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reed magazine logoSpring 2009

James Meador

  • Hometown: New Paltz, New York
  • Adviser: Lena Lencek, Ken Brashier
  • Thesis:Moscow Tantric Blues: Bidiya Dandaron’s Letters to Nataliya Kovrigina 1956–1959
  • What it’s about: See below.
  • What it’s really about: A valiant but impossible attempt to capture love with ideas.
  • Cool stuff:Russian House, Star-Spangled Youth Orchestra’s Pioneer Square Pageant, rock climbing, Glow Opera, tutoring refugees in English, Volunteering at Outside In.
  • Financial Aid: Yes
  • Random Thoughts: I was a curious but relatively undisciplined high school student, over-impressed with myself and under-impressed with others and the complexity of the world around me. Reed helped me deepen my understanding of myself as an individual, while somehow managing to introduce me to the importance of community. Reed provided an ideal environment to pursue my curiosity down the rabbit hole alongside an inspiring and delightfully idiosyncratic group of faculty and peers.

Moscow Tantric Blues

Russian/religion major James Meador’s thesis, Moscow Tantric Blues, explores the life and times of Buddhist philosopher Bidiya Dandaron [1914–1974], a fascinating character who was imprisoned in the Soviet Gulag for almost twenty years. Dandaron was a Buryat, a member of a Monogolian ethnic group with strong Buddhist traditions. Recognized as a boy to be the reincarnation of a Buddhist lama, Dandaron ran afoul of the Soviet war on religion from a young age. Along with countless others, he was arrested in the Great Purge of 1937 and sentenced to the Gulag. William Blake once declared, “I must Create a System, or be enslav’d by another Man’s,” and this is essentially how Dandaron survived the Communist prison camps. He focused on transcending the material world through meditation that allowed him to “break through” to higher reality.

After his release in 1956, Dandaron met Natalia Kovrigina, with whom he fell deeply in love. In a series of letters to her, he elaborated an apocalyptic religious-erotic vision that promised to transform the human into the divine through sexual union. Dandaron hoped to persuade her to accept both his religious philosophy and his hand in marriage. Natalia “ultimately didn’t buy it,” Meador says.

But the ideas he began to develop in the letters later won him a devoted following of Russian converts to Buddhism.

Meador stumbled across the letters in a second-hand bookstore during a year studying abroad in St. Petersburg. Researching the thesis involved significant research into Buddhism, Symbolism, neo-Kantianism, and the Gulag system, not to mention navigating his way through rival factions of Dandaron’s followers. Working on the thesis “gave me a glimpse of one difficult but inspiring life in Soviet Russia,” Meador says, “and provided a striking example of just how powerful an idea can be.”

Lena Lencek, his adviser in the Russian department, calls it “a massive, excellent thesis on a thoroughly original topic.”

reed magazine logoSpring 2009