Thursday, June 30, 2005

China | Chengde | Putuozongcheng Temple

Caught the 7:16 train from Beijing Main Station to Chengde, or Jehol, as it is sometimes called, the summer resort and Buddhist center created by the Qing Emperors, starting with Kangxi. Zanabazar came here several times with Kangxi in the late 1690s. The train arrived in Chengde at 11:40 and I headed straight for the Putuozongcheng Temple (Temple of Potaraka Doctrine), built in 1771 by Kangxi’s grandson the Qing Emperor Qianlong.

Putuozongcheng Temple from the wall of the Summer Palace Resort

This temple was built in imitation of the Potala in Lhasa, as Qianlong explained in an inscription on a stele in the entrance way.

Qianlong’s Stele

Partial translation of the inscription written by Qianlong, which is given in Chinese, Mongolian, Tibetan, and Manchurian:

North of the Summer Palace lies the Potala, which was built not after the Potala on the Southern Sea, but after the Tibetan Potala. The Tibetan Potala is complete in all respects and a religious center for our vassals. In the year Keng-yin (1770) our 60th birthday fell, and, in the year Hsin-mao (1771) the 80th birthday of our august mother, the Dowager Empress. The loyal princes from Mongolia and Sinjiang, etc., and the Chiefs of the Dzungar Tribes, who had recently sworn alliance to us, gathered together to bring their good wishes. As a sign of our encouragement and friendliness to towards them we had already begun to build this temple. It was begun in the 32nd year of Ch’ien-lung [Qianlong] (1171). The labour required was great, the temple rooms are large and everything is dignified and clean in accordance with the precepts. Our vassals over the border all believe in the religion of Sakyamuni. Jehol was the spot where our grandfather the Emperor K’ang-his, pacified and appeased them, and there he granted them audiences . . . Now the temple is finished in time for a great national event that is to be celebrated by all, in a unique manner . . . In addition to this, the Torgot, who have lived in Russia for some time, have returned for religious reasons. The whole of their tribe—which numbers many ten-thousands—arrived just at this time, after wandering about for more than six months. Here is a connection that is mystic.

Front Façade of the main temple

The courtyard behind the facade

Roof the Golden Temple in the courtyard of the larger temple

Monday, June 27, 2005

Mongolia | Arkhangai Aimag | Zayain Khuree

Swung by Tsetserleg, capital of Arkhangai Aimag, to visit Zayain Khuree, the monastery of Khalkh Zaya Pandita, one of Zanabazar‘s collaborators. The monastery is located just in front of the huge granite massif known as Bulgan Uul, which rises to height of 7903 feet, over 2200 feet higher than the valley of the Tamir River just to the north. According to local tradition the massif is also known as Erdene (precious) Bulgan Uul. It 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 northernmost part of the massif is known as Altan (gold) Bulgan Uul. It was at the base of Altan Bulgan Uul that in 1631, four years before the birth of Zanabazar, a rich local herdsman named Dugar constructed a temple for a lama named Sandui. Sandui had studied in the monasteries of Tibet and was renowned for his intelligent. He was said to be especially proficient at various magical practices. This temple was the foundation of what eventually became Zayain Khüree.

Zayain Monastery with Altan Bulgan Uul behind

In 1642, near Mukhar Khujirt in what is now Arkhangai Aimag, was born a boy who became known as Luvsanperenlei. His family was said to be extremely poor. At the age of three, however, lamas recognized him as a khubilgan, or reincarnation, and he was eventually given the title of Zaya Pandita. As was the case with many promising monks, he was sent to Tibet to study. Local informants claim that he 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.

There are some indications that Luvsanperenlei stayed on in Tibet after Zanabazar returned to Mongolia in 1651. According to a legend now related by local monks he studied at a monastery in Tibet attended by other Mongolian lamas, probably Gomang College at Drepung Monastery near Lhasa. He did not spend much time studied the required sutras, however, nor did he get along well with the other young monks. Finally a Mongolian ger was set up near the monastery and the young Luvsanperenlei went there to live and study by himself. One day a Tibetan lama came to the ger to check up on how Luvsanperenlei was doing in his studies. He found Luvsanperenlei playing a children‘s game known as “Sheep and Wolves” with small figures of sheep and wolves molded from flour. When the lama scolded Luvsanperenlei for wasting his time, the figures suddenly came to life and began chasing each other around the table. The utterly amazed Tibetan lama announced, “You are truly the Mongolian Zaya Pandita. It is not necessary for you to study sutras, since it is clear you already know everything.”

We do not know how long the Zaya Pandita stayed in Tibet. We do know he was in Tibet in 1673, when he and Zanabazar‘s brother Chakhundorj received tantric teachings from lamas there. (When Chakhundorj returned to Mongolia he constructed the Dalai Lama Temple at Erdene Zuu to commemorate this trip.) At some point after 1673, however, the Zaya Pandita did return to Mongolia to stay.

According to legend one day he, Zanabazar, and monk known as the Lamyn Gegen climbed up the side of Altan Bulgan peak and stopped on a broad shelf of rock to meditate. Spread before them was the broad valley of the Tamir Valley with the Khangai Mountains beyond. Impressed by the grandeur of the environs, they decided that the base of the mountain would be a very auspicious place to build a monastery. But who should build this monastery and who should it be dedicated to? The Zaya Pandita, Zanabazar, the first Bogd Gegen, or the Lamyn Gegen? Unable to decide, they placed their tea bowls in front of them. Whoever could first make a flower appear in his bowl would have the honor of building the monastery. They closed they eyes and became to meditate. When they opened their eyes some time later a flower had appeared in the bowl in front of the Zaya Pandita. Zanabazar was suspicious, however, and noted that the bowl looked like his. Zaya Pandita finally admitted that while they were meditating he had switched his bowl with Zanabazar‘s. Although the bowl had been Zanabazar’s, the flower had appeared in front of Zaya Pandita, however, so Zanabazar finally agreed that the Zaya Pandita should have the honor of building the monastery. But, Zanabazar told the Zaya Pandita that because of his act his disciples will always have a propensity for stealing.

