he and his family had been murdered. Indeed, with this view in mind, could Tsydenov truly accept any other authority as legitimate, be it the Provisional Government, Soviets, Buryat Autonomy, admiral Kolchak or Ataman Semyonov? For Tsydenov the sacred monarchy could only be replaced by another — one having the authority of an enlightened deity.

Tsydenov's Buddhist Theocratic Project


When Tsydenov was arrested in the spring of 1919 and all his property was confiscated it turned out that his seclusion cell housed a whole library of books and journals in various European languages.[14] Moreover, we have access to Tsydenov's prison notes that are mostly definitions of terms related to European political theory and Western state structure based upon an encyclopedia in his possession. And among these notes what is of particular interest is the special attention Tsydenov gave to "theocracy." In his own hand he defined it as follows: "Theocracy — a model of rule when head of state is considered a deity allegedly transmitting his orders or prohibitions to priests // rule of state by clergy acting by alleged instructions of deity // state itself with such a principle of rule."[15] Thus from the literature he possessed Tsydenov was systematically looking for the theoretical basis of the form of authority he had chosen for his statehood project.

In his own archive there is a draft copy of a declaration by Tsydenov, which was to be submitted, or had been submitted to the political court of the Baikal region of the Far-Eastern Republic in which he responds to the accusations brought against him:

I really am a King of Dharma (Dharmaraja) of Three Worlds. This authority was conferred on me by a deity. Since for my subjects I was a savior, during meetings with me they worshipped me and performed the rituals for my well being with offering gifts. I will put forth an example to explain of what degree should have been their offerings to gain merits. In ancient times there was a Khan-Cakravartin who subjugated four continents. With the power of the Cintamani Wish-fulfilling Gem he had poured down the rain of treasures until he filled all the continents and offered to the Buddhist religion his united kingdom. To conceive the measure of these offerings one should understand them as equal to those ones. To understand it as a desire for profit is a deep mistake. The religion I. am a head of is contained in the ocean of Tantra teaching that reached the boundaries of all good instructions of Buddha. Since the source of this teaching is the Great Buddha Vajradhara, a holder of ten directions and three times I would not say much about it.
We have a theocracy and most of my followers are adepts, and so they must have attributes, symbols, to behave properly. They are bound by the vow of non-violence and other vows of purity. According to them it is prohibited to serve in the army. Establishing the theocratic state I followed the principle of combining the religious and secular principles of government. It does not imply partition of the government into religious and civil bodies. The reason is that the authority is a union of religion and state. Since a theocratic policy is related to religion it considers the religion and politics in close contact. Therefore, the acts of a "lama-despot" are of a religious nature, and cannot be considered as crimes.[16]

In this document. which can tentatively be dated by 1920, Tsydenov gives us his personal (though rather officious) explanation for his motives in establishing the theocracy. And the explanation is written in the spirit of the traditional Buddhist conception of statehood and power, As we clearly see. the key element of his explanation is the basic conception of the Buddhist political theory from the time of Asoka's rule — the Dharmaraja.

Tsydenov first started calling himself Dharmaraja-of-Three-Worlds only after he had been proclaimed a theocratic head of the newly established state. Apparently, the core element of this title is Dharmaraja, or King of Dharma, a King ruling according to the Dharma, which should be, understood as a Buddhist universal all-embracing Dharma involving a philosophical-ethical principle of existence. While in recent years the essence and distinctive features of this title that was used throughout almost all of the Buddhist world has been the subject of debate among scholars. I would just note here that Tsydenov's declaration quoted above can be considered as an abridged manifestation of the Buddhist state based on the principle of non-violence.

Sergey Lepekhov maintains that Tsydenov's state was a projection of the archetypal state of Asoka's reign from the Mauryan empire thereby continuing the idea of a Buddhist golden age (1999:57). While I support this argument in general I would also point out that there was one principle difference between the two models. The idea of a Dharmaraja does not necessarily have the implication of the sacred status of its holder. As is known, excluding the legendary examples fixed in the early Buddhist sutras this title was utilized as a designation of many real historical monarchs that were considered ideal rulers in the local traditions. Ideal but not necessarily sacred.

