Buddhism in Mongnolia


Statue on side


Soyolma Davaakhuu is Mongolia's 2008 Female Artist of the Year. She graduated in 1998 from the Mongolian University of Arts and Culture and has worked as a professional artist since that time. In 2001 she was initiated into the Union of Mongolian Artists, the most prestigious art society in Mongolia. She has had solo exhibits in many of the most prestigious art galleries in Mongolia, including the UMA gallery (2005 and 2008), the Zanadu Gallery (2007) and the Silk Road Gallery (2008). She has also been featured in collaborative exhibits with the works of her mother and late father.
Abstract: "A Sketch of Mongolian Buddhist Art History"

A Sketch of Mongolian Buddhist Art History

Mongolia has a unique tradition of Buddhist art, connected to its long history of Buddhist experience and often discussed in three main phases. The first was in ancient times during the Khunna (Kushan) Empire when Buddhism spread from India along the old Silk Road. Historians have speculated that as many as 100,000 monks lived among the cities of the Silk Road at the beginning of the Christian Era. This wave of Buddhism occurred two or three centuries before Buddhism came to China, and six or seven centuries before Tibet. Reproductions of Buddhist wall paintings from the later phase of this era can be seen in the Zanabazaar National Fine Arts Museum, showing strong influences from the Indian styles of Buddhist painting.The second phase began with the sons and grandsons of Chinggis Khaan. Kublai in particular was a great patron of Buddhism and the Buddhist arts. Tantric Buddhist themes were very strong. Kublai conquered many Buddhist regions and absorbed their influences. The third phase began in the 16th century, when the Altan Khaan adopted the Third Dalai Lama as his guru. The Dalai Lamas had been great patrons of Buddhist arts in Tibet, and they similarly inspired the Mongols. A half century later the Bogd Lama, now called Zanabazaar, became a monk and studied in Tibet with the Fifth Dalai Lama and his guru, Panchen Chokyi Gyaltsen. He paid great attention to the study of the arts, and later set up art schools in Mongolia. He became the Dharma King of Mongolia, and his legacy was passed to his successive incarnations. In particular, Huree, Erdene Zuu, and Amarbayasgalant Monasteries were famous for the artists they produced.

Johan Elverskog is an associate professor and director of Asian studies at Southern Methodist University. He is the author and editor of six books, including most recently Our Great Qing: The Mongols, Buddhism and the State in Late Imperial China (2006), The Pearl Rosary: Mongol Historiography in Nineteenth Century Ordos (2007), and Biographies of Eminent Mongol Buddhists (2008). His latest book, Buddhism and Islam on the Silk Road: A History of Cross-Cultural Exchange, will soon be published.
Abstract: "The Oirads, Islam and the Origins of Mongolian Buddhism"

The Oirads, Islam and the Origins of Mongolian Buddhism

Although there now exists a common narrative of Mongol Buddhist history revolving around Khubilai Khan in the Yuan, the "second conversion" of Altan Khan, and the "degeneration" of the Qing period, much of this story—as we now know—is false. The aim of this paper is to continue the current excavation of Mongol Buddhist history by exploring the early history of Buddhism among the Mongols during the early Ming dynasty.

Gonchig Ganbold graduated from the Mongolian State University, the State Institute of International Relations in Moscow, and the Foreign Service Program at the University College in Oxford. He also studied at the Institute of Advanced Studies on International Relations in Geneva and at the Asia Pacific Security Studies Center in Hawaii. He has served as foreign–service officer both at headquarters and foreign missions of Mongolia since 1980 and at the Office of National Security Council of Mongolia in 2003–2004. He specializes in political diplomacy and international security and has written many articles and translated nearly a dozen books into Mongolian. As Consul General and Counselor of the Mongolian Embassy in Washington DC since August 2006 G. Ganbold has placed great emphasis on improving the public awareness and visibility of Mongolia in the U.S. and reinvigorating cultural exchanges between the two countries at all levels. He is currently vice president of the Mongolian School Governing Board and member of Mongolian Cultural Center in Washington D.C.
Abstract: "Observations on the History and Culture of Buddhism in Mongolia"

