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"Canada can, within a positive friendly atmosphere, ask the Chinese government to resolve the Tibetan situation."

The Buddha's steppes

August 18, 2009

In Mongolia, be sure to tread the Shakyamuni's trail
Anand Sankar
The Business Standard (India)
August 16, 2009

New Delhi --
The recent discovery of rare Buddhist relics in Mongolia's Gobi
Desert has brought under the spotlight that country's religious
heritage. Buddhism went underground from 1924 onwards, when Mongolia
became communist and came under the influence of the Soviet Union.

Scores of monasteries were razed to the ground, but a few survived,
and the monks overseeing them buried their treasures to prevent them
from being destroyed.

After the fall of communism in 1990 the monks came out with their
secrets. One monastery which recently rediscovered some relics and is
having them catalogued for preservation is at Sainshand, 400 km south
of the capital Ulan Bator. This step is important, because Mongolia
is an important centre for Tibetan Buddhism, and remains the
northernmost area of spread of the religion.

The biggest monastery currently in Mongolia is the Gandantegchinlen
Monastery. It is a Tibetan-style monastery which has been restored
and revitalised since 1990, after lying dormant since the 1930s. The
Tibetan name translates as "Great Place of Complete Joy." It
currently has over 150 monks in residence, and features a
26.5-metre-high statue of Migjid Janraisig, a bodhisattva also better
known as Avalokitesvara.

Another site which has been preserved is at Tsetserleg, meaning
"garden" in Mongolian. It is the capital of Arkhangai province. It
lies on the northeastern slopes of the Khangai Mountains, 600 km
south-west of Ulan Bator. Tsetserleg is an ancient cultural and
commercial centre, and the monastery is again an example of Tibetan

Finally, north of Mongolia is the Russian territory of Buryatia. This
is one of the provinces inhabited by people of Mongol descent.
Buryatia has the most important Buddhist site in Russia, the
Ivolginsky Datsan. It is 23 km from the Buryat capital of Ulan Ude.
Preserved here are picturesque thangkas, sculptures and ritual objects.

Among the monastery's treasures is a rare collection of old Buddhist
manuscripts written in the Tibetan language on natural silk, and a
greenhouse with a bodhi tree. Also of significance is the preserved
body of the 12th Pandito Hambo Lama of the Ivolginsky Datsan,
Dashi-Dorzho Itigelov, who died in 1927.
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