Buddhism in Mongolia 19-20th Century

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Buddhism in Mongolia at the Boundary of the 19-20th Century

From: Buddhism in Mongolia (Historical Survey), Ulaanbaatar 1981
By: Section of Studies of Gandantegchenlin Monastery

As a result of the growing number of monasteries and temples, monks, incarnations and saints becoming less zealous towards religious services, by the middle of the 19th century Buddhism was on the decline.

Among higher ranking monks there was rivalry for fame and they set up their own temples so that the number of monasteries and temples rapidly increased. In the mid-18th century there existed 120 monasteries in Mongolia but the number grew in the second half of the 19th century, reaching 750. There were differences between higher and lower ranking monks and the discord between them even deepened.

There were a growing number of monks who, instead of truly studying the Buddhist teaching and helping all the living beings by performing meritorious deeds, were egoists, doing everything for their own benefit, for wealth, authority and reputation.

There also appeared a new reforming tendency aimed at ultimately fulfilling the sacred religious doctrine and eliminating all kinds of weakness of monks, such as pursuing the interests of their own and violating their vows. The modernists tried to purge Mongolian Lamaism from various violations and to pursue the faith in accordance with the form of the ancient Buddhist leaching, to make lamas fulfil their vows as ancient Indian Buddhist monks did, to live modestly and to follow the Buddhist doctrine only.

Although the Lamaism in Mongolia suffered a crisis, lamas were a powerful and influential force in Mongolian society. They became stronger both economically and ideologically, and gradually gained political power. It was vividly manifested in the period of the monarchy (1911-1919) headed by the Bogd Khan Elevated by all.

Under the historically definite circumstances at the start of the 20th century, when the movement for national independence included all sections of society, Lamaism was the factor that united the aspirations and might of the nation. The national liberation movement developed in the country originally to propagate the religion, and it was pursued under the slogan of re-establishing the national state. There was none other than the Bogd Gegeen, the head of Mongolian Lamaism who was influential, powerful and most authoritative among all of the Mongols to lead the movement. For these reasons and as a result of the 1910-1911 national liberation movement of the Mongolian people, a monarchy was established headed by the Bogd Khan Elevated by all, who ruled both state and religious affairs.

During the monarchy the most important state posts were occupied by higher-ranking lamas, religious and monastic regulations deeply penetrated all spheres of public life and all religious affairs were regarded as problems of primary importance for the state. Lamas who were in the state apparatus patronized the religion in every possible way. The autonomous rights of the monasteries in the country were abolished and they became subject to the Erdene Shanzodba and Khambo Nomun Khan’s office of Ikh Khüree. The local administrations of banners stopped to control over the affairs of monasteries in their respective banners.

Under the monarchy the monasteries and their monks grew in number, higher ranking lamas got higher titles which were conferred by secular feudals. The number of incarnations and saints who enjoyed the right to have serfs increased to 40, and they took away by force serfs from secular feudals. The number of ecclesiastic serfs grew rapidly. At the same time the Great Shabi was liberated from duties of military and horse-relay service for ever. The serfs of incarnations and saints and monasteries in most cases were free from various state duties and horse-relay service. A major part of the state income was allocated for religious affairs and monasteries.

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