Observations on the History and Culture of Buddhism in Mongolia

The country of Mongolia, in the heartland of the vast Eurasian plateau, under the eternal blue sky, is known for its brave and faithful disciples of the Buddha. In a land of seemingly endless steppe and barren sand dunes edged by snow–capped mountains, sturdy herdsmen braved a harsh continental climate for many centuries. The country of Mongolia had political, economic and spiritual ties with the countries of Asia since ancient times. The Mongols had deep connections with Tibet, Land of the Snows, dating back to the 1st century A.D. Adoption of Buddhism to Mongolia happened more than once and each time from Tibet, which was a sacred land of the Buddhist tradition, a holy place to which Buddhists naturally gravitated. Thus, the Mongol aristocracy supported Tibetan Buddhism and enhanced their fame and position in both countries. This was a policy that enabled them to play a leading role in Central Asia.

Jamie Hubbard is the Yehan Numata Professor of Buddhist Studies at Smith College where he has taught since 1985. He has a long interest in the relationship between text, rhetoric, and institution, particularly in the social–political realm involving questions of heresy and orthodoxy. Previous publications include The Manuscript Remains and Other Materials for the Study of the San–chieh Movement (2003), Absolute Delusion, Perfect Buddhahood: The Rise and Fall of a Chinese Heresy (2001), and Pruning the Bodhi Tree: The Storm Over Critical Buddhism (1997). Previous publications include The Manuscript Remains and Other Materials for the Study of the San–chieh Movement (2003), Absolute Delusion, Perfect Buddhahood: The Rise and Fall of a Chinese Heresy (2001), and Pruning the Bodhi Tree: The Storm Over Critical Buddhism (1997). He is currently finishing a translation of the commentary on the Vimalakïrti–nirdesa–sûtra attributed to Shõtoku Taishi.
Visit Jamie Hubbard's Web site.

Lhagvademchig Jadamba is a lecturer in the Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology at the National University of Mongolia. He graduated from the Central Institute of Higher Tibetan Studies in Sarnath, Varanasi with a Shastri degree and holds an M.A. in Buddhist studies from the University of Hong Kong. He has worked at the Library of Congress in New Delhi as a language consultant and at Zanabazar Buddhist University on Buddhist art and history projects as a translator, editor and consultant, on works including "Mongolian Buddhist Art: Masterpieces from the museums of Mongolia" (2005–2007) and "Documentation of Mongolian Monasteries" (2007–2008). He served as the official interpreter for the Dalai Lama during his visit to Mongolia in 2002. Currently, he is conducting his Ph.D. research on the revival of Buddhism in Mongolia with particular focus on the re–introduction of the institution of reincarnated lamas.
Abstract: "Buddhism in Mongolia: Revival on the Verge of Survival"

Buddhism in Mongolia: Revival on the Verge of Survival

The paper will examine the current revival or re–introduction of Buddhism in Mongolia following the collapse of communism in 1990. After brutal suppression and total government control, Buddhism re–emerged in 1990 as a source of Mongolian cultural and a national identity. People embraced Buddhism heartily, making donations to new monasteries, sending their young boys to newly opened temples and visiting monasteries and monks. The number of monasteries and monks increased significantly. However, after nearly two decades, Buddhism in Mongolia faces new and serious challenges. Monasteries opened in rural areas after 1990 are now deserted. Public criticism of Buddhism and Buddhist monks has increased while Christianity has become more popular among young people. Significant socio–economic changes during the years of socialism and the two post–socialist decades have created a new context. The revival of Buddhism in Mongolia has to be reconsidered in this new context of a modern, multi–religious, secular Mongolian society.

