The Situation of Tibetan Buddhism in Inner Mongolia 1994

The Creation of Inner Mongolia

Inner Mongolia was created as a separate entity from the rest of Mongolia by the Manchus, because the Mongols in this region submitted to the Manchus in the mid-seventeenth century, about 60 years before Khalkha, or what later became known as Outer Mongolia, did.

The boundaries of Inner Mongolia have changed many times. It is divided into two regions known as the Northwest and the Northeast, approximately encompassing each of the two wings of the “L” shape of the province. The Northwest is where Hohhot 呼和浩特, the capital, and Baotou 包头, the second major city, are located. The Northeast, now extending all the way to the border of Siberia near where the Buryat Mongols live, is the home of the Eastern Mongol tribes, namely the Chakhar in the south and the Khorchin in the center and north. The North­east was tradition­ally included as part of Manchuria, and under the Japanese occupation, was part of the puppet state of Manchukuo 满洲国. The Mongols of the Northeast are referred to in Western literature as the Mongols of Manchuria.

The Northwest and Northeast Division

At present, the Inner Mongols of the Northwest look down on those of the Northeast as being very rough, crude and with no faith in Buddhism. They consider them to be completely Chinese. The Mongols of the Northeast say that they are more intelligent and industrious than those in the Northwest, whom they say are jealous of them. The Mongols of the Northeast have been more sympa­thetic to the communists than those in the Northwest since the Rus­sian Communists liberated them from the Japan­ese, and the Chinese Com­munists liberated them from the Natio­nalists, who had done little to fight the Japan­ese. The Stalin­ist Rus­sians had des­troyed many of the monas­teries in the Northeast al­ready in 1945, and many more were elimin­ated in the 1958 Anti-Rightist Campaign.

In the very north of the Northeast, in the area around Hailar 海拉尔 near the Russian border, live many Buryat Mon­gols who fled there from Siberia after the Russian Revolution. They still maintain contact with the Russian Bur­yats. There is also a Buryat community in exile in Hohhot.

The Sinification of Inner Mongolia

Both divisions of Inner Mongolia have become almost com­plete­ly Chi­nese. The Chinese outnum­ber the two million Mon­gols more than five to one, and have been there for well over a century. Unlike in Tibet, there has been much voluntary inter­mar­riage with the Chinese. In the Northeast, up to one-third of the Mongols have intermarried or are the children of such marri­ages. The attraction for the Chinese is the possi­bility of having more than one child, while for the Mongols the gain­ing of a higher status in society and more economic possibili­ties. If a Chi­ne­se mar­ries a Mongol, the couple keeps Chinese cus­toms. Such Mongols and their offspring are known as Chinese Mongols. By con­trast, if a Chinese marries a Mus­lim, they take on Muslim cus­toms, particularly dietary restric­tions, and so there is far less intermar­riage there.

The Chinese Mongols and the wealthy pure Inner Mongolians in the cities have little cultural identity as Mongols or Bud­dhists. They follow Chinese customs and values, and are not interested in rebuilding the Buddhist monasteries or temples. Few even visit the existing tem­ples. The nomads of the remote semi-desert areas are the only ones who seem to have faith in Buddhism, but they are very poor and cannot afford to rebuild or support the monas­teries. This is in contrast with Amdo where, because the grasslands are much richer, the noma­ds are wealthy and are the main patrons of the monasteries.

The Situation of the Mongolian Language in Inner Mongolia

Most Inner Mongolians in the cities do not know their own language, nor do they even take an in­ter­est in their chil­dren learn­ing it. This is similar to the situation in Amdo vis-à-vis the Tibetan language, although it seems worse in Inner Mongolia. There are Mongolian schools in the large cities, but the Chin­ese Mongols and pure Mongols who live there send their children to Chinese schools, with only nomads from the coun­tryside sending their children to these Mongolian schools. Most city Mongols speak Chinese at home. Even if parents try to tell their children about Bud­dhism, most children in their twenties and younger never develop faith or inter­est because of the propaganda they receive in their Chinese schoo­ls. Chinggis Khan is about the only Mongolian person or thing that almost all Inner Mongolian youth ad­mire.

Throughout Inner Mongolia, the Chinese authorities have posted bilingual signs, with the Mongolian written in the traditional script. Russia had outlawed this Mongolian script in Buryat­ia and influenced the Mongol authorities to outlaw it in Outer Mongolia as well, and replace it with Cyrillic. The Chinese use it purely for propaganda purposes, however. Even if the city Mon­gols knew Mongolian, the signs are written in such a way that the Chi­nese script is huge and legible from a dis­tance, where­as the Mongolian is stylized and small. Only if someone is stand­ing extremely close can he or she distinguish the Mon­golian let­ters from each other.

