History of the Yellow sect of Buddhism in Mongolia

Beginning of Spread of the Yellow Sect of Buddhism in Mongolia

Buddhism in Mongolia (14th to 17th century)

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

The period between the second half of the 14th century and the 17th century was one of the most complicated ones in the history of Mongolia. Buddhism – the most ancient religion in the world which originated in India and had spread to Tibet, Nepal, Mongolia, China and other countries, rose and fell together with the state systems of the above-mentioned states. Therefore, brief information on some historically important events should be provided before going into the history of Buddhism in Mongolia during the period from the 14th century till the end of the 17th century. As a result of the struggle of the Chinese people the Mongolian Yuan Empire in China was over thrown and Togoon-Timür Khan (1333-1370), the last Emperor the Yüan Empire, left Peking in 1368 and since that time the centre of Mongolian Buddhism was transferred to Mongolia.

Bilegt Khan (1370-1378) ascended the throne in Kara-Korum. From the end of the 14th century Mongolia became involved in a period known as “feudal disintegration”, during which Mongolian feudal rulers constantly fought among themselves for power.

Between 1388—1400, five Khans had changed on the imperial throne and besides, in 1414 and 1422, the Kings of Oirats and Mongolia fought against each other. However, the desire to defend Mongolian unity constantly manifested itself and prevailed for a certain period.

In 1466-1504, for instance, at the time of Batumonkhe Dayan Khan, Mongolia was united and enjoyed temporary peace. Internal conflicts in Mongolia created serious obstacles to the development of economy and culture, and many objects created earlier were destroyed.

During the above-mentioned period the international position of Mongolia was unstable because of the Mongolian rulers continuous warring with China and Tibet. Gradually the country came under the control of foreign invaders.

The Ming Dynasty of China, formed in 1368 after the defeat of the Yuan Empire, conducted a policy of revenge and aggression and caused a great deal of harm by eroding Mongolian unity. Those unfortunate circumstances of Mongolia’s external and internal position badly affected the development of Buddhism in Mongolia. As was mentioned above, at the time of Togoon-Timur (1378-1388) who ruled the whole of Mongolia in 1380, large forces of the Ming Dynasty of China attacked Mongolia and destroyed and plundered the city of Kara-Korum causing a great damage to the Mongolian culture and religion.

Because of that invasion, the Buddhist centre that had existed in Mongolia for nearly 150 years was destroyed. The influence of Buddhism in Mongolia decreased from the end of the 14th century to the second half of the 16th century, and at the same time shamanism was revived to some extent. However, Mongolian feudal rulers tried to sustain the influence of Buddhism for political reasons. In the middle of the 15th century, Esen Taizi tried to obtain Buddhist pictures from the Ming Dynasty. As the Ming Dynasty was eager to promote the spread of Buddhism in Mongolia, it sold Mongolian religious articles. Articles made at the time of the Ming Dynasty in the year of “Syuan-de” (1426-1435) are popular in Mongolia now. Further on, “Jambaltsanjod” (Manjusrijnanasattvasya Paramartha nama-samgiti) was printed in Sanskrit, Tibetan, Chinese and Mongolian in 1502, by the order of the Emperor Ming.

Although the influence of Buddhism had decreased for a certain period, in the second half of the 16th century Buddhism began to spread among the ordinary people. Mongolian state figures on the one hand and on the other hand religious dignitaries of Tibet played an important role in the cause of dissemination of Buddhism in Mongolia. We briefly mention here the history of Mongol-Tibetan relations of the 16-17th centuries to make it easier to understand the history of Buddhism in Mongolia, particularly the history of the Yellow Sect of Buddhism.

One thing should be noted, however, before we go on. From the time of Srongtszan Gambo – Ruler of Tibet, who lived in the middle of the 7th century, the Tibetans acquired their national script and began to translate and write books on Buddhism in great numbers. Thus, while Buddhism was developing rapidly in Tibet, Buddhism in India was on the decline and its books and sutras began to disappear. The most important achievements of the Tibetans lie in the fact that they collected the Buddhist sutras of India and translated them into their own language, thus making it possible for their future generation to inherit the cultural traditions of India.

