Friday, November 20, 2009

The IX Bogd Gegen and Monarchism in Mongolia

I have seen recently a lack of information on the subject of monarchism in Mongolia with some being totally unaware of the situation in regards to monarchy in that country and others being confused as to whether the 'heir to the throne' so to speak is even well known there. To address this, I thought it appropriate to address the subject of monarchism in Mongolia and the current would-be monarch the IX Bogd Gegen. Information is not as forthcoming as I would like, but I will share what I know for the benefit of the curious concerning the spiritual heir of the imperial mantle in the modern Republic of Mongolia. To do that, it is probably necessary to back up a little and give some background information.

The history of Outer Mongolia, like the country itself, can be a little complicated. At the dawn of the 20th Century it was a vassal state of the Manchu Qing Empire. In 1911 the Manchu dynasty was overthrown and independence was declared with the position of monarch and head-of-state going to the leading Buddhist cleric the VIII Jebtsundamba Khutuktu (Holy Venerable Lord), also called the Bogd Gegen or Holy Shining One. His position is based on spiritual heredity; that is reincarnation and the Bogd Gegen is the third ranking leader of the Buddhist faith as practiced in the Himalayas and Mongolia; only the Panchen Lama and Dalai Lama outrank him. Well, when the VIII Bogd Gegen was made temporal as well as spiritual ruler of Mongolia (which at the time was an extremely devout Buddhist country) he was given the title of Bogd Khan or Holy Emperor, which is how most know him and how he is most often referred to in history books.

The Bogd Khan set up a parliament, prime minister and all of the normal trappings of a constitutional monarchy though at heart it remained a very theocratic monarchy. However, his reign was not a peaceful one. The Republic of China occupied Mongolia, put him under house arrest only to be chased out by the colorful Baron von Ungern who was himself in turn defeated by the Soviets who then placed a pliant Mongolian communist in power as the dictator and founding father of the Mongolian People’s Republic. The former Bogd Khan was allowed to remain on the throne as a powerless figurehead until his death in 1924 after which the communist regime declared there would be no more reincarnations and then set about an aggressive program to annihilate religion in Mongolia.

In fact, probably no other modern regime was so obsessive or successful in wiping out religion from the country than that in Mongolia. However, as usual in any country, faith does not follow political dictates and in 1936, in Tibet, Jampal Namdol Chokyi Gyaltsen was recognized as the reincarnation of the VIII Jebtsundamba Khutuktu by the Tibetan regent Reting Rinpoche after passing the traditional tests. However, because of the nature of the communist regime in Mongolia this was kept secret for many years. Jampal Namdol had been born on November 10, 1932 in Lhasa, Tibet near the Jokhang Temple. When he was only six months old his parents separated and left him in the care of his uncle who was a palace guard in the employ of the XIII Dalai Lama. He was four years old when he passed the three tests verifying his identity as the reincarnation of the former Bogd Khan but as this was a guarded secret he entered the Drepung Monastery at the age of seven as an ordinary monk to keep his identity safe.

When he was 25 Jampal Namdol renounced his monastic vows, married and had children. This was in keeping with the tradition of his position. The late Bogd Khan had also been married, his queen becoming a very popular and revered person in her own right. When the XIV Dalai Lama was forced to flee Tibet and go into exile in India in 1959 the Jebtsundamba Khutuktu did as well for fear that his identity would be discovered and he would be killed by the communists or taken prisoner as a propaganda trophy. Over the years he worked at various jobs in India including at the Tibet House in New Delhi and the Tibetan language section of All India Radio. He also closely followed events in the Soviet Union and Mongolia, waiting for the time when it would be possible to make himself and his true identity publicly known.

Over the years his first wife died and he remarried and then in 1975 moved with his family, and by then seven children, to Karnataka. In 1984 Jampal Namdol was able to visit Lhasa for the first time since the start of his exile and in 1990, with the Soviet bloc crumbling, the Dalai Lama issued a public statement revealing Jampal Namdol as the ninth Khutuktu. The following year he was formally installed in Madhya Pradesh and in 1992 he was formally enthroned as the ninth Jebtsundamba Khutuktu in Dharmsala. Of course, talk immediately began to stir about if or when he would return to Mongolia. Shortly thereafter the deputy abbot of the primary monastery in Mongolia said that they had asked the Mongolian government (still dominated by the communist party though the country had officially opened up and democratized) for permission to invite their spiritual leader home but received no reply. The request was made several times in 1990 but with the same result.

