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ARC Home > Projects > Asia projects :
CASE STUDIES from Mongolia | Case Study 1: Gandan Tegchenling Monastery | Case Study 2: The Erdene Zuu Endeavor | Case Study 3: Onstar Isei Lin Monastery | Case Study 4: Dashchoilin Monastery | Case Study 5: Amarbayasgalants Monastery | Case Study 6: Khamar Khiid | Case Study 7: Luvsandanzanjantsan Studies Centre | Case Study 8: Gandandarjaaling Monastery

Case Study 1: Gandan Tegchenling Monastery

The following information has been extracted from the Mongolian Buddhists Protecting Nature Handbook which can be downloaded in English and in Mongolian.

The Centre of Mongolian Buddhists (Gandan Monastery).

Gandan in Ulaanbaatar is the largest and most important monastery in Mongolia today, with more than 850 monks. Its name signifies Great Place of Complete Joy. Gandan Monastery, along with Erdene Zuu, has been a pioneer of conscious Buddhist environmentalism in Mongolia. It has been a central monastery in the work that ARC, WWF and the World Bank have undertaken, and a key example for other monasteries wanting to participate in environmental work.

As Ven. Da Lama Bayambajav, who acts as a liaison between Gandan Monastery and environmental NGOs elaborates: “Gandan Monastery’s focus is on the teaching of Buddhism. However environmental protection is an integral part of Buddhist training both here and in other monasteries. Monks are taught not to cut trees, not to pollute water and to love the area because of karma. Most Mongolian monks discuss these issues. Over the past 70 years, communism destroyed the foundations of Buddhism. Now people are trying to re-establish temples. The main focus at Gandan Monastery has therefore been on the construction of temples and on preparing human souls. We are now establishing new targets in the environmental and social areas; these areas will be developed more in the future“.

“Every temple should have a room, or at least a desk, for conservation training and planning,” Ven. Da Lama said. “Monks should go and teach conservation to those who are living in polluted lands, and to those who are living in untouched and unpolluted lands. Buddhist talks are more powerful than rulings from the state.”


Projects conducted by the Gandan Monastery on the environment include:

1. Sacred Gifts for a Living Planet.

This was a programme developed by WWF and ARC to create a term of recognition for significant new projects launched by the world’s faiths at a major meeting in Kathmandu in 2000. Gandan Monastery participated by reintroducing a centuries-old ban on hunting the snow leopard and the saiga antelope, both of which are endangered. The ban is an expression of the Buddhist teaching of compassion towards all life, which in practice encourages Buddhists to engage in sustainable natural resource management. In 2001 the Sacred Gift was extended to include the re-creation of seven traditional Buddhist Sacred Reserves, which include the Bogd Khaan Mountain (Mongolia’s oldest Buddhist protected area) and the Khan Kentii Strictly Protected area.

2. Sacred Mongolia Series Publications: Sacred Sites of Mongolia (2001), Legends of the Land (2001), and Worship of Sacred Sites (2004).

3. The Northern Buddhist Conference on Ecology and Development.

Sacred scarves or khatags. Photo courtesy of the Tributary Fund.
4. Installation of six steles to mark six natural sacred sites.

5. Publishing a magazine on Buddhism and environmental protection.

6. Setting up an active environmental management plan.

7. Starting to set up a Buddhist Environmental Association for Development (BEAD), to create a network of environmentally active monks and monasteries.

8. Reviving and publishing an astrological calendar on ancient lines, giving details of which days were taboo for killing animals, hunting etc . (Link to Potentials for Future Environment Programmes).

9. Like many monasteries, Gandan Monastery conducts regular ovoo worship to help the land flourish and regenerate.

10. Producing the Chansaa newspaper in cooperation with Ven. Purevbat of Mongolian Institute for Buddhist Art of Gandan Monastery.

Under this NEMO-funded project Ven. Purevat conducts lectures throughout Mongolia on traditional conservation.

11. Editing, translating and distributing this handbook.

12. Commissioning a new thangka, or devotional painting, depicting Tsering Nam Tuk, the Lord of Nature, surrounded by scenes of monks venerating trees, water and mountain ovoos, protecting species, and also gathering sacred sutra texts.

The thangka has been used for the illustrations in this handbook, and it will also be distributed to monasteries and devotees throughout the country to encourage them to be mindful of conservation issues.


Background to the Monastery

The history of Gandan Monastery dates back to 1838, when it was founded at the decree of the 2nd Bogd Javzandamba on the hill named Dalkh Denj. As the temporal and spiritual head of Mongolia, Bogd Javzandamba was considered as a highly learned and noble master of various fields of knowledge pertaining to Buddhism, and was endowed with the supreme power of visualization.

The monastery quickly grew to become one of the largest monasteries with over 5,000 monks and nine dratsangs, or colleges, teaching Buddhist philosophy, traditional medicine, astrology and tantric ritual. Three of them - Dashchoinphel. Gungaachoiling and Idgaachoinzinling – which functioned as universities, were regarded as the three main pillars of Buddhist philosophy in Mongolia, and as they grew, Gandan Monastery became the centre of Mongolian Buddhist education and culture.