Although Buddhism had disappeared in India where it was born thanks to collections and translations of Buddhist books and sutras by the Tibetans, it was possible for the Tibetans to develop Buddhism for almost a thousand years.

In Tibet in the 14-17th cent., there were struggles for power among the aristocrats. In the beginning of the 15th cent. Tsong-kha-pa Luvsangdagba (1357-1419) a lama of the Amdo region, developed a new trend of Buddhism – the Yellow Sect of Buddhism or the Gelug-pa sect. From the 16th century, the head of the sect began to be honoured with the title of “Dalai lama” given by Mongolia. During the 14-15th cent., in Tibet, struggles were going on between the Yellow Hats or Gelug-pa, and the Red Hats, or Karma-pa. Religions leaders in Tibet were supported by the Mongols and tried to defeat their rivals. But Mongolian feudal lords had the intention to take Tibet under their control, or to rule Mongolia with the help of Buddhism. Khutugtai Tsetsen Khung Taizi (1540-1586), in 1566, took under his control the Central Tibet. Altan Khan of Tumetu (1507-1583) attacked Tibet in 1571 and 1573. At the request of Agwang-lobsang-gyamtso, the Fifth Dalai Lama (1617-1682), in 1642, Turbaih an oirat guushi Khan, a ruler of Khukhe Nur, mounted a military expedition to Tibet, suppressed the Reds and established once and for all the domination of the Yellow Sect.

Buddhism which spread in Mongolia a couple of centuries ago, at the end of the 16th cent, became a public religion, and during that period the struggle went on between the Reds and the Yellows. In 1576, Tumenzasagu (1558-1593), the Emperor of Mongolia, invited Karma Lama of the Red religion from Tibet and promoted the development of religion.

Altan Khan Anand of Tumetu (1507-1583), Abtai Sain Khan (1554-1586) of Khalkha Mongol, Khutugtai Tsetsen Khun taizi of Ordos (1540-1586) played an important role in the cause of propagation of Buddhism, namely one of its branches – the Sect of the Yellow Hats. In 1554, Altan Khan set up Khukhe Khot town and in 1559 he attacked the Mongols of Khukhe Nur. In 1571, 1573 when he invaded Tibet, he brought back such lamas as Asin and Gumusoke as war prisoners. Altan Khan invited Sodnom-gyamtso, the head Lama of Tibet, to the town of Khukhe Khot and proclaimed the Yellow religion. Altan Khan was given the title “The great Khan of the Dharma and the heaven” and in return he received the title “Vajradara Dalai Lama”.

In 1578, Khutugtai Tsetsen Khun Taizi, by the order of Altan Khan and Sodnom-gyamtso, the Third Dalai Lama, drew up laws called “Arban buyant nomyn Tsagaza” (a law of Ten Noble Teachings) in accordance with the laws of the Tibetan three Chakravard Khans and Khubilai Tsetsen Khan of Mongolia (1260-1299). In this law he included the following: prohibition of making khoilog-making sacrifice with camels and horses for the dead, burning of tetom of shamanism and worshiping of the image of Mahakala – a hope of intellect instead of tetom and refrain from using animals for fool all the year round, and using of dairy products. Religious orders were made equal with secular ranks, for instance, Chorje (master of Dharma) with Hungtaizi, Rabjamba, Gabju with taizi, gelong with tabnang honjing, toin, bhiksuni, upasaka and upavasa with onigud (small taizi). If somebody insults them, he should be punished as if he abused secular clerks, if a Lama gets married he would be excluded from monastery, if upasaka, upavasa kill animals they should be seized by monks, if toin, upasaka take alcohol drinks, their properties would be confiscated. Also in the law, there were cases for Lamas being exempted from military service, hunting and taxes. Thus, shamanism was eliminated by force and conditions for spreading Buddhism among the people were created by the declaration commandment of law to worship Buddhism.

