Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Mongolia | Örgöo | Eighth Bogd Gegeen

The last Bogd Gegeen to reign in Mongolia was the twenty-third incarnation of Javzandamba, the first of whom had been a disciple of the Buddha himself, and eighth in the line of the Bogd Gegeens of Mongolia established by Zanabazar. After the Mongolian uprising against the Qing in the mid-1750s, in which the Second Bogd Gegeen, the son of Zanabazar’s nephew, had played a role, the Qianlong Emperor had declared that henceforth all incarnations of Javsandamba must be found not in Mongolia but in Tibet, lest a Mongolian Bogd Gegeen become a rallying point for future Mongolian rebels. Thus the next six Bogd Gegeens, including the Eight, were Tibetan. The Eight was born in Lhasa in late 1869 or early 1870, the son of a wealthy official in the court of the 13th Dalai Lama. A caravan sent from Örgöö to Tibet to fetch him arrived back in the city with the little boy in tow on the morning of September 30, 1874.

In 1911, when he became the Bogd Khan, the ruler of newly independent Mongolia, he was forty-one years old. Even before his ascension to the throne of Mongolia his immense popularity had made him the de-facto leader of Mongolia. The Diluv Khutagt, who knew him personally, observed:
The reason why this Eighth Bogd had become notably more powerful and strong than previous Incarnations was, in addition to the fact that the Mongols universally, generation by generation, had believed in, honored, had faith in and reverenced each Incarnation of the Bogd as a true divinity, this Eighth Gegeen ever since childhood had been especially sharp and intelligent. Whenever in Khalkh, or in one of its districts there was any such fear or suffering as fire or flood, sickness or disaster, he knew it in advance and let it be known to give warning. In religious matters or ordinary affairs his directives were unfailingly clear and in accordance with the evidence, and when this had repeatedly become known he became famous for it and everyone had deep faith in him.
The Eighth Bogd Gegeen
Even as a young man he was regarded with awe by the Mongolian populace. The Diluv Khutagt: “At the age of eighteen, as the result of a serious illness, he lay dead . . . for three days and nights, and at the moment he stirred again there was no mark of the sickness and he was cured, and for such marvels as this the Mongols had complete faith and trust in him.” The Russian ethnologist A. M. Pozdneev, in Örgöö four years later, in 1892, observed: “Crowds of worshippers stretch toward the Khutukhu from all sides, and not only Khalkhas, but also southern Mongols as well . . . He was perhaps the only Mongolian personality known to all the generally illiterate and often apathetic Mongols throughout the land . . .”

There is no doubt he was a shrewd political operator. About the time of Pozdneev’s visit a certain Jün Van (nobleman) named Dorjpalam, from Setsen Khan Aimag to the east of Örgöö, filed several complaints again the Bogd Gegeen which were forwarded to the Manchu emperor in Beijing. The Bogd immediately answered in a missive to the Manchu representative in Örgöö:
Though I have done nothing that is damaging to the faith or the church, or that is wrong or harmful to all living beings, it has come to the point where on the word of one single man I am wrongly accused, and this because of my stupid incompetence has led to discrediting the reputation of previous generations of my incarnation. Therefore my petition is that first I should be removed as Javzandamba Khutagt, and then, if I am indicted and investigated, the faith of the Buddha in the land of Mongolia will not be belittled. It is not difficult to obtain the precise truth of this matter. All Khalkh Mongolia knows everything about all my affairs, and so if you ask the Heads of the Chuulgan [Leagues] and all the princes, they will freely explain. If the complete truth is not found in this matter, my regret will be infinite.
The Manchu emperor, faced with this ultimatum, issued a memorandum stating, “Assuage your regret and dwell in peace of mind. I have profound faith in the Khutagt.” To smooth his ruffled feathers the emperor also gifted the Bogd Gegeen “a nine-dragon canopy”—apparently a great honor—and had Dorjpalam stripped of his title. Dorjpalam eventually apologized to the Bogd, acknowledging his guilt in the matter, whereupon the Bogd successfully petitioned the emperor to have his title returned to him. According to the Diluv Khutagt:
After this the princes were overawed and afraid, and submitted in due form to any proclamation [from the Bogd]. