Showing posts with label Taranatha. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Taranatha. Show all posts

Monday, September 13, 2021

Tibet | Great Stupa of Jonang | Dölpopa

I recently added The Buddha from Dölpo: A Study of the Life and Thought of the Tibetan Master Dölpopa Sherab Gyaltsen to the Scriptorium and have just finished reading it. The book was of special interest to me because Dölpopa Sherab Gyaltsen was one of the most famous residents of Jonang Monastery in Tibet, which I had the pleasure of visiting when I was doing research on Zanabazar, the First Bogd Gegeen of Mongolia. Taranatha (1575–1634), the Previous Incarnation of Zanabazar, founded the monastery of Takten Damchö Ling not from Dölpopa’s Jonang Monastery and Zanabazar almost certainly visited both sites during his Visits to Tibet

Dölpopa Sherab Gyaltsen (དོལ་པོ་པ་ཤེས་རབ་རྒྱལ་མཚན་; Döl-po-pa Shes-rab Rgyal-mtshan) was born in 1292 in the Dölpo region of what is now Nepal. He is more commonly known simply as Dölpopa, the “Man from Dölpo”. He was the founder of the Jonang Sect, later suppressed by the more politically powerful Gelug Sect to which the Dalai Lamas have belonged. He was also the first major proponent of the so-called Shentong View, an important stream of Tibetan philosophical thought which continues to have staunch adherents down to the Present Day:
"Zhentong," (gzhan stong, "shentong") "extrinsic emptiness" or "other-emptiness" is a view of how the ultimate nature of reality is free from or empty of everything "other" than its absolute nature. In other words, a zhentong view understands how one's own enlightened essence is empty of everything false in superficial relative reality. Zhentong as a view for meditation practice regards relative reality as empty of its own intrinsic existence. This emptiness of inherent substance or "rangtong" is considered to be solely the nature of relative reality while ultimate reality is understood to be empty of everything other than itself. Accordingly, transient tangible experiences remain devoid of inherent substance as the boundless luminous nucleus of Buddhahood within all beings remains intangible and invariant.
The meditation caves in the cliffs above Jonang Monastery were reportedly used by Padmasambhava, the 8th century Nyingma master who introduced tantric Buddhism from India into Tibet. A monastery was flourishing on the site by the time Dölpopa arrived there for the first time in 1321. In 1326 he was officially installed as the head of the monastery, taking the place of Yönton Gyatso, who had also been Dölpopa’s teacher. A year later Yönton Gyatso transmigrated. In his honor Dölpopa decided to built an enormous stupa. The first attempt in 1329 failed when the entire structure collapsed during construction. Undaunted, he began construction of an even bigger stupa on a different site. As word of the project spread artisans and laborers from all parts of Tibet flocked to the site and soon donations of gold, silver, copper, tea, silk, and much else poured in from all over the Tibetan Buddhist world. More on the Great Stupa

The design of the stupa was based on descriptions of the Glorious Stupa of the Planets given in the Stainless Light, a commentary on the Kalachakra Tantra, which according to legend had first been expounded by the Buddha himself. (As you may know the current Dalai Lama is giving a Kalachakra Initiation in Washington, DC, July 6–16, 2011.) According to tradition, the Stainless Light had been written by Pundarika, the Second Kalkin King of Shambhala. Dölpopa apparently believed that he was a reincarnation of Pundarika and claimed to have visited Shambhala by visionary means.
The Jonang Stupa today
The fourth floor of the stupa reportedly once held statues of the 25 Kalkin Kings of Shambhala. I could find no trace of them when I was there. 
Another view of the Jonang Stupa
On the hillside above the stupa can be seen Dölpopa’s personal residence, known as Dewachen. Above Dewachen can be seen meditation huts and openings to caves, perhaps the meditation caves used by Padmasambhava.
Dewachen, red building, lower center
When Tsarchen Losel Gyatso, one of the great Sakya sect tantric masters of the sixteenth century and also a follower of various Jonang tenets, visited Jonang in 1539, he noted:
The next morning we visited the great Stupa That Liberates on Sight, the temple of the lineage of the Six-branch Yoga, and so forth. When I gazed from afar at the hermitages, my mind went out to them and I was enthralled. A distinctly vivid pure vision dawned in the center of my heart and I thought, “The early excellent masters established a continuous meditation center on a site such as this. Placing many people on the path of liberation, their way of life was so amazing and incredible. When will we also practice for enlightenment in an isolated site such as this?” 
Also see a transcript of a talk, The Legacy of the Jonangpa by Michael Sheehy at the Great Stupa of Jonang in Tibet on July 17, 2009.

Thursday, August 12, 2021

Mongolia | Autobiography of Taranatha

Another book we recently published: the Autobiography of Taranatha. As you probably know, Taranatha was the 16th incarnation of Javzandamba and the previous incarnation of Zanabazar, The First Bogd Gegeen Of Mongolia.
Cover of book: See Enlargement
The text, originally in Tibetan, was translated into Mongolian by G. Nyam-Ochir. I was asked to write the Foreword in English:

Foreword
In 1995, on the very first day I was ever in Mongolia, I wandered quite by chance into the Zanabazar Fine Arts Museum a couple of blocks west of Sükhbaatar Square. I was vaguely aware that Zanabazar was an important religious figure in Mongolia and also that he was a famous artist, but at the time I knew very little about his life or artistic works. In the museum I soon found myself standing in front of Zanabazar’s statue of White Tara. I have to say I was stunned. It had to be one of the most impressive works of Buddhist art—or for that matter, any art—that I had ever seen. Nearby were statues of four of the five Meditation Buddhas—Amoghasidda, Amitabha, Akshobya, and Vairocana (I soon located the fifth, Ratnasambhava, in the Choijin Lama Museum)—a statue of Manjushri, the Bodhisattva of Wisdom, a large bronze stupa, and other works attributed to either Zanabazar or his school. By the time I left the museum I was determined to find out more about this man who was not only a preternaturally talented artist but also the first of the eight Bogd Gegeens, themselves incarnations of Javzandamba, who from from 1639 to 1924 served much the same role in Mongolia as the Dalai Lamas did in Tibet. The next summer I returned to Mongolia and traveled to Erdene Zuu, the monastery (now museum), founded in 1585 by Zanabazar’s great-grandfather, the Tüsheet Khan Avtai, who had reintroduced Buddhism into Mongolia after it had largely died out after the fall of the Yüan Dynasty. I also visited Zanabazar’s birthplace at Yesön Zuil, in what is now Övörkhangai Aimag; Shireet Tsagann Nuur, where in 1639 Zanabazar, at the age of four, was enthroned as the first Bogd Gegeen of Mongolia; Shankh Monastery, founded by Zanabazar in 1647 not far from Erdene Zuu; Zanabazar’s workshop of Tövkhon, in the mountains not far from Shankh, where Zanabazar created many of his most famous works; and Amarbayasgalant Monastery, where Zanabazar’s remains where kept after he died in 1723. All of these places I described in my book Travels in Northern Mongolia, first published in 1997.

In the following years I visited many more places connected with the life of Zanabazar, including Khögno Taryn Khiid in Bulgan Aimag; Zayain Khüree in Arkhangai Aimag; Saridgiin Khiid, a monastery founded by Zanbazar in a remote part of the Khentii Mountains; various hot springs he had frequented, including Yestiin Rashaan in Töv Aimag and Onon Rashaan in Khentii Aimag; Günjiin Süm, the temple dedicated to the Manchu wife of Dondovdorj, the father of Zanabazar’s successor, the second Bogd Gegeen Luvsandandbidonme; and others.  Descriptions of these places were eventually included into my book Illustrated Guidebook to Locales Connected with the Life of Zanabazar, the First Bogd Gegeen of Mongolia.

But the story of Zanabazar is not limited to just Mongolia. From my researches into the life of Zanabazar I was well aware that he was considered the seventeenth incarnation of Javzandamba, an illustrious line of incarnations which began before the time of the Buddha, appearing first in India and later Tibet. The twelfth incarnation, Jamyan Dorj, was a disciple of Tsongkhapa, the founder of the Gelug sect, and founded Drepung Monastery in Lhasa, among many other monasteries and hermitages throughout Tibet. The next incarnations of Javzandamba appeared in Ceylon, Tibet, and then India. Taranatha, the sixteenth incarnation and Zanabazar’s immediate predecessor, was born in Tibet in 1575. In 1615 he founded Damcho Takten Ling Monastery (also known as Dagdandamchoilin, or in Mongolian, Batmönkh Khiid). Zanabazar traveled twice to Tibet,  in 1649–50 and 1655–56, and on the first of t=hese trips he reportedly visited Damcho Takten Ling. Since these trips were quite important events in the life of Zanabazar I decided that I too should visit Tibet and Damcho Takten Ling.

