Showing posts with label Zanabazar. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Zanabazar. 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.

Monday, August 16, 2021

Mongolia | Töv Aimag | Günjiin Süm | Temple of the Peaceful Princess

The 1657 danshig naadam held for Zanabazar at Erdene Zuu after his return from his second trip to Tibet marked the ascension of his influence among his Mongolian followers. As the Russian ethnographer A. Pozdneev points out, “The Gegen’s might in Eastern Khalkha reached its extreme limits at this time; they believed in him and came to him with the most extraordinary requests.” For instance, his nephew Galdandorj, son of the Tüsheet Khan, met with Zanabazar and implored him to cure his wife’s infertility and grant him a son. After numerous such entreaties Zanabazar finally said: 
I know that thou wouldst need a son; therefore when I set out in a miraculous manner for Tibet, I visited there the mountain of the hermits, and in a certain cave I found a lama named Arthasiddha, a reincarnation of Vajrapani. I told him that there was one prince among us who needed a son, and asked him for that; he replied to me that when he had completed his meditation he would be ready to be reborn as the son of that prince. In proof of his fairness, I demanded that he give me an acknowledgement, and I now present it to thee. This lama died today, and his soul ought to be incarnated in the womb of thy wife. 
Galdandorj’s wife did shortly thereafter become pregnant and eventually gave birth to a son who was given the name Dondovdorj. 

After Zanabazar recognized Manchu suzerainty in 1691 the Qing emperor awarded Galdandorj the title of Darkhan Chinwang (Chinese = qinwang, prince of the 1st rank). His son Dondovdorj was brought up in Beijing, in the Qing court of Kangxi, and in 1697 the emperor gave him a princess to marry. Most sources state that the princess, named Khichenguy Amarlinguy, was one of Kangxi’s own daughters, while some maintain she was the daughter of one of the first degree Qing princes. In either case, his marriage led to Dondovdorj’s further advancement in the Qing court, and in 1700, after his father’s death, he too was awarded the title of Darkhan Chinwang, in addition to becoming the new Tüsheet Khan. Dondovdorj was, however, a notorious boozer, a devil-may-care lady’s man, an all-around roisterer, and a poet to boot, and after egregious affronts to public decorum he was finally forced to relinquish both his position as Tüsheet Khan and his Qing title of Darkhan Chinwang. 

Reduced in rank to a second-degree prince, Dondovdorj returned to Mongolia, presumably with his Manchu wife. He eventually distinguished himself on the battlefield and apparently fought against the resurgent Zungarian Mongols who under the leadership of Galdan Bolshigt’s nephew Tsevan Ravdan had invaded Tibet in 1716. 

The Qing emperor Kangxi died in 1722. Zanabazar was in Mongolia at the time of Kangxi’s death. He immediately decided to return to Beijing and pay his respects to Kangxi’s remains, even though he was in his late eighties at the time. Accompanying him was Dondovdorj. The new Qing emperor, Kangxi’s son Yongzheng, forgave Dondovdorj’s previous transgressions and he was again elevated to the title of Darkhan Chinwang. As an additional perk he was given yet another Manchu princess in marriage. 

Not long after his arrival in Beijing Zanabazar fell ill. Sensing that his end might be nearing, his attendants asked him where and under what circumstances he would be reborn. According to tradition, Zanabazar replied, “The second wang [Dondovdorj] should bring into his home a maiden belonging according to birth to the year of the monkey or chicken.” This was interpreted to mean that Dondovdorj was to find a Mongolian girl born in either the year of the monkey or the chicken and that the second Bogd Gegeen would be born to her. Apprised of this prophesy, the emperor Yongzheng gave Dondovdorj permission to immediately return home and seek a new wife. Back in Mongolia Dondovdorj straight away found a nineteen-year old woman named Tsagaan-Dara-Bayartu who had been born in the year of the monkey, and just a month or so after his marriage to his second Manchu princess he took her as his third wife. 

