Thursday, February 5, 2009

Mongolia | The Current Diluv Khutagt

Popped by the Puma Imperial Hotel just off Sükhebaatar Square to see the current incarnation of the Diluv Khutagt. He and his entourage eventually appeared and we retired to a private dining room of the Delhi Darbar Indian Restaurant in the first floor of the hotel to have lunch and chew the fat.

Previous Diluv Khutagt (1884–1965)

The previous incarnation of the Diluv Khutagt was the head of Narobanchin Monastery on the border between Zavkhan and Gov-Altai Aimags.

Ruins of Narobanchin Khiid

He certainly had a distinguished pedigree. According to tradition the first incarnation of his line had been a disciple of the Buddha himself. A later incarnation in Tibet had been the famous Milarepa (c.1052–1135), author of the classic Hundred Thousand Songs of Milarepa.

Still more incarnations turned up on the Ordos Desert in what is now China. The previous Diluv Khutagt was the third incarnation to be born in Mongolia and one of the fourteen incarnations in Mongolia officially recognized the Qing Dynasty. He eventually fell afoul of the new communist government and fled to China. After a stint in Tibet as adviser to the Dalai Lama he emigrated to the United States, where in ended up in New Jersey, of all places. In collaboration with Mongolist Owen Lattimore he then wrote his “Political Memoirs” and “Autobiography,” both of which were combined in one volume entitled The Diluv Khutagt: Memoirs and Autobiography of a Mongol Buddhist Reincarnation in Religion and Revolution. Back in the 1980s I had made a zerox of the copy of this book in the Library of Congress in Washington (the Diluv’s original handwritten manucript of the book is also in the Archives of the Library of Congress).

Both sections of the book contain information about the Avenger Lama Dambijantsan, but the “Autobiography” has an entire chapter devoted to him—the only individual to merit such attention. The Diluv was six years old when he first met Dambijantsan, would encounter him many times in later life, and was eventually involved in the plot to assassinate him. Of the few Mongolians who left written accounts of Dambijantsan the Diluv Khutagt probably knew him best. For more information see Ferdinand Ossendowski Meets the Tushegoun Lama.

This is one of the rarest of all English-language books about Mongolia. It was the only one of Lattimore’s books which could not be located for the Recent Lattimore Conference here in the Big Buuz. Bizarrely, Professor Bira, who was one of the prime movers of the conference, had a copy in his personal library but being temporarily in his absent-minded professor mode had forgotten all about it. Later he remembered and told Glenn Mullin and through the latter’s good offices I was able to borrow the copy. So when Glenn and I finally met up with the current Diluv Khutagt we were able to show him an original copy of the book about his previous incarnation and provide him with a zerox copy. He had of course heard of the book and had apparently glanced through a copy in a library somewhere but never had an opportunity to read the whole thing.

Current Diluv Khutagt

The current Diluv was born in Philadephia, PA in 1972. He was the child of Kalmyk Immigrants who had settled in the United States after World War II. He is a Dörböt, a sub-division of the Kalmyks, and incidentally the same tribe to which Dambijantsan belonged. As a boy he became a monk and studied in a monastery in South India from the age of seven to twenty-one. Eventually he was recognized as the reincarnation of the Diluv Khutagt by the 14th Dalai Lama himself. As I understand it he then decided that he could accomplish more outside of a monastic environment and is now no longer an ordained monk. He himself referred to the years he spent in a monastery as “the years of confusion.” He is now the head of Buddhism in Kalmykia, where he lives full-time, although he remains an American citizen. He is currently becoming more and more involved in promoting Buddhism in Mongolia and the main reason for his visit now is to discuss upcoming projects.

One idea which has been moted is the restoration of the Diluv Khutagt’s former monastery, Narobanchin Khiid. The current Diluv stated rather forcefully that if the plan was simply to restore and open another monastery in Mongolia then he was not in favor. In his opinion there are already enough monasteries and temples in Mongolia. Instead he favors restoring perhaps one temple and then building facilities for orphans and the elderly who have no other place to live.

As for more immediate projects, he wants to bring some Tsam Dancers from a monastery in India for a tour of Mongolia; organize for this summer a music festival featuring Buddhist-oriented performers, promote the study of traditional Mongolian medicine and especially how it can be integrated with modern medical practices; and organize a conference, hopefully to be held this year, in the theme of Buddhism and its relationship to modern scientific theory. This latter subject is of course a Hot Topic in the United States and other Western countries and the Diluv would like to attract some of the leading lights in the field here to Mongolia. Glenn Mullin, who knows many of the main players in this scene, graciously offered his assistance in luring them to Mongolia.

Sitting to my right at the lunch was Khongor Badmaevich, the Vice-Chairman of the People’s Parliament of the Republic of Kalmykia. He is a Torgut, one of the other ethnic groups which make up the Kalmyk people. Somewhat to my surprize he seemed quite familiar with the life of Dambijantsan. He claims that several scholars have recently done work on the life of the Ja Lama. He even asked if I was a disciple of the Ja Lama! I said no, I am approaching his life strictly from an historical point-of-view.

Finally S. Tsendendamba, the Religious Policy Advisor to the President of Mongolia, made a cameo appearance, offered the Diluv Khutagt a khadak, promised all possible asssistance, etc. The Diluv Khutagt said to him, “As you know, I was recognized by the Dalai Lama as the current incarnation of the Diluv Khutagt. With this position comes a lot of responsibility. If I do not fulfill my duty to further Buddhism in Mongolia then I will gladly cut off my head and offer it to you!” Hopefully this will not be necessary.

Out in the lobby Glenn Mullin and I were cornered by a journalist from Kalmykia who was accompanying the Diluv’s party. He quickly zeroed in on the subject of Dambijantsan and questioned me quite closely on the subject for half an hour or so. It never ceases to amaze me how interested people are in the Ja Lama. The source of this fascination is the real mystery about Dambijantsan.