The first temple of the new monastery—not including the temple built for the lama Sandui in 1631—was the Guden Süm, built according to local informants in the early 1680s. The Right, or Summer Semchin Temple, directly in front of the Guden Temple, was reportedly built in 1684, and the Left, or Winter Semchin Temple shortly thereafter. These then were the temples which were in existence when Galdan Bolshigt invaded Khalkh Mongolia in 1688. Unlike Erdene Zuu, Khögnö Tarnyn Khiid, and many other monasteries, however, Galdan spared Zayain Khüree. This was because Galdan knew the Zaya Pandita personally and thought of him as his guru. Although there is no historical record of it, it is interesting to consider that Galdan and the Zaya Pandita met each other in Tibet. Galdan himself, before becoming the Zungarian khan and warlord, had been a monk and had studied in Lhasa at about the same time the Zaya Pandita had been there. (The Khalkh Zaya Pandita, Luvsanperenlei (1642–1715), should not be confused with the Oirat Zaya Pandita, Namkhaijantsan (1599–1662), who did in fact accompany Galdan when the latter went to Tibet as a small boy.) Galdan and the Zaya Pandita did meet at some point in time and it is clear the warlord held the Pandita in high regard. Not only did he refrain from trashing Zayain Khüree, he ordered that a new temple be built on a high knoll between the monastery Altan Bulgan Uul. It was named the Galdan Zuu Temple, and reportedly Galdan installed in it a large statue of Maidar (Maitreya) the Coming Buddha.

When Zanabazar returned to Mongolia from China in the early 1700s he decided not to rebuild Sardgiyn Khiid, which had been totally destroyed by Galdan (see above). Instead, according to some sources, he decided to move Ikh Khüree, the center of Buddhism which had earlier been located at Sardgiyn Khiid, to Zayain Khüree. In 1706 Zanabazar reportedly dedicated the entire monastery to Tara and built a Tara Temple to house his statues of the Twenty-One Taras, including Green Tara (the Twenty-One Taras can now be seen in the Winter Palace Museum—see below). Both Zanabazar and Luvsanperenlei wrote prayers to Tara for the consecration of the temple. (It should be pointed out that informants at Zayain Khüree today are not aware that the monastery was ever dedicated to Tara, nor are they know of any Tara Temple). In 1710 the Tsogschin Dugan, which became the main temple of the monastery, was constructed.

Luvsanperenlei, the First Zaya Pandita, apparently resided at Zayain Khüree full-time after his return from Tibet. One of the outstanding scholars of his time, he wrote a massive history of India, Tibet, and Mongolia, among numerous other compositions. Luvsanperelei served as one of Zanabazar’s collaborators and teachers and reportedly instructed him in the theory of poetics formulated in the Kavyadarsha Sutra. In 1715 the First Zaya Pandita died and his mummified body, sitting in the lotus position, was entombed in a stupa which was eventually placed in the Guden Süm.

Many more temples and other buildings were constructed throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and existing structures underwent extensive renovations, first in the in the 1880s and later in 1909-10. The entire complex at one time must have covered a hundred or more acres, and by the 1920s Zayain Khüree was one of the largest and most influential monasteries in Mongolia, with over 2000 monks attached to eight different colleges. The monastery was also famous for its tsam dances, the last of which was held in July of 1932.

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 the first temple built in 1631, was leveled. The Guden Temple was turned into a fire station and the 1631 temple was made into a small museum.

Since the early 1990s the remaining portions of the monastery complex have undergone extensive renovations. The Winter and Summer Semchins both now serve as well-appointed museums. In the Semchin Temple to the left, facing the main Guden Süm, can be found the robes of the first Zaya Pandita, musical instruments used by musicians who entertained the various Panditas, and a host of other historical artifacts. In the left temple of the Guden Süm (facing the mountain) are the stupas containing the sharils, or mummified bodies of both the first and second Zaya Panditas, a portrait of the first Zaya Pandita painted in 1995 but said to be based on an original done in 1680, a portrait of Jambatseren, the sixth Zaya Pandita, and his wife or consort, an interesting thangka of the Tavan Khaany, or Five Kings (see Khögnö Tarnyn Khiid, above) and other items.

Guden Süm

Stupa containing the remains of the First Zaya Pandita

The middle temple of the Guden Süm also serves as a museum and includes an a detailed scale model of the whole monastery as it existed before the 1930s. Just to the left of the walled compound containing the Semchin temples and the Guden Süm can be seen the ruins of the Tsogschin Dugan, once the main temple of the monastery. There are now plans to rebuilt this temple. In front of the ruins is a new stupa built in memory of those who suffered from the communist repressions of the 1930s on dedicated on 9 September, 2001.

On a high knoll behind the main monastery complex is the picturesquely located Gandan Zuu Temple. The original temple built by Galdan Bolshigt, was destroyed in the 1932, but the original foundation can still be seen. In 1993 people from the Kharkhorin area began taking up donations and eventually the current temple was built. The fate of the Maidar (Maitreya) statue placed in the temple by Galdan is unknown. There is currently a large thangka of Maidar in the temple and a fund-raising drive to built a large new statue of Maidar (Maitreya) for the temple is in progress.

Galdan Zuu Temple

On the cliffs behind the Galdan Zuu Temple can seen numerous paintings on the rocks, including images of Buddha, Green Tara, Tsongkhapa (Zonkhov in Mongolian), and others. Twenty-one of the images are said to have been painted either by the first Zaya Pandita himself or his disciples. There is a ledge right below the painting of Tsongkhapa where monks still go today to meditate and read sutras. One monk claims that due to some acoustic quirk no noise from the city reaches this ledge and that sitting here “one feels far removed from the earth,” as he put it.

Just over 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 Tsetseleg 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 nine months during 1905–06 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 Tsetseleg and made a point of visiting this spring.

