The Beginning of Buddhism in Estonia: Roman Ungern von Sternberg

​In addition to Karl Tõnisson, Estonia has another Buddhist religious hero: Baron Roman Ungern von Sternberg. Ungern was born in Austria to a Baltic-German family, grew up in Estonia, studied in St Petersburg, and became an honoured guest of the Buddhist elite of Mongolia and Buryatia. He fought against communists and shared the idea of a new theocratic Buddhist state in Asia. Ungern von Sternberg is not known as a Buddhist in Estonia, although writings about him as a Buddhist via family traditions existed already in Czarist Russia. He was in close contact with Agvan Dorjiev, the teacher of the 13th Dalai Lama, with the Buddhist elite of Mongolia and Buryatia, and with Karl Tõnisson.

After the Bolshevik-led October Revolution of 1917, Ungern von Sternberg raised his banner against communists. He fought in Transbaikal, trying to establish the first Buddhist theocratic empire in the world. It was supposed to be the foundation of a future great Buddhist state, within the same borders as the empire of Genghis Khan. In February 1921, baron Ungern freed Urgaa and HH Djebtsung Damba Hutukhta, and restored the Bogdo Gegen to his rightful throne. The Bogdo Gegen granted Ungern the high title of chin wang in the degree of khan, which was usually given only to the descendants of Genghis Khan. In 1921, Ungern von Sternberg was betrayed, turned over to the communists, and executed.​

Ungern’s ideal of a Buddhist state was shared by Agvan Dorjiev and Karl Tõnisson, who often wrote in his books about the Buddhist state of Pan-Baltoonia, which was supposed to extend to the Himalayas. Ungern was viewed by the Mongols as the incarnation of the “God of War”, and many Mongols believed him to be a deity and an incarnation of Genghis Khan.​

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