Ph.D, literary scholar

Gombojavin Mend-Ooyo has written a novel, Gegeenten (2012: Ulaanbaatar), about Danzanravjaa, the fifth Noyon Hutagt of the Gobi, an educator, poet of genius, a peerless scholar and a most unusually gifted spiritual practitioner.

Most western countries are Christian, and they have their basis in the stories of the Bible, and this remains unchanged even today. Why are we only today disgusted by the denigration of the customs and stories of Islam?! Buddhism exists today in many eastern countries, such as India and Japan and Nepal, and we can see clear evidence of how extensively it has reached the United States. From the earliest times, when the Hünnü worshipped the Golden Buddha, Mongolians have been faithful to Buddhism, and our history bears witness to how we have long followed this tradition. From the seventeenth century, however, through the increased closeness of our Buddhism to the Tibetan model, the reforms of Tsongkapa resulted in the prevalence in Mongolia of Lamaism. At this time, the Manchu had begun to extend their influence across Asia, and the power of the Gelugpa school, which held sway in Northern and Southern Mongolia, and over the Buriyat and Kalmuks, came to penetrate the political thinking of the Manchu. In this regard, although the Tibetans were not wrong to bring their religion up to date, the resulting new wave of colonisation by other powerful states was a mistake. in particular at this time, there was a struggle between the Gelugpa and the other schools of Tibetan Buddhism. This new era was a test of Buddhism in Mongolia. Most scholars of religious culture, while they see the older schools as being closer to the original Buddhism, and having had a positive influence on the development of Buddhism and on human freedom, say that its most important contribution was to those spiritual qualities hidden within human beings. Gegeenten is a fictional essay, written in a powerful classical form, without recourse to narrow and restricted viewpoints and keeping close to the truth of the past hundred years of cultural history. This work comes out of nineteenth century Mongolian society, it reveals Danzanravjaa (1803-1856), the fifth Noyon Hutagt of the Gobi, as an exceptional composer and poet, as someone who had mastered the secret mantra tradition of Buddhism, and it tells the true story of this great figure, and those aspects of his life and destiny which have been hidden. Relying on the eye-witness accounts of Ravjaa's students, on stories and on memoirs, Mend-Ooyo shows the rare destiny of this man, who possessed both insight and the eyes of wisdom to observe the hidden nature of the appearance of things, of feelings and of writing, a destiny which developed out of the poverty of his childhood. He scrutinises the stories, he brings out meaning from the facts, developing what we know of this exceptional writer, and so writes a twenty-first century essay which, while classical in style, nonetheless fulfills what is suitable for a work of contemporary world literature. For instance, he briefly lays out the political circumstances in which the Manchu on the steppe came to control the lineage of the Noyon Hutagt, and the way in which the three incarnations of the Janja Hutagt influenced the spread of Buddhism. In his account of the Noyon Hutagt's life, he shows how even from a young age his unusual acuity was clearly expressed, and how his Mongolian teachers hid these things from the Manchu. His teachers also brought out and built upon the child's special abilities, they deepened his understanding of the secret mantra practise and brought him to Övör Hamariin Hiid near his birthplace in the Gobi and there ensured that the flames of his great wisdom would blaze forth. But once these abilities had been developed, rumors spread unchecked throughout Mongolia and the surrounding regions. Mend-Ooyo has painstakingly researched this concealed history and, some two hundred years later, has written a book about these cultural developments in the history of Mongolian Buddhism.

In fact, in the histories of such great people, the brilliant activities which they performed always broke down barriers during times of hardship, and when easier times come along, the difficulties are forgotten, as when shoots pierce through the hard earth. Today, there are secrets appearing from the southern deserts, in a hundred or so boxes containing precious objects owned by the great Hutagt. The Hutagt's loyal disciple Tüdev and his grandson Altangerel carried these boxes through the period of socialist ideology and so to us today. The strength of such people's minds is inconceivable! It was the destiny of these objects that they would come through unscathed. And it is amazing that such actions, moreover, which produce both pride and regret, are destined never to be forgotten. One example of this is the history of how these things came to be written, which is likewise unforgettable. One writer, Mend-Ooyo, found it necessary to take up this burden. In this way, he has committed himself to Mongolian culture, he has studied Tibetan language and culture and assimilated into his work both it and Mongolian religious culture. It is as though Mongolians had been speaking always with a purpose. Ravjaa meditated in the three monasteries of Galbin, and nowadays that notable place is famous throughout the world as the site of the Oyuu Tolgoi copper and gold mines.

