Buddhism for Beginners


The Buddhist sights in UB and my first encounters with Yellow Hat Buddhism 

Most Germans have a positive attitude towards Buddhism. They associate it with the Dalai Lama, a friendly, elderly man who sometimes holds lectures (like in Frankfurt on May 14), and presents Chancellor Angela Merkel with silk scarves on TV. According to estimates from the German Buddhist Union, the umbrella organization of the Buddhist communities in Germany, there were about 250,000 Buddhists in Germany in 2008, 125,000 of whom were German citizens. There are Buddhist centers in many German cities in which meditation classes are held. So with Tibetan Buddhism being the predominant religion in Mongolia, and me being a religiously interested person, I was quite curious about the Buddhist sights in UB. Here’s my short review of the sights I visited and my experiences there.

Choijin Lama Temple Museum and Fine Arts Zanabazaar Museum 

To get an idea of the theoretical background of Tibetan Buddhism, I first went to the Choijin Lama Temple Museum. Although the roof of one of the weather-beaten temples of the museum can be seen from Sukhbaatar Square, the museum’s entrance was not easy to find. With the help of some friendly locals, I finally got to the ticket office. Equipped with an audio guide, I entered the museum.

At the entrance gate I detected four ferocious fellows that I would have allocated to Hinduism rather than Buddhism. Obviously, Buddhism is far more complex than portrayed in the books that I’ve read on the topic. What was also new to me was the fact that in addition to the admission ticket, you have to buy a permission card if you want to take pictures. In turn, there is little promotion of the museum shop nearby with postcards and souvenirs; that’s definitely different from Germany. Declaredly, most of these souvenirs, once bought, just collect dust; but they are a great success with teenage students who buy definitely everything after they have endured a guided tour. Nevertheless, I liked the museum. It colorfully shows the richness of Mongolian Buddhism.

The Fine Arts Zanabazar Museum, which I went to next, had some more new experiences and information ready for me. I again rented an audio guide and made my way through the exhibition halls. When seeing all the Sarasvatis, Yamantakas, Rahus, White Mahakalas and the twenty-one different Taras, I felt slightly overstrained. For someone who is familiar with this vast pantheon of deities, the exhibits are fairly interesting; but as this was all quite new to me, I would have loved to have a basic introduction to the pantheon.

Gandan Monastery and Maidan Temple

The first thing I recognized on my way up to the temple complex was the loud coo of hundreds of pigeons. In fact, the whole place was covered by them, supported by the vendors that sell birdseed. Except for the pigeon fanciers, who have diminished in the past years, pigeons are not that popular in Germany. They are sometimes even called the “rats of the air”, as they spoil the buildings. Here, their constant noise in the background is somehow calming. The whole site emanated a laid-back and friendly atmosphere. Nevertheless, I always feel a bit shy when entering the holy sites of foreign religions. Faith and its practice is something very personal, so peeping into the temples and buildings, I felt like an intruder into a different world. It was very fascinating to observe the monks reciting verses. Obviously, they didn’t mind me standing there. One of them grinned, the other pulled the ear of a younger monk who was not concentrating enough.

The 26 meter high Buddha statue, the Migjid Janraisig Sum, is the temple’s impressive main attraction. Nevertheless, as a foreign tourist not familiar with Buddhism, I would have wished for someone who could have taken me by the hand and explained the rites of the monks and the meaning of the paintings, silk embroideries and statues within the complex. If there are any specialized guided tours available focusing on Buddhism, they should definitely be promoted more.

Meditation class

To experience Buddhism personally, I finally went to a meditation class. This was, in fact, my personal highlight of the journey to learn more about Mongolian Buddhism. The meditation was public, with some explanation in English. Being slightly late, I entered the well-attended room. The people, most of them Mongolian, were already sitting cross-legged on cushions. I followed after them. When it was a quarter past six, I wondered if the meditation had already begun without me noticing. Nevertheless, there were still people entering the room, and some texted on their mobiles. At 6:30 p.m. a monk came in to light a candle. To my surprise it was a European-looking woman clad in a bright orange robe who gave the short introduction to the meditation.

If Germans think about meditation, they generally think about something relaxing – you know, sitting around, doing nothing with your eyes closed. Well, I was disabused. First, my left leg fell asleep. Then, my back started to hurt. As the monk had announced, to concentrate on one’s breath isn’t that easy – at least if your leg feels like it’s being intruded by an army of ants and the man in front of you is wearing a green t-shirt with the tour dates of an unknown rock band on it.

As I discovered, UB is a good place to experience Mongolian Buddhism. During my different encounters, I recognized that there is much more to discover to Buddhist religion than I had expected. In any case, I will attend the meditation class again next week.


Short URL: http://ubpost.mongolnews.mn/?p=8476

Posted by on Mar 26 2014. Filed under Opinion. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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