January 28, 2005 by AK
To those who have read Buddha’s Little Finger by Victor Pelevin, and those who have not
Baron Jungern’s “protagonist” is, in an uncanny sense, Baron Ungern-Sternberg, the White commander who captured the capital of Mongolia in 1921, driving out a Chinese garrison. I have found a detailed essay on Ungern’s life and exploits — an account that is, let’s not be ashamed of the cliché, mind-boggling. (The web publisher added a brief preface that sounds as crazy as it does Pelevin-esque.) Apart from the Mad Baron, it might be that Pelevin had in mind these passages by Leonid Yuzefovich when drawing his Chapaev:
The Russian Voice, a Berlin newspaper, published in November 1919 Arakesa-san — an essay by A. Keralnik telling the story of a certain Alexei K., a Buddhist and a Bolshevik agitator. The author first saw him shortly before the Revolution, in Japan, in Kyoto’s principal Buddhist temple: “Deep inside the temple, by the altar with a huge naked Buddha, womanlike and rounded, atop it, a bonze was reading a prayer in a snuffling voice. Oriental incenses, the bonze’s soporific recitative and monotonous lamentations of the Japanese immersed me into a strange half-sleep. When I awoke, the temple was empty; the prayers had left. Only a silver lamp over Buddha’s head lit the altar, casting shadows on the walls and the floor. Suddenly, a shadow came alive. A tall man got down on his knees and pressed his head to Buddha’s feet. Suddenly I heard, “Our Father!” I continued: “Who art in heaven.” The man rushed to me: “Did you, my brother, come to him, too? He is the end and the beginning, he is the truth!” For a moment, he hugged me, then turned around and walked out hastily. I followed him out…” A rickshaw waiting by the temple explained the man was “Arakesa-san,” that is, Alexei, a Russian married to a Japanese woman, now living in Kyoto.
The next meeting occurred in the spring of 1918 in Petrograd. This time the author saw his protagonist in a new guise: Arakesa-san was speaking to a group of workers by the Moderne Circus on the Kamennoostrovsky Pike. “I started to listen more carefully,” Keralnik narrates. “It was not a Bolshevist speech but a kind of a sermon preaching otherwordly spiritual stylitism. To destroy everything that is dual, to tear off all cloths and covers – the cloths of words, the covers of lies. One has to be truthful to the end. Parliament is a lie, property is a lie. The universal, proto-source Life is universal Truth. History is an all-round lie. The bourgeoisie wants to perpetuate it, to attach us to the lie…” A few days later Soviet papers reported that “comrade commissar Alexei K.,” who served in a “foodstuff unit” [i.e. a bunch of armed Bolsheviks responsible for taking food away from peasants], “was killed in another peasant revolt.” […]
In 1926 in Urga [the Russian name of Mongolia’s capital], which had already become Ulaan Bataar, Nikolai Roerich published a booklet entitled “The foundations of Buddhism.” An anonymous preface was, according to the author, “given by an eminent person of the Buddhist world,” but this “person” – and the Himalayan “Mahatmas” who sent a letter to Lenin – might well have been Nikolai Konstantinovich [Roerich] himself. The preface claims Gautama Buddha “gave the world a complete teaching of Communism” and reports with an air of significance, “We know how highly Lenin valued true Buddhism.”
What more can I say? Only link to Nathan’s post on non-conformist Russian sects of the past.