Traditional Medicine in Inner Mongolia

The only aspect of Mon­gol cul­ture that is flourishing and encouraged by the Chinese is tra­ditional medicine, which is bas­ed on the Tibetan sys­tem. The Mongols have substituted certain local plants for ones that grow only in Tibet, and have added to the Tibetan system Mongolian massage. There are seve­ral large tradi­tional medi­cal schools, the main one being in the Northwest, the Institute for Mon­golian Medi­cine at the Medical College of Inner Mongolia in Hohhot, with 600 stu­dents. In the Northeast, the main one is at the Scienti­fic Re­search Center of Mongolian Medicine in Tongliao 通辽 There are major clinics both in Tongliao and in the far north of the Northeast, at Hailar.

Inner Mongolians in Liaoning Province

There is one region where Inner Mongolians live that is an excep­tion to this trend of little interest or faith in Bud­dhism. This is the area around the three cities of Fuxin 阜新, Bei­piao 北票 and Chao­yang 朝阳, in the southern part of present-day Liao­ning pro­vince 辽宁省, formerly Jehol province 热河省, of southern Manch­uria. Tibet is call­ed in Chinese "Xi­zang 西藏," West­ern Treasure-house, and this area was called by the Manchus "Dongzang 东藏," or Eastern Trea­sure-house. The main mona­ste­ry is the Mongolian Gegen Sum in Jiumiao 旧庙, about 30 km from Fuxin, head­ed by Wu Rinpoche, who works at the Government Buddhist College in Bei­jing 北京. The local Inner Mongolians are renovating it and, at present, there are 32 Inner Mongolian monks there, stu­dying Tibetan and Mon­go­lian, and doing rituals. From an archi­tectural point of view, the most beauti­ful monastery in the region is Huining Si 惠宁寺 near Beipiao, but it is now a muse­um and has only one monk.

Current Situation of Buddhism in Inner Mongolia

Before 1958, there were approximately 700 monaster­ies in Inner Mongolia. All but 36 were destroyed, and none have been renovated. Of these 36 prese­nt mona­steries, seventeen are in the North­west and nineteen in the Nor­theast. Of the 2,800 Inner Mongoli­an monks at prese­nt, 1,600 live in the Northwest and 1,200 in the Northeast. The monasteries are run mostly like museums, and although there are young monks, the level of study is extremely low. At best, they learn to read Tibetan and chant rituals and prayers. There is no study of debate anywhere in Inner Mongolia or Liaoning Manchuria.

There is only one actual school for monks in Inner Mon­golia, the Government Buddhist College at Hohhot. This was started in 1989 by the local government, not the Panchen Lama. It has 40 students and 3 teachers. The teachers are old Inner Mongoli­an monks, not trained in Beijing. They offer a three-year course simply in Tibetan and the classical Mongolian lan­guages, and in Leninism. Although they use the tenth chapter of "Bodhisattvacharyavatara" as a language text, there is no formal study of Dharma and no debate. The only serious place, other than in Amdo, where Inner Mongolians can study the meaning of Dharma, although still not debate, is at Puning Si 普宁寺 (dPal-chen norbu gling) at Chengde 成德 (formerly Jeh­ol), the former summer resi­dence of the Manchu emperors north­east of Beijing in present-day Hebei province 河北省, formerly Jehol provin­ce of Manchuria. This monas­tery also re­ceives government sup­port, but is unique among government-sponsored Bud­dhist in­stitutions in that Leninism is not part of the cur­riculum. Inner Mongo­lians also can study to a lesser extent at Yonghe Gong Temple 雍和宫in Beijing.

Unlike the so-called "monks" in Outer Mongolia and Burya­tia who have wives and drink vodka, the monks of Inner Mongo­lia for the most part are not married. Some seem, however, to drink beer. Some lay Inner Mongols even serve beer to monks when they invite them to a meal in their home.

Manchu Support of Tibetan Buddhism

The Manchu emperors supported Tibetan Buddhism among the Mongols and put on a show of following it themselves in Bei­jing, Chengde and Wutaishan 五台山 (Ri-bo rtse-lnga). They even com­missioned the tran­s­lation of the Chi­nese Buddhist canon into Manc­hu, calling it the Manchu Kanjur, and pretended it was trans­lated from Tibetan. Neverthe­less, they did not allow the Manchu peo­ple to adopt Buddhism in either its Tibetan or Chi­nese form. The emperors felt that the Manchus should be prima­rily sol­diers, and that Buddhism would take able-bod­ied men away from the army. They encouraged the Manchus to follow their tradi­tional shaman­ism.

