Buddhism and Shamanism in Mongolian Culture

Buddhism and Shamanism Within Mongolian Culture

What origins relationships Buddhism Shamanism Mongolian culture? Show origins, evolved time, affected 50-year Socialist period, role plays modern day Mongolia. This applies country proper necessarily semi-autonomous area China referred -Mongolia.

Origin of Buddhism

Buddhism in Mongolia began as a result of its characteristics that it derives from Tibetan Buddhism which is of the Gelugpa School. In the past, Mongols worshipped heaven which was referred to as the eternal blue sky. The Mongol ancestors then followed the Northern Asian practices of Shamanism which were ancient. In Shamanism, human negotiators went into a state of trance and spoke to a numberless infinity of spirits which were accountable to the situations which involved luck or misfortune. The human intermediaries also spoke on behalf of the Mongols Davids, 1900()

The emperor of the Yuan Dynasty converted back to Tibetan Buddhism in the 14th and 15th centuries. However, the Mongols returned to the shamanist line of religion after their Mongolian empire collapsed. In the year 1578, there emerged a military leader of the Mongolians named Altan Khan had a vision to unite the Mongols and to imitate the career that was lived by Chinggis. Altan Khan invited to a summit the head of a Mongolian sect known as the Yellow Sect. An alliance was then formed that gave legitimacy to Altan Khan and he was given religious sanctions for his pretentions of imperial nature which protected the Buddhist School and provided it with patronage Rupen, 1959()

The title of Dalai Lama was then given by Altan Khan to the Tibetan Leader. To this date, this is the title which the leader of the Tibetans is known by. After the sad even of Altan Khan’s passing away, the Yellow Sect continued to spread throughout the country of Mongolia. The growth of the Yellow Sect was as a result of the efforts that were being carried to contend with the Mongol aristocrats to enable them to win religious sanctions and create mass support for their efforts which were unsuccessful in uniting all Mongols into becoming one single state Buyandelgeriyn, 2007()

Monasteries which were called mong.datsan were built in many regions of Mongolia and were often sited where migration and trade routes collided or at summer pastures where many herders were expected to congregate so as to practice shamanistic rituals and to offer sacrifices. In a fight and struggle that was led by the Buddhist months, the indigenous shamans were defeated and their functions were taken over by the monks. They also took over their fees which they received for being diviners and healers and succeeded to push the shamans to be the boundary of the Mongolian culture and the country’s religion Price, 1968()

Tibetan Buddhism combines elements taught in the Vajrayana and the Mahayana Schools of Buddhism together with the traditional rituals of Tibet such as exorcism and curing which share a common Buddhist goal of releasing individuals from suffering and the cycle of rebirth of the individual. The Tibetan Buddhism holds that salvation is the release of the individual from the cycle of rebirth. It can be achieved through intercession of pitiful Buddhas who are also enlightened who have their own entry into the state that is referred to as nirvana, or the state of selfless bliss, delayed in order to save other individuals. These kinds of Buddhas are also manifested as Bodhisattvas and they are not treated as deities in any kind of polytheistic sense. However, they rise as enlightened persons in a universe that is filled with humans, opposing demons, mundane deities, reformed and converted demons, wandering ghosts and that reflects the folk or traditional religions that were in existence in the regions where Buddhism expanded into Bradsher, 1972()

In Tibetan Buddhism, there became an amalgam which combines curing rituals and popular ceremonies for the masses with the rigorous studies of the Buddhist canon that lived in the monasteries which were academic in nature. In contrast to other sects, the Yellow Sect stressed the discipline of monasteries and use of logic and debates in a formal way which aids to enlightenment Jerryson, 2007()

The religious doctrine of the Buddhists which was well-known to be true was that of reincarnation which was done together with the Tantric idea that it was possible to produce a breed of leaders who had achieved Buddhahood and who could become reincarnations of previous leaders. These reincarnated leaders were referred to as living or incarnate buddhas and they held earthly powers and were supervisors of ordinary monks or lamas. The laity supported the Buddhist monks and they then gained merit and the monks issued them with instructions in the elements of the monastic and faith services such as funerals, divination and healing Jerryson, 2007()

Mongolian Buddhism is distinct from Tibetan Buddhism since the former has its own characteristics of Buddhism that makes it unique. Buddhism was introduced into the steppes of Mongolia during the pre-Mongol period and it penetrated from Nepal through Central Asia.