Christopher Kaplonski is a senior research associate at the Mongolia and Inner Asia Studies Unit in the Department of Social Anthropology at the University of Cambridge in the U.K. and has conducted research in Mongolia since the early 1990s. In addition to extensive research on memory and identity, Chris spent two years teaching at the National University of Mongolia. His current project, tentatively titled "The Death of the Buddhist State: Violence and Sovereignty in Early Socialist Mongolia," looks at the power struggles between the early socialist state and the Buddhist establishment from an anthropological perspective. Chris publishes extensively on the topics of memory and politics in Mongolia, issues related to Chinggis Khan, and political violence and its aftermath. He received his M.A. and Ph.D. in anthropology from Rutgers University, and a B.S. in chemical engineering from the New Jersey Institute of Technology.
Abstract: "Resorting to Violence: Repression of Buddhist Lamas in 1930s Mongolia"

Resorting to Violence: Repression of Buddhist Lamas in 1930s Mongolia

This paper argues for the need to rethink the relationship between the early socialist state and the Buddhist establishment in Mongolia during the 1930's. Drawing upon extensive archival research, it demonstrates that the mass killings of the late 1930s, when about 35,000 people were killed, roughly half of them lamas, were not a sudden orgy of violence or the spilling over into Mongolia of Stalin's Great Terror, as they are often described. Rather the killings were the result of the failure of previous attempts to resolve what was known as 'the question of the lamas' and to break the influence of the Buddhist establishment in Mongolia. It was a cascading failure of previous policies by the socialist state that ultimately led to the execution of the lamas. This paper traces these policies in the form of 'regimes of exception' that were enacted over a decade–long span and examines their implications for the state's claims to sovereignty and its relationship to Buddhism in the first decades of socialism in Mongolia.

Matthew King is a doctoral student in Buddhist studies at the University of Toronto. He has conducted ethnographic research in a Central Gobi monastic community over the last four years, recently looking at the narrative complexity of a "Buddhism for Young People" camp for urban youth. Matthew's doctoral research focuses on the historical Tibet–Mongolia cultural interface and the historical narrative construction of the conversion of Mongolia to Buddhism.
Abstract: "The Life and Work of the Mongolian Buddhist Hermit–Scholar Zawa Damdin"

The Life and Work of the Mongolian Buddhist Hermit–Scholar Zawa Damdin

Zawa Damdin was a prolific Buddhist hermit–scholar from Central Mongolia, whose 17 volume collected works contain poetic and devotional verse, philosophical treatises, tantric commentaries, medical works, astrological methodologies and religious histories. Born at the end of the 19th century, Zawa Damdin's life spanned the end of the Qing Dynasty, the Independence Period of 1911–1921, and the rise of the Mongolian People's Party, up to 1937 when the MPP finalized their assault on Mongolia's Buddhist institutions. This paper pieces together Zawa Damdin's biography to show how his remarkable career reflected the tumultuous social changes and how his writings reflect the diversity of topics of interest to Mongolian Buddhists of the time. Zawa Damdin's work has gained new life within the contemporary Mongolian Buddhist revivalist and helps us conceptualize "Mongolian Buddhism" as an object of study.

Bruce M. Knauft is Samuel Candler Dobbs Professor of Anthropology at Emory University and director of Emory's States at Regional Risk Project (SARR).

Professor Knauft's research combines politico–economic and cultural analysis across different world areas. He is particularly interested in issues of collective and individual subjectivity in relation to structures of social inequality and political domination or disempowerment, both historically and in the present. His current work includes consideration of civil conflict and recovery in West and East Africa and Central Asia as well as continuing ethnographic interest in Melanesia and the comparative study of neo–imperialism regionally and globally. Professsor Knauft's publications have also addressed issues of modernity and marginality, critical theory, politics and violence; and gender and sexuality.

As Director of Emory University's States at Regional Risk Project (SARR), Professor Knauft plans, administers, and orchestrates in–region workshops on state fragility, political and economic challenges, and social and cultural development. The SARR project considers these issues in four world areas—West Africa, East Africa, South–Central Asia, and the northern Andes—and through a global perspective on states at risk in relation to international superpowers. SARR is supported in significant part by a grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York.

Originally trained as a cultural anthropologist of Melanesia (Ph.D. from the University of Michigan, 1983), Professor Knauft conducted two years of doctoral research among the Gebusi, a remote rainforest people of Papua New Guinea with whom he still maintains contact. His seven books include The Gebusi: Lives Transformed in a Rainforest World (McGraw–Hill, 2nd ed. 2010); Critically Modern: Alternatives, Alterities, Anthropologies (Indiana University Press, 2002); Exchanging the Past (University of Chicago Press, 2002); From Primitive to Post–colonial in Melanesia and Anthropology (1999), and Genealogies for the Present in Cultural Anthropology (Routledge Press, 1996).

Munkh–Erdene Lhamsuren is chair of the Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology, National University of Mongolia. He earned his Ph.D. from Hokkaido University, Japan in 2004. He is especially interested in collective identity, ethnicity, nation and nationalism.
Abstract: "The Second Buddhist Conversion Mongolia: A Gelug–pa Invention?"

The Second Buddhist Conversion Mongolia: A Gelug–pa Invention?

This paper offers a revisionist perspective on the spread of Buddhism in Mongolia. It casts doubt on the accepted view that the 1578 meeting of Altan Khan of the Tümed and Sonam–Gyatso, leader of Gelug–pa order of Buddhism, led to the second conversion of the Mongols to Buddhism, after a period of apostasy that followed the collapse of the Mongol Empire. The historical sources reveal inconsistencies in the accepted view and suggest that it may be a later Gelug–pa revision of what actually happened. A close examination of the sources raises the possibility of an alternative interpretation.

Mikaela Mroczynski is a senior at Smith College double–majoring in anthropology and theater. She studied abroad and lived in Mongolia her junior year, during which time she apprenticed with tsam mask–maker Bukhshandas Davaasambuu and did research on performance. She has studied at the Central Institute of Higher Tibetan Studies in Sarnath, Varanasi, and plans to return to India after graduation, to Thösamling Institute for International Buddhist Women in Dharamsala, with the intention of ordaining as a nun.
Abstract: "Performance, Ritual, and the Foreign Gaze: Tsam as a Vehicle for Constructing Post–Soviet Mongolian Buddhism and Mongolian National Identity"

Performance, Ritual, and the Foreign Gaze: Tsam as a Vehicle for Constructing Post–Soviet Mongolian Buddhism and Mongolian National Identity

In this presentation, I will provide my observations on the condition and nature of post–Soviet Mongolian tsam, a sacred, complex Buddhist ritual dance introduced from Tibet in the 19th century. In the fist part of my talk, I will claim that there exists not one unified tsam, but a multiplicity of tsams, which can be categorized into a dichotomized framework of theatrical/performative tsam and religious/ritual tsam. Although the tsams presented within these categorizations are incongruous to each other in content, style, and function, they remain connected through their iconographic continuity. I will explain how this is achieved through the work of fine artists—mask–makers and costumers—necessary to produce the aesthetic elements of tsam.

In the second half of my presentation, I will explore the implications of the tsam iconography, and its effect on the creation of both post–Soviet Mongolian national identity and Mongolian Buddhist religious identity. I will argue that tsam fills contradictory roles in the construction of Mongolian national and Mongolian Buddhist religious identities. Whereas Mongolian national identity engages with tsam as part of an imagined, historical, traditional past, Mongolian Buddhist religious identity seeks to reinstate tsam as a ritual of the Mongolian present and future.

I will close by humbly recommending that members of the Mongolian sangha invested in religious/ritual tsam and those creating theatrical/performative tsam engage in dialogue with each other so that the role tsam plays in Mongolian nationalism and religious resurgence is carefully thought through.

Marylin Rhie has been a professor of art and East Asian studies at Smith College since 1976. Her research work is primarily in Chinese, Central Asian, Tibetan and Korean Buddhist art. She has authored articles on such subjects as the cave temples of T'ien–lung shan, the relationships between the art of India, Central Asia and China during the T'ang dynasty, and chronologies of Chinese Buddhist art of the Six Dynasties and Sui period. She has published books on the art of Tibet (with Robert Thurman of Columbia University): Wisdom and Compassion, the Sacred Art of Tibet, and completed three volumes of a four–volume series on the early Buddhist art of China and Central Asia, published by Brill Academic Press (Vol. I: 1999; Vol. II: 2002; Vol. III: 2007). Books are planned on the Buddhist cave temples of T'ien–lung shan, T'ang Dynasty Buddhist Sculpture, and the Buddhist Sculpture of Late Silla and Early Koryo (Korea).
Abstract: "Zanabazar and Dolonnor: Two Traditions of Mongolian Buddhist Sculpture"