Altan Khan presented to the Third Dalai Lama, Erdene Möngön Mandala (gemed silver mandala offering) inlaid with gems and gold, 30 pure gold cups, ten white horses with golden saddles decorated with jewels. A monastery was founded in Khukhe Khot in 1579. By the order of Altan Khan, “Altan-gerel” (suvarnaprabhasa) was re-translated in 1579. The Thegchen Choinhorling temple was erected in Tsavchil of Khukhe Nur, where Altan Khan first met the Third Dalai Lama. The third Dalai Lama visited Tumetu a second time in 1586, and this time he inaugurated the Phuntsoghanphanling monastery in Bintuu noyan khosun of Ordos Phuntsogdargyailing monastery in Tsetsen Daichin khosun. The aristocrats of Tumetu declared that the reincarnation of Sodnomgyamtso, the Third Dalai Lama who died in 1588, was found in the family of Sumer Hungtaizi, a younger brother of Altan Khan. Yondangyamtso the Fourth Dalai Lama, head of the Buddhist religion of Tibet, became the descendant of Altan Khan. Beyagud Bator hungtaizi, a grandson of Altan Khan, reprinted in 1591 the Mongolian original of Jambaltsanjod belonging to 1502.

The Chinese Ming Dynasty intended to use religion for its policy to conquering Mongolia. Vanley the Emperor of Ming Dynasty in 1588 sent to Mongolia a delegation of 1000 to invite Sodnomgymtso the Third Dalai Lama to his native land. He also sent valuable gifts to draw them to his side following the declaration of rebirth of the Third Dalai Lama in the family of Sumer hungtaizi.

In 1581, 1583, Abtai Sain Khan (1554-1588) invited Lamas called Gumu Nansu, Samla Nansu from Turned, and in about 1578 he met with Dalai Lama and proclaimed the Yellow Sect of Buddhism the formal state religion and was given the title “Vajra Khan” . Abtai Sain Khan officially proclaimed the elimination of shamanism. Abtai Sain Khan built the Erdene-Zuu monastery between 1585-1586, and in 1587 it was inaugurated. The first Khambo Lama of Erdene-Zuu had the title of “Pandit Guushi Chorje” and he himself made a statue of Sodnom-gyamtso, the Third Dalai Lama.

The monastery had images of Buddha of the past, present and future and vajratara worship and others. Edrene-Zuu is the very first Buddhist monastery set up on the territory of the Mongolia and it was established on the basis of tradition of Buddhism in Mongolia. A Mongolian architect named Darkhan Uisen supervised the construction of Erdene-Zuu, and Jamyanjodov wrote a book on the construction of the shrine. So it is clear that Mongolia had a traditional architecture for monasteries.

Although Buddhist monasteries were built, certain Mongolian princes, namely Tsogt Taizi (1581-1636), were still opposing the Yellow Sect, believing in the Red Sect. In 1601, a monastery was built by Tsogt, called the White House, on the bank of the Tola River. The Red Sect of Buddhism was defeated in Mongolia with the death of Tsogt Hungtaizi and the Yellow Sect of Buddhism began to dominate. Religious dignitaries, like Ayuush guushi of Khukhe-Khot and others, played important roles in the development of the Yellow Sect of Buddhism.

Shrishilasvaraba, or Manjusri Guushi Dorje, a pandit of Khukhe-Khot, between 1587 and 1620 translated such books on religion as: “Holy Images of Five Origins”; “The Biography of Milarepa” “Mani Kabum”; “Jataka”; “Cintamani-yin erike”; “Stories by Molom Toin in return of his mother’s good deeds’ and also did much work on translating and writing the Indian, Tibetan and Mongolian history of religion. Ayuush guushi of Khukhe-Khot wrote many fine verses on religion at the ends of the books which he translated. Ayuush guushi in 1587, developed a transcription for foreign writings and in the same year he re-translated “Pancaraksa”, formerly interpreted by Shes-rab Sen-ge, and “Arya Tathagatasni-sasitata patranama”, “Qar-a kelen nere-tu”.

