Won Buddhist Temple leader: mutual respect and tolerance characterise relations between religions in Kazakhstan

ASTANA – Kazakhstan creates conditions for representatives of various religious communities, including adherents of Buddhism, to coexist peacefully and prosper. Larisa Palagina, leader of Almaty Temple of Won Buddhism, spoke about the practice in Kazakhstan, its values, activities and interfaith relations, in an interview with The Astana Times.

Larisa Palagina, leader of Almaty Temple of Won-Buddhism.

Won Buddhism is a modernised form of the religion developed by Pak Chong Bi, also known as Sothesan Tedzhonsa (1891-1943), venerated by his followers as a Buddha of the new era. In 1924, he founded a new religious order with Buddhist teachings as its central doctrine and established a world community headquartered in Iksan, South Korea.

Almaty Temple of Won Buddhism, the only temple representing a world community of Won Buddhism, was established Sept. 16, 1992.

“Won Buddhist doctrine maintains that material values prevail in the human community at the expense of spiritual values. However, for the prosperity of a mankind and liberation from wars, evil and violence, there is a need to disclose its spiritual and moral potential,” said Palagina.

Won Buddhist dogma embraces traditional concepts of Buddhist dharma, since it is simple and convincing in terms of understanding the essence of Buddhism and nirvana. Guided by the realities of the modern time, however, Won Buddhists hold the One Circle (Il Won Sang), a symbol of the origin, essence and enlightened consciousness of the Buddha, infinity and perfection, as the object of their faith. Thus, by modernising Buddha’s teachings, Won Buddhists made his knowledge and practice accessible and applicable to daily life not only to dedicated servants, but also to all people.

The missionary activities of the Kazakh Buddhist community are divided into three main directions – the religion itself, enlightenment (education) and charity.

“The religious mission is conducted mainly in temples and churches. Its goal is to find a true path and help people find inner strength equal to the power of Buddha through regular sermon attendance, observance of rules and rituals and spiritual trainings,” she noted.

The goal of the educational mission is to eradicate ignorance and provide assistance in acquiring the necessary knowledge for the creative transformation of the world and spiritual development of the human community. Charitable work, in turn, is carried out to provide spiritual, physical and economic support to people in need.

Almaty Temple has more than 100 members, the majority of whom are Korean, and also welcomes Kazakhs, Russians and representatives of other nationalities.

“The customs and traditions of Buddhist traditions are similar in various regions where Buddhism is followed. Kazakh Buddhists adhere to the norms of religious practice and ceremonies and use similar attributes; however, it is allowed to make changes related to the peculiarities of the local life,” she said

An indispensable part of the world Buddhist community, the local temple celebrates a majority of Buddhist holidays according to the lunar calendar. The Eastern New Year, in February-March, is accompanied by festive praying ceremonies. In April, events are dedicated to the day of Won Buddhism Opening and in April-May to the Buddha’s birthday. Memorial services are organised in early June and December and Buddha’s enlightenment day is observed in late December-January.

“Kazakhstan is a country providing opportunities for different religious communities to exist and perform their activities,  guided, however, by the legal framework. Mutual respect and religious tolerance are the main concepts, characterising the relations between representatives of various confessions and the core values of true Buddhism. The local Buddhist community is open to dialogue and cooperation with other religious communities; our leaders and members are always willing to take part in events organised with government, public and religious bodies,” said Palagina.

Almaty Temple leaders have attended the Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions since the first one in 2003.

“We consider this event as the most valuable contribution of Kazakhstan to the development of world interfaith dialogue and we are proud of its significant role in uniting the efforts of world religions to preserve peace and harmony,” she added.