Tibetan Buddhism and the governments of Mongolian nomads

Junko Miyawaki-Okada

Tibetan Buddhism and the governments of Mongolian nomads

(62nd Meeting Friedensau, 2019)

Nomads in the Central Eurasian steppe who had constituted the Mongolian Empire in the 13th century thereafter followed their faith to Muslim in the western region and Tibetan Buddhism in the eastern region. Peoples presently called Mongolian are nomads who accepted Tibetan Buddhism anew in the 16-17 centuries.

In 1571, the year when Mongolia made a peace with the Chinese dynasty of Ming, Altan Khan took refuge in Tibetan Buddhism. He invited Tibetan high monk of the Dge-lugs sect to Qinghai, and in 1578, Khan bestowed him the title of the Dalai Lama. “Dalai” means the ocean in Mongolian. Since there were two incarnations prior to him, he is called the 3rd Dalai Lama.

In the 13th century Tibet went under the Mongolian rule, however, Phags pa Lama of the Saskya sect was trusted by the founder of the Yuan dynasty Qubilai and bestowed the title of Guushi [national master]. He created the new Mongolian letters which came to be called the Phags Pa letter.

As the Yuan dynasty lost power and territory in China and retreated to their Mongolian Plateau, the Phags Pa letter ceased to be used and the faith of Tibetan Buddhism also faded away.

In the late 16th century when the Mongolian-Tibetan relation was recovered, memories of the Yuan dynasty heavily remained in the mind of Tibetan people. Amongst Tibetan Buddhism sects, the one who took the best advantage of the relation with Mongolia was the Dge-lug sect.

The Dge-lug sect considered the relation between Altan Khan and the 3rd Dalai Lama a re-emergence of the Qubilai-Phags pa relation, arguing “two reasons of religion and politics” are equals that complement one another. Then the 5th Dalai Lama who represents religious authority came to maneuver Mongolian political conflicts by giving titles to their supporter Mongolian lords.