Prince Kunga-nyambo (1573-1633) came to Mongolia from Tibet, and he was presented a title “Merciful saint Maidar by Jondan-gyamtso, the fourth Dalai Lama, and also was given the name “Merciful teacher and Suvarna cakravarti, prince the wise”. In 1632, Kunga-nyambo finished writing “Kanjur” in gold.

At the end of the 16th cent, and in the beginning of the 17th cent., important roles were played by such state figures as Ligden Khan (1592-1634), Tumenhen sain noyan (1558-1640) and by such religious dignitaries as Neij Toin (1557-1653), Ondor-gegeen Zanabazar (1635-1723), Zaya Pandit (1642-1716), Lamyn Gegeen (1639-1704). By the order of Ligden Khan, in 1628-1629, some 70 prominent cultural figures, including Danzindagva who wrote the grammar “Ogtorguin Maani” (gnam-mkainorbu), Bilguun-Guushi (Bilguun Dalai) of uras and Choigyamtso gelen, translated “Kanjur” in 108 volumes, and it was printed by xylographic means in 1720 under the title “Golden Kanjur”. 200 years later, a commission consisting of dozens of famous was formed to translate the 226 volumes of “Tanjur”. In 1742 they compiled a Tibetan-Mongolian dictionary called “Dag-yig-mkhas-bi-byun-gnas” and in 1749 they finished the translation of “Tanjur”. Altogether over 5000 books were included in the 334 volumes of Kanjur and Tanjur. It was a great achievement not only in the religious but also in the cultural history of Mongolia.

Tumnenhen Sain Noyan was awarded the title “Nomyn Ezen sain Noyan” (Good prince, a master of Dharma) by Yondan gyamtso the Fourth Dalai Lama for setting up 2-3 monasteries and for creating images of Buddha and silver Maidar after he visited Lhasa in 1617 and for supporting of Yellow Sect of Buddhism during the struggle against the Red Sect. It is clear from the law written on the birch bark excavated from the ruins in Khara-bukha Balgas, near the centre of Dashingchileng somon of Bulgan aimak (province), that he adopted a decree on the internal order of temples and monasteries, giving rights and privileges to lamas and monks.

In 1557, Neij toin or Avid of Oirat was born in the family of Mergen (the wise) Noyan Tevnin. When he was young he left his wife and children, went to Tibet and became a priest. About 1638 he came back to Inner Mongolia from Tibet and travelled through Onniud, Urad, Khorichin, Uzemchin, Jalais, Harchin, Achan, Bairin, Tsahar, Gorles, Khosuns, setting up monasteries and translating books on religious rituals. He copied 108 volumes of Kanjur and distributed them to every Khosuns. Thanks to the efforts exerted by Neij Toin, the religious ceremony of meeting of Khorchum Tushietu Wang Khosun was held in the Mongolian language.

Öndör Gegeen of Undur Gegeen (High Holiness) Zanabazar (1635—1723) played an extremely important role in the history of the Buddhist religion of the 17th cent. The activities of Öndör Gegeen Lobsangdambigyaltsan or Jebtsundamba Khutuktu, the first, were devoted to religious organizational work development of religion, and religious art. Öndör Gegeen was born in 1635 in the family of Tushetu Khan Gombodorj, one of the most influential figures of Khalkha. Agwan-lobsanggyamtso, the Fifth Dalai Lama, awarded him the title “Jebtsundamba Khutuktu”, considering him sanctity of Jonon Kunga-nyambo. In 1639, Zanabazar was made the head of the Mongolian religion. The appointment of the head of a united religious leadership was of great importance for further development of Buddhism. Zanabazar played an important role in setting up temples and monasteries and in particular in the establishment of future Ikh-Khüree, or Urga (today Ulaanbaatar). In 1651, Zanabazar returned from Tibet and set up the foundation of future Ikh-Khüree-Ripogejoi-Gangdan-shadubling in 1651 with the purpose of establishment of the Buddhist Centre on the advice of Dalai Lama and Banchen Erdene Lobsangchoijigyaltsan.

