A New Novel celebrating Philosophy of Existence
Doctor of Philology
Doctor of Philology
An adventure fiction is there to ease the reader’s mind and make them forget their sufferings. If you intend to find the philosophy of life from such a fiction, you would find thoughts like “life is full of surprises and the fortune and misfortune are like the palm and back of a hand” or “ Have to enjoy life to the fullest before standing under the noose of execution”.
Perhaps many people expected to read an exciting adventure of Toroibandi the legendary Dariganga outlaw (literally translated “good man”) when they heard about the novel. However the author Mend-Ooyo presented a different outcome, a deep journey into the meaning of human existence through roads of regret, contemplation and dilemma, rather than a temporary light thrill.
As a matter of fact, the main character is not even Toroibandi. Then who is it? It is the Single Towering tree that once bloomed on the highest sand dune of the (Ongon) Sacred Dunes. Toroibandi is a secondary character drawn into a whirlwind of complicated events that started happening to this main character. There is an another supporting character, a male falcon called Agshu, who got into an unwanted challenges just like Toroibandi.
Toroibandi and Agshu’s lives were turned upside down when a group evil men, acting under the decree of greed and destruction, cut down and hauled away the Single Towering tree which was allocated as Agshu and his female Egshu’s home where they would live happily and raise a family by his father falcon living in the Shiliin Undur mountain cave. But this designated heaven was suddenly ravaged by two-legged intruders, leaving the falcon pair and all the other birds seeking shelter in the tree homeless. The pair has no choice but to relocate to a dangerous area dominated by owls that might kill their young.
Minding his own business, too, and peacefully studying to become a “recluse monk to protect the Saints who possess and carry on the wisdom, school and the best of the secret knowledge passed down from the previous generations, Buddhas and spirits from the dawn of time” was Nanzad, one of the 7 teenage disciples of the Mountain Sage, a legendary recluse abbot of an ancient temple called the Sage’s Congregation, hidden amidst the Wrathful Budar Rocks, a granite city built by Mother Earth. Nanzad’s master, the Mountain Sage tasks him with tracking down the stolen sacred tree, paving the way that would eventually make him the legendary outlaw Toroibandi.
Thus Nanzad and Agshu leaves behind their former life of peace and struggled on a treacherous path. Soon in the plotline, pressure and persecution force both Agshu and Nanzad seek refuge in a remote mountain called Shiliin Undur (roughly translated as Tall Mountain of the Wild/Outlaws) or the Sacred Hill which becomes the name of the novel.
But I should note that there is one major difference between the falcon pair and Nanzad. The falcons chose to fly away and seek new home while Nanzad seeks to protect the whole land, encompassing the falcons old and new homes. Through the lives of these characters Mend-Ooyo has brought the everlasting issue of Existence. With regards to this Philosophy about Existence, Shakespeare asked “To be or not to be?” while Mend-Ooyo proposes a resolute answer “There is no way but to stand and fight rather than sit and contemplate”.
These two characters have their respective father-figures too; the Mountain Sage and the Father Falcon. The Mountain Sage represents the human history and destined to train the younger generation to protect the ancestral land while the Father Falcon represents the natural side and he is there to help his offspring to become a powerful mature raptor. Tooroibandi and Agshu are the young energetic force, ready for battle. Agshu flies high in the immense sky while Tooroibandi rides free in the vast steppe. In some ways, Agshu is there to complement Tooroibandi.
Having a falcon as one of the main protagonist, the author literally expands the horizon of his novel. It is a great genius of the author to have successfully used the ancestral way of thinking that wildlife and even mountains and rocks are as aware as humans, capable of feeling and thinking, as a main theme of the novel.
Urbanization caused humanity to lose contact with nature, tragically resulting in total reliance of logical thinking and flat denial of prophecy. However the best minds of the 20th century started to look back into secret world of meta awareness and archetype. Even the educated class [communist Mongolia] who used to mock the common folk who believed in ghosts recently had to give in to modern science that proved ghosts were real and it had real weight.
