SkyProud Posted February 25, 2013 Share Posted February 25, 2013 Source: http://userpage.fu-berlin.de/corff/im/Texte/redi.unx The Impact of Buddhism on Mongolia A News Group Discussion in soc.culture.mongolian by Kaa Byington, Sambu Dakuginow, Christopher Kaplonski and Kathy Petrie (in chronological order) (This discussion took place in July/August 1994. Only mini- mal editing took place.) O.C., August 25th, 1994 A heated debate was launched by Kaa Byington's casual remark: [...] I was in Mongolia as a tourist for two weeks in 1989, and was fascinated. Stayed in a yurt (gehr) in the Gobi for a week, among other things. Decided, along with Owen Lat- timore, who was much admired there, that Buddhism was the worst thing that ever happened to the Mongols. Would love to discuss this with someone who knows more than I do. I have a few references on it--in German. Sambu Dakuginow rejects this: I don't recall Lattimore ever saying that Buddhism was the worst thing that ever happened to Mongols. Please point me to the reference saying so! I happen to be a member of the Mongolian immigrants to the US that Lattimore interviewed. We're all Buddhists. Kaa Byington replies: Sambu: check out Encyclopedia Britannica, article on Mongolia by Owen Lattimore. Also see: _Prschewaksi, Reisen in der Mongolei im Gebiet der Tanguten und den Wuesten Nord- Tibets in den Jahren 1870-73_. "China has a plainly ruinous effect on the nomads. It exterminates them in a silent war." Tibetan Buddhism was imposed on the Mongols. It is a religion developed by a sedentary people, peasants, on a nomadic people. It nearly destroyed them. The khans should have chosen Islam, instead. It fit the circumstances. Sorry, but that's a fact of life. The Chinese, who hated the Mongols, did everything they could to promote Buddism. It was totally destructive to Mongol society. Christopher Kaplonski enters the discussion: I think a few points need clarifying here. First, a note about Lattimore. He was a talented scholar for his time, but he is not infallible. Also, he had a tendency to play up the nomad as an embodiment of the Noble Savage. Kaa replies: Noble savage or not, the only way to survive in the Gobi is as a nomad. In the 1500s, nobody had the technology to sur- vive otherwise. Deserts do not support cities without enormous engineering works the Mongols were not capable of. There is still no agriculture in the Gobi. The majority of Mongols now are nomads. Christopher: Second, what is your evidence for claiming "Tibetan Buddhism was imposed on the Mongols"? There is clear evidence for Buddhism among the Mongols as far back as Khubilai. It was a conscious decision on his part to introduce Buddhism, in part for political/legitimacy purposes. Altan Khan also re- established links with Buddhism for (at least in part) political reasons, drawing definite linkages to the custom of the "two principles". Kaa: Yes, Buddhism was imposed on the Mongols, by their own leaders. They deliberately chose Tibetan Buddhism because it was specifically not Chinese They needed a unifying religion, and they wanted one that would provide literate monks, who could help them in the administration of govern- ment. They had no one litereate in Mongolian. The Dalai lama was brought in from Tibet to organize the religion in Mongolia, and he found a reincarnated lama, left some Tibetans monks behind, and returned to Tibet. (Dalai, I hear, is a Mongol word.) Christopher: While the Manchus may have promoted Lamaism (I don't have the time right now to check this) they were also very wary of it. To go back to Prejevalsky: "They [the Chinese] have indeed good cause to be watchful, for if a talented, energetic person were to appear on the throne of the Dalai Lama, he might with one word, like the voice of a god, cause a rising of the nomads from the Himalayas to Siberia. " The same held for the Javzandamba Khutagt -- the Manchu court was eager to keep him under their control for fear that he could provide a rallying point to the Mongols. And finally, the main point. The idea that Buddhism caused the Mongols to become pacifistic is an old one, but much disputed. David Morgon writes "it is not easy to demonstrate that the Mongols, except for the increasingly large proportion of the population that became monks, were much less warlike than their ancestors. They were certainly less effective militarily, but this probably has more to do with political developments and changes in military technology than with religion. " (P. 205) Kaa: Please note that "except for the increasingly large propor- tion that became monks" statement. by the 1800s, 50 percent of the adult male population was in the temples, chanting. Every chanting monk was one less fierce fighting man on horseback. The Chinese must have felt 50% safer. Plus, they had loaned the Mongols, via their puppet emperor, tons of money to build very elegant temples--at very high interest rates. Meanwhile, since 50 percent of the male population