In accordance with Tibetan tradition, Ikh-Khüree was given 7 aimaks: Amdu aimak, Jasiin aimak, Sangga aimak, Zoogoo aimak, Darkhan emchiin aimak, Urluud aimak. It was a moving town. In 1654, it moved to the front side of Kentii Mountains in the East Khalkha territory, and it was built between 1654 and 1686 and was inaugurated. In 1706, it moved to the place of Erdene tolgoi of Tsetserleg and a “Tara temple” was built. So the Ikh-Khüree had been extended and it had a monastery with over 2,000 monks. The Khalkha kings invited Zanabazar to Erdene-Zuu and he made the monastery into a permanent religious ceremony centre, with monastery treasury. Zanabazar also took part in the establishments of other temples and monasteries of Mongolia.

Originally the Indian, Tibetan and Chinese styles dominated in the Mongolian monastery architecture, but at the end of the 16th century, there came into existence a Mongolian architecture. In 1688-1697, during the years of Oirat-Khalkha battles, Erdene-zuu and Ikh-Khüree suffered serious damage. But Zanabazar built pagodas, shrines and Ripogejoigngdah-shadubling repaired and built places for Lamas. Zanabazar brought from Tibet the complete Tanjur in 1671, and Kanjur in 1683. He also made a translation of some religious sutras, and in 1686 he devised the Soyombo script The Natha was translated in the Soyombo script and printed. Zanabazar lived in Peking and often visited Mongolia and took part in religious activities. Zanabazar was a very skilful man. In 1651, he made statues of “Vajratara” (now it is preserved in Gangdantegchenling monastery) and “Tavan yazguuriin burkhan” (Holy images of five origins). Mongolian historians consider Zanabazar to be the founder of the Mongolian style of painting.

Zaya Pandit Lobsangprinlai (1642-1716) was born in the family of Khundin Ubashi, a son of Tumenhen Sain Noyan, a grandfather of Sain Noyan Khan . At the age of 5 he took the monastic vows and at thirteen he was given the title “Noyan Khutuktu” Holy prince by Zanabazar and then was presented the name “Zaya Pandit Khutuktu” by the Fifth Dalai Lama. Lobsangprinlai in 1660-1679, studied in a Tibetan monastery called Tashilhunpo. In 1652, he laid the foundation of a monastery Shaduppelgyaling of Zayin Khüree on the front side of the Bulgan Mountain, and soon it became one of the biggest monasteries of the Sain Noyan Khan aimak and followed the Buddhist rituals established by him. Zaya Pandit between 1683 and 1700 set up a number of big and small monasteries in the Tsahar, Uzemchin and Tumetu khosuuns of Inner Mongolia.

Lobsangprinlai wrote in Tibetan “Spyan-gi-bsans” for replacing the traditional shaman rituals with Buddhist ones and “Bolor Toli” in 4 volumes on the history of Indian, Tibetan and Mongolian Buddhism as well as the biographies of senior Lamas. He also wrote in Tibetan his autobiography called “hor-bi-bya-brjid-tsul-snen-gsal-sgron-me”.

Lobsangdanzin-choigigyaltsan (1639-1704), the first incarnation of Erdene-pandit Khutuktu, was born in the family of Erkhe-Tsunkher noyan, a direct descendant of Tushet Khan, and he was taught Tibetan and religious teachings to the age of 17 by Lobsang Yarinpel Dorje Lama of Tashilhumpo monastery of Tibet, who was specially invited to teach him. In 1655-1662 he went to Tashi-Lhumpo and other monasteries and studied the Buddha’s Teachings. When he came back to his native place, he set up the Büüreljüüt monastery in the Sain Noyan Khan khosuun with 60 Lamas headed by Dashisambuu and arranged religious worship according to the ritual system of the Tashi-Lhumpo monastery in Tibet. He, at the request of Öndör Gegeen Zanabazar, translated “Samdag” from Tibetan into Mongolian in 1674 and wrote a number of religious rituals.