Mongol religious officials said that the government was afraid that Jampal Namdol would claim the political mantle of the Bogd Khan and attempt to restore the theocratic monarchy. Evidently they were afraid that their campaign to eradicate religious might not have been as successful as they thought. There was, however, a tourist visa given to Jampal Namdol in July of 1999 by which he traveled to Ulaanbaatar and was formally enthroned at the Gandentegchinlen Khiid Monastery by the XIV Dalai Lama. According to tradition it is only after his formal enthronement in Mongolia that he is addressed by the title of Bogd Gegen or ‘Holy Shining One’. However, he continues to live in exile in India which never ceases to raise questions about why he does not live in Mongolia permanently or when he will next return. The fact is, the government continues to view the aging Tibetan with distrust.

In July 2000 he was refused a visa to visit Russia but was later allowed to do so in August of 2003. While in Moscow the Bogd Gegen said that the authorities in Mongolia were afraid that he would try to claim political power and restore the monarchy though he insisted that he has no interest in politics. He did, however, stress that most Mongolians were his followers (probably slightly wishful thinking there) and that he had received numerous messages from Buddhist leaders throughout the country recognizing him as their spiritual leader (which is certainly true). One Buddhist affairs official with the Mongolian government said that his spiritual leadership is recognized only because of the loyalty the people have for the authority of the Dalai Lama and that there is no real tie to the Bogd Gegen who, he claimed, does not speak Mongolian, does not know or understand the people or their culture. Protesting too much perhaps?

Another official, a member of the Mongolian parliament, said that while the Bogd Gegen could be considered a religious instructor he would never be considered for the job of monarch nor, he argued, would most even accept him as the leader of Buddhism in Mongolia. However, a colonel in the Mongolian army, who said that he was not religious, was of the opinion that if the Bogd Gegen returned to Mongolia, "He could come back as president, but not with political power… Like the British queen." Which shows that even for those who are not devout Buddhists, his position as spiritual heir to the Bogd Khan has encouraged some to view him as a potential constitutional monarch.

When questioned on the subject of the Bogd Gegen Mongolian government officials have cited the laws enacted by the Mongolian People’s Republic stripping the Bogd Khan of his political power as precedent for any restoration of the theocratic monarchy as out of the question; even though the government that did so no longer exists. They have also said that his position as a religious leader is up to the Buddhists to decide to accept or reject him. They have also cited their constitutional separation of church and state as a permanent bloc to Jampal Namdol becoming Bogd Khan like his predecessor. There is also the difficult situation with Communist China, a government Mongolia has always viewed with caution.

When the Bogd came to Mongolia on his tourist visa in 1999 it was on the eve of a visit by Chinese communist leader Jiang Zemin (the guy who dismissed a top general for not being harsh enough with the Tiananmen Square protestors). Buddhist sources say people came from villages all across Mongolia when they heard that the heir of their last Holy Emperor was visiting. The Chinese thought the crowds were for them and when they heard who, in fact, they had come to see they were outraged and demanded that the Bogd be thrown out of the country within 24 hours as they took the whole thing as a personal insult (the Chinese were never fond of the late Bogd Khan either for obvious reasons). However, the Mongolian authorities refused saying he had come as a simple tourist and so was entitled to stay for 30 days if he wished. They were rather surprised that wherever the Bogd went he was given the place of honor and monks presented him with a seal in recognition of his authority as spiritual leader. Furthermore, from that time on, message came in to the government requesting that he be allowed to live in Mongolia permanently as supreme spiritual leader. To date no permission has been given and the whole event seemed only to solidify in the minds of the still mostly communist leadership in Mongolia that the Bogd Gegen retains a great deal of popular support which has only made them more wary of ever allowing him to return.

Recently the XIV Dalai Lama has appointed the Bogd Gegen to the post of representative of the Jonang tradition of Tibetan Buddhism but in regards to Mongolia the stalemate still stands and does not look likely to be resolved in the lifetime of the current incarnation. Many Mongolians travel to India to see him and hear his teaching and many also wish for him to return to Mongolia but the authorities do not seem likely to allow it. To date the Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party (communist) remains the dominant and most powerful political force in the country. There are other, slightly more conservative parties, but so far no major party exists to champion religious or monarchist issues and so the situation remains. I've gone on longer than I like to but I hope this sheds some light on a little known but still important front of the pan-monarchist effort.

5 comments:

  1. personally I prefer the Ching Dynasty as the heir to the mongolian throne. After all they are the descendent of gengkhis khan.