The original temple built at Tsetseleg in 1631, just in front and to the left of the walled compound, is now active once again and is now known as Togs Bayasgalant Buyaniig Delgeruulekh Khiid. There are thirty-five monks in residence. They specialize in chanting the Londongalsan Sutra, which was reportedly written by the First Zaya Pandita but updated to include the names of all the Zaya Panditas and the eight Bogd Gegens. Delegates of monks also come from Ulaan Baatar on occasion to perform the so-called Eleven Praises, one of which is performed each day for eleven days.

The Seventh Zaya Pandita has been recognized but currently lives in Ulaan Baatar, returning only occasionally to the monastery founded by his illustrious predecessor.

See More Photos of Tsetserleg

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Mongolia | Selenge Aimag | Amarbayasgalant

Made a quick dash up to Amarbayasgalant Monastery, the final resting place of Zanabazar, 137 miles as the crow flies northwest of Ulaan Baatar, or 221 miles one-way by road.


Sometime before Zanabazar ended his exile in China the Qing Emperor Kangxi said to him, “In 1723 I will be seventy years old and thou whilt be ninety; during this year come thou without delay to me.” In 1722, while Zanabazar was in Mongolia, Kangxi transmigrated. Zanabazar, by then probably eighty-eight years old, immediately set out for Beijing to pay his respects to the emperor’s remains. It was a visit from which he would not return alive. At the Yellow Temple in Beijing, which had been built as the 5th Dalai Lama’s residence during his 1651 visit to Beijing, Zanabazar himself transmigrated on the fourteenth day of the First Moon of the Water Hare Year (probably February 18, 1723, according to the Gregorian calendar).

Another view of Amarbayasgalant

According to legend on the day of his death a five-colored rainbow appeared over his temple at Örgöö (apparently in current-day Ulaan Baatar) and a clear light hovered over his throne. The monks who witnessed these phenomena, assuming that they signified some change the Bogd Gegen’s condition, held a puja for his good health and longevity. Many days passed before messengers traveling by horse apprised them of the Öndör Gegen‘s death.

Most traditional accounts say that Zanabazar died of an unspecified illness. The Chinese Li-fan-yuan, the Ministry of Religion, issued a statement which claimed that Zanabazar was acting on Kangxi’s request that he return to China for a visit in 1723: “Having got such an invitation, the hutukhtu returned to his homeland. But he carried out the imperial will: near the date that had been set he arrived in Peking, bowed to the emperor’s grave, and having decided to follow him, quietly passed away.” The exact circumstances of Zanabazar’s death remain unclear, but there is a persistent belief among Mongolians to this day that he was murdered by agents of Yung Cheng, who had became the Qing emperor upon the death of his father Kangxi in 1722. Any number of Mongolians with whom I have discussed the life of Zanabazar related this belief about Zanabazar’s alleged murder in one variant or another. This assertion has also found its way into print in a book by J. Choinkhor, published under the august auspices of UNESCO. According to the author, Yung Cheng invited Zanabazar to Kangxi’s funeral with the express purpose of eliminating him. Yung Chen “did not share his father’s policies . . . He invited [Zanabazar] with a purpose of getting rid of all those, who were close to Emkhamgalan Khan [Kangxi]. And when Zanabazar, receiving his invitation, visited Beijing on the 14th day of the first month of the Water Hare (1723), he was killed in the Yellow Monastery.”

If Yung Chen was implicated in Zanabazar’s demise it did not stop him from delivering a refulgent eulogy to the deceased Bogd Gegen: “The hutukhtu enjoyed the excellent love of my deceased regal father and extraordinary honors. My regal relative migrated to eternity on the day of Chia-wu, and the hutukhtu also died on the day of Chia-wu; does not that give evidence of the connection between [the two]? The hutukhtu was an extraordinary lama, and I am setting forth personally, for the sake of expressing respect to him, in order to present a khadag [prayer scarf] at his grave and to perform a libation with tea.” Reportedly Yung Chen did make an offering to Zanabazar’s body, and even bowed down and touched his forehead to Zanabazar’s knee, a very conspicuous show of respect on the part of someone who was by then the Qing Emperor. Zanabazar’s embalmed body, or sharil, was kept on display for several months in Beijing and then, accompanied by an honor guard, was taken back to Mongolia, probably to Örgöö, or what is now Ulaan Baatar.

In his will Kangxi had bequeathed 100,000 taels (3860 kilograms—8378 pounds—according to some sources ) of silver with instructions to his successor that it be used to construct a monastery to house Zanabazar’s remains. In 1727 Yung Cheng finally ordered the construction of the monastery. According to legend, he sent a team of geomancers to Mongolia to search out a propitious location. They searched far and wide but were finally drawn to the foot of Mount Buren Khan, in the valley of the Even River, a tributary of the Orkhon, in what is now Selenge Aimag. Here they found a little boy and girl playing together. When asked their names the boy said “Amar” (amar = happiness, peacefulness) and the girl “Bayasgalant” (bayasgalant = joy, pleasure, happiness). This was deemed auspicious, and it was decided to build the new monastery on this spot and call it Amarbayasgalant. When Amar and Bayasgalant eventually died they were buried in the front courtyard of monastery, at least according to legend. According to historical sources, however, Khüree, Zanabazar’s traveling monastery, was already located at the site at the time of his death in 1723, and this may well have influenced the choice of the site for the monastery to house his remains.

An extensive construction project was initiated employing skilled labor imported from China. Roofing tiles and decorative plaques were made with clay from a deposit on nearby Barun Khan Uul. The roofing tiles were treated with a glaze said to be so bright that on sunny days horses were spooked a mile away and had to be led to the monastery blindfolded. The main Tsogchin Temple was constructed with an unusual and possibly unique architectural feature. The eaves of the roof form a square which is open in the middle. Rainwater drains both outward toward the exterior of the temple and inward toward a square-shaped gutter on the second floor. This rainwater then drains downward through the middle of the four main pillars in the center of the temple and outward through gutters beneath the floor.