The rulers of the Pre-mongol States of Xianbei, Gokturk, Xiongnu and Rouran received Buddhist priests and built them temples for worship. Among aristocrats was where Buddhism prevailed and there was patronage by the monarchs from the Liao Dynasty which was set up by the Mongolic tribes of Khitans and monarchs of the Northern Wei Dynasty who set up the Mongolic tribes of Xianbei. Khitans looked at Buddhism as a culture of the Uighur Kaganate who dominated the steppes of Mongolia before the Khitans rose. Jin Dynasty monarchs were set up by the tribe of the Jurchens who were nomads and they referred to Buddhism as a heritage of the Khitans Puri, 1987()

The traditional monarchs of the Tibetan Buddhists also played an important role in the development of Buddhism in Mongolia. The Buddhist monks played a significant role in the politics of Southeast and Central Asia. There was no exception of the Mongolian Buddhist sangha. The country was unified by the Tibetans with assistance from the Mongols. The Mongols conducted activities that were contributory to the prominence of the Sakya school and then Gelug which helped to further develop the civilization of Tibet and Mongoli0 Puri, 1987()


The Church and the state united to provide support to each other and the reincarnation doctrine facilitated the reincarnation of incarnate Buddhas who were discovered in the families of Mongol nobles who were extremely powerful. This happened until this was made an outlawed practice by the Emperor of Qianlong Puri, 1987()

Outer Mongolia grew to have over 580 temple complexes and monasteries by the start of the twentieth century and they controlled approximately 20% of the total wealth of the country. At this time, most of the cities in Mongolia had grown as a result of being close to monasteries Puri, 1987()

By the year 1920, there were approximately 110,000 monks including children who made up about 33% of the population of males though many of them did not live inside monasteries. They also did not keep their vows. About a quarter of a million people (250,000) either lived in territories that were monastery administered and administered by living or incarnate Buddhas. These people were also referred to as the hereditary monastery dependents Puri, 1987()

Then the rule of the Manchu ended in the year 1911, the clergy and the Buddhist church itself provided the only political structure that was in existence. This kind of state that was autonomous in nature took the shape and form of a centralized theocracy which was weak and was headed by the Jebtsundamba Khutukhtu in Yeye Kuriye Puri, 1987()

As the 20th century progressed, Buddhism penetrated deeper into the culture of Mongolia and its popularity was supported by the monasteries and the Lamas Puri, 1987()

Origin of Shamanism

Shamanism in Mongolia was related to the Turkish tradition as was the Mongolian language. It also had several similarities to the Tibetan Bon. Shamanism is an ancient tribal culture in which it is thought that the spirit of a being known as the shaman departs from the body of the person or being and it travels to communicate with other helpers who are also spirits and beings in order to obtain knowledge, healing and power. The shaman, however, usually keeps control over their body even though the spirit leaves Hesse, 1987()

Shamanism is based on the belief that there exists a religious specialist who is needed at all times and who can be used to contact the spirits who then brought about whatever it is the people prayed for Rockhill, 1894()

It is thought that shamans are called or chosen by the act of healing themselves from a serious illness that could have led to death. This kind of shamanic healing is a process in which the person takes a journey on behalf of another person and then they bring back instructions of information that can be used to heal another person spiritually, psychologically, emotionally and physically Heissig, 1990()

The word ‘shaman’ has its roots in the Siberian world where it is a Tungus word for the old practice which was of a spiritual nature that was there since when mankind came into existence and is still practiced by indigenous people Heissig, 1953()

Shamanism does not have its roots from any kind of organized religion or religious traditions. However, it is a system through which the spirit takes a controlled journey of a visionary nature from the body of the person into alternate realities and then comes back. This journey is taken to contact the spirit and ask them for guidance, assistance and instructions in a spiritual healing or divination that they meant to perform Eliade, 1961()

