Buddhist Education

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

In Mongolia, the Great Vehicle of Buddhism (Mahayana) was Lamaism, which is basically much the same as the early Buddhist teaching of India. If one examines thoroughly Buddhism in Tibet and Mongolia and its fundamental teachings, one will come to a conclusion that thought Buddhism spread at various times in different countries in different forms, it has preserved the fundamental principles of the ancient religious philosophy.

Mongolian Buddhists chiefly studied and commented on theoretical works on religious philosophy, logic, psychology and literature by famous thinkers of ancient India such as Nagarjuna, Asanga, Ariyadeva, Vasubandhu, Chandrakirti, Dignagi, Dharmakirti, Buddhapalita and others.

2,500 years ago in India there emerged various philosophical schools which were counteracting each other and were divided into two major groups as perpetual conception holders who considered various universal objects and phenomena as indestructible, inseparable, not passing, uninterrupted, and the transitory conception holders who considered various universal objects and phenomena as unfeasible, disconnected, non-arriving, non-continuous.

When the Holy Buddha delivered His sermons and pointed out that the perpetual conception and the transitory conception are based on the surface structure of objects and phenomena so they are not the perfect conceptions. He said that all universal objects and phenomena are indestructible, and unfeasible, inseparable and disconnected, not going and not coming, uninterrupted and non-continuous, they should enter the state of quietude (attain nirvana). He preached the conception of the perfect middle path based on inner structure of objects and phenomena. Thus the Enlightened Buddha initiated the great compassion to remove sufferings of the samsara, which is destructible and feasible, separable and connected, going and coming, interrupted and continuous. So the conception of the middle path was not only a teaching by which to compromise the perpetual conception and the transitory conception, but it replaced the imperfect conception based on the surface structure of objects and phenomena by the perfect conception based on the inner structure of objects and phenomena.

Out of the eight negations of the conception of the middle path indestructible, inseparable, not going, uninterrupted are called the existence and unfeasible disconnecting, not coming and not continuous are called the absence. So the motionless aspect of objects and phenomena is the existence and motional aspect is the absence. So the indestructible and unfeasible express the relations of quality, the inseparable and disconnecting relations of quantity, not going and not coming – the relations of place, and uninterrupting and not continuous – the relations of time. On the whole Mongolian Buddhists have been adhering to the conception of the middle path.

If the majority of various philosophical trends of ancient India justified the division of mankind by the noble and the inferior origin, as well as into the rich and the poor, the Buddhist doctrine opposed this division and propagated the equality of mankind.

From the second half of the 17th century, when Ikh Khüree was founded, Buddhist education in Mongolia was systematized. Ikh Khüree was a major centre of Buddhist culture in Mongolia for several centuries. There were over ten thousand monks studying in Ikh Khüree. In general at each monastery in Mongolia there existed a Buddhist school where, besides the Buddhist teaching, they taught the language, theory of literature, medicine, astrology, history and art. Among the Mongolian Buddhist schools the Buddhist University at Gandan, founded in 1739, was very popular not only in Mongolia but in all of the East. Mongolian Ikh Khüree was the official religious centre. But Gandan was different from it by its liberal reformation.

Gandan was set up as a philosophical school to teach the highest doctrine of Buddhism. In fact, most prominent scholars of Buddhism graduated from this University and spiritual life at Gandan was conducted in the form of lively discussions and debates.

At that time in Buddhist schools of Mongolia the Buddhist teaching was the major subject of study. Besides that it was of primary importance to train monks to perform all kinds of religious rituals at numerous monasteries, and they were taught the five great sciences and the five small sciences which were introduced in Mongolia simultaneously with Buddhism. According to the ancient Indian, Tibetan and Mongolian tradition the five great sciences were philology, logic, technology, Buddhist doctrine and medicine, and the five small sciences being astrology, theory of literature, allegorical poetics and playwriting.

At Buddhist schools they first taught how to read and trained them to learn by heart primary recitation. The second stage was to study in various faculties, or datsans. Faculties were the most important seats of religious education and almost every monastery had its own faculties. In Mongolian monasteries there were mostly faculties of philosophy, medicine, Mantra, Tantra and astrology. There were over ten faculties in Ikh Khüree. The faculty of Tantra was founded in 1739, the faculty of philosophy – in 1756, the faculty of medicine – in 1760, the faculty of astrology – in 1779, and the faculty of Mantra – in 1790.

