The Trial of Dandaron, December 1972 (28.6)

«No 28 : 31 December 1972»

In proceedings which lasted from 18 to 25 December 1972, B.D. Dandaron, a research officer of the Buryat Institute of Social Sciences of the USSR Academy of Sciences (Siberian Section), was tried in the people’s court of the October district of the city of Ulan-Ude.

Bidia Dandaron, 1914-1974

Dandaron was indicted under Article 227 pt. 1 of the RSFSR Criminal Code (“infringement of the person and rights of citizens under the pretext of performing religious rites”), and under Article 147, pt. 3 (“fraud; i.e., acquiring the personal property of citizens, or acquiring rights to property, by means of deception or an abuse of trust – which act does substantial damage to the injured party or is committed by an especially dangerous recidivist”). The composition of the court was as follows; chairman, I. Kh. Dyomin; people’s assessors, D. S. Dymbrylova and A. D. Merkel; procurator, A. F. Baiborodin; defence counsel, Nelly Ya. Nimirinskaya [note 1].

There was a very brief report about this case in CCE 27.2 (item 4). Further details are as follows.

Buddha’s Smile

“A New Case Concerning Ritual Sacrifices” [note 2]

B. D. Dandaron (b. 1914), an outstanding authority on Buddhism, was imprisoned in 1937 under Article 58 [counter-revolutionary activities] of the Criminal Code then in force. In 1947 he was again convicted. After serving almost 20 years he was fully exculpated in 1956.

At his recent trial, Dandaron was charged with organizing and directing a “secret Buddhist sect” in 1971-1972. In particular, Dandaron and eight of his “pupils” were charged with conducting Buddhist religious rites in private homes in the cities of Leningrad Tartu and Ulan-Ude (and in [the village of] Kizhinga), rites accompanied by “bloody sacrifices” and “ritual copulation” which testified to the “sexual mysticism” of members of the “sect.” In the formulations of the indictment there also figured attempts to murder or beat former members of the sect who had wanted to break with It, and “contacts with foreign countries and international Zionism.”


More than 80 witnesses were due to appear at the trial. Buddhologists in Moscow, Leningrad, Vilnius and Tartu were subjected to detentions, searches and interrogations. In particular, E.V. Burobina, an investigator of the procurator’s office of the Cheryomushki district of Moscow (on the basis of a warrant from the investigations administration of the procurator’s office of the Buryat ASSR) conducted a search at the home of one of the most prominent specialists on Sanskrit and Buddhist philosophy, O.F. Volkova, a member of the staff at the Institute of Oriental Studies of the USSR Academy of Sciences.

Several Tibetan canonical texts, works of Buddhist art, and two copies of the Bible were confiscated from Volkova. Subsequently Volkova, as well as the well-known scholars A. M. Pyatigorsky and Yu.M. Parfyonovich (Moscow) and L.E. Mall (Tartu), was subjected to interrogations in connection with “the case of the Buddhist sect”. Volkova sent N.V. Podgorny [Chairman of the Supreme Soviet] and R.A. Rudenko, [Procurator General of the USSR] a declaration, protesting against this “crude and ignorant act”, in which she noted that the whole history of Buddhism has never involved bloody sacrifices, and that the concept of a “religious group” does not exist in Buddhism. She demanded the return of the articles confiscated from her; and she requested the intervention of the addressees in this “case” instigated by the Buryat procurator’s office.

Evidently, the publicity attracted by this contrived operation prompted the Buryat procurator’s office to soft-pedal the case, at least to some extent. All the items taken from Volkova at the time her home was searched, were returned to her. And the procurator’s office explained the “essence of the matter” to Pyatigorsky and Parfyonovich in writing, declaring that there were no claims against them personally, in contradistinction to Dandaron, who in these “explanations” was described as a man “twice convicted for anti-Soviet activity”. Later, at the trial, in response to defence counsel’s protest that such a description was unlawful, Procurator Baiborodin stated that “in the days of Khrushchev, anybody and everybody was exculpated”.