was not working, but chanting in temples encrusted with gold, that left the aged, the women, the children, producing the, er, GNP, to pay back the loans. The Mongols sank into utter misery and poverty, victims of the landlords who took their herds to pay the Chinese loans that supported the temples. Finally, what happened was that the population died off to the point where it could not reproduce itself. By 1920 it was appraoching extinction. Christopher: It should be remembered that just because a large portion of the male population became monks, it does not mean they were effectively removed from daily life. Many of them lived with their families on the steppe, and often married. Kaa: Not from what I read, heard, and saw. Monks in Tibetan Buddhism in Mongolia spend their lives in the temple. In 1920, Urgha consisted of 400 temples full of chanting monks, and one pitiful imperial palace. There were a few other temples clustered in odd places, but Tibetan Buddhism is a sedenary religion. Monks do not go in and out, or travel around with their families. This is what I learned while I was there, what I read in every reference I can find, and what every traveller up to 1920 said: due to the thousands of monks chanting their lives away in the temples, Mongolia was a dying country. Christopher: Bawden also supports this argument. He further notes that the evidence indicates most of the Buddhist texts were published at the request of Mongol nobles, not Manchus. And, still on this point, does it need to be further pointed out how long it took the Manchus to subdue the Jungar empire (also Buddhist)? They were a real threat to Manchu power for quite some time. In short, there is no real evidence that the introduction of Buddhism caused the Mongols to become less war-like. Kathy Petrie enters the discussion: Just a few comments to support what Chris has said. On the one side, there is plenty of evidence that Buddhism was known to the Mongols during the late 12th and the 13th centuries when Chinggis Khan and his descendents were lead- ing the Mongols on a world tour. The various Mongol tribes and individuals followed a range of religions. Mo:ngke, the 4th KhaKhan, was reported by William of Rubruck to have paid attention to religious observances of several different beliefs. (This may have had as much to do with political wisdom & even- handedness as religious curiosity) Neverthe- less, Rubruck counted 12 Buddhist temples in Karakorum. Khublai, Mo:ngke's younger brother, was attracted to Buddhism, and his chief wife Chabi was a Buddhist. The Mongols also had plenty of opportunity to view Islam close- up, including in Mongolia, where a number of Moslems filled administrative posts in the empire's government. However, IMHO there are several more compelling reasons for explain- ing the decline of the Mongols' political and -shall we say- aggressive prowess than that they somehow picked the "wrong" religion. First, there was the difficulty of holding the enormous territory of the Empire together: they had the most state-of-the-art communication system in the 13th century world, yet what they really needed wouldn't be available for another 750 years. Second, Thomas Allsen estimates that there were 700, 000 Mongols in the 1250's. The Mongols were in no position to force their much more numerous subjects to adopt Mongol ways even if they hadn't had a policy of toleration. However, that inevitably leads to cultural as- similation with one's subjects' culture - which also drove cracks into Mongol unity. You don't have to look further than Berke, Batu Khan's brother and heir to the Golden Horde. Having adopted Islam, he sided with the Arabs against his cousin Hulegu. (Would he have done so for political reasons anyway? Maybe.) [Going off on a tangent: Islam was adopted as the state religion of the Il-Khanate, the Per- sian/central Asian territory Hulegu founded. From what I've read, it didn't appear to have much effect in reviving a world-conquesting spirit in either the Golden Horde or Il- Khanate. Then again, I don't know much about how the Il- Khanate got to be the Mughals in India. ] Third, advances in the art of warfare eventually neutralized the power of the Mongols' best weapon, the horse cavalry. As the technology of war became more sophisticated and machine-oriented, the basic Mongolian economy's limited purchasing power doomed its ability to keep up. But fundamentally I think the problem lay with the Mongols' tribal focus. This is probably a natural function of the steppe economy: harsh conditions, limited grazing lands and resources like convenient watering places. Survival was a family or clan affair, with continual jockeying for control of the best terrain. A Mongol's identity was a clan identity; Chinggis Khan succeeded in overlaying a Mongol identity along with the famous world- conquerors vision. There were problems keeping the Mongols together even *with* that: witness the tug-of-war over the successions