By 1736 most if not all of the major temples had been built. In 1737 Ch’ien Lung, Yung Cheng’s son and successor as Qing Emperor, had a large stele placed in a pavilion in front of the main temple On the stele was an inscription written by Ch’ien Lung himself “In the first year of the rule of Ch’ien Lung, the monastery was completed and I, [Ch’ien Lung], decreeing the name of Amur-bayasqulangtu for the monastery, bestowed upon it an inscription from my own hand, calling it the ‘foundation of the virtue of the worlds which are as many as the grains of sand in the Ganges.’ Assenting later to the requests of the officials in charge of the business of construction, I commanded that an obelisk be erected and that it be engraved with an inscription setting forth all the circumstances attending this work.”

Pavilion with Ch’ien Lung’s stele

The message from Ch’ien Lung continues:
As I will think, all men born by heaven possess one eternal and true quality. This true quality does not know rich or poor, does not make distinction by external appearance and surfaces . . . The Yellow Faith [the Gelug sect to which Zanabazar belonged] is widespread in the northern countries . . . and there is no one who would not want to confess it with true devotion. The essence of its teachings are the principles by which evil vices are to be corrected and beneficial virtues are followed . . . My royal forefathers graciously showered the foreign aimaks with their favors and gave prosperity to all lands. Hence vast multitudes of peoples have been entirely happy, and works of every sort are in plenty and abundance. The superiors of the temple must exhort and guide all living creatures, bring them tidings of the true virtues, and urge them to strive unanimously for illumination and decorum, in order that all separate individuals and families may enjoy peace and tranquility. Only then will they duly appreciate the lofty purposes with which my royal parent gave his favors and benefits . . .
For reasons unclear Zanabazar’s sharil, or mummified remains, were not actually moved to Amarbayasgalant until 1779, fifty-six years after his death. They were placed in a suburgan, or reliquary, which was eventually housed in a wooden pavilion in the third courtyard of the monastery. In 1797 the 4th Bogd Gegen visited Amarbayasgalant and ordered the suburgan opened and a portrait painted of Zanabazar. The following year he had made, based on this portrait, what was said to be the first statue of Zanabazar. It is unclear what happened to the posthumous portrait and the statue; however, art historians have long speculated if any of the numerous statues and portraits of Zanabazar now existing are are based on these originals, or even if they are perhaps one of the originals themselves. (One candidate for the original statue is found in the Winter Palace Museum—see below).

In 1813 the Fourth Bogd Gegen, aged thirty-eight, died of pneumonia while on a pilgrimage to Wu Tai Shan, in what is now Shanxi Province of China, the mountain dedicated to Manjusri to which Zanabazar had also made a pilgrimage in the company of the Qing Emperor Kangxi during his exile in China. In 1816 the Fourth Bogd Gegen’s remains were transferred to Amarbayasgalant and placed in a wooden building to the left of Zanabazar’s tomb.

By the early 1890s Amarbayasgalant was one of the greatest pilgrimage destinations in Mongolia. The Russian ethnologist Podzneev, who visited here in 1892, noted, “there were Mongols here from every Khalkha aimag without exception.” In addition to the main monastery within its walled compound, which had been built by the Qing emperors, there were numerous temples built by donations from Mongols themselves. One of them contained a huge statue of Maidar, the Coming Buddha, which Podzneev claims was “sixty armspans” in height. (The usually pedantically precise Podzneev is a bit vague here about what constitutes an “armspan”; if it is anything much longer than a foot he would seem be an exaggerating. The immense statue of Janraisig now residing at Gandan Monastery in Ulaan Baatar is eighty-five feet high and it’s doubtful that the Maidar at Amarbayasgalant could have exceeded that.) Attached to the monastery and temples were over 2000 monks.

Podzneev also reported that at the time of his visit ceremonies were conducted over the remains of both Zanabazar and the Fourth Bogd Gegen each day at five in the morning and again between eight and nine in the evening. “To officiate at these services,” he adds, “five distinguished and most honored lamas are appointed in turn, whereas all the other more humble inhabitants of the monastery do not even have the right to approach these holy objects and must confine themselves to worshipping before the door of the temple in which they are.”

In addition to the already mentioned Fourth, other Bogd Gegens made pilgrimages here. Not all of them lived up to the high standards set by Zanabazar and the Fourth. The notoriously profligate Seventh Bogd Gegen, known for his drinking bouts and frolics with prostitutes, both male and female, visited the monastery in 1867. He stayed for two months, apparently using the opportunity to engage in bacchanals far from the eyes of monastic and civil authorities in Örgöö. The eighth and last Bogd Gegen came to the monastery in 1889 on an official trip sanctioned by the Qing Emperor. Apart from performing his religious duties, he too apparently found time for indulging his legendarily catholic appetites. He had such an enjoyable interlude that he returned twice the following year, in 1890, both times without the permission of the Qing government, which was strictly against the rules. According to Podzneev, who visited two years later and picked up the story from scandalized local monks, “[the Bogd Gegen] was surrounded by six or seven young lamas who . . . were distinguished only by their inclination and ability to carouse.”

Amarbayasgalant was sacked during the repressions of 1937. According to local informants seventeen large army trucks manned by both Mongolian and Soviet Russian troops pulled up in front of the monastery one summer day in 1937. The soldiers ransacked the temples and hauled away seventeen truck loads of rare books and scriptures, thangkas, statues, and other art work. Some lamas and local people had been expecting the arrival of the troops and had hidden away some of the more valuable articles but the vast majority were lost. They were taken behind the mountains to the right of the monastery and burnt in a huge bonfire. The remains of both Zanabazar and the Fourth Bogd Gegen were removed from their suburgans and according to local informants also burned in the fire. For days huge plumes of black smoke roiled from the conflagration. All the temples outside the walled compound were leveled. There is no record of what happened to the immense Maidar reported by Podzneev. The temples within the walled compound were heavily damaged, but not leveled, and some were later used as warehouses and granaries.