In Mongolia, Shamanism is as old as the history of Mongolia. It came into being long before the time of Chinggis Khan. However, it was Chinggis Khan who made it to be an integral part of the tradition and culture of Mongolia Boyle, 1972()

During the time before Chinggis Khan, Mongolians worshipped the blue skies which they referred to as the ‘Hoh Tenger’. However, Chinggis Khan brought Shamanism into popularity and practice. According to those who worshipped the blue skies, they referred to the skies as the father and the earth as the mother of all beings who live in the universe. This kind of civilization was depended in its entirety on the forces and elements of nature. They prayed to their ancestors who had transformed to become spiritual animals in myth who would provide them with whatever they prayed for such as the desired weather, good health, luck and success Boyle, 1972()

Though those who practiced Shamanism were oppressed during the period of communism, Shamanism still continued being in practice and is still practiced to date. Those who believe in Shamanism still look for shamans and approach them in order to get blessings, cures or even get their future foretold Hesse, 1987()

Mongolian Shamanism has the history that has the longest record in the whole wide world. It is also thought to be the spirituality that was in longest existence in the world based on the evolutionary history of the human beings. The word Boo which means the shaman or healer or spirit medium, was first in appearance on the oracle bones during the years between ca. 1600 — 1046 BCE which was during the late Shang Dynasty Hesse, 1987()

During the years between 1045-256 BCE which was the Hunnu Dynasty, Mongolian classics show details of shamans of both masculine and feminine gender who served as healers, oneiromancers, exorcists, officials, and soothsayers. This kind of Shamanic practice is still in existence in present day culture of Mongolia. It is evident in the neo-shamanism which was created in the 1990s and which gave a similar approach to ancient shamanism but integrates other aspects of the modern world Hesse, 1987()


In the 1930s after the Stalinist purges, both Shamanism and Buddhism were outlawed in Mongolia. Traditional religion in Inner Mongolia was greatly affected by the Cultural Revolution which occurred during the 1900s. Since the 1990s, a number of sects of Christians have become popular. Currently, about 4% of Mongolia consists of a Muslim population. However, Shamanism and Buddhism are still widespread in Mongolia. Shamanism is the religion which has been in existence for the longest time but it has become overtaken in popularity by Buddhism.


Boyle, J.A. (1972). Turkish and Mongol Shamanism in the Middle Ages. Folklore, 83(3), 177-193.

Bradsher, H.S. (1972). The Sovietization of Mongolia. Foreign Affairs, 50(3), 545-553.

Buyandelgeriyn, M. (2007). Dealing with Uncertainty: Shamans, Marginal Capitalism, and the Remaking of History in Postsocialist Mongolia. American Ethnologist, 34(1), 127-147.

Davids, T.W.R. (1900). Buddhism. The North American Review, 171(527), 517-527.

Eliade, M. (1961). Recent Works on Shamanism. A Review Article. History of Religions, 1(1), 152-186.

Heissig, W. (1953). A Mongolian Source to the Lamaist Suppression of Shamanism in the 17th Century. Anthropos, 48(1/2), 1-29.

Heissig, W. (1990). New Material on East Mongolian Shamanism. Asian Folklore Studies, 49(2), 223-233.

Hesse, K. (1987). On the History of Mongolian Shamanism in Anthropological Perspective. Anthropos, 82(4/6), 403-413.

Jerryson, M.K. (2007). Mongolian Buddhism: the rise and fall of the Sangha. Chiang Mai, Thailand: Silkworm Books.

Price, M.P. (1968). A Journey in the Upper Yenesei Basin, Outer Mongolia and Chinese Turkestan in 1910. The Geographical Journal, 134(2), 181-193.

Puri, B.N. (1987). Buddhism in central Asia. Jawahar Nagar, Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.

Rockhill, W.W. (1894). A Journey in Mongolia and in Tibet. The Geographical Journal, 3(5), 357-384.

Rupen, R.A. (1959). Inside Outer Mongolia. Foreign Affairs, 37(2), 328-333.

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