Buddhism and Gandan Monastery

This is the first of a couple posts on religion. We’ve seen three monasteries and heard a couple lamas and an abbot speak. We’ve also heard from a practicing shaman.

First a brief history of Buddhism in Mongolia. Originally they were shamanistic, and many still are. I may describe Mongolian shamanism later. Buddhism entered Mongolia for the first time perhaps as early as the third century. But it wasn’t until the 1600s that Buddhism, namely Tibetan Buddhism, became a significant part of Mongolian culture. There were hundreds of monasteries by the beginning of the 19th century and nearly a third of the male population were monks. During this time Mongolia was ruled by the Chinese, and for abrief period by a religious leader, the Bogd Khaan. Then the country became communist and was controlled by the Soviet Union. Unfortunately for the communists, Mongolia didn’t fit Marxist theory very well. There were no capitalists to overturn so the monks were declared the oppressors. There was also a nobility but they had very little power. The Soviets focused on the clergy as a source of oppression and began purging the country of monks and monasteries. For a while there were no functioning monasteries and hundreds of lamas were executed. We saw a museum with a case of skulls from lamas, who had been shot in the head. But now, the country is democratic and people are free to practice their religion. Monasteries have been restarted.

So far we’ve seen three monasteries. There is the Gandan Monastery in Ulaanbaatar, which is the only monastery to survive the purges (sort of, the structure survived and was used as housing). It was also the first to reopen. Other monasteries will be featured later. 

A stupa and Caroline.

Inside the main room of the temple. There are little statues on the walls, I think saints. On the bottom left are prayer wheels. You spin them and symbolically read the text.

The main statue in the temple which is of Avalokitesvara Megjid Janraisig. Its been claimed it’s the largest indoor statue in the world, but I am suspicious of that claim.

One of the nine vengeful deities.


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