Moreover mythology and folklore started to play a major part of modern literature. A clear example of this phenomenon is the Latin American novels of the second half of the 20th century.
International literary critics called the novels of Alejo Carpentier of Cuba, Miguel Angel Asturias of Guatemala, Gabriel García Márquez of Colombia and Mario Vargas Llosa of Peru an extraordinary phenomenon in world literature; a new genre coined as “magical realism”. They also said this was the explosion of artistic energy built up for hundreds of years.
What makes these novelists aesthetic reformists is that they expressed the mundane affairs of human life; a realist picture that is a long recurring theme with European roots, through the lens of folklore that has been passed down through millennia.
“Shiliin Bogd” (Sacred Hill) by Mend-Ooyo is a symbolic realist novel teaching us the existence philosophy which looks at the brief moment of Mongolian history as well as the modern time through the lens of stories and legends [spoken among the Dariganga people].
I said symbolic because the novel is full of hidden metaphor. Starting from the names of the characters, all the oral stories, legends and myths are key elements to relay the philosophy of the novel. The legend about the origin of the Towering tree, where a man devoted all his life studying in India brought back part of a sacred tree as a use which sprouted into life is metaphor for the wisdom, intellectual heritage as well as physical wealth of treasure that have been collected and passed on by the Mongolian people for thousands of years. The plotline is realist, depicting human activities but the main character is a non-human Single Towering Tree which is a metaphor for nature.
The novel narrates events happening to the Single Towering Tree right from the beginning and all the way to the end. Agshu and Toroibandi’s ventures happen in connection with the tree. So it could be said that the novel is a tragic novella of the Single Towering Tree. However I should note that it is not all tragedy in the end because a new shoot sprouted from a seed or root of the stolen tree demonstrating the quote mentioned at the beginning by the author from a Mongolian proverb “Good things have seeds, bad things have footprints”. This symbolizes that the wealth of Mongolia will never be depleted.
Also it reminds us that humans can destroy Nature which was presented to them as home as well as they can restore it if enough care is shown.
Each of the characters has their own way of treating nature which would reveal their true faces.
Prince Bagwar has no remorse to trade the Single Towering tree and other treasures of Mongolia for power and profit but he faints when he accidentally breaks his Tang era porcelain snuff bottle.
Such greedy behavior of Bagwar was further demonstrated by one of Agshu’s act. While hunting, Agshu notices a beautiful swan among a migrating swan group and the insatiable predator hunger drives him to snatch the swan and bring back to Egshu to share. This is similar to Bagwar’s lust for the 17 year old girl. So such greedy predators are capable of not only destroying physical treasure but also a beauty, the lighter side of human mind.
Beauty, national values, love and homeland are nothing compared to power and money for Bagwar who is the representative of corrupt officials who existed for generations and willing to gouge out even their own eyes in exchange for power. Such people were the leashed dogs of foreigners [betrayers] and greedy hands to deplete Mongolian wealth.
Although he thinks he is smart, his foreign puppeteers are much cunning and evil than him as demonstrated by Governor Gusai [Qing government envoy to Mongolia]. What can be concluded from here is that the immunity to guarantee national sovereignty must be achieved by harmony and wisdom. It is a great pity that such blind and short-minded people like Bagwar are never aware of such important concepts of national sovereignty immunity. This is an example of how true is the proverb “if a community is disunified, they will fall victim a cunning man’s abuse”.
Nanzad must have intended to fight [the oppressive foreign government] all by himself as the choice of his alias is Tooroi, the name of a poplar tree that grows in the Gobi desert, usually appearing all by itself in the horizon. However he soon discovers more men like him. He succeeds Hilin Hormoi, a famous rebel and leader of a secret society of outlaw bandits. It should be noted that Toroibandi was no ordinary horse thief but a premeditatedly selected and trained leader of an anti-government movement spanning across the Dariganga land as well as the 8 Tsahar banners of Inner Mongolia.