Zanabazar and Dolonnor: Two Traditions of Mongolian Buddhist Sculpture

Much of Mongolian Buddhist art can be linked to two great schools. One is the product of the great Lama and leader of the Kalka Mongols of Outer Mongolia, Zanabazar, whose unsurpassed sculptural artistry produced a national Kalka Mongolian style in the late 17th–18th centuries. In Inner Mongolia, however, the huge center of craftsmanship at Dolonnor produced art and artifacts needed for the prolific building of monasteries instigated by the Manchu emperors of China, who sponsored massive Buddhist monastic projects in Inner Mongolia from 18th to 20th centuries. The characteristics of the sculptures of these two strong traditions show the range and pinnacle of artistic production during the classic period of Mongolian Buddhist art.

Arjia Rinpoche is a reincarnate Tibetan Lama of Mongolian decent and one of the most prominent Buddhist teachers to leave Tibet in the past twenty years. He was recognized at the age of two by the Panchen Lama as the reincarnation of Tsong Khapa's father and throne holder and abbot of Kumbum Monastery. During the Cultural Revolution he was forced to attend Chinese schools and to work in a forced labor camp for 16 years. After the Cultural Revolution, Rinpoche continued as Abbot of Kumbum, overseeing its renovation and reestablishing monastic studies. In 1998 he went into exile rather than compromise his spiritual beliefs and practices. In the United States he founded the Tibetan Center for Compassion and Wisdom (TCCW) in Mill Valley, California. His Holiness the Dalai Lama appointed him director of the Tibetan Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center (TMBCC) in Bloomington, Indiana in 2005.
Abstract: "Mongolian Buddhism"

Mongolian Buddhism

When Buddhism reached Mongolia, Mongolians became a gentler people. Some even say their association with Buddhism weakened them. However, the conversion created generations of Mongolian scholars who permeated Tibetan society. In the heyday of Kumbum monastery, one fifth of the 4000 monks were Mongolians. Only 10 to 20 percent of Tibetan monks were scholars, but 80 percent of the Mongolian monks were intellectuals. During the Cultural Revolution Mongolian monks managed to keep Tibetan and Mongolian Medicine and Astrology alive. Now the situation is different, and younger generations have some catching up to do. Today some Mongolians practice Buddhism, but Christian missionaries have made many converts as they preach about equality in the eyes of God. We also need to stress this sense of brotherhood and sisterhood in Buddhist practice today. At Kumbum, we have begun a new style of Buddhism as monks established a Red Cross Organization to serve the people. This new emphasis needs to be stressed not only in social action, but also in our teaching of the Dharma.

Rustam Sabirov holds a Ph.D. in history (2004) from Moscow State University's Institute of Asian and African Studies and is currently a research fellow at Moscow State University. The subject of his dissertation was "The Religious Situation in Mongolia: the end of the 1980s–2000." Since 2005, Rustam Sabirov has taught at the Institute of Asian and African Studies, including History of Mongolia, History of Religions in Mongolia, Mongolia in the System of the International Relations, and Ethnology of Mongolia. He continues to focus his research on contemporary religion in Mongolia.
Abstract: "Buddhism in Mongolia after 1990: Traditional Religion in Modern Conditions"

Buddhism in Mongolia after 1990: Traditional Religion in Modern Conditions

For several centuries Buddhism completely dominated all spheres of Mongolian society. In the 20th century this situation changed. The Buddhist sangha was destroyed during a socialist transformation of the country. After the collapse of the socialist system, Mongolian Buddhists began the restoration of the Sangha but the situation was very difficult and new for them: a secular state, lack of funds, few qualified monks, the spread of western social values, etc. The Buddhist community has also faced serious competition from missionaries who became popular among the Mongols as religious diversity developed in Mongolia. There are now traditional institutions as well as new Dharma centers similar to those found throughout the Tibetan Buddhist diaspora. There is a focus on forming Mongolian Buddhism institutions while keeping a distance from the Tibetan sangha. Buddhism in contemporary Mongolia is a combination of old traditions and institutes and new directions. It is in the process of modern adaptation. This presentation considers this process and how it may shape the future of Buddhism in Mongolia.

