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Mongolia Table of Contents

Mongolia

Uses of Buddhism

Since at least the early 1970s, one monastery, the Gandan Monastery, with a community of 100 monks, was open in Ulaanbaatar. It was the country's sole functioning monastery. A few of the old monasteries survived as museums, and the Gandan Monastery served as a living museum and a tourist attraction. Its monks included a few young men who had undergone a five-year training period, but whose motives and mode of selection were unknown to Western observers. The party apparently thought that Buddhism no longer posed a challenge to its dominance and that-- because Buddhism had played so large a part in the country's history, traditional arts, and culture, total extirpation of knowledge about the religion and its practices would cut modern Mongols off from much of their past, to the detriment of their national identity. A few aged former monks were employed to translate Tibetan-language handbooks on herbs and traditional medicine. Government spokesmen described the monks of the Gandan Monastery as doing useful work.

Buddhism, furthermore played a role in Mongolia's foreign policy by linking Mongolia with the communist and the noncommunist states of East and Southeast Asia. Ulaanbaatar was the headquarters of the Asian Buddhist Conference for Peace, which has held conferences for Buddhists from such countries as Japan, Vietnam, Cambodia, Sri Lanka, and Bhutan; published a journal for international circulation; and maintained contacts with such groups as the Christian Peace Conference, the Afro-Asian People's Solidarity Organization, and the Russian Orthodox Church. It sponsored the visits of the Dalai Lama to Mongolia in 1979 and 1982. The organization, headed by the abbot of the Gandan Monastery, advances the foreign policy goals of the Mongolian government, which are in accord with those of the Soviet Union.

Data as of June 1989