Others accused and arrested

Four of those arrested with Dandaron (Yu. K. Lavrov, A.I. Zheleznov. D. Butkus and V. M. Montlevich) were ruled to be non-responsible by an expert commission of psychiatrists (F. P. Babakova, V. M. Vyeselova and V.S. Smirnov) from City Hospital No. 1 in Ulan-Ude, which recommended that they be sent to psychiatric hospitals of the special type. In all these cases a diagnosis of schizophrenia (with variations from “sluggish” to “paranoid”) followed after such remarks as: “orients himself correctly in his milieu”, “no pathological changes found in the central nervous system”, “emotionally stable”, “not sufficiently disturbed by his personal late , memory and intellect correspond to acquired knowledge and experience obtained”, “a tendency to philosophize” and “answers questions formally”. The most marked differences in the reports concerned the degree of readiness to answer questions, the descriptions ranging from “in a reserved way” to “willingly”.

Four other accused persons, V. N. Pupyshev, N. S. Munkina. D. D. Bayartuyeva and O. V. Albedil, were released from custody after they had been handed almost identical orders about the dropping of criminal proceedings, signed by investigator Major I. Khamayev and approved by B. Tsydenzhapov, deputy procurator of the Buryat ASSR (and State Councillor of Justice, third class). These stated that they had been

“active participants in the Buddhist sect headed by Dandaron … have participated in rites … at which Dandaron preached and instilled in his ‘pupils’ an unquestioning and monstrous obedience to himself as ‘guru’, idolized himself and preached a cult of violence, sexual mysticism and the necessity for the physical suppression and annihilation of everything which interfered with the Buddhist faith, and at which he infringed upon the rights, honour, dignity and personal property of his pupils….The commission of these crimes entails criminal liability under Article 227, pt. 2, of the RSFSR Criminal Code. However, taking into account the fact that Zheleznov, Montlevich, Butkus and Lavrov, the chief participants in the crimes…have by decision of the people’s court been sent to psychiatric hospitals of the closed type, it serves no purpose to institute criminal proceedings against them since their behaviour can be corrected by measures of social pressure.”

Resumé: “Criminal proceedings against … to be dropped, and the case materials to be transferred for consideration by a comrades court at his place of employment.’’ All four were dismissed from their jobs (no comrades court was needed), having forfeited the moral right to be teachers, on the basis of Article 254, para. 3, of the RSFSR Code of Labour Law. Also dismissed from their jobs as relatives of Dandaron (though not parties to the “case”) were D. S. Munkina, B. S. Munkina and D. G. Bayartuyev, director of a school in Kizhinga and an Honoured Teacher of the RSFSR. M. F. Albedil, the wife of O.V. Albedil, was expelled from graduate school at Leningrad University. In a separate ruling, the court resolved to send a letter to the Leningrad City Committee of the Party about the bad state of ideological work in Leningrad, where the majority of those tried had completed their higher education.

Violations during investigation and trial

Both the investigation and the trial abounded in violations of the law. It was discovered that Dandaron’s “rejection’’ of a defence counsel, supplied with his signature, had been forged. Another item which proved to be a forgery was a letter, which figured in the trial, from a former secretary of the Kizhinga district Party committee. Bato-Dalai Dugarov had left the Party and wanted to become a Buddhist lama. According to the letter, these actions, allegedly, were performed under the influence of Dandaron. Frightened and confused by the exhausting interrogations, which lasted from 9 am until 3 am the next morning, Dugarov testified during the investigation that he had been influenced by Dandaron. At the trial he firmly retracted this testimony.

Defence counsel Nimirinskaya managed to exercise her right to private consultation with the defendant, after signing Article 201, but only after several protests and declaring her intention to file a complaint with the USSR Procurator-General. The witness Mall (“unsuitable” to the prosecution) was not summoned to the trial at the right time; and when he nonetheless arrived in Ulan-Ude [from Estonia], KGB agents headed by Major Khamayev tried to keep him out of the courtroom. After testifying, Mall was detained and taken to the procurator’s office, where it was again demanded that he give testimony on the Dandaron case. When he refused, he was asked to “testify as a witness” in his own case (which had been separated). The aforementioned prosecutor Baiborodin was at the same time chief investigator for the Dandaron case. Defence counsel’s request that Baiborodin be excluded as prosecutor was refused. At the trial, Baiborodin stated that the abnormality and malignity of the defendants was evident from the fact that “all intelligent people are leaving Buryatia” and yet these people stayed here. Defence counsel’s demand that the court issue a ruling on such utterances by the prosecutor was likewise rejected. When the court retired to chambers for consultation MVD Colonel Akhmedzyanov came in and remained there until the end of the consultation. Frequent telephone calls from the chambers were heard.