Hamid Sardar is a scholar of Tibetan studies and an ethnographic filmmaker currently based in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. He earned his Ph.D. degree at Harvard University from the Department of Sanskrit & Indian Studies and participated in the acclaimed National Geographic expedition that discovered the hidden falls of the Brahmaputra River in Tibet (1999). From 1999–2003, he worked as academic director for the School for International Training in Nepal and Mongolia. Since then, he has dedicated his time to documenting Mongolia's various nomadic traditions through various projects, articles and films. His documentary films "The Reindeer People" (2004) and "Balapan, Wings of Altai" (2006) both won prizes for Best Film on Culture at both the Banff and Telluride Mountain film festivals. In 2008, he directed his third film in Mongolia, "Tracking the White Reindeer," which also won the prize for Best Film on Culture at Banff and received the Special Jury Award at the Autrans film festival in France.
Abstract: "Totems & Tengers: Animal Symbolism in Mongol Religion"

Totems & Tengers: Animal Symbolism in Mongol Religion

Since Aristotle, Western philosophers have admitted that animals can dream, remember and even learn new behavior. Yet there has never been agreement on the question of whether, like man, they possess a "soul." St. Thomas Aquinas denied that animals have spirit. His mentor, Albert the Great, opined that animals comprehend signs but not symbols—an essential difference that seemed to erect an impermeable barrier between animal and man. In some religions, this barrier never existed; animals, men, even plants and stones all possess "soul," and interact freely with one another in both this world and the next. In the shamanic vision of the ancient Turkic and Mongol tribes, the notion of heaven itself (tenger) is made possible, through a deep identification with animals—not as abstract symbols, but as "spirit–animals" that accompany the souls of the ancestors in the afterlife. The pastoralist nomad culture—indeed the language of the sacred itself—is inconceivable without this totem–like connection to animals. This paper explores the grammar of this ancient bestiary as it first appears in the art and funerary culture of south Siberian nomads of the Bronze Age and its later evolution and synthesis within the epic and religious traditions of the Turks and Mongols, where "spirit–animals" function as messengers between the heavens and the hero–warrior and become the fundamental agents of spiritual transformation in shamanic and Buddhist ritual.

Rick Taupier is director for international research at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, a former Massachusetts assistant secretary of environmental affairs and former associate director of the UMass Environmental Institute. In the 1970s he was a student of Dr. Robert Thurman and the Kalmyk Mongolian Geshe Wangyal. He continued his studies under the Tibetan Lama, Sharpa Choeje Tara Rinpoche, and many other eminent teachers from Loseling and Gomang Colleges of Drepung Monastery. He is currently pursuing his second Ph.D. in the history of Buddhist Central Asia, concentrating on the Oirat Mongols, and has recently completed a first English translation with Andre Boskomdziev of Seren Gerel, the biography of the Oirat Gegen Zaya Pandita.
Abstract: "Reconstructing a Historical Narrative of Buddhism in Mongolia"

Reconstructing a Historical Narrative of Buddhism in Mongolia

The revival of Buddhism in Mongolia faces an unusual set of problems associated with the task of reestablishing Mongolian national identity. For some 300 years other states managed and manipulated Mongolian historic narratives for their own purposes. Historic narratives are like a hall of mirrors, each mirror reflecting earlier narratives and re-projecting them from new viewpoints. Intentional destruction and distortions further complicate these narratives and introduce biases that can seem to reflect authoritative sources. Only recently have a few dedicated historians begun to seek and reinterpret early Mongolian Buddhist narratives, peel away the Qing and Marxist veneers, and free those narratives from the biases to which they have been subjected. As more skilled and insightful historians join this task we will have more complete and less distorted historic narratives on which Mongolian Buddhist can reflect as they seek to establish their places in a world of modern nations and peoples.