The Monastery and all of its universities was closed in the purges of 1938, and reopened six years later in 1944 as a showcase for visitors, as a prayer temple under the strict supervision of the communist government. It was the only functioning monastery in Mongolia during the communist regime. Today it is once again a centre of Mongolian Buddhist studies, with three main temples, the Zanabazar Buddhist University, three colleges of Buddhist philosophy (Dashchoinphel, Gungaachoiling, Idgaachoinzinling), a College of Medicine & Astrology, and two Tantric colleges (Jud and Kalachakra).


In the early 20th century the town of Ulaanbaatar was known as Ikh Huree, meaning “big monastery”. Gandan Monastery was the seat of the Javzandamba Khutagt - also known as the Bogd Gegeen and later as the Bogd Khaan - who ranked third in the ecclesiastical hierarchy, after the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama (both based then in Tibet).

In 1912 a great Buddhist icon was created, in the form of a 26.5 metre-high metal statue of the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara (Migjid Janraisig), in the custom-built Avalokitesvara Temple. During the Soviet period the statue was melted down for bullets – a bitter message for Mongolia’s people – but in 1996, as a symbol of a Mongolia that could once again be proud of its beliefs, the statue was rebuilt at the initiative of senior monks of Gandan Monastery and with the support of the then Prime-Minister Enkhbayar.

In 1990, the first Mongolian Buddhist assembly took place, at which the head monks and delegates of various temples were present. According to the resolution of the assembly, Gandan Monastery was declared to be the centre of Mongolian Buddhists and the abbot of the monastery was elected as the head of the centre. Today this monastery represents Mongolian Buddhism at national and international levels. The monastery also provides the rural monasteries and temples in all the 21 aimags, or provinces, of Mongolia with human resources. It houses the head quarters of Asian Buddhist Conference for Peace.

Contacts

Ven. Munkhbaatar Batchuluun is the officer in charge of foreign affaires and can be contacted regarding all matters.

Tel: +976-11-360337, Fax: +976-11-360354, Mobile: +976-99834099, email: mbcgandan@magicnet.mn, munkhbaatar_mgl@ yahoo.com.

Ven. Da Lama Bayambajav can be contacted regarding all environmental projects.

Tel: +976-99117415. Email: byambajav@gandan.mn


Gandan in Ulaanbaatar is the largest and most important monastery in Mongolia today, with more than 850 monks. Its name signifies Great Place of Complete Joy. Gandan Monastery, along with Erdene Zuu, has been a pioneer of conscious Buddhist environmentalism in Mongolia. It has been a central monastery in the work that ARC, WWF and the World Bank have undertaken, and a key example for other monasteries wanting to participate in environmental work.

As Ven. Da Lama Bayambajav, who acts as a liaison between Gandan Monastery and environmental NGOs elaborates: “Gandan Monastery’s focus is on the teaching of Buddhism. However environmental protection is an integral part of Buddhist training both here and in other monasteries. Monks are taught not to cut trees, not to pollute water and to love the area because of karma. Most Mongolian monks discuss these issues. Over the past 70 years, communism destroyed the foundations of Buddhism. Now people are trying to re-establish temples. The main focus at Gandan Monastery has therefore been on the construction of temples and on preparing human souls. We are now establishing new targets in the environmental and social areas; these areas will be developed more in the future“.

“Every temple should have a room, or at least a desk, for conservation training and planning,” Ven. Da Lama said. “Monks should go and teach conservation to those who are living in polluted lands, and to those who are living in untouched and unpolluted lands. Buddhist talks are more powerful than rulings from the state.”


Pages about Mongolian Environmental Wisdom, taken from the Handbook.

The Mongolian Lord of Nature.

Sacred texts, places and ovoos.

Sacred sites in Mongolia.

Traditional Environmental Law in Mongolia.

The work that the monks, in conjunction with ARC and the World Bank and others, are carrying out to rediscover the sutras about sacred land in Mongolia.

Do you want to support this?

For full contact and address details of Mongolian Buddhist Monasteries, please see page 57 of the Handbook. And for details of local Development, Environmental and Educational NGOs, please visit pages 58-59 of the Handbook.

Other links to Mongolian Buddhism and the Environment

Link here to access the news story about the launch of the Mongolian Buddhist Handbook.

Link here to download the Mongolian Buddhist Handbook in English. (Please note this file is 1.15MB)

Link here to download the Mongolian version of the Handbook.(A 2MB file.)

Link here to download the guide to the Mongolian Buddhists’ Eight Year Plan (this file is 4.13MB).

Link to Mongolian Case Studies.

And here on how to make contact with the Sangha.

To download the A3 poster of a new thangka about Buddhists protecting Nature, link here (5.61MB).

Brief History of Mongolian Buddhism.

Buddhism and the Environment.

Women in Buddhism in Mongolia.

Key Figures in Mongolian Buddhism.

Key Meetings in Mongolia.

Mongolian Buddhists and Development.

Mongolian Buddhists and Ecology.

Mongolian Buddhist Hunting Ban.

The Lost Sutras.


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