DANZANRAVJAA, GENIUS FROM THE MONGOLIAN GOVI
The name of Danzanravjaa has a profound connection with many branches of Mongolian culture. He was an extraordinary polymath, a poet and Buddhist lama, he was a philosopher and the creator of nomadic theater, he was a choreaographer, lyricist and composer, a Buddhist scholar, an environmentalist and a traveler.
Danzanravjaa was born in 1803 into the poor family in what is today Shuvuun Shand, near to Dulaanhar Hill in Dorngovi aimag. In his brief biography, his father, Dulduit, wrote that when the child was born his body emitted light. Danzanravjaa's mother died when he was a child, and as he wandered around with his father, his genius began to show itself. When he was five years old, as his father was performing a ritual to bring good fortune to a local family, a severe rain storm suddenly arose. Droplets leaked through the thin summer covering of the ger, but when they didn't leak onto the child and his father where they sat next to the door beneath this hole-strewn roof, the people laughed at them, and the boy recited in a lively voice,
When clouds come and rain falls,
what difference is there between the place of honor and the door?
When actions are fulfilled and death comes,
what difference is there between old and young?
There are many stars in the sky,
but only one or two have a special gleam.
There are many beings in the world,
but only one or two have special wisdom. (from "Hormust")
Everyone was amazed, and from that time, the child's extraordinary talent and ability began to reveal itself. Atthe age of six, he took the vows of a monk, and at nine he was recognised as a the fifth incarnation of the Noyon Hutagt. Between eleven and fifteen, he studied Buddhist philosophy and tantric practise at Badgarcholin Monastery, in what is today Inner Mongolia, and great teachers such as Janjaa Hutagt, Ajaa Gegeen and Düinhor Pandit gave him the instructions and empowerments for secret mantra practises, and so his magical and spiritual genius became gradually more and more open. Although great scholars of religion study the Dharma for about ten years and so reach a high level, Danzanravjaa was amazing in that he took a short cut and penetrated the secrets of the Dharma after about five years. At sixteen he returned to the place of his birth and, as he perfected the practise of secret mantra, he began to build what is now Övörbayasgalant Hamriin Hiid. Two years later his father Dulduit died. After this time, he gave himself to building temples and monasteries and to magical practises such as bringing rain and spreading the Dharma, he wrote poetry and composed music and songs, and he choreographed dances, and so he spread magic and brought enlightenment to his homeland of the Govi.
Hamriin Hiid at that time became the center of Buddhist culture in the Govi. Alongside the many monastic schools - such as Lamrim, Demchig, Sutra and Tantra - which were established there, there was also a program of education set up for the general public. The "Children's School" taught reading and writing, nature, art and dance, and boasted an extensive library. The "Singing School" was the center for song and drama, while the "White Temple" was a museum with rare and extensive holdings. By establishing all these facilities, he brought wisdom to the simple nomadic people of the Govi through art and culture and knowledge, rather than by means of insufficient religious devotion. At that time, the Manchu government wanted to keep Mongolia in darkness, and this was a way by which a struggle of the intellect could continue to oppose the thinking of the Chinese rulers.
Although Danzanravjaa established many monasteries and temples in his homeland of the Govi, he spent little time within range of his own monastery, and traveled across Mongolia staging musical dramas such as The Moon Cuckoo, writing and performing his own songs, both secular and religious, bringing rain to drought-ridden areas, offering medicine and spiritual comfort to the exhausted and the sick, researching the landscape - the water, hills, rocks, grasses and vegetation - all the while engaged in the writing of poetry. Danzanravjaa's nomadic lifestyle, accompanied by a train of dozens of camels and attended by many of his students, was intended to lead towards enlightenment. His anti-establishment ideas meant that he was criticised by many when he entered their territory, they were concerned, among other things, that "he brought with him many young men and women, he drank alcohol and was thoroughly disreputable." In around 1840, when he arrived at Ih Hüree, which today is the city of Ulaanbaatar, he wrote in his journal about how he had been turned away on the banks of the Tuul River.
Danzanravjaa taught in his school children gifted in the arts, and in addition to turning out craftspeople and actors, some of his students continued their education, and studied in the religious school. One of these groups, made up of female artisans, was headed by Dadishura. They staged plays, sang songs, and created the masks for the religious dances and for the plays, but they also read stories aloud to people and taught them to read and write, and so built upon Danzanravjaa's work. Dadishura was the most famous of these female artisans. She was a highly talented woman who worked with Danzanravjaa in his work on secret mantra and who wrote music and directed plays, and she was constantly by his side. There were many who misunderstood their relationship, and thought Dadishura his wife, or else his secret lover. Danzanravjaa dedicated many songs to Dadishura, honoring her as his closest student and his artistic muse, and in a mundane sense this could be called love. Dadishura was intimately connected to his life and his art, and it is she who is the subject of Danzanravjaa's song "Perfect Qualities."