Karma Lekshe Tsomo is associate professor of theology and religious studies at the University of San Diego. She received a Ph.D. from the University of Hawaii and serves as president of Sakyadhita International Association of Buddhist Women. She is the founder/director of Jamyang Foundation, an innovative educational project for women in developing countries. Her publications include a number of edited volumes on women in Buddhism, including Buddhist Women Across Cultures: Realizations; Innovative Buddhist Women: Swimming Against the Stream; Buddhist Women and Social Justice: Achievements, Changes, and Challenges, as well as Into the Jaws of Yama, Lord of Death: Buddhism, Bioethics, and Death.
Abstract: "Nuns, Dakinis, and Ordinary Women in the Revival of Mongolian Buddhism"

Nuns, Dakinis, and Ordinary Women in the Revival of Mongolian Buddhism

Although Buddhism has been an integral component of Mongolian cultural identity for hundreds of years, the roles of women have largely been overlooked. Records of Mongolian Buddhism have focused primarily on the contributions and achievements of men. The 10th Sakyadhita International Conference on Buddhist Women, held in Ulaanbaatar in 2008, represented a historical breakthrough, shifting attention to the contributions and achievements of women. Scholars, practitioners, social activists, and artists from Mongolia and around the world gathered in Ulaanbaatar to discuss "Buddhism in Transition: Tradition, Changes, and Challenges." The theme was especially relevant for Buddhist women in contemporary Mongolia, struggling for survival and meaning in a time of major social, economic, political, and religious change. The destruction and reconstruction of Buddhist institutions in Mongolia over the past eighty years have deeply affected women, but in often unexpected ways. This paper will examine the perspectives that women bring to the revitalization of Buddhism in Mongolia, whether as full–time practitioners or as ordinary followers of a reawakening tradition. Through an analysis of the issues raised by Mongolian scholars, practitioners, and social activists involved in the 10th Sakyadhita Conference, it will illustrate that, although Mongolian women have the potential to become a vibrant force in a tradition that often neglects them, they face numerous obstacles in achieving their aspirations.

Uranchimeg Tsultem is a specialist in the art of Mongolia and Tibet. She worked extensively on the modern art of Mongolia prior to her present Ph.D. studies at the University of California, Berkeley. As an assistant professor at the Mongolian University of Arts and Culture (1995-2002), she curated Mongolian art exhibitions in Tsukuba, Japan (1997), New York, NY (2000), and Bonn, Germany (2001), among others, and published on Mongolian modern art. At UC–Berkeley, her focus shifted to earlier periods and her dissertation "Ikh Khüree: Nomadic monastery of Mongolia" concentrates on Mongolian art of the 17th–early 20th centuries.
Abstract: "Zanabazar: The Building of the New State in Medieval Mongolia"

Zanabazar: The Building of the New State in Medieval Mongolia

Zanabazar (1635–1723), the first Jebzundamba of Khalkha Mongolia, was an exceptional artistic prodigy with multifaceted talents. He was an eminent sculptor, painter, and scholar, who created magnificent sculptures during his lifetime, "with his own hands," as his hagiographies highlight. He is considered the founder of a sculptural model for later Mongolian artists, frequently called the "School of Zanabazar." Yet, his sculptures stand out from all later sculptural production in Mongolian Buddhist art in their form, make, ornamentation, style and iconography. This paper offers a novel discussion of Zanabazar's art, proposing new ways of reading Buddhist iconography and its creative use and interpretation of Vajrayana culture in Mongolia. Beyond the usual doctrinal narrative, Zanabazar's images and the temples in which they were located demonstrate political intentionality and state building functions. Specific features of these sculptures are indices of a new function in medieval Mongolian art. The paper discusses the images from historical, iconographical and anthropological perspectives to argue Zanabazar's continuous interest in art production as central to his creation of a new Buddhist state in Mongolia.