However. as we clearly see in the scheme described by Tsydenov. both in his view of the Czar and himself. is that the status of Dharmaraja involves a transcendent nature. He says that it was a deity who empowered him with this title, meaning apparently Yamantaka - his tutelary deity during his famous twenty-year seclusion in Soorkhoi. Moreover, inclusion of his jurisdiction in the three Buddhist worlds, i.e. the whole universe, seems to be not a mere exaggeration typical for traditional Buddhists, but rather to stress the idea of the totality of his authority and its full legitimacy.[17] Tsydenov, referring to its transcendent origin, therefore considered his title and indeed his rule as indisputably sacred. In this, I believe. it differs essentially from the common understanding of this title as simply an enlightened monarch ruling in accordance with the Dharma by means of which he not only legitimates his power but also restricts it within the boundaries of the Buddhist ethic.

Tsydenov and Issues of Succession

Despite the obvious originality of Tsydenov's theocratic model he was definitely also inspired by the examples of the Buddhist theocracies of Tibet and Mongolia that were functioning during his lifetime. The Kudun theocracy, however, did not imitate the models of the Buddhist states of Inner Asia by adopting the institute of the Dalai Lama or the Jebdzundamba Khutugtu. At least in the initial stage of his state activities Tsydenov rejected the institute of a reincarnating ruler as a principle of succession.

There may be two explanations for this. First, the institution of reincarnation had never been supported by the Russian authorities, who were historically firm in rejecting this religious model of authority. As a result, the phenomenon of incarnated lamas, an inseparable element of Tibeto-Mongol Buddhism, had never been incorporated into the Buddhist traditions of Transbaikalia, even though such attempts were undertaken several times. Second, as I see it, although he had laid the theocratic foundation of the state, Tsydenov was also strongly influenced by the modern European ideas of governance as evidenced in his prison notebooks.

Thus having proclaimed himself a theocratic ruler Tsydenov determined that the mechanism of his succession would be through appointment not reincarnation. As we know he thus appointed his most intimate disciple and follower Dorzhi Badmaev (Agvan-Silnam-Tuzol-Dorje) as his heir-apparent. In case of Tsydenov's death, Badmaev was supposed to be enthroned and automatically receive the title of Dharmaraja-of-Three-Worlds. Thus this title, like that of the Czar of Russia, was to be inherited. In order to make this transmission of power legitimate in the eyes of believers Badmaev had to obtain sacred status as well. And evidence for this is reflected in the fact that after the untimely death of Badmaev from typhus in December of 1919, Tsydenov ordered that his body be exposed for a few days as an object of worship. And afterwards, the pieces of his body were used to make special pillows that were to be distributed among believers. Eventually, the body of the deceased was placed in a specially constructed stupa that was proclaimed a relic of the state (Zhigmidon: 19-20). Of further interest is how the problem of succession was later resolved. In the summer of 1921 when Tsydenov was in prison he decreed to his followers that the young adopted son of Badmaev, Bidyadara Dandaron should be his next heir-apparent. Although Dandaron never become the ruler of the state, during the 1960-70s he became famous as a Soviet religious dissident and a founder of the Neo-Buddhist movement. Nevertheless, before his enthronement Dandaron was proclaimed as a reincarnation of Gyayagsen-gegen. a famous monk from Amdo's Kumbum monastery, who during his lifetime had maintained special spiritual ties with Kizhinga Buddhists and even visited Transbaikalia several times.[18] Thus in the end it may be supposed that in this way Tsydenov tried to resolve the problem of the succession on the more solid foundation of reincarnation that he had previously rejected.


Most scholars have tended to interpret the Kudun theocratic project as a traditionalist reaction of conservative circles of the Buryat aristocracy and Buddhist ecelesiastics to the political instability of Transbaikalia in the post-Revolution years (Gerasimova 2003: 125). This common view, however, is methodologically problematic since the theocratic model invented by Tsydenov was not just a mechanical reproduction of the traditional examples of Buddhist theories of rule. Moreover, after having established the state Tsydenov made adherents create a constitution that was then approved by him. And according to the laws of the state, the next level below the Dharmaraja was the Great Suglan, or Congress of Deputies elected by all citizens over sixteen years of age. Deputies of the Suglan then elected a president, vice-president and ministers (Ochirzhapov: 12-14). The highest level of authority was, however, the Dharmaraja. With this in mind I would suggest that Tsydenov, in his state creating activities, based himself on the European standards of democracy and constitutional monarchy while maintaining the position of the supreme/sacred ruler under whose jurisdiction were the most important issues. Tsydenov's state project is therefore a kind of fusion of the Buddhist theocratic model of power with European models of state.

Tsydenov's theocratic project was, nonetheless. condemned to failure. The problem was not the pacifist nature of the state, but obviously because this project did not fit the political reality of the time.


