State and Church in Mongolia, a multidimensional relationship
—based on the biography of Sonam Gyatso, the third Dalai-Lama—
(62nd Meeting Friedensau, 2019)
Traditional Mongolian culture from the 16th to the 19th century cannot be understood without Buddhism, a Universalist religion that guided the polity, the arts, intellectual currents and moral principles. Buddhism which greatly influenced Central Asia starting with the 5th century of our era served to legitimize the empires of the steppes (The Northern Wei 386-534, the Kitan – Liao dynasty 907-1125, the Xixia 1032-1227). The Chingiskhanid Empire known for its tolerance, interest, even patronage carried by the emperors to various sedentary religions such as: Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, Nestorianism, Catholicism, etc. did not derogate from tradition. Anxious to better establish their prestige, Mongols reconverted to Tibetan Buddhism from the middle of the 16th century, marking in this manner the beginning of their cultural renaissance. The descendants of Genghis Khan adopted Tibetan Buddhism which they instituted as State religion. The Mongolian heritage is as much the result of exchanges of populations (missionaries, craftsmen) as the concretization of political and religious projects on the scale of the whole Far East. Sonam Gyatso, “ocean of merits”, the third Dalai Lama (1543-1588), showed himself from a young age as an indefatigably protector of the Gelugpa tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. In his activity to establish relations with the princely houses of his time he visited Mongolia in 1578 and met Altan khan (1507-1582), chief of the Tümed, at that time, at the height of his power, In addition to his outstanding contributions to the consolidation of Gelugpa doctrine in Tibet, Sonam Gyatso is especially associated with the beginning of Tibetan Buddhist missionary activity with the Mongol groups. It is his own merit that the Mongols, with the exception of Buryats (they converted only at the beginning of the 19th century), have been fervent supporters of the Buddhist Tibetan Gelugpa tradition since the first half of the 17th century.