One of the merits of this interesting collective book, made of seventeen papers, is a broad participation of native scholars: Of the nineteen contributors, ten are Mongolians or Tibetans. It goes without saying that its general overtone is religious, while its general direction tends to a revaluation of too well entrenched ideas. This is particularly obvious in the first three articles which deal with historical processes.
In an innovative article, Johan Elverskog (Southern Methodist University), the well-known specialist of the Tümed sovereign Altan Khan, submits to a careful criticism the situation surrounding and following the famous meeting of the Mongol monarch with the Dge lugs pa [gelug pa] hierarch in 1578, leading to his conversion and then to the general conversion of his people to Tibetan Buddhism in its Dge lugs pa version. Why this choice when many others were available? It should be more a question of faith in salvation from suffering than a political move as generally assumed (“Tibetocentrism, Religious Conversion and the Study of Mongolian Buddhism,” 59-80).
Uradyn Bulag, an anthropologist from Inner Mongolia, currently teaching at the City University of New York, is viewing Tibetan Buddhism under a “hyphenating” form as Tibeto-Mongolian Buddhism, and he gathers a great amount of facts, more or less previously known, to untangle the use of Buddhism in the contest between the Chinese, the Japanese and the Mongols themselves for attracting Mongol populations between 1911 and 1936. In the course of the strife, Buddhism loosened its Tibetan characteristic (a “de-hyphenation”, according to a term presently in the wind) to the advantage of Chinggis Khan who remained ― and still is ― the crucial safeguard of Mongol nationalism (“From Empire to Nation: The Demise of Buddhism in Inner Mongolia,” 19-57).
Further in the book, another Inner Mongolian scholar from Hohhot, Nasan Bayar, accounts in detail the effects of the posthumous transformation of Chinggis Khan, identified by Mongolian as well as by Han (ethnic Chinese) believers as a near-Buddha, a reincarnation of Vajrapani (in Mongolian Ochirvani) and, in connection with this process, the historical background of the alleged mausoleum of the national hero at Ejen-horoo in Ordos, in Inner Mongolia (“On Chinggis Khan and Being like a Buddha: A Perspective on Cultural Conflagration in Contemporary Inner Mongolia,” 197-221, ill.).
The Austrian anthropologist Gerhard Emmer revisits the complex set of events surrounding the wars between Tibet and Ladakh in 1679-84. The figure responsible for the final decay of Ladakh was Jüngar (Western Mongol) General Dga’ lda tshe dbang; sent by the great Fifth Dalai-Lama, he led three or four campaigns against Ladakh with his Mongol and Tibetan soldiers. One of the results of this war was the triumph of the Dge lugs pa and of the Dalai Lama’s authority in Ladakh. An interesting point is that, in Ladakh’s memory, Dga’ lda tshe dbang left an ambivalent image, appearing both as an enemy and as a protector. Further food for thought is the fact that a new Dge lugs pa incarnation-lineage was then installed in Ladakh: His representative in the 1990s was Kushok Bakula, an ambassador of India to Mongolia, where his high ascetic figure has been an indissociable part of the path to democratisation and re-Buddhisation (“Dga’ ldan tshe dbang dpal bzang po and the Tibet-Ladakh-Mughal War of 1679-84,” 81-107, ill., map).
The final paper of this category has another type of historical background: It is “A Review of the Tibetan-Mongolian Lexicographical Tradition” (371-78) by Burnee Dorjuren (from Ulaanbaatar). It focuses on the biggest and the most famous Tibetan-Mongolian bilingual dictionaries.
The remaining articles broach more specific rituals, customs and ways of thinking linked to a place or a person. We may notice that several times the setting of the field research is a Mongolian enclave in Qinghai (or Amdo) called the Henan or Malho Mongolian Autonomous County, where Mongols are Tibetanised in language and customs, and are called the Sogpo (the Tibetan term for “Mongolia/Mongolian”). Unfortunately for the reader who does not master Tibetan, it is in this language that another contribution of the volume sums up the different Mongolian groups that are at the origin of this district and the lineage of its local rulers going back to the Western Mongolian prince, Gushri Khan (“The Origin of the Malho Mongolian County”, by Kesang Dargay, a Sogpo by birth, 315-36).
