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Good Questions

June 21, 2013

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One of my former students asked me about the relationship between Buddhism and Shamanism and I thought it would be good to post my answer here, since this has been a focus of our thoughts and discussions on this trip. This photo is of the Buddhist shrine at the place where we stopped to eat lunch on the way from the yurt camp.

The shamans are not tied into Buddhism at all. Shamanism is the indigenous religion and has been practiced here much longer than any other religion. Buddhism arrived here with the Mongols after they converted (at one point we were very close to the border with Mongolia). Most people in Tuva practice elements of both Shamanism and Buddhism. For some things, they visit the shaman, for others, they go to the lama at the temple. Sometimes, we have been told, a shaman will actually tell someone that they should visit a lama for their situation and vice versa. It is so interesting!

We can see evidence of Buddhism and Shamanism by the side of the road at sites where people worship and make offerings by the side of the road. For example, we stopped for a picnic lunch at the side of the road at a sacred site. On this site was a shaman’s fire pit and many prayer flags tied to trees. Less than 100 feet away, there was a Buddhist shrine where people had also tied flags. In fact, there were flags all around the site tied to the trees. This is one of the things that I did not expect to see here and all of this is made very interesting in the context of the Soviet Union and its attempts to control and eliminate the religious practices of the people.

Thanks for the great questions!

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