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.