In the course of the trial almost all the charges were, in effect, withdrawn. The text of the report by experts in “scientific atheism and artistic matters”, was presented by K. M. Gerasimova, head of the Buddhology Section at the Buryat Institute of Social Sciences, and by A. D. Dugar-Nimayev, Dandaron’s immediate superior. It contained absurd fabrications about the “sexual mysticism” of the Buddhist religion and to the effect that “Buddhism is violence, and it includes fanatical sects.” Gerasimova did not attend the trial; Dugar-Nimayev refused to answer defence counsel’s questions, claiming he was not competent in matters of Buddhism. The witness Pyotr Dambadarzhayev, who was brought to the court from a hospital where he was being treated for alcoholism, was caught in a lie by Mall, who had allegedly beaten him up and tried to kill him for his “breaking with the sect”. Dambadarzhayev changed his testimony as he went along, and ultimately tied himself in knots. The chief witness was Badmayeva, a graduate student at the Institute of Ethnography of the USSR Academy of Sciences. Prior to the trial she had been questioned many hours a day for 21 days in a row and was in hysterics at the trial.

A couple named Petrov, who likewise had been questioned repeatedly and for a long lime, refused to confirm that their 16-year-old son had attended prayer meetings and under the influence of Dandaron, converted to Buddhism. The charge of exercising “a corrupting influence on youth” also, therefore, fell by the wayside. The Supreme Lama of Buryatia, Pandit Khambo Lama, refused to support the charges of sectarianism brought against Dandaron, and refuted them, giving exhaustive (although not “scientifically-atheistic”) explanations of the nature of Buddhist rituals. In the defence counsel’s four-hour speech Nimirinskaya completely proved the innocence of her client.


There is an amazing similarity between the “Dandaron case”, the infamous [1911] “Beilis case” and, also, the “Multan affair” of ‘blood sacrifice’ described by Vladimir Korolenko in 1896 — thanks to his intervention it ended with a finding of “not guilty” for the accused outsiders [note 3]. One is also struck by a difference, however: the guilty verdict. Let us now quote this verdict, preserving the peculiarities of style.

Proofs of guilt:

  • All the members of the group would assemble for prayers and religious rites as confirmed by Dandaron and all his pupils;
  • An underground fund was set up. Dandaron first appointed Badmayeva as treasurer, then Lavrov. This was confirmed by Dandaron, Badmayeva, Aranov, Pupyshev and others;
  • From the conclusion of the expert commission of scientific atheists it is evident that Buddhism is characterized by the worship, honouring, and idolizing of the guru, and by bringing gifts to him.

“Dandaron did not deny that he was a guru; and the witnesses Repka, Albedil, the Petrovs, and many others confirmed that they revered him as one reveres a spiritual teacher. This is borne out by reproductions of a photograph of Dandaron in the garb of a lama …” (This refers to a photograph taken by a correspondent of the Novosti Press Agency at his own request “for ethnographic purposes”.)

As a result, B. D. Dandaron was found guilty of committing crimes as stipulated in Article 227, pt. 1, and Article 147 pt. 3, and sentenced (on the basis of the second of these articles) to 5 years’ deprivation of freedom [note 4].



[1] Nelly Yakovlevna Nimirinskaya, a resident of Voroshilovgrad (Lugansk) in Ukraine, was also defence attorney in the cases of Victor Khaustov (CCE 32.2) and Victor Nekipelov (see CCE 32.4).

[2] A collection of documents on this case was compiled and edited (with two photographs of Dandaron) by Yelena Semeka, Delo Dandarona, Edizioni Aurora, Florence, 1974. Two of these documents were translated into English with a commentary in Religion in Communist Lands (Keston College), 1973, Nos. 4-5.

[3] In the 19th century, Finnish-speaking Votyak villagers from Stary Multan (Udmurtia) were tried on a charge of human sacrifice but acquitted. Mendel Beilis, a Kiev Jew, was tried and acquitted on a charge of human sacrifice in 1913.

[4] Dandaron died in a forced labour camp at Vydrino near Lake Baikal on 26 October 1974, apparently from mistreatment. See the interview about him given by Dr. Pyatigorsky in The Observer, London, 1 December 1974.