Zanabazar himself died in 1723 at the Yellow Temple in Beijing. In 1724, “at daybreak on the first day of the middle of the spring moon in the Wood Dragon year,” a son was born to Tsagaan-Dara-Bayartu. In 1728 the boy took his first monastic vows and was given the name Luvsandanbidonme. In 1729 he was declared the Second Bogd Gegeen, the seventeenth incarnation of Javzandamba. 

Dondovdorj’s second Manchu wife faded into the background and nothing more seems to be known of her. To this day, however, numerous folktales exist about the first one, Khichenguy Amarlinguy, who moved to Mongolia to live with her husband and eventually had seven sons by him. “The Peaceful Princess,” as she was called, came to love her adopted country and its people. She considered herself a Mongolian and according to legend she said that when she died she wished to be buried in Mongolia: “It is unnecessary to take my corpse back to China for burial. I became a Mongol person because of being the wife of a Mongol. It is thus necessary to bury me in Mongolia.” 

Yongzheng’s successor, Qianlong, apparently heard about the princess’s wish and after she died in 1739 or 1740 he ordered that a temple be built to hold her remains. Günjiin Süm, as the temple was called, consisted of five parts: a stele tower, the Bogd Entrance, a guard house, the central temple, and the grave of the princess. The complex was heavily damaged in the 1930s, however, and of the guardhouse and the Bogd Entrance now only remnants remain. The stele tower just in front of the entrance to the temple compound has been restored, however, and inside is a stone turtle with a stele mounted on its back bearing an inscription in Chinese and Manchurian, dedicating the temple to “The Peaceful Princess” (in some renderings the “The Quiet Princess”).
The Temple (click on photos for enlargement)
The temple itself was gutted but the shell remains and has been restored to a certain extent. The eight-foot-high brick wall around the temple encompassing a square about 200 feet long on each side is still in fairly good shape on three sides.
North side of the walled compound
The princess’s grave, behind the temple, was reportedly looted in the early thirties not, according to local informants, by communist iconoclasts, but by common thieves looking for gold, silver, and other valuables believed to have been buried with her.
The Peaceful Princess’s Looted Tomb
Researchers examining the site in 1949 found remains of the princess’s sandalwood coffin and what were apparently the ashes of her body, which had been burned by the looters. Next to the coffin was a body of a heavy-set man preserved sitting upright in the lotus position. His identity is unknown. The ashes of the princess have since been scattered to the four winds.

Location: N48°11.009 – E107°33.379, 35.6 miles northeast of Ulaanbaatar as the crow flies and sixty-four miles by road via the tourist center of Terelj; at the upper end of Khökh Chuluutyn Gol, a small tributary of the Dund Bayangiin Gol, which flows into the Tuul River near Terelj. Accessible only by four-wheel drive vehicle, as several small streams north of Terelj must be crossed. In summer it might be necessary to walk the last mile or so because of the swampy road, but in winter, when the ground is frozen, it is possible to drive the whole way, assuming there is not too much snow.

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)

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Mongolia | Arkhangai | Zaya Pandita | Clear Mirror

Just finished the final pre-press work on yet another book: this one the famous Clear Mirror by the Khalkh Zaya Pandita (1642–1715). Once again G. Nyam-Ochir was the instigator of this project. The transliteration of the Clear Mirror, which has never appeared before in Cyrillic Mongolian, was done by his colleague P. Nyam-Ochir (no relation). This is quite a sizable work. This book, which contains only the first five parts of the eleven-part Clear Mirror, runs to over 600 pages. 
G. Nyam-Ochir
Here is the cover:
For those of you who read Mongolian here is the First 100 Pages Of The Clear Mirror.

Nyam-Ochir asked me to write a short Foreword to the Clear Mirror (in English). I had already written about Zayain Khüree, the home monastery of the Zaya Pandita, for Guide To Locales Connected with the Life of Zanabazar, The First Bogd Gegeen of Mongolia, so I had some information. Just as I was about to prepare the Foreword, however, I happened to met up with Dr. Krizstina Teleki of the Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest, Hungary. She and her colleague Zsuzsa Majer (Ph.D.) are preparing a book about Zayain Khüree and they were able to provide  a lot more information about the monastery and the Zaya Pandita. So they deserve a lot of credit for the Foreword. 

