Re-Establishing Buddhism in Mongolia

The following article is from the Summer, 2002 issue of the Snow Lion Newsletter and is for historical reference only. You can see this in context of the original newsletter here.
images Above photo: Panchen Otrul (front, far left) with Mongolian Buddhists.

For many centuries Buddhism was an integral part of Mongolian culture. Prior to 1921 and the advent of communism in Mongolia, Tibet and Mongolia had strong historic links. They both followed similar Buddhist lineages and there was all interchange of scholars and monks between the two countries.

The monastery of Drepung Gomang facilitated the training of young monks from Mongolia. This has recently begun again and young Mongolians monks are travelling to the re-established Gomang Monastery in India in order to study Dharma in the traditional way.

In 1991, when Mongolia became a democratic state, it was to the reestablished Tibetan monasteries in India that Mongolian Buddhists turned to for help with the re-establishment of their monasteries. Most of these had been destroyed during the communist purges in the 1930's and the monks forced to join the army or to marry, sent to Siberia or killed. Consequently they had no teachers.

Panchen Otrul Rinpoche's Work in Mongolia

Panchen Otrul Rinpoche, a lama born in Kham [see sidebar on page 2], has especially close links with Mongolia. His first teacher was a Mongolian scholar. Rinpoche has a strong wish to repay the kindness of his first teacher by now helping the Mongolian people in the desire to reestablish their spiritual heritage.

Since 1995, he has traveled extensively to remote areas of the country as well as working in Ulaanbaatar. Traveling in Mongolia is a long and arduous task, but with great enthusiasm and dedication Rinpoche fulfils as many invitations as he can each year. He is one of the very few visiting Lamas who is able to ordain monks and give refuge and initiations. He teaches both monks and lay people at every opportunity. He visits the prisons, the Mongolian orphanage, children's camps, nomadic families in their gers (tent homes), and settlements in the Gobi. He teaches increasingly to lay people who bring their children for his blessing. They view this as a vital step overcoming the many problems they have. In 1997, Rinpoche's requested two of his Tibetan monks to settle in Ulaanbaatar in order that this work could be ongoing throughout the year.

It is obvious as he travels in Mongolia that many Mongolians need help even to survive, and poverty governs the lives of most. Responding to these needs, Rinpoche now assists Mongolians in whatever way he can. The problems and the needs are great but this does not deter him from helping. One is reminded of Shantideva's words: "For as long as space endures and for as long as beings remain, until then may I too abide to dispel the misery of the world."

Initially, sponsorships were established for children and families in need. While continuing this program, the present focus of Rinpoche's projects is to provide opportunities for people to develop self-sustaining activities which will give long-term financial security.

His Mongolian "Asral Charity" was established in 2001 and is now committed to helping two rural settlements, as well as individuals in Ulaanbaatar. The Management Committee is made up of five of Rinpoche's Mongolian students who offer the benefit of their local knowledge and wisdom. In 2002 selected families are being helped to grow their own vegetables organically as a means of improving their diet. Even with these major achievements, it has become obvious that in order to sustain and develop this work Rinpoche needs a firm base from which his Tibetan monks, and Mongolian and Western students can work.

Please help

Tibetan Buddhism and the culture of the Tibetan people hang by a thread. The future of Buddhism in Mongolia is very closely linked with the future of Tibetan Buddhism. Mongolia could well become the only country embracing the Tibetan form of Buddhism both culturally and spiritually in the future. This is why His Holiness the Dalai Lama has given his full support to the work of Panchen Otrul Rinpoche in Mongolia. His Holiness will also be visiting Mongolia again this August, which underlines the importance he attaches to it.

The construction of a facility in Ulaanbaatar is urgently needed to provide a firm foundation for Rinpoche's Mongolia Project, which is a long-term undertaking and will need continuing effort.

We have raised half the money necessary to complete the building but need a further $130,000 to complete this stage of the program. The facility will be used for teaching and will incorporate small meeting rooms, administration offices and lodgings for Rinpoche and his two permanent staff. Rinpoche's Western students and other visitors who bring their skills to Mongolia will also be based here.

Maitreya Charity

Maitreya Charity is a non-profit corporation established in 2001 to support the work of Ven. Lama Panchen Otrul Rinpoche. It is based in Seattle, Washington, USA, with a Board of five members and has Federal tax exemption. Its purpose is to raise funds for the work of the Venerable Lama and to facilitate his teachings in the USA. We would be most grateful for any help you can give Ven. Panchen Otrul Rinpoche. The Trustees of the Maitreya Charity hope to send the required balance of money with him when he travels to Mongolia in August 2002. That is our immediate target. Please send your tax-exempt gifts, with checks made payable to: Maitreya Charity, Sally Taylor, President, 4817 91st Ave. SE, Mercer Island, WA 98040. Website: www.mongolianow.org

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