Restoration of the monastery began in 1990. A Tibetan lama born in the Ordos Desert of China by the name of Lobsang Tenzin Gyatso Pal Sangpo (also known as Guru Deva Rinpoche) reportedly made a private donation of half a million dollars toward the restoration. The monastery was officially reopened in August of 1993 in a ceremony attended by Guru Deva Rinpoche, Bakula Rinpoche, then Indian ambassador to Mongolian, and P. Ochirbat, then President of Mongolia, and in 1996 it was nominated by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. In September of 2002 a Tsam Dance, one of the main ceremonies at the monastery in pre-communist days, was held for the first time in sixty-five years. Currently there are about sixty novices and ordained monks in residence.

The outer wall around the monastery measures 675 feet by 580 feet. In front of this walled compound is the so-called Pailur, or Spirit Gate, emblazoned one either side with large glazed plaques decorated in floral motifs. On either side of the Pailur are two brick columns. At one time the column on the left, facing the monastery, contained a wooden sign stating that everyone, including the Bogd Gegen himself, must dismount their horses here and walk the rest of the way to the entrance gate. This sign is now missing. Directly in front of the entrance gate is a new stone column with an inscription in Old Mongolian describing the monastery. Just above the main gate is a blue placard with gold script in three languages—Manchu, Mongolian, and Chinese—reading “Amarbayasgalant Monastery—Built by Imperial Command.” The original sign was destroyed; the current one is an artful reproduction.

Entrance with new stone column

Inside the gate is the first of four courtyards, all of them surrounded by an inner wall measuring 150 feet by 630 feet. The first courtyard contains two pavilions to the right and left. One of these formerly held a bell reportedly given to the monastery by the Qing emperor and the other a large drum or gong. The bell can be seen near the right pavilion. In front of each pavilion is a tall post. According to the legend, Amar and Bayasgalant, the two children who gave their names to the monastery, were later buried beneath these posts. Monks now are quick to point out, however, that this is only a fable.

The second courtyard is entered via the Tamagiin Süm. This temple contains large statues of the four traditional temple guardians: white Yolkhosuren, red Jamiison, blue Pagjiibuu, and yellow Namsrai.

One of the Temple Guardians crushing a red-haired, blue-eyed hussy beneath his heel

Beyond the Tamagiin Süm, to the left and right of the walkway leading to the main Tsogchin Temple, are two pavilions. The 1737 stele with the inscription of Ch’ien Lung can be seen inside a pavilion to the left. Those fluent in Old Mongolian script can still read the inscriptions, which are also rendered in Manchu and Chinese.

The Tsogchin Temple, measuring 105 by 105 feet, is the main assembly hall of the monastery where monks perform services each morning. The main statue in the front is Tsongkhapa (Zonkhov in Mongolia) founder of the Gelug sect. To the right is a life-sized statue of Lobsang Tenzin Gyatso Pal Sangpo (Guru Deva Rinpoche), the lama from Inner Mongolia who was largely responsible for the restoration of the monastery in the 1990s. It is possible to ascend to the second floor of the monastery through a door to the right of the entrance as you enter and see the working of the drainage system described above and also to walk around the temple on the second floor balcony.

Tsogchin Temple

Behind the Tsogchin Temple stone steps lead to the third courtyard. In the middle of this courtyard is the Zuu Temple, featuring a large statue of the Buddha. To the right of the Buddha is an unusual thangka of Zagzanibar, the God of Time (Tsag Toonii Burkhan). Just to the right of the Zuu Temple is the temple which contained the stupa with Zanabazar’s remains. The original stupa in the center of the temple was destroyed. The replacement stupa and statue of Zanabazar was placed here in 1992. In front of the stupa is a small painting depicting the eight Bogd Gegens and the Panchen Lama. The walls to the left and right of the stupa are covered with depictions of Zanabazar printed on cloth.

Zuu Temple (left), Zanabazar’s Tomb Temple (center-left), Sakhuis Temple, (right), with Zanabazar’s yellow ger in front
Just in front of Zanabazar’s tomb temple is a yellow ger which represents the original Shar Bösiyn Ord (Yellow Sash Palace) in which Zanabazar was named the Bogd Gegen at Shireet Tsagaan Nuur (see above) in 1639. This ger was dedicated on July 18, 1993. In the middle of the ger is a fireplace made from four stone slabs which are said to be from Zanabazar’s own residence at Shar Nokhoitiin Am, at the base of Buren Khan Mountain, just behind the monastery.

To the right of the ger, facing the center of the courtyard, is the Sakhuis (Protector) Temple. This contains thangkas of Jamsran, one of the two Protectors of the monastery, Ochirvaani (Malakala), and Jigjid (Yamantaka). As mentioned above, Erdene Tsorj, student of Zanabazar and co-founder of Khögnö Tarnym Khiid (see above), was instrumental in introducing Jamsran into Mongolian Buddhism.

To the left of the Zuu Temple is the temple which contained the original tomb-stupa of the Fourth Panchen Lama, who visited here at Amarbayasgalant in 1797 and who died in 1813, at the age of thirty-eight. As with Zanabazar’s tomb-stupa the original was destroyed. The current stupa and statue of the Fourth were placed here in 1992. As in Zanabazar’s temple the walls are covered with depictions of Zanabazar printed on cloth.

In front of Fourth Bogd Gegen Temple, facing the center of the courtyard is the Ayuush (Amitayus) Temple. Inside is a large statue of Ayuush flanked on either side by eighty sixteeninch high statues of Ayuush brought from Tibet in 1992. Also on display are a recently produced set of 108 volumes of the Gaanguur (Kanjur) written in Old Mongolian script.

Behind the Zuu Temple is the fourth courtyard. In the middle is the Laviran Temple, reserved as the residence of high-ranking lamas when they visit Amarbayasgalant and generally not open to the public. To the right is the Yam Temple, reserved for those who come to consult with high-ranking lamas when they are in residence and generally not open to the public. To the left of the Laviran Temple and facing the courtyard is the Dorje Shugden Temple, also closed to the public. Dorje Shugden is one of the two Protectors of the Monastery, along with Jamsran. Dorje Shugden is a controversial figure within Tibetan Buddhism and in recent years the Dalai Lama has spoken out quite forcefully against those who venerate him. An examination of this controversy is outside the scope of this guidebook.