Here is the Foreword:

I first visited Zayain Khüree in 1999 when I was doing research for my book Guidebook to Locales Connected with the Life of Zanabazar, First Bogd Gegeen of Mongolia.” The monastery, located in Arkhangai Aimag, on the northern edge of the town of Tsetserleg, 257 miles west of Ulaanbaatar, at one point had about twenty-five temples. All but five had been destroyed and three of the remaining buildings had been turned into a museum. I knew that Luvsanperenlei (1642-1715), the Zaya Pandita, was a disciple of Zanabazar’s but other than that I knew ver y little about him. (Do not confuse the Khalkh Zaya Pandita, Luvsanperenlei, with another well-known figure, the Oirat Zaya Pandita Namkhaijamtso [1599–1662].) By this time at least one of the monaster y’s temples had been reactivated, and there were some thirty-five monks in attendance. From them I was able to get a rough outline of the histor y of Zayain Khüree and the life of the Khalkh Zaya Pandita, author of the Clear Mirror. Since then researchers have unearthed a mass of valuable historical material relating to these topics. Still, much of the information about Zayain Khüree and the Zaya Pandita is contradictory, confusing, and riddled with lacunae. The following synopsis of the available information is mine alone and should be viewed with caution.

Zayain Khüree lies directly to the south of a huge granite massif known as Erdene (Precious) Bulgan Uul, which rises to a height of 7903 feet, over 2200 feet higher than the valley of the nearby Tamir River. According to local tradition the massif has nine different parts, or peaks, each named after one of the Nine Precious Stones and Metals; gold, silver, bronze, pearl, coral, turquoise, brass, copper, and lapis lazuli. The southernmost part of the massif is known as Altan (gold) Bulgan Uul.

According to local legend, rich local herdsman named Dugar constructed a temple for a lama named Sandui at the base of Altan Bulgan Uul in 1631, four years before the birth of Zanabazar. Sandui had studied in the monasteries of Tibet and was renowned for his intelligence and master y of various magical practices. Some written sources indicate, however, that the temple was founded by Danzan Toin, the second son of a local nobleman, Tümenkhen Sain Noyon, and named Sandui Dugan. The dugan, or temple, may have been named after a lama named Sandui, but the written record is unclear on this point. In either case, this temple was the foundation of what would eventually become Zayain Khüree, the home monaster y of Luvsanperenlei, the Zaya Pandita.

Luvsanperenlei was born in 1642, the Water Male Horse Year of the 11th Rabjung according to the Tibetan Calendar, at a place called Mukhar Khujirt in what is now Arkhangai Aimag. According to local legend, he was the son of an extremely poor herdsman. Some written accounts give the name of his parents as Suntar (or Suntor) and Orkhidai and note that he was the second of five children. Other historical accounts, however, maintain that he was the son of Tsesjav Khöndlön, himself the son of the nobleman Tümenkhen Sain Noyon mentioned above. If this is the case he would have been, according to the written sources, a member of the so-called Altan Urag (Golden Clan) of Chinggis Khan himself. 

Whatever his origins, it was soon apparent that he was an extremely gifted child. According to legend, local lamas recognised him at the age of three as a khuvilgaan, or reincarnation, although it would be many years before he would be recognized as the Zaya Pandita. According to written sources, at the age of three he also received his preliminar y ordinations from a lama known as Lodoijamts Khutagt who had studied in Tibet. By the age of five Luvsanperenlei was learning to read and write Tibetan and Mongolian and was also tr ying his hand at poetr y, painting, and sculpture.

Local informants claim that Luvsanperenlei initially went to Tibet with Zanabazar on the latter’s first trip there in 1649. If so, he would have been only seven or eight at the time. This trip seems unlikely, and may have been later accreted to his legend by followers who wanted to burnish his reputation. Historical sources indicate that he first met Zanabazar in 1653 at Erdene Zuu Monastery, where the Bogd Gegeen was hosting a convocation of Mongolian nobility. At this time Zanabazar accepted the eleven-year old boy as his student.

