Tibet Foundation

BIM News (from TF Newsletter 41)

Sep 4, 2003

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BIM News (from TF Newsletter 41)

Bilgyn Melmyi (Wisdom Sight) Gandan Newspaper By Sue Byrne from a review conducted by Ven Sansarbat Three years ago Tibet Foundation agreed with Sh. Sonimbayer, Head of the Zanabazar Buddhist University in Gandan Monastery, to fund the publication of the Gandan monthly newspaper, Bilgyn Melmyi (Wisdom Sight). Gandan is the Head Monastery in Mongolia and is in direct touch with almost all of the 150 monasteries re-established in the country since the peaceful revolution in 1990. The Foundation felt that the newspaper was an ideal medium for Gandan to ‘keep in touch’ with the national network of monasteries and educate not just the monastic communities but also interested lay people. And so it turned out to be. Sansarbat, the Gandan monk who was in London last year, conducted a review of the Newspaper as part of the on-going work of monitoring the Buddhism in Mongolia publishing projects. An edited version of Sansarbat’s review of a selection of editions of the newspaper from 2001 and 2002 can be found below: Bilgyn Melmyi (Wisdom Sight) is published monthly for free distribution. Most of the 2,000 copies are sent to the monasteries, borough administrative offices and Parliament in the capital, Ulaanbaatar, but a crucial part of the distribution is to all the monasteries and the 116 sumon or district offices throughout the country. The newspaper has quickly established itself as a key Buddhist publication in Mongolia. It aims to educate monks and lay people in such things as the original teachings of Buddha, details of ritual practice, biographies and histories of famous Mongolian Buddhist scholar monks, national and international Buddhist news and also to awaken interest in Mongolians who know very little about their traditional religion. In every edition of the newspaper, there is a detailed story about a famous monk who lived and died before the ‘final solution’ purges of the late 1930s. This was the time when tens of thousands of monks were killed at point blank or sent into exile. (In May this year a burial ground with the remains of over 500 monks was found in Ulaanbaatar. Each skull had a bullet hole in the front. The bodies were found in three carefully arranged layers. Lamas have now conducted full funeral rites.) Damtsigdorje’s story is typical of the many high lamas who were summarily executed. He was born in Tusheet Khan province in the 19th century near the river Ong. When he was six years old he joined the Dashchoinbel Datsan (college) in Gandan Monastery in Ulaanbaatar (then called Urga) and became fully ordained at 21. After this he went to study in Lavran Datsan (Tib: Labrang) in Amdo, Tibet for two years. He continued his studies in Tibet: at Sera, Drepung, and Ganden monasteries near Lhasa and at Tashilhunpo monastery in Shigatse. Following his years of study, Damtsigdorje became a renowned teacher in Mongolia and wrote many books including a commentary on the Lam Rim (Path to Enlightenment). He taught the Mongolian Fifth and Sixth Jevzundanba, Mongolia’s reincarnate spiritual leaders, and many famous tantric masters. His story is typical of the high level of scholarship attained by many Mongolian monks in the past. Sadly, as most of them wrote in Tibetan or old Mongolian script, much of their work remains unavailable for contemporary study until it has been translated into modern Mongolian. In each edition of the paper, Venerable Bulgan Lama, now Secretary of the Asian Buddhist Conference for Peace (ABCP), translates and presents extracts of teachings from the great master Tsongkhapa’s Path to Enlightenment. He has covered teachings on such subjects as the visualisations on impermanence, how to follow and respect the teacher, perception on hell realms, how to distinguish between positive and negative karma and how to generate boddhichitta. In the newspaper the Khamba Lamas (Abbots) from monasteries around the country are interviewed on their views on modern monastic life. One such is the Abbot of Tsetserleg Monastery in the provincial capital of Arhanghai aimag (province). He feels that one of the most important things for him to do is to make sure his monks receive a proper Buddhism education and, to achieve this, he wants to send the most dedicated for training and work experience in a major monastery such as Gandan or Dashi Choiling, or the Buddhist University at Gandan, all of which are in the capital Ulaanbaatar. He wants Gandan to offer advice and help to the regional monasteries such as his on the many practical and day-to-day issues of monastic life and religious practice. This call for ‘information’ and advice is one reason why the Newspaper was started. To this end each edition contains regular articles, many of which are illustrated on how to conduct specific rituals and other religious activities. The newspaper regularly covers national and international Buddhist events. For example, in one edition in 2003 there was a report of Khamba Lama Choijamts’ visit to several places in India. His visit included attending the opening of a new Dharma Hall at Drepung Gomang in south India where many monks from the Russian ‘Buddhist’ automonous regions of Tuva, Kalmyk and Buriat are studying, as well as monks from Mongolia. He also visited Dharamsala in north India, the seat of the Tibetan Government in exile, where he had meetings with H.H. the Dalai Lama to discuss matters relating to revival of Mongolian Buddhism and how the Tibetan authorities could assist this. Another report covered the donation of a car to the general secretary of ABCP from the Russian Buddhist Association of Buriat. Another report gave an update on ten monk students from Gandan who have been studying in Drepung Gomang, some of them for up to ten years. Most have successfully passed their exams to become Parchin Rabjampa with some going on to take the Uma Rabjampa. Some of these may stay on beyond this to take their Geshe degree (equivalent to a PhD). When they finish their studies these educated monks return to Mongolia where they are becoming administrators and teachers. Hopefully, some of them will become the masters who will inspire young monks and nuns and lay people alike in the richness and value of Buddhist teachings and practice. Byambajav, the headmaster of the Zanabazar Buddhist University, participated in the UN World Development meeting held in Johannesburg, South Africa, in August 2002. He was one of over 40,000 participants from all over the world. Byambajav addressed the delegates on the need to protect and conserve sacred sites and sanctuaries, shrinking habitats, endangered species, the ecological balance, and forestation. He spoke about how even in Mongolia, a country with one of the most ‘pristine’ environments in the world, the pressures of modern life in his country are threatening the environment and the finite resources of Mongolia. It is encouraging that the movement to preserve Mongolia’s physical and spiritual environment is being led by Gandan monastery in co-operation with monasteries all over the country. The newspaper was a vital medium in the Sacred Sites project done by the World Wide Fund for Nature. It was used to brief monastics throughout the country about the project and outlined the information needed. The newspaper periodically includes His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s teachings. One was on ‘The Four Noble Truths’, a teaching given in London in 1996 and another was taken from his book, ‘Kindness, Clarity and Insight.’ Both were said to be interesting and compulsive reading. Over the three years the Foundation has been funding the newspaper there have been tangible improvements in the standard and quality of the editions. The number of writers has risen along with an increase in the number and diversity of the articles and topics. The editorial staff of the newspaper, Sh.Soninbayar, G Purevbat and J.Nyamdorj, are all highly qualified and experienced in the field of publishing. According to our reviewer the articles in Bilgyn Melmyi (Wisdom Sight) are interesting to read and written in an easy, accessible style. He feels the paper provides an enjoyable medium for both monks and lay-people to learn about Buddhist teachings and daily Buddhist activities and contrasts this with the more traditional rote learning done by monks from texts, which need skilled teachers to explain them and a knowledge of Tibetan to read them. For these reasons our reviewer feels the newspaper should be made available not only to monks but to lay people both in the capital and the provinces. He says that ordinary people do not have direct access to information on Buddhism as most original manuscripts are printed in Tibetan Language. Therefore, this newspaper gives an opportunity to lay people to learn about the teachings of Buddhism and to monks to expand their knowledge and to explore more.