By Francis Scarr
It’s not something you’d expect to stumble across it in the heartland of industrial, orthodox Russia. But nestled at the summit of Mount Kachkanar in the Central Urals, lies the Shad Tchup Ling, a Buddhist monastery founded in 1995 by Lama Tenzin Dokshit – also known as Mikhail Sannikov.
Following his religious training in Buryatia, one of Russia’s traditionally Buddhist regions, Sannikov embarked on the mission of a lifetime: he decided to create the first Buddhist centre in the Ural mountains. In fact, what Sannikov created was the only establishment outside of the Buddhist-majority regions of Tuva, Kalmykia and Buryatia with the exception of St Petersburg’s Datsan Gunzechoinei temple.
In recent months, however, the tranquility amongst the rocky forests of Kachkanar has been disrupted by a court ruling made last summer, which ordered the inhabitants of the monastery to abandon their dwelling. The monastery, the court said, would be demolished in March 2016.
It was all a question of economics. In their ruling, the legislators gave two reasons for their decision: the first being that the monastery was located on federal property, and the second being that an iron mine owned by Evraz (a large international firm in which Russian oligarch, Roman Abramovich, has a substantial stake) gapes open at the foot of the mountain with further expansion planned in the area deep underneath the monastery itself.
On a recent visit to the monastery I was welcomed by Arseniy Bakharev, the man in charge, who was eager to show his guests around. Over a steaming cup of ginger tea, we discussed the monastery’s future.
Arseniy did not seem at all perturbed by the development of events since last summer’s ruling. In fact, despite the forceful legislation, his attitude was brightly optimistic as he proudly spoke of plans to construct a guest house for visitors. This, he explained, would happen once the spring had arrived and the dense layers of snow surrounding the monastery had melted. He also spoke of his previous companions on Kachkanar who are currently completing their monastic training in China and India, but soon to return to the monastery. He imbued us all with a sense of hope for Shad Tchup Ling’s future development.
Arseniy’s unyielding faith in the monastery’s future has been reflected in a petition which last month aroused waves of support – gaining almost 5000 signatures – not only from locals determined to save the monastery, but even from Boris Grebenshchikov, arguably one of Russia’s greatest living musicians.
The stalwart resilience of the monastery’s members, aided by the petition, has now delivered a surprisingly positive result. On 26th February, the governor of Sverdlovsk Oblast announced that the intended demolition had temporarily been cancelled with discussions expected to begin with the inhabitants Shad Tchup Ling some time soon in order to find a long-term solution.
At least for now the community can continue to live in peace – with the imminent threat to its future fading into the clouds floating below Kachkanar’s summit.