It is worth noting that included in this fictional essay is some serious evidence which has been studied for new meaning and some genius activity. There is a well-crafted episode in which the Noyon Hutagt meets in his homeland with Dandar Lharampa from Alshaa, a meeting for which there is good evidence, and the author writes here of how they had the mummified body of the Tibetan poet and sixth Dalai Lama Tsangs dbyangs rgya mtsho brought to the mountains of Alshaa and how, in the final days of the Noyon Hutagt's life, and after his passing, the Manchu in that area had kept this secret from the Tibetans. Moreover, regarding the script and stage directions of "The Story of the Moon Cuckoo," when Dandar Lharampa met with the Noyon Hutagt, it was a fortunate meeting in that he presented him with biographies of such people as Milarepa and Atiśa. And when Ravjaa met Aidav Hamba, otherwise known as Agvaanaidav, in Ih Hüree, which is today's Ulaanbaatar, he came quickly from Alshaa along roads which had been repaired. These are the results of the kind of tireless research which Mend-Ooyo has brought to the writing of this novel.

The novel also clarifies some stories collected from the teachings which form the primary sources of Buddhism. The teachings of sutra and mantra, and of Dandar Lharampa, regarding Buddhist tenets are truly amazing, and in order to understand them it is said that one needs a great deal of insight and wisdom. The teachings on secret mantra, moreover, are in Sanskrit, a language akin to Latin among Europeans. Whoever studies Buddhism needs to penetrate Sanskrit, and Mongolian scholars in the past took precisely this route. From the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, just as today, they began by learning the religious traditions through Tibetan. It is clear that Mongolian Buddhist culture came from India. And Indian religious culture has had a profound influence in Mongolia. Especially in the secret mantra teachings, and in the higher levels of the wisom teachings, the traditions have come from India in Sanskrit, and they have been explained by Mongolian scholars and spiritual teachers. One of the most recent examples of such teachers was Danzanravjaa, the fifth Noyon Hutagt. While there is no evidence that he went to India and studied Buddhism there, Mend-Ooyo uses in his novel several texts which show how he penetrated the magic of secret mantra and the deep wisdom of Tibet which had come from Mongolian spiritual teachers. Ravjaa's own memoirs reveal how an Indian shepherd's son named Molom journeyed to the land of Urgyen and returned with these secret teachings. This is exemplified by how Mongolians took the central wisdom of Buddhism not from Tibet, but from ancient India, which they refer to as a place of great culture. In fact, from ancient times, we Mongolians have enjoyed a rare relationship with the country in which Buddhism developed. It was established tradition that Buddhist scholars and practitioners should study Sanskrit. In Russia, the University of St.Petersburg has honored Sanskrit scholars from the beginning, and in Slavic countries, Sanskrit and ancient Vedic cultures have been studied, as well as their links to Buddhism and Buddhist wisdom traditions. Great scholars such as Nicholas Roerich, F.I.Scherbatskoi, G.Oldenburg and Lev Gumilev, but unfortunately the difficult times during the Soviet period interrupted all these developments.

Gegeenten shows, for the first time, the truth regarding Mongolian Buddhism's history of respect for women. Düinhor Gegeen, who had taught Ravjaa the secret mantra practise, said to him, "I grant you the rare and secret tantra which sharpens your physical powers and leads you onto the path of secret tantra practise, it is the quick path to the teaching of the Düinhor lineage. Now that the Noyon Hutagt has reached the age of sixteen, I will transmit to you the tantric practise what Janjaa Gegeen transmitted to me, which remains hanging by the very last thread, and on the verge of snapping. So that you, my student, might understand the nature of men and women, the wisdom of skillful means and wisdom in this world, and realise in your heart the nature of your own manhood, although these customs might be embarrassing, when you enter onto the path of mantra, please make an effort in these difficult and rare and most precious forbidden secret practises." To the banks of the Shanduu River he brought a woman to meet him named Buyandelger, and explained to him the tantric practises, saying, "Bring your great powers into this higher realm, where the precious jewel of skillful means, coming together with the lotus of wisdom, blazes forth." Later, amid the cliffs of Galbin, the Noyon Hutagt said to his closest student Dadishura, "My outer form is simply Ravjaa. My spiritual body, in fact, is in the sky within. It is there where my inner temple exists. My Buddha dwells in the wilderness within." Mend-Ooyo's novel shows how, with his father a beggar throughout the boy's life, the love and empathy between father and son is directed towards meritorious acts. This work, which in five sections accurately and vibrantly draws on research to portray the hidden life story of the Fifth Noyon Hutagt, is a match for any twenty-first century work of documentary fiction.