Shinjilt, a social anthropologist from Inner Mongolia who works in Japan (at Kumamoto University), gives a very stimulating inner view of the bitter conflicts for pastures that occurred between Mongols and Tibetans in this typical multiethnic border zone which is the Henan County. The Mongols complaining that the Tibetans are infringing upon their rights play here on their Mongolian ancestry as ‘Sogpo’, although they are generally quoted from outside as a ‘Tibetanised’ people. This shows that the ethnic factor may become significant when it helps to support political claims (“Pasture Fights, Mediation, and Ethnic Narrations: Aspects of the Ethnic Relationship between the Mongols and Tibetans in Qinghai and Gansu,” 337-61, ill., 2 maps).
A traditional summer collective festival of Mongolian origin, the naadam, and a Tibetan one more religious, the Tsendiri latse, studied by Hidegard Diemberger, are set in this same area: After the long ban put in place by the Communist regime on public expressions of ethnicity and religion, a revival occurred from 1984 onwards and traditions were then reinvented to match with conditions unknown before the 1950s. These two festivals are said to be mangtso, viz. organised by ‘the masses’. The organiser of the naadam is in fact the country governor while the responsible persons for the Tsendiri latse are the leaders of the six smaller administrative units, the xiangs, who seem to fulfil the function of traditional chieftains. The conclusions are that is impossible to clearly separate community from government; and that conditions described in Inner Mongolia do not apply to fields of mixed traditions as in the Henan district (“Festivals and Their Leaders: The Management of Tradition in the Mongolian/Tibetan Borderlands,” 109-34, ill.).
David Sneath, the well-known theoretician of Inner Asian nomadism at Cambridge University, takes a close look at a Mongolian ritual accompanying the oboo (or obuɣ-a / ovoo), a cairn of stones which is venerated for calling upon the local spirits’ protection. The origin of the ritual is Tibetan, as testified by the similarities with Tibetan latse, and “in both cases the practices had and continue to have important political aspects” (p. 136). Finally, the author delivers here an excellent historical survey of the oboo ritual, supplemented by a Mongolian text written by a high lama between 1649 and 1691 and given in photostat, transcription and translation (“Ritual Idioms and Spatial Orders: Comparing the Rites for Mongolian and Tibetan ‘Local Deities’,” 135-57).
Caroline Humphrey, the Mongolist who is at the origin of the success of Inner Asia Studies at Cambridge, presents folk views spread since the late nineteenth century all over the regions with a Mongolian population, concerning the relation between military force and religious authority, through the story of a mythic Mongolian warrior, Dugar Jaisang. The background of the story is the help given by the Jüngars to the Sixth Dalai Lama for asserting the primacy of the Dge lugs pa, or Yellow Buddhism. Dugar Jaisang is supposed to have had magical power which enabled him to defeat a terrible tiger and to rescue Tibet from the enemies of the Dge lugs pa, the Rnying ma pa or Red Buddhist monks. The main lesson is, among others, that a typical Mongolian herdsman is cleverer than a Tibetan (“Vital Force: The Story of Dugar Jaisang and Popular Views of Mongolian-Tibetan Relations from Mongolian Perspectives,” 159-73, ill., map).
Morten A. Pedersen, from Copenhagen University, argues that the Darhads, a Mongolian people living in the far north-west of Mongolia, have constructed the image of their personality following the geographical pattern of their region, which bears their name ― the Darhad Depression: They see a natural opposition between a homogeneous centre, the steppe zone, and a heterogeneous margin, the taiga zone. In the same way they consider that they have a good Buddhist, “yellow” (i.e., Dge lugs pa) side opposed to a black shamanist one (“Tame from within: Landscapes of the Religious Imagination among the Darhads of Northern Mongolia,” 175-96).
Now, with Hanna Havnevik (from Oslo University), Byambaa Ragchaa (the Director of the Library of the great Buddhist monastery of Ulaanbaatar, the Gandantegchenlin) and Agata Bareja-Starzynska (from Warsaw University), we turn to the “Red” tradition of the Rnying ma pa (Nyingma pa): After having been crushed during centuries by the Dge lug pa, then by the Communist regime, it appears that it enjoys a new popularity in the Republic of Mongolia since religious freedom was granted in 1992, especially in the guise of the luzhin (in Tibetan gcod, ‘to offer the body’) ritual. This revival may be due to a superficial similarity with shamanism and is an expression of what is felt as a religious observance to be followed (“Some Practices of the Buddhist Red Tradition in Contemporary Mongolia,” 223-37, ill.).