Although not terribly remote by Tibetan standards—it is in the valley of the Tsangpo River, the main artery running west-east through Tibet—the monastery is off the beaten tourist path, and I far as I could determine there was no public transportation available. I was also warned that there were no hotels or guesthouses in the area. I hired an all-terrain vehicle in Lhasa, and after spending the night in Shigatse we continued on to the monastery. The monks were surprised to see us—it was winter and they received few visitors at this time of the year—but they quickly served us milk tea and offered us a room they maintained for guests. After stashing our gear, we headed first for the Jonang Monastery, located several miles up a side valley from Takten Damcho Ling.

Taranatha was a member of the Jonang Sect, founded by Dölpopa Sherab Gyaltsen. Dölpopa (the “Man from Dölpo”) was born in 1292 in the Dölpo region of what is now Nepal. As a boy Dölpopa followed the teachings of the Nyingma sect. Later he moved to Sakya Monastery in Tibet where he studied under teachers of the Sakya sect. At the age of twenty-eight he became the head of Sakya Monastery and was recognized as one the leading teachers in the Sakya tradition. In 1321 he traveled to the monastery at Jonang for the first time. The caves in the cliffs above the Jonang area had been used for meditation retreats since at least the time of Padmasambhava in the eighth century. In the early 1290s the famous Kalachakra teacher Kunpang Thukje Tsondru (1243–1313) moved to Jonang and a monastery was established at the foot of the cliffs. In 1322 Dölpopa became a student of Yönton Gyatso, then the head of Jonang Monastery. In 1326 he himself was officially installed as the head of the monastery, taking the place of his teacher.

A year later Yönton Gyatso transmigrated. In his honor Dölpopa decided to built an enormous stupa. The first attempt in 1329  failed when the entire structure collapsed during construction. Undaunted, he began construction of an even bigger stupa on a different site nearby. As word of the project spread artisans and laborers from all parts of Tibet flocked to the site and soon donations of gold, silver, copper, tea, silk, and much else poured in from all over the Tibetan Buddhist world. The design of the stupa was based on descriptions of the Glorious Stupa of the Planets given in the Stainless Light Commentary, an exposition which according to tradition had been written by Pundarika, the Second Kalki King of Shambhala. Dölpopa apparently believed that he himself was a reincarnation of Pundarika and claimed to have visited Shambhala by visionary means. Reportedly statues of the twenty-five Kalki Kings of Shambhala were installed in the fourth floor of the stupa. They were no longer present when I visited the stupa.

It was during the construction of the Great Stupa of Jonang that Dölpopa began teaching for the first time the shengtong doctrine of “other-emptiness”. He alludes to this in a poem:
My intelligence has not been refined in three-fold wisdom but I think the raising of Mount Meru caused the Ocean to gush forth.
Mount Meru here refers to the Great Stupa and the Ocean to the shen-tong doctrine. The shen-tong doctrine which Dölpopa taught differs from the rang-tang doctrine of “self-emptiness expounded by Nagarjuna, Chandrakirti, and other Indian teachers.” Shen-tong asserts that “emptiness, in dispelling the illusive relative truths of the world, reveals an ineffable transcendental reality with positive attributes.” The rang-tang view “claimed that emptiness is merely the elimination of falsely imagined projections upon the relative truths of the world and does not imply anything else.”  This shen-tong view, as outlined in Dölpopa’s most famous work, Mountain Dharma, An Ocean of Definitive Meaning, became the cornerstone of the Jonang Sect to which Taranatha belonged. Indeed, according to Dölpopa‘s recent biographer, “In the history of the Jonang tradition Taranatha is second in importance only to Dölpopa himself. He was responsible for the short-lived Jonang renaissance in Tsang and Central Asia during the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, and the widespread revitalization of the shen-tong theory in particular.”

From the Great Stupa of Jonang we walked down the valley to Damcho Takten Ling, the monastery founded by Taranatha in 1615. According to Mongolian accounts, at some point after the founding of Damcho Takten Ling Taranatha travelled to Mongolia, where he died in 1634. Before his death his Jonang disciples reportedly begged him to reincarnate in Tibet and continue to spread the Jonang doctrines. He replied:
Be satisfied with just this much expansion of our Jonangpa doctrine. Through the force of supplications by the Ganden protectors, and the force of previous prayers, I will now spread the the doctrine of Lord Tsongkhapa in a barbarian borderland.
Thus he announced that the next incarnation of Javzandamba would be reborn in Mongolia and would become not a Jonangpa but a follower of the Gelug sect founded by Tsongkhapa. Zanabazar, the seventeenth incarnation of Javzandamba and Taranatha’s successor was born in 1635 at Yesön Züil in what is now Övörkhangai Aimag. Initially, however, he was initiated into the Sakya sect in 1639 at Shireet Tsagaan Nuur.