On the other hand, Bagwar has very limited sphere of followers and collaborators, mostly foreigners dying for financial and political gains and almost all by himself at his home in Mongolia. His only Mongolian partner is Balsanhuu who follows him around like a jackal waiting for a kill that he can scavenge on. Balsanhuu is also poised to strike Bagwar in a slightest misstep. The novel reveals us animals in human form live among us in not so few numbers.
Although a brief appearance, Tsogtoi the Master Carpenter’s character stands out to make an important point. He is such a talented sculptor, even assigned by the Qing Emperor to carve the 18m tall Maitreya Buddha in the Yonghegong Temple in Beijing but he has no possessions except a carving knife. His sole means of making a living is his carving knife and talent. Due to his impoverishment, he was forced by the decree of the Emperor to cut up and gash the Single Towering Tree from his homeland Mongolia to make a Buddha statue, a deity worshipped in the foreign land. He is another victim of the age old Chinese policy of using “barbarians against barbarians”. If a national genius is kept poor like him, he will turn out to be like Tsogtoi. But even such a slave have restorable heart for Mongolia left if you manage to reach deep into their mind as proven by the fact that he fulfilled a wish of Tooroibandi.
In his 2011 book about Mongolian folklore, Academician Tserensodnom.D quoted a conclusion about mythology by scholar Gaadamba.Sh “the exemplary story of the ancient man is in fact science”. So it can be said that mythologies have some degree of historic roots, although hard to believe in modern times. On the other hand myths could be considered having aspects of philosophical conclusions and analysis of human life and world affairs.
Time shall one day give the deserved acknowledgement to the words of the ancient man who was one with the nature and still had the 6th sense. Eventually in the future, the conclusion of Esteemed scholar Gaadamba’s shall be valued even more than today. Such is the basis of author Mend-Ooyo to artistically discover and conclude the events of certain period in our history as well as the modernity.
So the novel is neither a mere biography of historic person Toroibandi nor a historic research paper but literary masterpiece teaching us about the Existence philosophy.
A literature about a historic time, person and events is different from the historic account.
Although an author does not have right to deviate from evidence, elements of fantasies are always inserted to create personalities. Those must not conflict with historic logic though. There is an insufficiency of historic evidence to create full details of the character of Tooroibandi, the outlaw of Dariganga.
Although it historically true that such rebel lived back then, there are no written records of his life. Few evidences, legends and songs remain. So the author was faced with the challenge of creating a wide angle panorama of Toroi bandi using such a limited amount of info. However he used the myths as keys to unlock vast source of knowledge, analyzed the songs and legends to discover more hidden meanings and salvaged other sources to successfully reimagine the life of an exemplary hero of the time, one of the many so called “good men” (outlaw).
The seed of magic realism of 20th century Latin America had already sprouted in Mongolian literature. What has been sprouted in the heroic epics, the Secret History of the Mongols,” Golden History” by Luvsandanzan and “Blue Sutra” by Injanash is now successfully and neatly localized in modern Mongolian novel. My humble self have never seen this method Mend-Ooyo used in his novel to appear in the modern Mongolian literature novel scene which started with “Glimmer of Dawn” by Rinchen.
So the novel “Sacred Mountain” is a whole new phenomenon in terms of the expressive method and philosophy in the theme. Also the environmentalist notion of the novel could earn the name; “the Green Novel”. I have not touched the other new things observed in the novel. Most important of all is the author’s appeal to the people; “Love your Homeland which is the whole foundation of your existence” and “Do not let the wealth out and do not let the detestable in”.
May dear Mend-Ooyo go well in the universe riding fine horses like the Sairan Bay and Little Palomino, with the presence of the Single Towering Tree, coexisting with humans and predators alike.
translated from Mongolian by S.Soyolbold