As a man and as a poet, then, did Danzanravjaa hold a particularly deep affection for women? Certainly he did, and when he couldn't enter Ih Hüree, he taught the Dharma to many of the faithful in the meadow at Soilgo on the banks of the Tuul. He orgainsed a festival and performed songs and music there, and the story goes that he let slip the reins of love for a woman from Hangai named Baljdumaa. Danzanravjaa dedicated many beautiful songs to Baljdumaa, and there exist many stories about the bond of love between them. Danzanravjaa changed the disdainful attitude regarding women, which was widespread during the Manchu period, and his three objects of devotion were the goddess Tara, who is particularly belovèd of women, the swan, and the symbol of secret mantra, the scorpion.
It is true that, when Danzanravjaa meditated upon the difficult aspects of Dharma, such as guiding the consciousness and overcoming the demons who take the form of wrathful spirits of the secret mantra, he employed alcohol, which is also described in the Tibetan and Mongolian tradition as nectar. However, this was not the kind of alcohol such as is understood by people with a mundane attitude, the kind which makes us drunk. According to a very early tradition, developed during the time of the Buddhist teacher Padmajuna, those who protect the magical knowledge which is opened up through the secret wisdom of the winds, droplets and channels, when they come to the powerful protector in their tantric meditation, the fact that they come riding upon a horse is a very secret aspect of wisdom. Some of the rich people and nobles and common people, who understood that Danzanravjaa meditated under the influence of nectar, themselves drank a lot of alcohol. He brought them together and filled everybody's cups with alcohol to which had been added such foul-smelling things as dog excrement. He changed this unpleasant smelling liquid to delicious-smelling pure spring water, yet when the others drank it they were disappointed and gave to retching and vomiting. Danzanravjaa had the extraordinary skill of transforming alcohol into spring water, he turned regular water into nectar. And he dedicate a poem, "A Song Against Arhi," to his students and other people of faith.
Danzanravjaa was a man who had a deep relationship with the heavens and with the earth. He was especially interested in investigating the land. There was a well which came forth from the place where an arrow which he fired had landed, to the west of Hamriin Hiid, and its pure waters were curative, and his instructions for finding these waters are given in his "Sutra of Blessed Spring Waters." Hamariin Hiid, in fact, had a number of monks who had achieved high levels of meditation, and they meditated in one hundred eight caves in the area, with Danzanravjaa as their retreat master. Not only monks, but also nobles and ordinary people meditated with him, and their practise was clarified in a book he wrote, entitled "The Practise of Meditation for Ordained and Lay Practitioners." In his biography, Danzanravjaa wrote how he had broken open a piece of volcanic lava and extracted a magical rock. This rock, it was said, he kept constantly in his hand. The way he chose the site for his own monasteries and temples was also amazing. One of these was Demchid Hiid, one of three monasteries built at Galbin Uul. Today people come from near and far to this rocky mountain, which is known as a place of exceptional power. Among the hills around Övörhamar, there are stone circles set out in the manner of the Kalachakra, and here Danzanravjaa is said to have sat in meditative samadhi. Many times he sat in meditation here and so determined the vertex of Shambhala, the naval of today's magnificent Shambhala complex. In 1853, when he was fifty years old, he and Düinhor established the path leading to Shambhala, and every year since then a prayer ceremony called "Prayer of Shambhala" has been held, and has generated great blessing.
In this way, Danzanravjaa established at a single point the power of the universe, the power of the land, and the power of Buddhism, and this was Shambhala, which is how people have generally come to call this place near to Hamriin Hiid. Danzanravjaa was also able to open up Shambhala through the power of his wisdom and his advanced practise of meditation. He later reached the higher level of Shambhala, which is in the state of nirvana. The great Russian scholar Nicholas Roerich knew something about this when he wrote, "The secret key to the land of Shambhala is in the hands of a man of the Govi."
As I have said, over the years, and on his travels, Danzanravjaa promoted his work of religion, and he was continually engaged in writing poems, of which we now have some four hundred. Moreover, there exist around a hundred spiritual poems in Tibetan, which remain untranslated. And his works of religious philosophy, such as "The Precious Jewel in the Naga's Crown" have not been offered to the public, and some of these are stored in secret.
In addition to these texts, his play "The Moon Cuckoo" is a rare historical example, not only of Mongolian theater, but of theater in terms of human culture. It was performed over the course of an entire month in a large area where nomadic groups had come together with their camel caravans.
But Danzanravjaa composed his poems on a number of different levels. When he was traveling with his students, or when he was taking part in festivals and celebrations, he would write poems and sing songs after observing the landscape and swift horses. He used regular words for these, as in popular songs, or ardin duu, and they were easy to understand, and many people took them down and sang them, and so they quickly spread. When he was in meditation, or else when he manifested as a protector of the Dharma, the spiritual songs which he wittily composed were noted by secretaries such as Haliut and written in notebooks, and some of these became texts recited at Hamriin Hiid. It was not easy to understand these songs even when they were written. Danzanravjaa set these spiritual poems to music and sought to establish them in the hearts of regular people. The tunes which are associated with his spiritual poetry are understood as the horses which bring the poems to the human heart. While Danzanravjaa wrote the music for many of his poems, Dadishura also set many of them. These songs quickly spread among the nomadic population. Danzanravjaa traveled throughout Mongolia, through Alagshaa and other areas of contemporary Inner Mongolia, and so to Beijing and Wutaishan, but he was prevented from traveling to Tibet, and some scholars are of the opinion that it was because of some kind of inner conflict between the red and yellow sects of Buddhism.