Zanabazar made his First Trip To Tibet in 1649, when he was fourteen years old. According to both Mongolian and Tibetan accounts it was during his stay in Lhasa that the 5th Dalai Lama declared that he was the seventeenth Javzandamba, the incarnation of Taranatha. Most accounts maintain that he was also converted to the Gelug sect at this time. Thus he was fulfilling the prophesy made by Taranatha. While in Tibet he also made pilgrimages to places connected with his previous incarnations. According to some accounts he visited Takten Damcho Ling Monastery at this time. He almost certainly would have also visited nearby Jonang Monastery and the Great Stupa of Jonang. By that time the Jonang sect had been suppressed by the dominant Gelug sect headed by the Dalai Lama. One intriguing account suggests that it was the young Zanabazar himself who asked that Damcho Takten Ling be converted to a Gelug Monastery. In any case, the monastery became a Gelug institution in the eighth month of 1650.  The Dalai Lama was not convinced, however, that the monks in residence had actually changed their views, and in 1658 most were expelled and sent to other monasteries. The monastery was then renamed Ganden Puntsok Ling, and from this time on “the Jonang tradition ceased to exist as an independent entity in Tsang and Central Tibet.”

The written works of Taranatha, the last great spokesman of the Jonang tradition in Tibet, have survived, however. He was a staggeringly prolific writer whose collected works amounted to sixteen hefty volumes. Perhaps his most famous work was the History of Buddhism in India, completed in 1608. An “amazing intellectual performance.” according to its editor, Debiprasad Chattopadhyaya, the History is still in print in English translation today. He also wrote a volume of commentary on the Kalachakra Tantra and translated from Sanskrit a guidebook to the Kingdom of Shambhala entitled Kalapar Jugpa (“The Entrance to Kalapa”, Kalapa being the capital of Shambhala). This translation was later used as the basis of the most famous guidebook to Shambhala, Description of the Way to Shambhala, written by the Third Panchen Lama, Palden Yeshe, in 1775.

Another of Taranatha’s abiding interests was the Cult of Tara, on which he expounds in Origins of the Tantra of the Bodhisattva Tara, or as it is also called, The Golden Rosary. Tara was of course also one of Zanabazar’s major preoccupations and the subject of many of his most famous artworks.

Up until now Taranatha’s Autobiography has been one of his lesser known works. I first learned about the autobiography in 1980 from reading Edwin Bernbaum’s book The Way to Shambhala, in which a few sentences were paraphrased. My interest was piqued, however, and over the years I made numerous inquiries, but as far I could determine the autobiography had never been translated into English (to my knowledge, it has still not been published in English). In the fall of 2011 G. Nyamochir contacted me and asked if I would be interesting in publishing a Mongolian translation of the autobiography. Thus this current volume came to be. It is another step on the journey which began when I first stood in front of Zanabazar’s White Tara in 1995.

Statue of Taranatha at Erdene Zuu (Click on photo for Enlargement)

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Tibet | Takten Damcho Ling | Taranatha

I posted previously on The Great Stupa of Jonang and Dölpopa. A couple of miles down the side valley in which the stupa is located, fronting on the main valley of the Tsangpo River, is the monastery of Takten Damcho Ling, founded by the famous historian and Kalachakra practitioner Taranatha, the previous incarnation of Zanabazar, the First Bogd Gegeen of Mongolia. 
The lower section of the Takten Damcho Ling complex, with the Tsangpo River in the distance
Another view of the lower part of the complex. 