To the right of the Laviran Temple, in a separate walled compound, is the Maidar (Maitreya Temple), containing a statute of Maidar. The Maidar ceremony, which involves circumambulating the monastery with a depiction of Maidar, was once a well-known event at Amarbayasgalant and is now once again being performed yearly, usually in July.

To the left of the Laviran Temple, also in its own separated walled compound, is the Narkhajid Temple, dedicated to the goddess Narkhajid. The role of Narkhajid in Zanabazar’s life is the subject of many legends. According to one, an emanation of Narkhajid was the wife of the King of Shambhala during Zanabazar’s lifetime. The King of Shambhala sent another emanation of Narkhajid to Zanabazar which took the bodily form of his wife or consort, Dorjiinnaljirmaa. This is the woman who according to legend served as the model for Zanabazar’s famous statues of White Tara and Green Tara. When Dorjiinnaljirmaa died, according to legend, a brilliant light appeared above her tomb, leading many of those present to conclude that she was indeed an emanation of Narkhajid. Other than these legends, very little seems to be known about the goddess Narkhajid and what role she played in Mongolian Buddhism. In any case, this temple now contains a striking statue of her, along with dozens of eight-inch high clay statues of Zanabazar fashioned by monks at the monastery.


Just outside the outer wall of the monastery, to the west, is an immense kettle, made in 1818, which monks once used to make tea. Further on up the hillside is a stupa, apparently the only religious structure outside the compound walls which survived the destruction of 1937. Visible still higher on the flanks of Buren Khan Uul can be seen a large inscription in Tibetan script fashioned from white stones. This is the familiar Om Mani Padme Hum mantra of Janraisig (Avalokitesvara), rendered Um Maani Bod Ni Khum in Mongolian. Above this are three smaller lines of Tibetan script rendering into Mongolian as:
Um Maani Bod Ni Khum—Janraisig mantra
Um Bazar Vaanii Khum—Ochirvaani (Malakala) mantra
Um Ara Bazaradi—Buddha mantra

About a half mile west of the monastery is a newly constructed stupa. Next to the stupa is a stele erected by the city of Ulaan Baatar noting that Amarbayasgalant was once the site of Zanabazar’s traveling monastery, known as Khüree, and thus one of the many locations of the Mongolian capital before it finally settled at its current location at Ulaan Baatar.

Dorje Shugden Temple

Two miles to the west of the monastery, on the hillside on the opposite side of the Even River, is the newly constructed Dorje Shugden Temple. Formerly there were three temples here dedicated to Zanabazar, Dorje Shugden, and the Eighth Bogd Gegen. These were destroyed in the late 1930s. The Dorje Shugden Temple was rebuilt and two large stupas constructed in place of the temples of Zanabazar and the Eighth Bogd Gegen. Between these stupas eight slightly smaller stupas have also recently been constructed. The lone stupa higher on the hill is an original dating from 1868. Within the temple itself is a large statue of Buddha flanked by hundreds of clay statues of Zanabazar fashioned by local monks. There is also a thangka of Dorje Shugden. According to the caretaker, devotees of Dorje Shugden from many foreign countries have come here in recent years to do meditation retreats.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Mongolia | Bulgan Aimag | Khogno Tarnyn Khiid

Made a quick trip to Khögnö Tarnyn Khiid, the monastery established by Zanabazar for his teacher Erdene-Tsorj, located about 140 miles west of Ulaan Baatar, just before the turnoff to Kharkhorin.

The immense granite massif originally known as Bat Khan Uul extends north-south some twelve miles, east-west up to six miles, and looms to a height of 6453 feet or some 2000 feet above the surrounding steppe. The mountain was thought to be ruled by a spirit known as Tudevvaanchig, and according to local informants the mountain was a favorite haunt of shamans both before and after the advent of Buddhism in Mongolia.

Looking north from the base of the mountain—Ruins of the monastery

The origins of Khögnö Tarnyn Monastery, at the northern base of the massif, are shrouded in myth and legend. According to a story now related by local people, in the fourteenth century a very learned lama by the name of Lalambaldorj came to the base of what was then Bat Khan Uul and meditated for a long time. He eventually left the mountain and began traveling around Mongolia. One day he was approached by some Tibetan monks who claimed they had fled Tibet because the king of Tibet, Langdrom, was persecuting members of their sect, the so-called Yellow Hats or Gelukpas. After listening with great interest to their story Lalambaldorjj asked the Tibetan monks, “What are the favorite things of King Langdrom?” The monks said that Langdrom liked all black things: black clothes, black shoes, black horses, everything black. Lalambaldorjj said he wanted to go to Tibet to met this king but first the monks had to prepare for him a set of elaborate black clothes, like those of a tsam dancer, with very wide sleeves. This the monks did, and Lalambaldorjj finally set out for Tibet. He arrived at the king’s court but the soldiers guarding the king would not let Lalambaldorjj into his presence. Finally Lalambaldorjj approached one soldier and said, “You must tell your kings that a lama wearing all black and riding a black horse has come from Mongolia to met him.“ The message was relayed, and the curious king agreed to met Lalambaldorjj. As soon as he was in the king’s presence Lalambaldorjj pulled a bow and arrow out of his sleeve and shot Langdrom dead. He fled the king’s court and rode his horse across a river. Actually it was a white horse which he had earlier colored black with ashes. The ashes were washed off in the stream and Lalambaldorjj emerged on the other side on a white horse. He threw off his all black clothes, revealing ordinary clothes underneath. The king’s soldiers searched everywhere for man wearing all black, riding a black horse, but were unable to find anyone. Lalambaldorjj returned to Mongolia and again settled at the base of Bat Khan Uul. He lived here for many years, instructing the local people in Buddhism and teaching them various sutras and tantras. Ever since then the area around Bat Khan Uul has been considered auspicious, and it is said that Lalambaldorjj’s retreat here was the foundation what eventually became Khögnö Tarnyn Monastery.

