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Buddhism in Mongolia e1692254386252

Lamaism and the Mongolian Great Haans

According to the results of Dr.Suhbaatar’s study, the earliest sources for Lamaism influence upon Mongolia were a golden idol of Buddha, which belonged to the Tuguhani aimag of the Hunnu Dynasty and was taken away by the soldiers of U-Di, the fifth emperor of the Han in 140 BC. Moreover, the original territory of the Hugyhans had been located to the north of Yellow River, Shiliin Gol aimag |now Inner Mongolia|. They migrated to the area surrounding Lake Hoh Nuur |Blue Lake| in about 285 BC, where they established the Tuguhani Empire, which was prosperous and powerful until the seventh century AD. Comparing a variety of sources, Mr.Albert Hermann, in his Historical Atlas of China, reckoned the areas surrounding the Yellow River to be inside the territory of the Hunnu and Sumbe Dynasties, and the region around Hoh Nuur outside of it. However, Academician Ts.Damdinsuren in his Historical Origins of Geser wrote, “In Amdo at the source of the Manchu |Huanhe|, Zanchu |Yaluntsyan| and Bruchu rivers, and the area surrounding Hoh Nuur dwelled the Hunnu, Sumbe, and Tuguhans in turn. Up to around 1131, the Mongolian tribes of the Jahor or Daldchuud, Oirads, Halhas; the Tibetan tribes of the Tanguuds and Jonis; and the Tureg tribes of Shar Yogor |Yellow Uighur|, Salar and others lived there”. This indicates that the Hunnus occupied the origin of the Sumbe and Tuguhani aimgas when they controlled the area around Hoh Nuur.

     Not only did the Hunnus, but also the Dynasties of Sumbe, Great Nirun, and Tureg temporarily occupy Tuguhani, and Uighur did so too. Located in these areas, along the Ezenii Gol |river| or along the Silk Road, they were able to enjoy the cultural and economic benefits of traffic passing back and forth from and Europe and India to China and the East. For instance, the aforementioned golden idol of Buddha, which was taken away by the soldiers of the Chinese Han Empire, was brought from India to the Tuguhans of the Silk Road.

     Although during the period of Tanshihuay |131-181|, the Tuguhuns, with some of their Buddhist learnings too, was involved with the Sumbe Dynasty, its general influence over the aristocracy of the Sumbe remained slight. COnsequently, Lamaism had to co-exist with the dominant religion of Shamanism. In this regard, Ch.Dalay wrote, Sumbe’s Taydzu Haan gathered together a number of Shamans from more than forty places and carried out genuine shaman worship annually”. The influence of other religions was somewhat greater on the Turegs and Uighurs because they had closer ties to Central Asia and India between 552 and 840. N .Ya.Bichurin and Dorje Banzarov wrote, “Lamaism began to spread officially in the steppe lands from the end of the sixth century, during the period of Turegs Tobou Haan…” However, N.Dangaasuren and N.Erdenepil cite S. V.Kiselev’s Ancient History of Southern Siberia |in Russian| that Tobou Haan had spread the teaching of Buddha in Mongolia in 572. The detailed study of the sources indicates that the term “Steppe Land” probably meant Mongolia.

     This kind of one-sided approach may be misleading because problems concerning the spread of religion are better-considered relation in relation to the geographical situation and historical civilizations as well as just on a national or ethnic basis. Even though a golden idol of Buddha was found in the Tuguhuni aimag situated along the Silk Road in the Hunnu period or in the  Haan’s Palace of Great Nirun |located to the north of Hangay Ridge|, Shaman worship remained preferable to idol-worship. In this respect, it is necessary to carry out more sophisticated research concerning the extent of ofTureg domination and the point at which Tobou Haan officially accepted Lamaism. In any case, the route taken by Fa Xiani Huushaan, the so-called “Tansan Lama”, |on a journey to the Tan Empire’s second Haan| must have traveled along the Silk Road. Lamaism, with its Indian religious teachings and customs, assuredly entered the territory of the Mongolian and Uighurian aimags by this route. The Tansan Lama who received with great honor by a number of Mongolian and UIghurian Hans. However, the sources show that none of these Uighur and Mongol Hans had more than regional authority. 