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  2. First of all, great post MM. It's a very good overview for the ignorant (such as myself) and frankly, you shouldn't be afraid of writing long posts.

    Second, I'm beginning to think that the honour and respect offered by the people is based on their religious respect. Much like the rest of Asia, Mongolia would have very powerful respect and veneration of such religious and political authority, in large part thanks to their insulation from the Western Progressive's practice of demeaning traditional authority (due in large part to the declining visibility of the various Churches).

    Third, I have had a thought, and I hardly think it original, that China and the Dalai Lama conclude an agreement similar in terms to the Lateran Treaty that defined the Vatican as an independant city-state in 1928. The Dalai Lama and the Buddhist heirarchs would be permitted their independance in spiritual matters by temporal independance within their capital, while the Chinese could maintain unity within all of their conquered and annexed regions. The Bogd Gegen would be placed in a position similar to high ranking Cardinals within the Catholic Church - they have their own flocks, but are still bound close within the heirarchy. It's hardly the best choice, but I view it as the most favourable agreement we are likely to have (the Chinese have never stopped being an Empire, much as the Communists might try and deny. They're just going through the Red Dynasty), and I'd like to know your thoughts on that.

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  3. The Qing might be descendants of Genghis Khan but probably so are many of the people in East Asia today. The Qing, as far as their blood goes, are not much Manchurian anymore -the Reds saw to that. Manchurians are virtually extinct.

    I think what surprised the authorities about the amount of attention given to the Bogd was that Mongolia had been held up for so many years as the example of a communist regime succeeding at eradicating all religion. Turns out they didn't quite wipe it out completely but it certainly is not what it used to be. The western influences are also growing fast since the country opened up, in the religious sphere as well.

    Whereas once the population was almost entirely Buddhist with just a smattering of Jews and Russian Orthodox here or there the majority today is atheist or agnostic. Most who are religious are Buddhist but Christian groups have been growing rapidly as well. His Holiness Pope John Paul II had wanted to visit Mongolia but was never able to, numerous Protestant church (many of them evangelicals from the US) have been missionizing there and the Mormons have been especially quick and zealous in efforts to convert the Mongolians.

    I've thought about the Vatican City-State model or something like the 'Articles of Favorable Treatment' for a more eastern version, but I cannot see the PRC standing by such an agreement if/when the Dalai Lama spoke out about human rights or the need for individual freedoms etc. The position of the Mongolian authorities seems almost more paranoid. They are no longer a one-party state (legally anyway) and they have religious freedom and all the rest but they still seem paranoid about the people wanting the Bogd to be the Bogd Khan again. Such a thing might be more likely in Mongolia than in Tibet but it would be hard for me to imagine circumstances that would cause the government to make such an agreement. Their policy of keeping him out of the country and allowing him as little as possible contact with the people seems to be working to their benefit fine as it is.

    And of course it probably goes without saying that there is also the whole China dynamic. The Mongols are in the unenviable position of being the most thinly populated country in the world, on the doorstep of the most populous country in the world which is also a country wherein many still claim the entirety of Mongolia to be part of the Chinese 'motherland'. If the Bogd was allowed back I'm sure the PRC would not be pleased, especially as such a thing would necessarily strengthen ties with what they call the "Dalai Lama clique".

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  4. I already understood the very poor odds in favour of even this agreement MM, and indeed, the sensitivity of the Chinese leadership to criticism is quite alarming (compare with that of the Thai King's statement, with regards to lese majeste laws that he can indeed be questioned), and would be unconducive to such an arrangement.

    The situation certainly invites a close watch as events unfold.

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  5. The Mongolian situation is uniquely odd. As their first independent leader in memory the Bogd Khan was widely popular and the country so devoutly (even obsessively) religious at that time meant that even the commies dared not touch him. I think they are afraid that the public might turn out to be more inclined to put their hopes and trust in him than in them so even if he hasn't the slightest political ambitions the people might thrust the role of monarch upon him. They are also afraid (not that they would openly admit it but they have every reason) of China and having the Bogd back would infuriate them endlessly, both because of what he represents himself and because of his ties with the Dalai.

    One problem the east has to a much greater extent than the west is that in the west much of the aristocracy survived the revolutions in France and Russia (often by going abroad). In the east that's never really happened. I *really* mourn their lack in the Tibetan government-in-exile in particular, so they are having to start over from square one without that section of society most inclined to keep the flame of monarchy alive.

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