Taranatha (1575–1634) was, at least within the Jonang tradition, thought be an incarnation of Kunga Drölchok, who like Dölpopa had been born in what is now Nepal. Also like Dôlpopa,  Kunga Drölchok was first a follower of the Sakya sect. He eventually received the Jonang transmission of the Kalachakra Tantra and other Jonang teachings. Later he was asked to head the Jonang sect. After he died, Taranatha become leader of the Jonangpa. In the words of Cyrus Stearns, author of The Buddha from Dölpo: A Study of the Life and Thought of the Tibetan Master Dölpopa Sherab Gyaltsen:
In the history of the Jonang tradition, Taranatha is second in importance to Dölpopa himself. He is responsible for the short-lived Jonang renaissance in Tsang and Central Tibet during the late sixteenth and the early seventeenth centuries, and the widespread revitalization of the shentong theory in particular. 
He was one of the last great translators of Sanskrit tantric texts into Tibetan and was an incredibly prolific writer himself. His History of Buddhism in India and The Origin of Tara Tantra are still in print today. 

Takten Damcho Ling was established by Taranatha in 1615 with funds provided by the Tsang ruler Desi Puntsok Nyamgyal (the monastery is also known as Puntsok Ling). When it was finally completed in 1628 it was the largest Jonang monastery in Tibet, boasting of a large college, sixteen temples, and a printing press. Some 10,000 monks were said to live in the monastery and the surrounding area. According to monks there today many of the temples were destroyed during the Cultural Revolution. Currently eight of the temples are in use. The monastery also has a small guesthouse where I stayed when I visited. There are no other tourist facilities in the area.
Lower part of Takten Damcho Ling looking up toward the upper ruins
Ruins of upper part of Takten Damcho Ling
Upper part of Takten Damcho Ling
Upper part of Takten Damcho Ling

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Mongolia | Incarnations of Javsandamba 16 – 25

Earlier I posted about the statues of  the first  First Sixteen Incarnations of Javzandamba on display in the Larivan Temple at Erdene Zuu, in Kharkhorin, Övörkhangai Aimag. The sixteenth incarnation was of course Taranatha, who was born in Tibet and died in Mongolia. 
16. Жонан Дарната
Jonan Darnata (Taranatha) statue at Erdene Zuu
Tibetan thangka of Taranatha
This spectacular late nineteenth century thangka of Yamantaka (it measures over seven feet in length) was just recently unearthed in the archives of the Bogd Khaan Winter Palace Museum, a vast repository of materials many of which have never been put on public display before or even catalogued. The first twenty-four incarnations of Javzandamba are depicted at the top of the thangka. 
Taranatha on the Yamantaka thangka above
The next nine incarnations (17 through 25) served as the Bogd Gegeens of Mongolia. The first was of course Zanabazar
17. 1 Богд Занабазар (1635-1723)
Zanabazar  (Enlargement)
Statue of Zanabazar in the Bogd Khan Winter Palace Museum 
18. II Богд Лувсандамбийдонмэ (1624-1557)
Luvsandambiidonme  
19. lll Богд Ишдамбийням (1758-1773)
Ishdambiinyam  
20. IV Богд Лувсантүвдэнванчуг (1775-1813)
Luvsantüvdenvanchug
21.  V Богд Лувсанчүлтэм Жигмэддамбийжанцан (1815-1841)
Luvsanchültem Jigmeddambiijantsan 
22.  Vl Богд Лувсанбалдандамбийжанцан (1643-1648)
Luvsanbaldandambiijantsan 
23. VII Богд Агваанчойживанчүгпринлайжамц (1849-1868)
Agvaanchoijivanchülgprinlaijamts
24.  VIIl Богд Агваанлувсанчойжинямданзанванчүг (1869-1924)
Eighth Bogd Gegeen Agvaanluvsanchoijinyamdanzanvanchüg 
25. IX Богд Жамбалнамдолчойжижанцан (1932 – )
 Jambalnamdolchoijijantsan
The Ninth Bogd Gegeen lives in Ulaanbaatar but reportedly is in very bad health. Speculation has already begun on where the 10th Bogd Gegeen will be born. 

Monday, November 28, 2011

Mongolia | Ulaanbaatar | Bogd Khan Winter Palace | Taranantha

Last weekend I wandered out to Erdene Zuu for the Celebration of Zanabazar’s 376 Birthday and to take photos of the First Sixteen Incarnations of Javsandamba. This weekend I wandered over to the Bogd Khan Winter Palace Museum, not far from my hovel in Zaisan Tolgoi to see the statue of Taranatha, the sixteenth incarnation of Javsandamba. As you know, Taranatha, the founder of Takten Damcho Ling Monastery in Tibet, eventually moved to Mongolia and died here in 1634. What is less known is that at least part of his bodily remains (his head according to some versions of the story) are inside the statue in the Lavrin Temple of the Bogd Khan Palace Complex.
 The Lavrin Temple of the Bogd Khan Palace Complex three weeks ago, before the last big snowfall
 Taranatha (1575–1634)
 Taranatha
Taranatha
Taranatha
Well-known scholar Nyamochir paying his respects to Taranatha
Ruins of Takten Damcho Ling, monastery in Tibet founded by Taranatha
The Twenty-fifth incarnation of Javsandamba and the Ninth Bogd Gegeen of Mongolia, currently living in Ulaanbaatar. 