In the Gandan monastery in Ikh Khüree founded in 1838 there were three faculties of Buddhist philosophy, such as Dashchoimbol, Gungaachoilin and Idgaachoilin. The most important fundamental subject at various faculties was the Buddhist philosophy which was the core of the Buddhist doctrine. Anyone who graduated from the faculty of Buddhist philosophy got the degree of Gabju. After that he had to enter the faculty of Tantra to obtain the highest degree of Buddhology Agramba, where the main subject of study was Tantra. It was considered that by studying Tantra one can reach the peak of Buddhist studies and acquire supernatural power. Graduates from various faculties of Buddhist studies stayed at monasteries and temples, being engaged in religious services, teaching Buddhist students, and propagated among the believers the Buddhist ideology.

Those well-versed in the Buddhist teaching translated or made commentaries on Buddhist sutras as well as composed their own works. They translated and printed by xylographic means various works by ancient Indian and Tibetan scholars, and religious hymns. In 1718-1720 were printed by xylographic means 108 volumes of Kanjur translated under the guidance of Ligden Khan and in 1741-1749, 220 volumes of Tanjur translated by 35 translators and scholars headed by Kunga-Odser.

The Mongols translated works in various fields of knowledge from Sanskrit and Tibetan, and they also created an increasing number of works of their own in Tibetan and Mongolian. The late Most Venerable Gabju Samaageen Gombojav Khambo lama of the Gangdantegchenling Monastery in his report to the first International Congress of Mongolists enumerated 208 authors with a list of their works, and stated that it was not the complete list. Their works numbered several hundreds and they were mainly commentaries on the basic sutras by Indian and Tibetan scholars.

There were a great number of monks who translated from Tibetan into Mongolian or composed their own works in Tibetan in the five great sciences and the five small sciences. For example in philosophy – Agvankhaidav, Khambo lama of the Ikh Khüree, Darmavasmin Agvanbaldan of the same monastery and Artsedbazar of Dalai Choinkhor Wang Banner of Sain Noyan Khan aimak, in philology – Gabju Lubsangdash and Gabju Damdinsuren of Ikh Khüree, Jamiyangarav of Sain Noyan Khan aimak, in logic – Gabju Shijiye of Ikh Khüree, Darmavasmin Agvandorji of the same monastery incarnated lama Lubsangsodov of Sartul Khüree of Zasagt Khan aimak, in medicine – Toyin Lubsangchoimbol of Dalai Choinkhor Wang Banner of Sain Noyan Khan aimak, in art – astrologer Ubgenkhu of Mergen Wang Banner of the Tushet Khan aimak and others created numerous valuable works.

Scholarly lamas of Mongolia, while doing translation of works by Indian and Tibetan scholars wrote their independent works mostly on the Buddhist philosophy particularly in the 18-19th centuries. Certain works by Mongol monks have been highly valued by European Buddhist scholars as well as modern Mongolian scholars. In the second volume of “The History of the Mongolian People’s Republic” it was said that the most scholarly monks studied thoroughly Lokayata or ancient Indian naive materialism, dialectics, logic and the history of Buddhist philosophy and compiled books on the defending of the progressive heritage of these subjects. One of the prominent representatives was Agvanbaldan who in his work entitled “Commentary on the Fixed Great Tenet” modestly called his work a commentary on “Great Tenet” by the Tibetan philosopher Jamiyanshadab (1644-1723). In fact his work was a monograph on the history and theory of philosophy of ancient India. In his work Agvanbaldan covered not only history, ideology and the theory of Buddhism, but also various fixed tenets and problems of theory.

Various religious books appeared in xylographic print as there were a lot of xylographic printing shops such as in the Ikh Khüree Holy Lama’s Monastery, Uizen Wang Monastery, Mangkhan Khüree, Choir Monastery, Müren Monastery, Olgei Monastery, Khalkha Temple, Sartul Monastery and others.

Buddhism had strongly influenced all spheres of spiritual life of Mongolian society and natural history, particularly historiography, philology, translation, printing, architecture, mathematics, astrology and so on, as well as medicine and veterinary. Under the influence of Buddhism at each major Buddhist monastery there was a workshop to produce Buddhist images, various objects related to religious services, for erecting temples and other buildings and for doing decorative work. Various really unique works of Buddhist art are still kept in different monasteries and museums of the Mongolian Republic.

So the Buddhist ideology, theory and teaching widely penetrated into the daily life of the Mongols from the very birth to the death and their life was directly under the blessing of monks.

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