Friday, January 2, 2015

Religion in Mongolia


            Instead of one mega post I've broken it down into some smaller ones, and this is the final part.  I finally made it to the Buddha statue down the street from the supermarket.  The Gautuma Buddha was built in 2006 by what I think is a Korean NGO.  It faces the city and is supposed to symbolize protection.  It also has some other Buddhist stuff to operate as a place for meditation.  (It was tough getting good pictures because the sun was really bright that day)

The Buddha

            Now this was a little something I picked up in Chiang Mai, but the reason the Buddha has its right arm held up and facing out is a reference to the original Buddha, who stepped in to stop a war between two kingdoms.  He was related to both kingdoms and they were fighting over water access.  He stepped between the armies and said which means more to you water or relatives.  This question made the kingdoms realize it was foolish to fight over water.  This gesture is also supposed to symbolize peace in the world.  It has got to burn somebody that this Buddha is located right next to a WWII Soviet memorial.

The Bell

            I’m still not sure what it means, but I think it has something to do with warding off evil spirits.  I've seen these before at other Buddhist temples, mainly in Japan.  I didn’t see many in Thailand.

The drum

            Again not sure what it is used for, but I think it’s for warding off spirits.  I saw a number of them in Japan, and only a few in Thailand.

A protective lion

            This is new as it’s usually some form of dragon or dog that is used as the entrance statue at least in Thailand (Dragons), Japan (Dogs)

            So one would think that Mongolia is mostly Buddhist correct.  If you were asking prior to the 1920’s you would be correct, since then, not so much.  Now this is where it gets a little weird and a little Mongolian, Russian, and Chinese history is involved.  So when the Manchu Dynasty fell apart, Bogd Khaan declares independence in 1911.  Now the new Republic of China didn’t take to kindly to this and invaded making it a puppet state.  In 1920 the White Russians came in after getting creamed by the Soviets.  At this point there were three different groups in Mongolia from what I can gather.  A Mongolian faction, White Russian faction, and Chinese faction.  Obviously the White Russians and Soviets do not like each other, but some of the Mongolians didn’t like the White Russians either.  Well one thing led to another and in 1921 the Soviets came in and kicked out the White Russians and the Chinese.  This lead to the creation of the Mongolian People’s Republic, and the second communist country in the world.  What does this have to do with Buddhism in Mongolia, well a lot given the atheist views of the Soviet Union the major supporter and backer of the Mongolian People’s Republic.

            Mongolian Buddhism is derived from Tibetan Buddhism, which first came to Mongolia in the 13th century.  It has played a large role in Mongolian society since then.  The Buddhist monks and monasteries held a lot of sway over the country, and had no interest in modernizing the country.  This of course was a problem for the new communist government, now how big a problem was it.


834 complexes
3,000 temples
6,000 buildings
112,000 Monks making up 13% of the population
Annual income- 31 Million Turgiks

Annual income- 37.5 Million Turgiks

            So you can clearly see the states problem with this, and moves were taken to remove the influence of organized Buddhism.  Not to mention that the general public was very loyal to the Monks as they were a strong stabilizing force in the community.  In response government launched a coordinated effort to discredit and reduce their influence on society.  Any monks were removed from secular positions of power, assets were seized, forbidden from teaching kids, or recruiting new monks.  When this failed the communist government launched a campaign accusing the monks of collaborating with the Japanese to create a puppet state in 1937 and 1938.  This led to the killing of anywhere between 35,000 to 100,000 monks depending on which set of numbers you use.  Only one temple remained in operation after that Gaadan monastery with about 100 Monks.  Now over time some of the restrictions were lifted and the Dali Lahma was able to visit in 1970, but by this point the youth were raised atheist and the damage was done.

            The 1960 constitution promising religious freedom, but we know how that works in communist countries and things didn’t really change until the democratic revolution in 1990.  Since then Buddhism has been slow to recover at least according to Mrs. Wells in her book on Mongolia, but the 2010 census tells another story.

Buddhism- 53%
Islam- 3%
Mongolian Shamanism- 2.9%
Christianity- 2.1%
Other- 0.4%
Atheist- 38.6%

            In her book Mrs. Wells decries the lost Buddhist culture that will probably never return to what it was.  She also does not like the rise of Christianity and other religions in the country.  Now the statistics show Buddhism is recovering and one reason for her stance is her book is now 15 years old, and Mongolian Buddhism is not as visible as the Buddhist practices in Thailand for an example.  She is correct that Mongolian Buddhism has less money to throw around than other western based religions.  Also Islam is mainly found in the western parts of the country with more people of Kazak descent.

This information was courtesy of Mrs. Wells and Wikipedia.

            Ok, so why did I go through all of that.  Well, it is to try and help explain to my mother that Mongolia is very much not Christian even though the celebrate Christmas.  Not that there isn’t a history of Christianity in Mongolia, Nestorianism in the seventh century.  I won’t comment on some of their decorations though.

Yes, that is a Christmas tree made out of Heineken bottles and it makes me think of Seinfeld.

Now this is a Santa Claus

And his Reindeer

            So what about Christmas, well I think the west has just done a really good job of exporting Christmas, to the rest of the world as a secular holiday.  Some of the Mongolians use the Christmas season as another excuse to throw a party, and boy do they like to party.  Normally when you think of the office Christmas party it is typically a low key event.  This is not the case here in Mongolia where the Mongolian staff treat it like a formal ball.  The entire staff comes from the teachers, teachers’ aides, office staff, security guards, and cleaning ladies.  Some of the Mongolian ladies I usually interact I barely recognized as they were dressed to the nines.  The food was pretty good to.  Sadly I had to leave early for my ill-fated Sagawa con presentation as they didn’t tell me it was canceled until after I had left. 

            In closing here is a picture of the cupcakes from the final faculty meeting and a Canadian version of the twelve days of Christmas.