Monday, November 21, 2011

Mongolia | Övörkhangai Aimag | Erdene Zuu | Zanabazar’s Birthday

Around the middle of the week a big snow storm hit Ulaanbaatar, leaving as much as four inches on the ground at places—a lot for UB. I had planned to go to Erdene Zuu Khiid on the outskirts of the town of Kharkhorin in Övörkhangai Aimag over the weekend, but the weather was definitely putting a crimp on my plans. Kharkhorin is 240 miles by road from Ulaanbaatar and there was no telling what road conditions would be like farther on out west. I kept a close eye on the weather forecasts, and skies were supposed to clear by Saturday morning in both Ulaanbaatar and in Kharkhorin, the capital of Övörkhangai Aimag. So it looked like the trip was on. Then Friday afternoon the driver who was supposed to take us backed out. He did not give a reason, but I suspected he was a bit leery of the road to Kharkhorin, which was likely to be covered with fresh snow for much of the way. Early Friday evening I got a call from Saka, who had agreed to go along with me on the trip as an historical consultant. Although she works full time as an accountant for one of the big mining companies in Ulaanbaatar she also serves as accountant for my company, Polar Star Books, and is an expert calligrapher in Uighuro-Mongolian vertical script and a keen student of Mongolian history. She had managed to find another driver so it looked like the trip was back on. We planned to leave at 9:30 Saturday morning. At 8:00 Saturday morning the weather did not look promising. The clear skies had not materialized and fresh snow was drifting down from the leaden skies. At 9:30 Saka and the driver, a man in his sixties named Davaa, arrived at my hovel. Davaa, who said he had worked all his life as a professional truck driver, was not worried about the road to Kharkhorin. So the trip was on. 

I was eager to visit Erdene Zuu this weekend because Sunday, November 20  by the Gregorian Calendar, was the 25th day of the month according to the lunar calendar and thus an auspicious day for Buddhists. Usually on the 25th of the Buddhist lunar calendar a big puja is held at the Laviran Temple at Erdene Zuu. This month the puja was of special significance because it marked the celebration of the 376th birthday of Zanabazar, The First Bogd Gegeen of Mongolia. Zanabazar was born at a place called Yëson Züil in what is now Övörkhangai Aimag in 1635, right after the rivers had frozen over solid, according to traditional accounts (see Yëson Züil Chapter from Travels in Northern Mongolia).

The road to Kharkhorin was snow-covered in places, but other stretches had been swept clean by high winds and we were able to barrel along at sixty miles an hour. Only the last forty-two miles, on the cutoff to Kharkhorin from the main highway, were completely snow-covered. Still, we arrived at Kharkhorin in good time, at 3:30 in the afternoon. We immediately went to the home of an old classmate of Saka’s who now works at the new Kharkhorin Museum. This museum only opened last year and I have never had an opportunity to visit it. Unfortunately it is closed over the weekends in wintertime, when very few tourists come to Erdene Zuu, so I will have to come back again to Kharkhorin to visit it. Saka’s friend has two young children of her own, a boy and girl, and two adopted children, and these kids romped around the room as we drank airag (fermented mare’s milk). Opinions do differ, but some people (including myself) maintain the airag from Övörkhangai Aimag is the best in Mongolia and that Kharkhorin qualifies as the Airag Capital of the World. 

Eventually her husband, who is a monk at Erdene Zuu Khiid, and a friend of his, who is also a monk, arrived. He informed us that chanting would begin at the Laviran Temple at Erdene Zuu at 9:00 the next morning and the puja would start at 1:00 pm. Saka’s friend had a lot to say about the early Turkic People of the Orkhon Valley (the fabled Orkhon River runs through Kharkhorin), a subject which I hope to write more about soon. I had already been to the old Uighur Capital of Khar Balgas a couple times before, and had even considered visiting it again on this trip, to get photos with snow on the ground, but now it appeared there might be too much snow to even reach the place. So I cancelled that part of the trip until next time. Perhaps it was good I did, since after visiting Saka’s friend we took a shortcut to our hotel just outside of Kharkhorin and soon got hung up in a two foot-high snow drift, even though we had a four-wheel drive vehicle. It took us over an hour to shovel our way out. This may have been a harbinger of what would have happened had we taken the trail across the steppe to Khar Balgas. 