Vesna Wallace is the Yehan Numata professor of Buddhist studies at the University of Oxford and the academic director of the Oxford Centre for Buddhist Studies. Her publications include several books and several articles on Indian esoteric Buddhism. She also conducts research and publishes on Buddhism in Mongolia, and travels to Mongolia annually for field and archival work.
Abstract: "How is the Buddha Vajrapani Signifying Mongolian Buddhist Identity?"

How is the Buddha Vajrapani Signifying Mongolian Buddhist Identity?

This paper discuses various ways in which the Buddha Vajrapani has been appropriated by Mongolian Buddhists in their attempts to create and re-create the Mongolian Buddhist identity in different periods of history. Since the late 16th century when the Mongols adopted Vajrapani as a protective deity of the Mongol state until the present, he has influenced the religious and political domains of the Mongolian Buddhist life and has permeated Mongolian folklore, literature, art, and rituals. While his multifaceted roles in the life of Mongolian Buddhists have shaped Mongolian Buddhist practices and facilitated a creation of the distinct Mongolian Buddhist identity, he himself has been shaped through the processes of naturalization and activities of his proclaimed emanations in various Mongolian incarnations.

Lama Kabchupa Kuntu Zangpo is the Head Lama in Gongkar Choling Dratsang of Gandan Tegchenling Monastery in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. Lama Kuntu Zangpo became a monk in 1974 at Gandan Monastery at the age of 20 under Chojey Yunten Gyamtso. He completed basic studies in 1979 and was asked to serve as the personal assistant to the Gandan abbot Gombo Kyab and 1980 began teaching at the Gandan Monastery Institute of Buddhist Studies. The Dalai Lama visited Mongolia in 1979 and Kuntu Zangpo became his student and in 1983 went to India to study in the Dalai Lama's Tsennyid Labdra. He received many teachings and initiations from the Dalai Lama during those years, and later became the Dalai Lama's translator during his visits to Mongolia. In 1987, he became the Deputy Director of the Gandan Monastery Institute of Buddhist Studies. Lama Kuntu Zangpo also became the student and translator of the great Bakula Rinpoche during Mongolia's transition to democracy and studied with and translated for Denma Lobchu Rinpoche and Panchen Otrul Rinpoche during their visits to Mongolia. Kuntu Zangpo sat for the Kabchu Degree (Master of Ten Buddhist Branches of Knowledge) in 2001 and in 2002 assumed the position of head lama of Khemang Losel Gongkar Choling at Ganden Tegchenling Monastery, established 200 years ago as a branch of Drepung Loseling Monastery in Tibet. He continues in this position today, where he cares for and teaches the seventy–five monks of this institute.
Abstract: "Identities in Collision—Buddhism Under Communism and Buddhism Set Free"

Identities in Collision—Buddhism Under Communism and Buddhism Set Free

This presentation discusses what it was like to become a monk in Mongolia under Soviet control and how this situation changed when Mongolia became independent. In 1974 being a monk was a very unpopular choice. Only one monastery, Ganden Tegchen Choling, was allowed to operate in Mongolia; all others had been destroyed or closed by 1937. In 1943 Ganden was allowed re–open under very controlled conditions, as a kind of statement to the international community that there was religious freedom under Soviet control. In reality we had no freedom. When I became a monk in 1974, we were not allowed to visit any homes or places outside of the monastery. It was as though we had volunteered to become prisoners. Anti–Buddhist propaganda was very strong, and becoming a monk was not encouraged. The general population was discouraged from showing us respect. The emphasis in the training became "community service." Monks were expected to pray for the welfare of the "proletariat." It was a Communist interpretation of what was useful in Buddhism. In 1990 we somehow slipped out from under Communist domination, and gained freedom. Democracy came to our country. Since that time we have gone from one temple/monastery to more than two hundred. A problem, of course, is how to go from that overwhelmingly powerful control on the part of the state, to a situation in which there is complete freedom to do anything and everything. This is the challenge of Modern Buddhist Mongolia. In my presentation I will discuss the ups and downs of this new predicament in which we find ourselves, and perhaps throw light on dilemma in which we find ourselves today.