In 1660, when he was eighteen years old, Luvsanperenlei finally did go to Tibet, where he would stay for the next nineteen years. He received his getsel (novice) ordination from the 5th Dalai Lama in Lhasa and later traveled to Tashilhunpo Monaster y in Shigatse where he met with the 4th Panchen Lama. In 1778 the Dalai Lama recognized him as an incarnation of the Zaya Pandita and instructed him to return to Mongolia and spread Buddhism in the North. He returned home in 1779.

According to tradition, the first Zaya Pandita (Sanskrit jaya = “victory”; pandita = “great scholar”) was a disciple of the Sakyamuni Buddha (c. 560-480 b.c.). Four more incarnations appeared in India and then three in Tibet. Some historical sources state that the first Zaya Pandita to appear in Mongolia was Sain Noyon Khöndlön Tsökhür (1558-1640). He was the son of Onokh Üizen Noyon, who claimed to be a 29th generation descendant of Chinggis Khan. Onokh Üizen Noyon was an important personage who oversaw religious affairs in the seven Khalkh banners. He made a pilgrimage to Tibet and met with both the Third Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama. His son would have been well-placed to assume the role of Zaya Pandita in Mongolia. However, Sain Noyon Khöndlön Tsökhür is not accepted as the First Zaya Pandita by ever yone. Perhaps the fact that he was not a monk disqualified him in the eyes of some. Other accounts of the lineage leave him out altogether and name Luvsanperenlei as the ninth Zaya Pandita in the lineage and the first Zaya Pandita in Mongolia.

Upon his return to Mongolia Luvsanperenlei, now the Zaya Pandita, was enthroned as the head of Zayain Khüree, which by that time had five temples and 200 monks in attendance. He oversaw the construction of more temples and introduced many of the practices he had learned at Tashilhunpo Monaster y in Tibet. Then in 1688 the Oirat chieftain Galdan Bolshigt invaded Khalkh Mongolia. The First Bogd Gegeen Zanabazar, other important lamas, and much of the Khalkh nobility along with many of their followers were forced to flee to Inner Mongolia. The record is unclear, but apparently the Zaya Pandita left his monaster y and accompanied this mass migration. We do know that the Zaya Pandita was with Zanabazar at Doloonnuur in Inner Mongolia in 1691, when the Bogd Gegeen met with the Qing emperor Kangxi, and that he took part in the discussions which led to the Khalkh Mongols accepting the suzerainty of the Qing Dynasty. Zanabazar eventually moved to Beijing, where he waited on the Qing Emperor Kangxi. The Zaya Pandita’s movements at this time are uncertain, but apparently he stayed at monasteries in Doloonnuur for the next several years.

After the defeat of the Oirat Mongols in 1696 the Khalkh Mongols who had fled to Inner Mongolia returned to their native land. According to one account the Zaya Pandita was back at Zayain Khüree by 1696. Soon after his arrival he started construction of the Güden Süm, which would become his personal residence. (Local monks insist that the Güden Süm was built in the early 1680s. If this is the case, the temple may be just been enlarged or remodeled in 1696). In 1699 the Zaya Pandita traveled to Khökhkhot (Hohhot) in Inner Mongolia and founded a temple known as Buyaniig Iltgegch. He soon returned and resumed his role as leader of Zayain Khüree, a position he held until his death in 1715. His mummified remains, sitting in the Lotus position, were entombed in a stupa which can still be seen in the Güden Süm.

