2012 Conference

China and Inner Asia Session 218

[ China and Inner Asia Sessions, Table of Contents | Panels by World Area Main Menu ]


Representing Intercultural Transposition in Buddhist Mongolia

Organizer: Matthew W. King, University of California, Riverside, Canada

Discussant: Benjamin Bogin, Georgetown University, USA

Buddhist literary, ritual and artistic productions from across Asia oftentimes attempt to authorize local lineages and religio-political institutions by creatively representing lineal descent from culturally and linguistically foreign Buddhist ‘heartlands’. Panelists will attempt to move beyond the pervasive rhetoric of lineage found in source material, and critically assess several distinct modes through which Mongolians have represented their diverse Buddhist inheritance from across Eurasia. This panel will introduce select historiographical, artistic, ritual and literary forms produced in the Mongolian world that systematize and authorize the local adoption of foreign Buddhist traditions, or else by which foreign cultural forms (such as Marxism) were assimilated into Buddhist worldviews. These diverse transpositions and encounters came from places as diverse as Tibet, Kashmir, South Asia, China, Russia and Western Europe. This panel attempts to foreground some of the possibilities and limits that Mongols have faced as they creatively imagined and inscribed their shifting religious and cultural identities during the tumultuous shifts which occurred across the span of the Qing (1644-1911), the brief Mongolian Independence Period (1911-1919), the rise of a Mongolian socialist movement in 1921, and the ongoing post-socialist Buddhist revivalist movement. On this basis, panelists will discuss future avenues of scholarly inquiry better suited to assess the circulation, localization and exportation of Buddhist-inflected cultural forms in Mongol regions.

‘Mongols’ in the Buddhicization of Tibet and China: Late Mongol Readings of Tibetan-Language Sources
Matthew W. King, University of California, Riverside, Canada

It is well recognized that Mongolian historians began to be deeply influenced by Tibetan models of historiography beginning in the seventeenth-century. At this time, old traditions of chronicling borjigid descent lines and founding mythologies were increasingly re-framed by Buddhist cosmologies, prophecies and royal genealogies. In these sources, Mongolian historical actors acquired new ‘enlightened’ identities, motivations and agendas. However, what is to date far less studied is how Mongolians began to not only re-imagine their own ethnic, religious and political past on the basis of historical sources from Tibet, but how they also radically re-imagined Tibetan, Chinese and South-Asian history in the process. This paper will examine the prolific work of the last pre-revolutionary Mongolian Buddhist historian Zawa Damdin blo bzang rta dbyangs (1867-1937) and show how he subjected the well-worn histories of Tibet and China to innovative, and decidedly Mongol, re-readings. In particular, his work to creatively identify ‘Mongol’ actors as catalysts in the early Buddhist conversion of Tibet and China will be explored.

Maitreya in Mongolia: Discourse Beyond Sectarian Orders?
Uranchimeg Tsultem, University of California, Berkeley, USA

The Buddha of the future, Maitreya, is one of the essential deities in Buddhism throughout Asia. Believed to be residing in Tushita Paradise as a Bodhisattva, Maitreya became particularly important in the Vajrayana Buddhism of Tibet and Mongolia. This paper will explore Maitreya’s preeminence in the late Mongolian Buddhist art through images of Maitreya, Maitreya iconography, depictions of the Maitreya Procession, and the temples dedicated to him. According to textual sources, the Maitreya Procession ritual was instigated in 1409 by the reformer and the founder of dGe lugs Order in Tibet, Tsong kha pa (1357–1419). This ritual was imported to Mongolia in the 17th century, carried out first in the Sakya-consecrated Erdene-Zuu Monastery, and henceforth became central to Mongolian Buddhism. Almost nothing has been researched about Maitreya and Maitreya’s rituals in Mongolia. This paper, therefore, will aim to include texts of Maitreya from the 19th-century Mongolia that pertain to rituals, temples, and the production of images of Maitreya in Mongolia’s preeminent monastery Ikh Khüree. This paper will suggest some possibilities for further understanding this deity in later Vajrayana Buddhism based on an analysis of Mongolian art and texts.

Envisioning Mongolian Buddhist Identity through Chinggis Khaan
Vesna A. Wallace, University of California, Santa Barbara, USA

In contemporary Mongolia the wars of words between the followers of Shamanism and Mongolian Buddhism have been waged regarding Chinggis Khaan’s religious identity. Recently, even Mongolian Christian groups have joined the debates, arguing for Chinggis Khaan’s Christian identity. This presentation will focus primarily on the arguments pertaining to Chinggis Khaan’s Buddhist identity, which began in the seventeenth century, with the possible the reasons behind these claims and their influence on the Mongolian Buddhist liturgies and ritual practices. Regardless of the Mongols’ close historical ties to Tibetan Buddhism and the steady infiltration of the Tibetan language into their intellectual life, in their ongoing process of self-identification and re-imagination of the Mongolian Buddhist identity, Mongolian Buddhists recreated new foundational myths that link them genealogically and historically to India and not to Tibet. The Mongolian historical work Golden Summary (Altan Tobchi), eulogizes Chinggis Khaan as a true Buddhist universal monarch, whose greatness was foretold by the Buddha Shakyamuni himself; and it identifies the Golden Clan of Chinggis Khaan with the Golden Clan of the mythical king Mahasammata, depicted in the White History as the first to set up the “policy of dual law” in the land of Magadha, the vajra-seat of the Buddha-Dharma. Several other Mongolian historical texts also refer to Chinggis Khaan’s ancestor Khoichar Mergen as an incarnation of the legendary figure Padmasambhava, who is traditionally believed to have brought Buddhism to Tibet. Similarly, chronicles such as the Jewel Rosary (Erdeni-yin Erike), and the Rosary of White Lotuses speak of Chinggis Khaan as an emanation of the Buddhist deity Vajrapani, who as a protector of the world set in motion the “Wheel of Power.” As contemporary Mongolian Buddhists seek to affirm the authenticity of the Mongolian Buddhist tradition as genuinely Mongolian, they draw their counter-arguments from the aforementioned chronicles in their response to Shamanists’ criticism of Buddhism as a foreign import, incompatible with the needs of the Mongols.

Revolutionary Snapshots: S. Buyannemekü, the Sükhebagatur Club and the Idea of Literature During the First Years of the M.P.R.
Simon Wickhamsmith, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, USA

The publication in 1929 of the first anthology of Mongolian literature, the Uran usug-un cigulgan, was a momentous event in the cultural life of the new republic. It was also a moment of transition, between the early enthusiasm surrounding the establishment of the new state and the downward spiral which was to come, via the adoption of socialist realism in 1934 to the purges of monasticism and intellectuals during 1937 and 1938. It also is a clear indication, not only of the importance of culture to Mongolian revolutionary ideas, but also of the importance of publishing, and therefore literacy, in encouraging the dissemination of these ideas. This paper will offer an overview of the anthology, its contents and the writers reprsented, and show how the small circle of the Sükhebagatur Club, nominally led by S.Buyannemekü, came to define the trajectory of Mongolian literature far beyond the narrow and ephemeral confines dictated by MPRP policy, and its influence upon the work of writers such as D.Natsagdorj, M.Yadamsüren and G.Ser-Od. The importance of this anthology resonates even in today’s Mongolia, where writers such as D.Urianhai, G.Mend-Ooyo and Ts.Bavuudorj are engaged in interrogating the nature of literature and the work of the poet, in particular as these issues apply to Mongolian nomadic culture. Such an interrogation was also the subject of Buyannemekü’s essay “On the Composition of Literary Works,” a text which spoke directly to the development of Mongolian literature within the international revolutionary cultural context of the time.