     Researchers from Mongolia, the former Soviet Union, and Germany have discovered several monasteries, temples, and idols of Lamaism in Mongolia and Turphan that provide physical evidence for the spread of Lamaism and Buddhist teaching during the period of the Uighur Dynasty. The Finnish scholar Ramstedt reached the more interesting conclusion that some Indian terms and words related to Buddhism entered the Mongolian language through Uighurian. In his Uighurian Brief History he emphasized that when Lamaism began to flourish in Mongolia, it did not spread in Tibet where Shamanism remained the only major religion. However, in the seventh century, during the reign of Soronzongombo Haan, Lamaism infiltrated the national literacy and culture of Tibet, and rulers began to pursue specifically Lamaism policies that involved the dissolution of Shamanism and the creation of Tibetan Lamaism as the state religion. This also created an opportunity for Lamaism to spread more rapidly through Mongolia.

     Because Tibet was a mountainous region with a nomadic civilization, the combination of Indian Buddhism with Tibetan conditions provided a major opportunity to spread Buddhism in Mongolia. After that time, Lamaism began to adapt to the Mongolian nomadic environment in the north of the Silk Road, becoming familiar to and respected by, the Mongolian Haans and Kings. According to Bolor Toli and other historical sources, Chinggis Haan sent a letter to the Great Lama Gungaajimbuu of the Saja monastery in Tibet, which said, “I was going to fetch you, but state and military works are still accomplished insufficiently. So I will fetch you to Mongolia when they are completed”. Erdenepil Gavj studied Gungaajimbuu’s life and times |1092-1158|, and concluded that Chinggis Haan could not have corresponded with him, but established that he was in correspondence with Great Lama Gungaajaltsan of the same Monastery. In the History of the Mongols, British researcher H.Covorche wrote that two Lamaism disciples who left Kashmir for Mongolia met Ogoodey’s son Goodon Haan, as well as Monh Haan several times. They were accorded respect and were rewarded handsomely by the Mongol Haans. Furthermore, Ogoodey Haan personally received a messenger from Saja Monastery. Erdenepil quoted Darmadalay’s Hor Choizon that, according to an invitation of Goodon Haan, Gungaajaltsan of Saja Monastery went to Hoh Nuur to meet him.

     All these events suggest that in regard to meeting religious leaders, Chinggis Haan always put state and military concerns first. Indeed, he did not invite the Tibetan Great Lama, but only wrote to him that he would do so when matters of war and state had been accomplished. It seems that Ogoodey Haan also did not visit Tibet after receiving Saja Monastery’s invitation. In this way, Mongolia’s great Haans declined either to invite Great Lamas to Mongolia or to visit Tibet themselves. The same was true of some officials of the second rank of Goodon and in neutral localities between Mongolia and Tibet such as Hoh Nuur, where they supposedly demonstrated greater respect and honor for Buddhism and missionary activity was in progress. This distance in relations may have amounted to a conscious policy to keep Buddhism at arm’s length.

     During the period of Hubilay Setsen Haan, Pagva Lama |1234-1279|, a preacher of Tibetan Lamaism was invited to the Mongolian capital city and was granted the honorary title of “Great Book Teacher of State and Haan”, this resulted in the Yuan Empire maintaining a Lama next to the great Haan. Consequently, the influence of Lamaism upon the empire’s state bodies and officials began to intensify. Monasteries and temples, which had been broken or burn down during the period of Ogoodey Haan, were restored and the number of Buddhist monasteries and Lamas increased considerably in parallel with the Chinese sedentary civilization of the Yuan Empire. However, the Buddhist, centralized and sedentary state of the Yuan Dynasty and the Shamanist Mongolian nomadic state could not co-exist peacefully for long. As with many other historical empires, the pressures of trying to follow multiple religions simultaneously created enormous internal tensions. These tensions were a major cause of the destruction of the Yuan Empire.

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