The emperors built only two actual Manchu monasteries for Manchu monks. The mother of the Qianlong 乾隆 emperor had a dream at Wutaishan of Manjushri coming to the Manchu court. As a resul­t, her son built Man­jush­ri monaste­ries for Manchu monks in the Fragrant Hills 香山 north of Bei­jing and at Cheng­de. They were both called Shuxiang (Manjus­hri) Si 殊像寺, and both are cur­rently muse­ums. The Mahakala temple (Chin.: Shisheng Si 实胜寺) in Shen­yang 沈阳 (formerly Muk­den), the pre-imperial Man­chu capital, was never a monas­tery, but only a temple for offerings, manned only by Inner Mongo­lian monks. Some Manchus in Beijing and Cheng­de did have faith in Tibetan Bu­ddhism, as they do now, but this was rare. Thus when one speaks of Buddhism in Manchu­ria, one is always re­ferring to the Buddhism of the Inner Mongoli­ans of the North­east.

There are pictures of the Panchen Lama in every monastery I visited in Inner Mongolia, but hardly any photos of His Holi­ness. This is not due to lack of faith, but lack of access to such photos.

Important Monasteries in Inner Mongolia

The following monasteries are located in the Hohhot area of the North­west:

(1) Shiretu Juu (Chin.: Yanshou Temple 延寿寺), with 21 monks, three of whom are from Amdo and one of whom is a Kokonor Mongol. This seems to be the most serious monas­tery in the Northwest. The young monks study Tibetan, memorize texts and re­cite the Lama Chopa every day, and occasion­ally the ritu­als of Yamantaka. Kha-ngon Rinpoche (mKha'-sngon rinpo­che), the Deputy Head Lama of Inner Mongolia, has his offices at the monastery. Ulan Rinpoche, the Head Lama of Inner Mongolia, has his offices elsewhere, but I could not learn where.

(2) Ikh Khure (Tib.: Byang-chen Chos-'khor-gling, Chin.: Dazhao Si 大召寺), founded by Altan Khan and the Third Dalai Lama, with 25 monks, including sixteen young ones, also studying Tibetan and memorizing rituals and prayer­s. This was the first Gelug mo­nastery in Inner Mon­golia. It has a Nechung Gonpa (gNas-chung dGon-pa) next to it.

(3) Tengaling (Tib.: bsTan-dga'-gling, Chin.: Wusitai Damiao 乌斯太大庙), with ten mon­ks, run most­ly like a museum.

(4) The Gov­ernment Bud­dhist College (Tib.: Nang-bstan slob-grva, Chin.: Fojiao xuejia 佛教学家), next to the previous monas­tery descri­bed above. ­

(5) Palden Tashi Pendeling (Tib.: dPal-ldan bKra-shis Phan-bde-gling, Chin.: Dalama Miao 大喇嘛庙), about 150km nort­h­east of Hohhot, in the desert grass­lands 70 km from Siziwang­qi 四子王旗. Previ­ously it had 1,000 monks and two datsang divisions: Tsen-nyi (mTshan-nyid) for debate following the Jamyang Zhepa textbooks and Gyu-pa (rGyud-pa) for tantra, including Kalachakra. Now it has only old monks, none less than 70 years old. Seventeen live there and when they do pujas six times a month, about 100 old monks come from the surrounding area. Although the people in the tiny village around the monastery have no faith in Bud­dhism, the herdspeo­ple do have faith. There are no young monks because there is no financial or material support to house or feed them. The large Turbit Gonpa nearby has been completely dest­royed.

(6) Wangye­fu Miao 王爷府庙, on the way to Dalama Miao, with five monks and some tantric rituals.

In the Baotou area of the Northwest:

(1) Padkar (Tib.: Pad-dkar, Chin.: Wudang Zhao 五当召), run as a museum, with 30 monks, most of whom have wives and drink alcohol and just work as room attendants at the monastery. They are very rough, with many from the Northeast. I saw one monk physically attack and in­jure a Chinese tourist who took an illegal photo inside one of the temples. Previously there were 1,000 monks and five da­tsang divisions: Tsen-nyi for debate, Gyu-pa for tan­tra, Du-kor (Dus-'khor) for Kalachakra and astrology, Menpa (sMan-pa) for medi­cine and Dul-wa ('Dul-ba) for vinaya. It was famous as having the high­est scholarship and standard of study in all of Inner Mongo­lia. At present, there is no study and no tantric ritu­als. This is the most physically intact mona­stery left.