  1. The sketch is an unpublished typescript consisting of 92 pages. The title page contains the name of the author. The manuscript is now in the private possession of Dorzhi Dugarov, who kindly allowed me to use it in this article for which I am very grateful.
  2. B. Zhigmidon. Kontrrevoliutsiia po maskoi teokratizma (Balagatchina) Ekspozitsiia Antireligioznogo Muzeia, p. 2 ([Typescript] Khangalov History Museum of Buryatia. Temporary fund. Inventory No. 422), Zhigmidon was Ochirzhapov's colleague in the Antireligious Museum of Verkhneudinsk/Ulan-Ude in the 1930s and the two sketches appeared as a part of a preparatory work for an exhibition devoted to the Balagat movement. which was planned to be shown in the museum. We do not know whether it was ever actually exhibited. Nevertheless, Zhigmidon`s sketch is actually the preliminary notes m the exhibition's conception.
  3. In the personal archive of Samdan Tsydenov there is Certificate # 151 given to him confirming his status as an official delegate to Moscow, who was to take part in "the Holy Coronation of Their imperial Majesties." Center of Oriental Manuscripts and Xylographs of the Institute of Mongolian, Tibetan and Buddhist studies of the Siberian Branch of Russian Academy of Sciences (COMX IMTBS). Delo # 636. Folio 5.
  4. In the personal archive of Samdan Tsydenov there is Certificate of Decoration for his name. COMX IMTBS. Delo # 636, Folio 6
  5. Personal archive. of Samdan Tsydenov. COMX IMTBS. Delo # 636. Folio 10. The fragment is added by Tsydenov's hand to the typewritten petition.
  6. The supporters of the theocracy started protesting against the involvement of the Buryat population in armed conflicts from the spring of 1918 when the Transbaikalian Military-Revolutionary Headquarter proclaimed their mobilisation in the Red Army. The main critique of the theocratists was directed at the policy of Burnatskom that promoted this Bolshevik initiative. Tsydenov's pacifist supporters even accused the authorities of trying to establish administrative bodies — somons, khoshuuns and aimaks - that were historically of Mongol military origin. Rather than using these military terms the theocratists invented new terms for their administrative body, namely balagat, the etymology of which remalns unclear and still is the subject of debate.
  7. Stobs kyi 'khor los bsgyur ba chen po gnam bskos kyi lha ni h'u la'i rgyal po mi 'jigs rdo rje'i khri la bzhugs te 'phrin las rdzogs ldan gsar ba ngoms pa'i dus kyi spa yar chen po mjal ba'i skabs rgyal po khrir phebs kyi che brjod pho brang chen po gnysis kyis gtso byas pa'i yul ru shsh'i grags brjod dang bcas pa mdo tsam brjod pa'i skyid glu gsar ba jo'u lo ki'l skyid tshal du bha ngala dang a phri ka'i seng ge rnam par bskyings pa lan mang mthong ba zhes bya bzhugs so. Khangalov History Museum of Buryatia. Temporary fund, Inventory No. 422. It seems that the manuscript is a copy of the original from which it was copied later. The text is written in Tibetan dbu can script in the lined copybook of 20 sheets with a cover on which there are printed Lenin and Stalin's images. The copybook is produced by Leningrad paper factory "Svetoch." The face-side of the cover contains the inscription written manually by grey pencil "#5" and by black ink "Teokratizm" Rukopis' Tsydenova. [Illegible fragment] Zhigzhitova I Rinchinova (the last word underlined], Gorod Ulan-Ude 1936 god."
  8. Mongolian collection of COMX IMTBS M II, # 37. Ff, 8v, 13v.
  9. Stobs kyi 'khor los bsgyu...:4-5.
  10. Stobs kyi 'khor los bsgyur....: 7-9.
  11. Curiously. Tsydenov only once mentions Nicolas as an emanation of White Tara. the most honorific title of the Russian emperors and empresses widely accepted among Buryat Buddhists.
  12. Stobs kyi 'khor los bsgyur...18.
  13. Stobs kyi -'khor los bsgyur...18
  14. There is a short description of the first arrest of Tsydenov by a joint commission of the Buryat People's Duma, the then ruling-body of the Transbaikalian Buryat Government, and Semyonov's administration. It is in Mongolian and kept in the Mongolian collection of COMX IMBTS M I, #516.
  15. Archive of Samdan Tsydenov, Tibetan collection of COMX IMTBS. P. 128r.
  16. Archive of Samdan Tsydenov. Tibetan collection of COMIX IMTBS. P. 11r-12v.
  17. For example. in his poem Tsydenov uses the same scale describing the vastness of the Russian emperor's power "that had subjugated two-three universes.
  18. See Ochirzhapov: 39.