after Chinggis died. Eventually, as the wars became more remote and the empire strained under its own weight, the tribal identities re-asserted themselves. However, (probably even before the end of the Yuan dynasty) the Chinese and then the Russians were growing stronger, more cohesive, and with better war machines. Now, when the Mongol tribes fought among themselves and appealed for out- side aid, it was a lot harder to get back out from under the aid-givers than it used to be in the times before Chinggis. Sorry for the length of this! I'm not a historian, so these opinions could all collapse under close professional scrutiny ) I have been scanning over a summary of Mongolian history from _Mongolia: A Country Study_. Frankly, I am hard-pressed to see that Buddhism did much to "water down" the Mongols' fighting ways. Tibetan Buddhism was adopted as a state religion in 1586, shortly after Altan Khan was converted during raids into Tibet. After that time, * Ligdan Khan and his Chahan Mongols fought successfully to prevent the Manchu from expanding westward beyond the Ordos region in southern Mongolia (Ligdan died in 1634); * the Torgut, westernmost of the Oirad, fought their way through the Kirghiz and Kazakhs, became renamed as the Kalmyks and raided in Russia for 20 years, until 1646 before settling there; * The Dzungar Mongols continued to raid in Tibet after Altan Khan died. The book says "by 1636, they had established a virtual protectorate over the region." * Responding to Russian activity, the Torgut Mongols raided through western Siberia, over the Urals & Volga, and into Russia in 1672 - making peace later on their terms; * The Dzungar conquered additional western territory (Kash- gar, Yarkand, and Khotan) as well as Kazakh lands in a bid to re-unify the Mongol tribes. The Khalkh turned for help against them to the Manchus in 1688. * In fact, the Dzungar had ongoing clashes with other Mongol tribes and with the Qing dynasty in China up through 1757. Even during Chinese rule in the later centuries, there were plenty of rebellions and uprisings. Again, my personal thesis is that the Mongols' real weak- ness was that their tribal identity was stronger than a "Mongol" identity, which made it easy for growing powers like the Chinese, Russians, and Manchu to divide and con- quer. Christopher: I think this is an important point. (Although I'm a bit leary about the word 'tribal' -- It seems possible to me that even pre-Chinggisid Mongolian social structure was (at least to some extent) more feudal-like than tribal. But this is a different issue entirely.) In fact, I'm not sure to what degree we can speak of a "Mongol" identity during much of this period. Any reading back of a "Mongol" identity is much more plausibly seen as a project back of twentieth- century nationalism. If you look at the Secret History, you see that Chinggis had 'unified the people of the felt-walled tents' (sec. 202). Actually, looking at the Mongolian ver- sion, it doesn't even say that. It first says something more akin to having brought peace to them. It does later in the section talk of uniting the Mongol people. But this was a document written after the fact. The point is, 'Mongol uls' was referring to a state, a political entity. There is no need to assume a greater Mongolian identity. There probably was some more abstract nomad vs. sedentary opposition, but again, the case for a pan-Mongol identity doesn't seem that strong. Groups have gone to war and conquered other groups without the necessary belief in a group identity that some- how encompasses them all. In many cases, in the West, that was left for the Romantics to invent. And as Kathy pointed out, such intergroup rivalries continued for quite some time. So, in short, I'm not sure we can say there was a "Mongolian identity" that people owed allegiance to before the end of the nineteenth, start of the twentieth century. (Even today, in Mongolia, one finds a tendency to equate 'Mongol' with 'Khalkha'.) (to be read tongue in cheek:) "All other notions are unsup- ported and unrealistic delusions prompted by undisciplined souls. The facts of existence confirm our remarks." -- Ibn Khaldun Sambu concludes: Mongolia was a much divided country and the use of the term tribal IS justified. Western Mongols often battled with groups from the North. There are many great tribal stories that result from these wars. The greatest misfortune that fell upon the "Mongolians" was the fact they were so separa- ted and couldn't unite against the Chinese storm. The Chinese used tactics like giving some of the Mongol tribes much money and power if they joined forces. As an end results many Mongols had to flee Mongolia (Kalmuks) while the remaining tribes from the North were termed the Khalkas. The term nationalism never applied to Mongolians, in large part due to their nomadic tendencies. Link to comment Share on other sites More sharing options...
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