Overnight the temperature dropped to 20 below 0 Fº. Sunday dawned clear, however, without so much as a whisker of a cloud in the sky. We headed over to Erdene Zuu and I walked about the perimeter of the complex while Saka and Davaa went in for the chanting. The wall around Erdene Zuu measures about 1315 feet on all four sides and is studded with 108 stupas.
Erdene Zuu. The three Zuu Temples are to the left, bottom; the Laviran Temple is at the left, top. See Erdene Zuu from Guidebook to Locales Connected with the Life of Zanabazar)
 Bottom left corner of Erdene Zuu
  Bottom left corner of Erdene Zuu looking east

  Bottom left corner of Erdene Zuu looking north
Bottom right corner of Erdene Zuu
 Bottom right corner of Erdene Zuu
Eastern Wall of Erdene Zuu
Eastern entrance to Erdene Zuu
Southern Wall
 Historical Consultant and Gazarchin Saka at the wall
 The three Zuu temples inside the compound
Center and Left Zuu Temple; the white structure in the foreground is the tomb of Gombodorj, the father of Zanabazar (click on photo for enlargement)
 Central Zuu Temple
Central Zuu Temple 
 Past Buddha in the Right Zuu Temple
Current Buddha (Sakyamuni) in the Right Zuu Temple
Future Buddha (Maidar) in the Right Zuu Temple 

Wall painting in the Right Zuu Temple
Wall painting in the Right Zuu Temple 
Statue in the Central Zuu Temple
Closeup of Statue in the Central Zuu Temple
Statue in Zuu Temple 
 Statue in Zuu Temple
 Statue of Zonkhov (Tsongkapa) founder of the Gelug Sect, in the Right Zuu Temple
  Wall Painting in the Right Zuu Temple
 Stupa between the Zuu Temples and the Laviran Temple
While the Zuu Temples are now part of Erdene Zuu Museum, the Laviran Temple, above, is an active temple of the Erdene Zuu monastery. It is one of the few temples in Mongolia featuring purelyTibetan-style architecture. This is where the Puja was held (click on photo for enlargement).
Historical consultant and Gazarchin Saka with statue of Taranatha (1675-1634), the sixteenth incarnation of Javzandamba and the incarnation previous to Zanabazar. I have already visited Takten Damcho Ling, the monastery in Tibet founded by Taranatha. As you no doubt know, the current incarnation of Javzandamba, the Ninth Bogd Gegeen, is currently living in Ulaanbaatar (click on photo for enlargement).
Perhaps two or three hundred local people piled into the Laviran Temple for the Puja. This was a three hour ceremony with chanting, singing, and offerings interspersed with teachings by Basaansüren Lama, the abbot of Erdene Zuu Monastery. Outside the temperature had risen to about 0º F and it was fairly cozy inside. I was soon entranced by the mantras accompanied by the slow but incessant pounding of drums and the punctuation of crashing cymbals:

Makha zala raljig dodkhan maa
Khodjin yavyuum budra badra srin
Senge sigden donded don ma shii
Jüdsüm degtsog jishin rolbar zad
Makha zala raljig dodkhan maa
Khodjin yavyuum budra badra srin
Senge sigden donded don ma shii
Jüdsüm degtsog jishin rolbar zad
Makha zala raljig dodkhan maa
Khodjin yavyuum budra badra srin
Senge sigden donded don ma shii
Jüdsüm degtsog jishin rolbar zad . . . 

We stayed for the “Um aa shri makha gala ee khum pad suukhai” mantra, a particular haunting invocation which was also half-chanted-half-sung by the attendees, but as soon as that was over we left, since we had a five to six hour drive on snowy roads ahead of us, partly in the dark. I did however feel very lucky to take part in at least part of the Puja on this extremely auspicious day. 

Um aa shri makha gala ee khum pad suukhai
Um aa shri makha gala ee khum pad suukhai
Um aa shri makha gala ee khum pad suukhai
Um aa shri makha gala ee khum pad suukhai
Um aa shri makha gala ee khum pad suukhai
Um aa shri makha gala ee khum pad suukhai