The Last of a Good Lama
Lucifer, September, 1887
Whatever may be said against godless Buddhism, its influence, wherever it penetrates, is most beneficent. One finds the Spirit of “Lord Buddha . . . most pitiful, the Teacher of Nirvâna and the Law,” ennobling even the least philosophical of the dissenting sects of his religion—the Lamaism of the nomadic Kalmucks. The Caspian Steppes witnessed, only a few months ago, the solemn cremation and burial of a Mongolian saint, whose ashes were watered by as many Christian as Lamaic tears. The high priest to the Russian Kalmucks of the Volga died December 26th, 1886, near Vetlyanka, once the seat of the most terrible epidemics. The Gelungs had chosen the day of ceremony in accordance with their sacred books; the hour was fixed astrologically, and at noon on January 4th, 1887, the imposing ceremony took place. More than 80,000 people assembling from all the neighbouring Cossack stanitzas and Kalmuck ooloosses, formed a procession surrounding the pillar of cremation. The corpse having been fixed in an iron arm-chair, used on such ceremonies, was introduced into the hollow pillar, the flames being fed with supplies of fresh butter. During the whole burning, the crowd never ceased weeping and lamenting, the Russians being most violent in their expressions of sorrow, and with reason. For long years the defunct Lama had been a kind father to all the poor in the country, whether Christian or Lamaist. Whole villages of proletarians had been fed, clothed, and their poll-taxes paid out of his own private income. His property in pasture lands, cattle, and tithes was very large, yet the Lama was ever in want of money. With his death, the poor wretches, who could hardly keep soul in their bodies, have no prospect but starvation. Thus the tears of the Christians were as abundant, if not quite as unselfish, as those of the poor Pagans. Only the year before, the good Lama received 4,000 roubles from a Kalmuck oolooss (camp) and gave the whole to rebuild a burned down Russian village, and thus saved hundreds from death by hunger. He was never known during his long life to refuse any man, woman, or child, in need, whether Pagan or Christian, depriving himself of every comfort to help his poorer fellow-creatures. Thus died the last of the Lamas of the priestly hierarchy sent to the Astrakhan Kalmucks from beyond the “Snowy Range” some sixty years ago. A shameful story is told of how a travelling Christian pilgrim imposed on the good Lama. The Lama had entrusted him with 30,000 roubles to be placed in the neighbouring town: but the Christian pilgrim disappeared, and the money with him.