This is, of course, a fanciful retelling of a very famous incident in Tibetan history. King Langdarma (Langdrom) lived in the ninth century, however, and not the fourteenth. A follower of the Bön religion, he did launch a violent persecution of Buddhism in Tibet, but not of course against the Geluk sect, which was not founded until the fifteenth century. He was assassinated by a Buddhist monk named Lhalungpa Pelgyi Dorje (apparently Lalambaldorjj is a corruption of this name) in 842, by means of a bow and arrow, and according to Tibetan legend the monk did escape by riding a black-colored horse across a river and emerging on a white horse, thus throwing off his pursuers. Lhalungpa Pelgyi Dorje hid out for awhile in the caves at Drak Yerpa, some thirty miles northeast of Lhasa, where his hat was enshrined until 1959, and then escaped to eastern Tibet, beyond the reach of the Langdarma’s avengers. (See Photos of Drak Yerpa)

While the story of a Mongolian lama named Lalambaldorjj killing a Tibetan king named Langdrom in the fourteenth century is purely legendary, it is an interesting example of how actual incidents are reworked into legends which over the years become accepted as fact. It also should be noted that there are numerous variations of this legend. In one variant Lalambaldorjj lived in Tibet in the ninth century, at the time of the historical King Langdarma, and was the servant of a previous incarnation of Zanabazar’s. Having killed King Langdarma he fled to Mongolia and settled at the foot of Bat Khan Uul, where he taught the Dharma to local people. Thus when Zanabazar later founded a monastery here he was reestablishing a karmic connection first made in Tibet, at least according to legend. There is, of course, no historical evidence of Tibetan Buddhism in Mongolia in the ninth century.

On firmer ground, written sources maintain in the early 17th century one the Tüsheet khans, Bishrelt Gün, probably a son or grandson of the Tüsheet Khan Avtai, who founded Erdene Zuu, built at least one temple at the southern base of the mountain. Local sources maintain, however, that BIshrelt Gün had nothing to do with the founding of the monastery here. They maintain that it was Zanabazar, who had been enthroned as the first Bogd Gegen at Shireet Tsagaan Nuur, about twenty miles to the southeast, who initiated the construction of temples here in the 1660s. Written sources confirm that Zanabazar was instrumental in the creation of a monastery here. Construction continued through the 1670s and early 1680s at two different sites, one at the base of the mountain and another 1.2 miles and 550 feet higher up a valley to the southeast. Apparently at first the so-called Upper Monastery was the most important. Eventually ten or more temples were built here, including the Övgön Khiid (övgön = “grandfather” or “old man”), supposedly a much scaled-down model of the Potala in Lhasa.

Looking down the narrow valley leading to the Upper Site

Zanabazar dedicated this monastery to one of his teachers, Erdene-Tsorj, who had studied in Tibet, probably at Gomang College at Drepung Monastery in Lhasa, where most Mongolian monks studied. (See Photos of Lhasa and Drepung) While in Tibet Erdene-Tsorj became a devotee of the deity Begtse, better known in Mongolian as Jamsran, and he later dedicated one of the temples at the Upper Monastery to this deity. When Erdene-Tsorj eventually became head of the monastery it became known as Erdene Khamba Khiid.

Ruins at the Upper Site

Before the invasion of Galdan Bolshigt in 1688 there were at least 300 monks at the lower and upper complexes. The monks at the upper monastery were said to specialize in the study of the Yamantaka Tantra and were especially well known for their chanting. According to legend some of the monks could make themselves levitate by chanting. Just to the west of the mountain is the Tarnyn River (tarnyn = chanting). It is tempting to think that the river was originally named something else, and was renamed in honor of the famous chanting monks of Erdene Khamba Khiid, but locals maintain that the river always had that name and it is just a coincidence that the monks at the nearby monastery became famous for their chanting.

In 1688 the Zungarian chieftain Galdan Bolshigt invaded Khalkh Mongolia and soon sacked Erdene Zuu Monastery just to the west of here. Erdene Khamba Khiid is pretty much hidden from the view of passersby by intervening ridges, and according to legend the monks, hoping to further conceal their monastery, wrapped in felt the golden ganchirs, the ornaments on the roofs of the temples which normally glistened in the sun and could be seen a long way off, so that they would not attract Galdan‘s troops. Sure enough, Galdan and his men rode right by Bat Khan Uul, seemingly unaware there was a monastery hidden in the folds of the hills at its base. That night they camped on the side of a nearby mountain. The next morning the monks, thinking that they were safe, removed the felt from the ganchirs. Some of the soldiers saw them glistening in the sun and Galdan sent a party back to investigate. According to yet another fanciful legend, the monks, hearing off the approach of Galdan‘s men, decided to turn into scorpions (another version as it as ticks) and hide on the ceiling of one of the temples. One lama then declared that they should not hide; if their individual karmas dictated that their lives were over they should turn back into monks and accept their fate.

Although this tale may be a legendary accretion to what actually happened, it seems fairly certain that at least forty or fifty of the 300 monks in residence were captured by Galdan‘s men (Galdan himself was apparently not present). The rest escaped into the hills. The captives were tied up by the neck in a long row using the kind of knot which herdsmen use to tie up a row of sheep or goats for milking. What happened then is again unclear. One version maintains the monks were beheaded; another maintains they were castrated; yet another claims they were castrated first and then beheaded. Local informants maintain, however, that none of these versions are correct and that they were instead strangled to death by pulling tight the ropes around their necks. The verb knognökh is said to mean “to strangle,” but some competent Mongolian linguists maintain that it can also mean “to slaughter (an animal) by cutting its throat” or “to castrate.” These various meanings have no doubt added to the confusion of what actually happened to the monks. In any case, the name of Bat Khan Uul (uul = mountain) was changed to Khögnö Khan Uul in recognition of this event, the name by which it is called today, and the monastery became known as Khögnö Tarnyn Khiid, tarnyn referring to the chanting for which its monks were famous (or if you prefer to the nearby river).