Lce nag tshang Hum chen, a scholar and journalist from the district of Henan, tells in an extremely erudite way the story of the establishment and development of the Rnying ma tantric tradition in Henan. The first responsible personality was a yogin of great religious accomplishment, the fourth prince of Sogpo, Ngag dbang dar rgyas [or Ngawang Lhundrup Dargay] (b. 1740, r. 1772-1807). At present, the tradition is still preserved by seven practitioners and about one hundred households. However, native Mongols, who adhere to Dge lugs pa, keep disliking Ngag dbang dar rgyas (“A brief Introduction to Ngag dbang dar rgyas and the Origin of Rnying ma Order in Henan County (Sogpo), the Mongolian Region of Amdo,” 239-55).
But what must be exactly understood under the term of “Red”, generally pejorative in Mongolia, asks Hamid Sardar who, being the supervisor for the British Library of the Endangered Archives Project in Mongolia, has had access to archives recently unearthed in the mountains along the Gobi desert? These archives come from an extraordinary productive Mongolian author of the nineteenth century, a non-conformist high reincarnation called by his contemporaries ‘the Fierce Drunken Lord of the Gobi’, Danzan Ravjaa (1803-57). On the occasion of some new biographical facts, which the author is able to provide us, he raises the problem of understanding what the opposition between the “Yellow” faith and the “Red” deviation means. This distinction does not exist in Tibetan, and present-day Mongolian informants give contradictory replies to the author’s inquiries. Such a polarity appeared in the mid-seventeenth century when the Sino-Manchu Qing emperors were pushing ahead the Dge lugs pa; henceforth, Red Buddhism could be specifically the Rnying ma pa, not reformed leanings, as it could be anything other than purely Dge lugs pa. The case of Danzan Ravjaa is instructive: He belonged to a group of Mongol lamas who had been educated inside the Dge lugs pa tradition, but who followed practices pertaining to the Rnying ma pa, as a kind of ‘Red Dge lugs pa’. This choice had not only a moral and theological meaning, but at the same time heavy political implications (“Danzan Ravjaa: The Fierce Drunken Lord of the Gobi,” 257-94, ill.).
Two other articles also focus on a particular figure. The eighteenth-century Tibetan-language Mongolian scholar Ishibaljur (alias Sumpa Khenpo, born in the Köke-nuur region or Amdo), depicted by Erdenibayar ― himself an Inner Mongolian specialist of Mongolian literature written in Tibetan ―, was a remarkable man. He had competence in every field of culture and science, and played an important part in the revival of Mongolian culture in his time. Since the 1980s, a new interest in his works is being found in the field of Mongolian and Tibetan studies in China. He therefore appears as an actor in present-day Mongolian and Tibetan Buddhist revival (“Sumpa Khenpo Ishibaljur: A Great Figure in Mongolian and Tibetan cultures,” 303-14). Jalsan, a high lama in Alashan (in the western part of Inner Mongolia), contests the title of ‘Secret Biography’ given to a biography of the Sixth Dalai Lama, supporting the theory that the Dalai Lama did not die in 1706 but escaped to Alashan where he lived until 1746 (“On the So-Called Secret Biography of Tshang Dbyangs Rgya Mtsho,” 295-302).
The contribution by Denlhun Tsheyag (a lady teaching at the Tibet University of Lhasa) on “Mongol Cultural Sites and Customs in modern ‘Dam gzhung (Tibet Autonomous region)”, being written in Tibetan, is attainable to a non-specialist readership only through a summary in the introduction of the book (pp. 15-6). It gives an account of a Mongolian community known as the Eight Mongolian Banners of ‘Dam gzhung, in the North of Lhasa (pp. 363-70).
The main criticism that could be addressed to this excellent collection of inter-cultural studies is that the freedom left to the contributors concerning their way of transcribing proper names and of choosing a particular Tibetan or Mongolian form rather than another is prejudicial to the reader. Actually it is difficult for a Boeotian to identify persons and places which are named differently according to the authors’ whim.