Together with his thousands of students, Danzanravjaa created during his life many wonderful Buddha statues which have come down to our time. He encouraged people throughout the Govi to hand in their knives, which brought in some ten thousand blades, and these were melted down to make a statue of the buddha Lobonchimba, about a cubit in height, and thus the evil of these knives was pacified. In 1937, when the curator of Danzanravjaa's memory, the tahilch O.Tüdev, hid this statue in a cave, the statue's hat somehow became detached. Because it was made from steel, the statue was protected from corrosion, but when it was removed temporarily from the cave during the 1960s for cleaning and polishing, it was stolen from its box at the cave entrance. Such was the situation at that time. The thieves had taken half of the body of the Buddha but had, unbeknownst to them, left behind the part which bore the relics. The tahilch was very upset, but he was certain that it would be found. In time the Buddha was indeed found and the hat which had been abandoned more than sixty years previously was excavated from the ground, and so was reunited with the main body of the Buddha statue. There's another interesting story. Danzanravjaa wrote a book called The Sutra of Human Destiny, containing sixty images of human sexuality, which he himself had drawn, and when this was caught up in the ideological purges of the 1930s, a few of the images were preserved, and are now in the Danzanravjaa Museum in Sainshand.
The Manchu court acted in a very hostile way towards Danzanravjaa. They had forbidden the recognition of the reincarnation of the fourth Noyon Hutagt, but when Danzanravjaa became famous, followed by many devoted students and organising festivals of songs and dances, this did not fit with the Emperor's instructions. So the Manchu had Danzanravjaa persued and made attempts to poison him. In the final years of his life, Danzanravjaa was constantly on the move and had no time to rest at Hamriin Hiid. The authorities had a widowed noblewoman from the area give him alcohol laced with poison, which had been prepared by a young half-Manchu woman and who had had some involvement previously with Danzanravjaa. But he realised what was happening, and he drank the alcohol with the words, "I'll bring an end to my animal desires." He wrote a poem called "The Way of My Wife the World," and so revealed the appearance of Nirvana. In this, his final poem, Danzanravjaa expressed his own opposition to the world.
This was in 1856. His body was embalmed in the place where he passed away, at Boini sum in Inner Mongolia, and taken to Hamariin Hiid. His embalmed body remained at Hamariin Hiid until 1937 when, at the beginning of the great purges, many temples were being destroyed and burnt. The tahilch Tüdev cremated it at an ovoo at the top of Hüsliin Uul and stored away the ashes until 1990. When Mongolia transitioned into democratic rule, with freedom of religious worship, Hamariin Hiid was reopened and the ashes were returned. Tüdev had hidden about a thousand boxes of Danzanravjaa's material heritage - religious books and other important items - in caves and in gravelly river beds, and of these sixty-four have been recovered to date.
Danzanravjaa's poetic work has been studied since the late 1950s, and the principal scholars who have worked on this project were Ts.Damdinsüren and his students D.Tsagaan and Ch.Altangerel, and latterly L.Hürelbaatar and D.Yondon.
I have been studying for many years the life and work of Danzanravjaa, and in 2012 I published a novel about him, The Holy One (Gegeenten), which afforded me the opportunity of putting into concrete terms the world of this genius, his life and philosophy, along with some of the valuable teachings of tantra and secret mantra.
In 2005, at the time that the World Congress of Poets met in Mongolia, we began to compile and present the work of Danzanravjaa to an international audience. Now I have chosen forty of his most significant poems, and I am happy that the English translator and scholar Simon Wickham-Smith has been able to revise his initial translation of 2005 for this volume. At the end of the eighteenth century and the beginning of the nineteenth, the famous scholar of Buddhism Agvaandandar Lharampa (1759-1842), came to Alagshaa. Initially he left behind the most significan texts, and in the end he and Danzanravjaa became teacher and pupil. Agvaandandar had received his education in Lhasa and, in a letter to Danzanravjaa written 1832, he says, "In your vows of body, speech and mind sways the white lotus flower of my faith...By investigating in others the wisdom eye which recognises the distinction between between sutra and tantra, you will realise that distinction through the burning golden point of education and your own deep secrets will become dominant, and so put other great minds to shame...This path is the path of the great holy pandita." This, he said, was how the Holy Man of the Gobi had reached the level of peace and had become the Holy One.
Danzanravjaa once said, "When the world knows me, I shall return." I pray that this genius poet, educator and holy man may be revelaled through his works for the benefit of future generations.
a foreword to the book "A Song Arising from Contemplation"
translated by Simon Wickhamsmith