When a great personality is born, at the time when they dynamically set themselves apart, they create things of great significance and meaning, they give surprise to many of their contemporaries, and this cause great waves of jealousy and gossip to arise, and at that moment they disappear, only to return through the force of their destiny. Such it was for Ravjaa. Such wonderful people generally have short lives and exhibit extraordinary behavior, they live a combination of pride and sorrow, and they are fated to confuse many with their extraordinary ideas. In Mend-Ooyo's novel, he writes concretely about the great spiritual figures in Mongolia, the great rulers, and those with great compassion, who trace their paths through the story, and he exposes the misleading and false histories deliberately spread about by negative forces, and this, it should be said, is the work of those writers who are the genuine representatives of Mongolian written culture, who are figures of great ability, who dedicate themselves to cultural study.

The American scholar Jack Weatherford, in his book Genghis Khaan and the Making of the Modern World, is certain that, for many intellectuals in Mongolia to mention one thing automatically produces the desire to create two. When the good times come, great benefit will come to Mongolians. For the Öndör Gegeen and the Noyon Hutagt, sought to counter mundane observation with the special genius of creative artists, the renewing vision of the mind, the source of wisdom, they were able to open up the secret qualities and to realise divine magic! For regular people, such special qualities are incomprehensible. These two great Mongolian men were, because of this, holy men, gifted by the standards if the time. And it is a special vision which sees the qualities of such people. Öndör Gegeen Zanabazar and the Noyon Hutagt Danzanravjaa were sensitives who were able to feel these fine qualities. The Öndör Gegeen created sculptures of White and Green Tārā, revealing in gold, silver, copper, bronze and other precious metals their divine and imperceptible natures, and showing the special gifts of human civilisation, while the Noyon Hutagt, in many great works such as "Pefect Qualities", through his artistry and his acuity of language, opened up the wise and secret beauty of Mongolia's unparalleled and original qualities and the relationship of human beings with the horse. And the secret object of beauty is likened to the population of men and women. For that reason, these two Mongolian spiritual geniuses have clearly seen throug the dust of time. We should read once more S.Erdene's novel Zanabazar. Mend-Ooyo's Gegeenten can likewise become a classic of its time. However, in order to gain a firm grasp of the nature, origins and foundations of Mongolian Buddhism, we need to go deep into the Buddhist Sanskrit culture and so grasp the origins of Mongolian religious culture. The spiritual and creative genius of the Öndör Gegeen and the Noyon Hutagt was not only in the piety of the Gelugpa nor only in that of the other schools of Tibetan Buddhism, but at its center was the deep connection between Indian Sanskrit culture and the history of Buddhism. In Gegeenten, this aspect is well expressed. Mend-Ooyo's poetic viewpoint has allowed him to insert into his novel some of the Noyon Hutagt's poems and spiritual songs, and so deepen their impact. The magic of the Noyon Hutagt's approach and of his secret mantra are obvious from his poems.

The conclusion of the novel recounts how the Noyon Hutagt met with his student Balchinchoijoo and how he entrusted to him his later activity and works, what happened subsequently and where and how he was buried. Everything was carried out according to custom. Such was the Hutagt's destiny.

One of the novel's finest characters is Dadishura. In books about the Noyon Hutagt she has been written about from every aspect. Mend-Ooyo ignores all of these and takes what is true from the very root of the secret tantra, and as much as there is great merit in persuing that path, a good apprehension of the truth also comes from taking the path of truth. I should explain this by citing a short passage from the novel. "The Hutagt had Dadishura sit near him. 'My dakini,' he said, 'You and I are not man and woman, in truth we are skillful means and wisdom. It is not that you and I are subject to human destiny, but we are one in the sky of secret mantra. From when I was ten or so you have not been further from me than an elder sister. Speaking from the ordinary point of view, truly I love you from the depths of my heart. You know that. But because you and I have met in the non-ordinary world, we have taken oaths as teacher and student. Many people think that you and I are husband and wife! This is wrong, for the desires of a regular body cannot transform into joy a little respite from the secret mantra practise.'" He offers prayers that they might meet again in another life, gives her instruction, and leaves.

Gegeenten is a beautifully-written and powerful song of truth. May good deeds support us Mongolians, and may we go deeper into the path of righteous truth.

September 2012

Published in Unuudur newspaper, 10 Oct, 2012
translated by Simon Wickhamsmith