Several times he gave lectures to monks of Ikh-Khüree on the Buddha’s Teachings and for all these deeds he was awarded the title “Khambo Nomun Khan”. By 1690’s, his own monastery had over 700 Lamas and turned into “Datsan”, becoming one of the influential monasteries in the South of the Sain Noyan Khan aimak. Erdene Pandit Khutuktu also set up monasteries and temples in some areas of Ordos, apart from Mongolia.

Zaya Pandit Namkhaigyamtso (1599-1662) the adopted son of Baibagal, the father of Tsetsen-Khan, performed many meritorious deeds in the cause of development of Buddhism in Oirat. Zaya Pandit took the monastic vows and in his youth studied Buddhist Teachings in Tibet. In 1639, he came to Oirat and inaugurated moving temples and pagodas, and starting from 1644 he translated “Mani Ka-bum”, “A History of Milarepa” and in 1648 he devised (Clear Script) the Kalmyk Mongol Alphabet, making a slight change in the Mongolian Uighur script, and translated and printed in the Kalmyk-Mongol alphabet over 100 books and sutras including “Suvarnaprabhasa”, “Pancaraksa”, and “Bodhisattvacarya”.

At the beginning of the 17th Century such moving and settled monasteries were set up as the Bulnai pagoda, Daichun Khosuun pagoda, Erchis Temple and Boroo Talyn Temple in Oirat.

Galdan Boshigtu Khan (1650-1697), extended the Boroo Talyn Temple into a monastery with dozens of datsans (temples), Galdun Boshigtu set up “Gurjaa” (Gulz) and Khainuke monasteries on the Southern and Northern banks of the Ili River and also built 9 jasu (monastery treasury) for 6000 Lamas. Later, in 1757, the Manchu aggressors burnt down the Gurjaa Monastery.

Since Buddhism has spread all over Mongolia at the end of 16th and at the beginning of the 17th Century, in 1640 it was proclaimed as the state religion by the law of “Mongol-Oirat Code” and monasteries and high Lamas were given extensive rights and privileges. With the development of Buddhism, shamanism was eliminated on the one hand and on the other hand nine ritual systems of it were changed.

As we briefly mentioned above, starting from the second half of the 17th Century, the Manchu aggressors attacked Mongolia continually and in 1691 Khalkha Mongolia came under the control of the Manchu. From that time the Manchu dominated Mongolia for more than 200 years. As a rule, the Manchu aggressors denied making any conquest, and they declared during the seizure of Mongolia in 1691 that “Mongolia offered its submission to Manchuria”. The Manchu aggressors divided Mongolia into dozens of small khosuuns, relying on their own administrative rule and military force, and the sacred rituals of Buddha were used in their policy of colonisation.

In 1652, the Manchu Emperor invited Ngawang Lobsang Gyatso, the Fifth Dalai Lama, to his palace and presented to him articles.

A large number of people, ordinary monks as well as famous religious dignitaries, lost their lives because of disagreement with the Manchurian aggressive policy.

However, the policy pursued by the Manchurian conquerors led to unexpected consequences. Since Buddhism in Mongolia was well established the Chinese and Manchurian aggressors acted arbitrarily in pursuing their policy of colonisation in the country. The Mongolians used Buddhism in the state machinery as an ideological weapon and it had contributed to the strengthening of the feudal relations and feudal state and to the consolidation of the contacts of Mongolia with Eastern countries, which were more culturally developed. Buddhist temples and monasteries turned into social and spiritual centres of the Mongols and became the main places of development of the social thought.

Compared to shamanism, Buddhism played a much more important role in the development of enlightenment of the Mongolian society of that period. Replacing the shamanist backward rituals, Buddhism helped to spread the cultural achievements of India and Tibet in the Mongolian land.

The spread of Buddhism in Mongolia helped to foil the strong influence of the Chinese ideology and served as one of the main factors in preventing the assimilation of the Mongols into China.

Due to the adoption of Buddhism, the sparsely populated Mongolia was connected spiritually in one worship and at times it also served as an important factor in promoting the unification of the country politically.