Galdan‘s men also destroyed the temples at both the lower and upper sites. The upper complex was abandoned and never rebuilt, but after the war with Galdan had ended and Zanabazar had returned from exile in China the lower complex was reconstructed. A new temple dedicated to Jamsran was built and also a temple dedicated to the Tavan Khaans, or Five Kings, said to represent five spirits which ruled Knögnö Khan Uul. Numerous other temples and buildings were added over the years. In 1937 communist iconoclasts leveled most of the temples and heavily damaged the rest.

Ruins with the restored Five Kings Temple visible above

Restoration work began in the early 1990s, led by the granddaughter of one of the monks who was living at the monastery when it was destroyed. This woman‘s daughter is currently the caretaker of the monastery and the repository of the history and legends of the site. The Jamsran Temple was reopened in 1994. For the last few years young monks under the age of fourteen have come here each summer to practice chanting in the Jamsran Temple, and delegation of monks from Gandan Monastery in Ulaan Baatar also come here periodically for chanting ceremonies. One elderly lama told me that Jamsran is also thought to be the guardian of the gateway to Shambhala, leading some to speculate that Khögnö Khan Uul is itself an entrance to that fabled realm. The Five Kings Temple, on a high shelf above the rest of the site, was also reopened in 1994. Two small shrines, one containing a huge prayer wheel and the other the deity Bazarsad, were reopened in 1999. In 2000 a new stupa was built at the site and in 2004 another larger stupa was constructed.

The upper site is reached by a trail leading up a valley to the east of the lower complex. The walking distance is about 1.2 miles. There is one complex of ruins about 200 by 200 feet square and the ruins of at least ten other temples on the nearby hillsides. The Övgön Khiid built by Zanabazar, supposedly a much scaled-down model of the Potala in Lhasa, was one of the hillside temples, although at this point in time it is not clear which one. The two famous springs here, probably one of the reasons the monastery was located at this site, have since gone dry. The air was redolence with flowers when I was there:

See More Photos of Khögnö Tarnyn Khiid

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Mongolia | Ulaan Baatar | Bogd Khan Uul

Back in Ulaan Baatar. Here's the view from the balcony of my apartment in the Sansar district of town:

That's the mountain of Bogd Khan Uul on the southern horizon. (See Bigger Photo)

Thursday, June 09, 2005

China | Beijing | Dongye Temple

Spent an enjoyable morning at the Dongye Temple in the bustling Chaoyang section of Beijing. Although the bizarrely outlandish gateway gives an unpromising impression the temple grounds themselves are an oasis of calm amidst the towering apartment buildings and skyscrapers just outside. Although some the temple complex was built during the Mongol Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368) there is not a hint of Mongol influence, or for that matter Buddhist influence in any of the temples. These are strictly traditional Chinese Taoist temples of the Zhengyi School, intended as places to make offering to Taoist gods and one's ancestors.

Garish Gateway to the Temples: don’t do this place on acid!

Oasis of calm

Stelae in the courtyard

Statues in one of the dozens of separate temple rooms

More statues

More statues

These two “Gods of Wealth” are in a temple built in 1328. According to a sign, they encourage “making profits on a fair competition basis in any commercial transaction.”

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

China | Beijing | Botanical Gardens

The next day was one of those days when you wonder what all the fuss is about pollution in Beijing. Even in Sanlitun, not far from downtown, there was a perfect vault of blue overhead. My friend Ms. R. and I decided go to the famous Botanical Gardens on the western edge of the city.

The Botanical Gardens

By the time we arrived a few fluffy clouds were floating by, but there was a nice breeze here on the outskirts of the city. It was perfect day for strolling in the garden, as several thousand other Beijingers had also concluded. Some had set up dome tents in the grassy areas of the Gardens and were spending the day playing cards, drinking tea, and snoozing.

Ms. R. outdazzling the daffodils

Ms R

That evening I went with Ms. R. and two of her friends to a new Uighur restaurant on a back street (I will never find my way back alone) just west of Bei Hai Park. Some people from Turpan in Xinjiang just opened it and the place with crowded with Uighurs. Wonderful laghman and best shishkababs in the city, plus homemade yogurt made on the premises. And such enjoyable company . . .

Three Roses of Xinjiang in Uighur Restaurant

China | Dolonnuur-Beijing

That night we invited the museum director to our hotel for dinner. His teenage daughter wanted to come along, but her mother nixed the idea, fearing the corrupting influence of foreigners and big city guys (Mr. Li and sidekick) from the capital. This meal featured Sha Ji, made from wild sand grouse. Supposedly this was one of the Qing Emperor’s Kangxi’s favorite meals while out hunting . . .

Sha Ji – Eat your heart out Kangxi!

From Dolonnuur we headed back to Beijing, stopping for a mid-day break in the city of Zhang Jia Kou in western Hebei. After visiting some nicely restored Qing Dynasty buildings in a park on the edge of town we popped into a nearby ger restaurant which promised to serve Mongolian food.

Qing Dynasty buildings near Zhang Jia Kou

The young girl claimed to be Mongolian but she did not understand me when I asked her name in Mongolian, which is not so odd, since most Mongolians in Ulaan Baatar do not understand me when I speak Mongolian. Mr. Li, however, asked her in Chinese if she spoke Mongolian and she admitted she didn’t. The sheep ribs were delicious, but barbecued and not boiled in true Mongolian style. The buutz however were right on. The milk tea wasn’t bad either.

Mr Li was in a big hurry to get back to Beijing, since his wife, in a series of what seemed like several dozen mobile phone calls, had promised him a big coming home feast (he had been gone three whole days) complete with white wine. I should mention that both he and his sidekick had the very latest in mobile phones; the phones downloaded and played MPG music files, took and sent photos, received email and of course took phone calls. Nowhere on the trip were they unable to call Beijing. By five in the evening I was back in my hotel in the Sanlitun area, cruising on free-high speed internet.