(2) Ganden Sheriling (Tib.: dGa'-ldan Shes-rigs-gling, Chin.: Shouhui Miao 受惠庙), in the Ordos region inside the loop of the Yellow River, about 150 km south of Baot­ao, and 7 km from the Chin­ggis Khan mauso­leum, south of Dongsheng 东胜. This mona­stery is the main one dedicated to the cult of Chin­ggis Khan as a Dharma protec­tor, and has 30 old monks doing tantric rituals, and no young monks. The com­munist author­ities block young monks from joining the mona­ste­ry and tried to close it. Al­though the authorities built a Disneyland-like mausoleum near­by to Ching­gis Khan for propagan­da and tourist purposes, they obviously do not want his cult to become too big, in case it fans Mon­golian nationa­lism. Previously, this monastery had 80 monks with one datsang division, Tsan-nyi for debate following the Jamyang Zhepa textbooks. In the past, there were five monast­eries in the area, but now this is the only one left. The others were des­troyed in 1964. It has only one building, a small temple. The main monk is a traditional Tibe­to-Mongolian doctor from a family line of doctors, and re­ceived his medici­ne from a small Mongo­lian medical clinic in Dongsheng.

(3) Mergen Gonpa, near Urad Qian­qi 乌拉特前旗 to the west of Baotao, which has mere­ly a room in a house where old monks meet to perform tantric rituals.

(4) Maidar Sum (Chin.: Meidai Zhao 美岱召) to the east of Bao­tao, with no monks, only work­ers, and run like a museum.

Monastic sites in the Northeast:

(1) At Dolonor (Chin.: Duolun 多伦), the ruins of Baruun (West, Right) Sume, also known as Shaia (Yellow) Sume (Chin.: Shanyin Si 善因寺), and of Dzuun (East, Left) Sume or Koke (Blue) Sume (Chin.: Huizong Si 汇宗寺). These were the two divisions of the home monastery of the Jangkya Hutukh­tus and const­ituted the most politically important monastery of Inner Mongolia. The Manchu Kangxi Em­peror 康熙帝 built this monastery at the site where the First Khalkha Jetsundamba submitted his country, Outer Mongo­lia, to him. The Manchus set up the Jangkya Hutukhtus here in an attempt to supplant the Jetsundampas in Urga as the major focus for Mongolian Buddhists. During the Manchu rule, each banner of Inner and Outer Mon­golia was re­quired to send monks and financial sup­port to Dolonor. It had a very impor­tant printing press and was famous for its artwork, which was sent not only to Inner and Outer Mongolia, but also Burya­tia.

At present the two divisions of Dolonor are in total ruins and there are no monks. They were ini­tially destroyed by the Rus­sians when they liber­ated the area from the Japanese at the end of World War Two, and were then slowly abandoned in the late 1950s, especially duri­ng the Anti-Rightist Campaign in 1958.

(2) The ruins of Shangdu 上都 (known in the West as Xanadu), the capital of Khublai Khan, in the steppes near Sanfenqu, about 30 km west of Duo­lun. Except for the remains of a few walls, there is almost nothing left here.

(3) In Kalgan (Chin.: Zhangjiakou 张家口), the city where the Mongols traditionally entered the Great Wall, no Tibe­to-Mongolian monasteries or temples are left.

Further north in the North­east, the main regions where there are Buddhist monaster­ies are:

(1) Around Chifeng 赤峰 (Mong.: Ulanhad), where there are six old monas­teries. 180 km north of Chifeng is Bairin Youqi 巴林右旗, with supposedly 30-40 monks. Fanzong Si 梵宗寺, 90 km north of Chi­feng, on the way to Bairin Youqi, was the largest monas­tery in the area, but now has no monks. Faluan Si, 100 km to the southeast of Chifeng, near Ningcheng 宁城 across the provincial border in Liao­ning 辽宁, has supposedly seven or eight monks. There is also Bizu Miao in Xian­men prefec­ture to the northeast of Chifeng. Chi­feng itself is 60% Han Chinese. Only the Mongols in the coun­tryside and some of the city Mongols over thirty have faith in Buddhism.

(2) Around Horqin Youyi Qianqi 科尔沁右翼前旗 (Mong.: Ulanhot), near Bai­cheng 白城, are the Gegen-che Sume (Chin.: Gegen Miao 葛根庙), with sup­posedly 30 monks, as well as the Xianmeng Miao 县孟庙 and the Wuye Miao 五爷庙. Losang Gy­altsen Rinpo­che lives in the area. There is also Wang-yin Sume (Chin.: Wangye Miao 王爷庙), where the Japanese occupiers built in 1944 a memorial temple to Chinggis Khan in an attempt to gain the allegiance of the Inner Mongols of Manchuria. The Japanese hoped to shift the focus of their devotion to Chinggis Khan from the Ordos region of northwestern Inner Mon­golia to this region under their control.

(3) Around Hailar are the Shin Sum (Chin.: Xin Miao) and the Ashan Sum (Chin.: A-er-shan Miao 阿尔山庙) monasteries.