Zaya Pandita was a prolific writer. At the age of seventeen he composed a book called Bogdiin Zalbiral (Prayer of the Bogd) and he wrote another book while in Tibet. He went on to write numerous other works, including incense- offering texts and prayers to the local deities of several prominent mountains, including Otgontenger in present day Zavkhan Aimag. Perhaps his most famous work was the Clear Mirror. He reportedly began the Clear Mirror in 1682 while living at Zayain Khüree. He continued to work on it during his exile in Doloonnuur and didn’t finish it until 1702, after he had returned to Zayain Khüree. He originally wrote it in Tibetan, but during his lifetime his student Vro Rabjamba Gungaajamts, translated it into Mongolian and transcribed it using Mongolian vertical script. (See Sample Pages of the Original Manuscript) The current version of the Clear Mirror presented here in Cyrillic is a transliteration of the Mongolian vertical script version. The transliterator, P. Nyam-Ochir, has also examined the Tibetan language version. He notes that the Zaya Pandita worked with Vro Rabjamba Gungaajamts on the translation and that the Mongolian text contains addenda and elaborations to the Tibetan version which he believes were added by the Zaya Pandita himself. The Mongolian version is in eleven parts. The first five parts appear here. Hopefully the latter six parts will appear in due course. 

I first heard about Zaya Pandita’s Clear Mirror when I visited Zayain Khüree in 1999. One monk there said it was the Zaya Pandita’s greatest written work and one of the great works of Mongolian Buddhism. I asked if it had been translated into English. The monk laughed and said that not even a Cyrillic Mongolian version existed, making it difficult if not impossible for most Mongolians to read Zaya Pandita’s magnum opus. When G. Nyam-Ochir, a colleague of P. Nyam-Ochir’s, approached me about publishing the first five parts of the Clear Mirror in modern Mongolian I was only too happy to rectify this situation. I must thank G. Nyam-Ochir and P. Nyam-Ochir for giving me this opportunity to honor the memory of the First (or second) Khalkh Zaya Pandita by publishing his Clear Mirror
The front of the Monastery with Altan Bulgan Uul behind 
The front of the Monastery with Altan Bulgan Uul behind 
Güden Süm 
Another view of Güden Süm 
Another view of Güden Süm
Another view of Güden Süm with Altan Bulgan Uul behind
Winter Semchin Temple, directly in front of the Güden Süm
A portrait of the first Zaya Pandita painted in 1995 but said to be based on an original done in 1680
Clothes of the first Zaya Pandita
The stupa containing the sharil, or mummified body, of the first Zaya Pandita
Musical instruments from the time of the first Zaya Pandita
Togs Bayasgalant Buyaniig Delgeruulekh Khid, one of the temples now active
Unrestored ruins of temple
New stupa just to the west of the main part of the monastery
Galdan Zuu Temple of the hill behind the monastery
Wall painting in the Galdan Zuu Temple
Dalai Lama Spring
Just under half a mile to the northeast of the main museum and temple complex, along the bank of a small stream, is the so-called Dalai Lama Spring. Local monks insist rather adamantly that the Fourth Dalai Lama visited this small spring and lived for awhile in a ger set up next to it. The Fourth Dalai Lama, great-grandson of Altan Khan, was the only Mongolian Dalai Lama, but he was born and spent his early childhood in what is probably now Qinghai Province of China. After he was recognized as the Dalai Lama he went to Lhasa to study and apparently he spent the rest of his life in Tibet. He died in 1617, at the age of twenty-eight. There is no record of him coming to Mongolia, and since no temples existed at Tsetserleg before 1631 there would have been little reason for him to come to this area. The informants may have somehow confused the Fourth Dalai Lama with the Thirteenth Dalai Lama, who did in fact spend some time in the Zayain Khüree area while in exile from Tibet following the 1904 Younghusband Invasion. In any case, this spring does seem to be connected with the Dalai Lamas, since the 14th and current Dalai Lama, when he visited Mongolia in 1995, came to Tsetserleg and made a point of visiting this spring, or so claim the local monks.
The sixth Zaya Pandita and wife
Arkhangai Aimag, and particularly its monasteries, were reportedly a hotbed of anti-revolutionary fervor, and Zayain Khüree soon attracted the attention of the communist government. The Sixth Zaya Pandita was murdered by the communists in 1932 and eventually most of monastery, with the exception of the Guden Temple, the Semchin Temples, and some other small temples were leveled. The Guden Temple at one point served as a fire station but it was later converted into a small museum.

The seventh Zaya Pandita currently lives 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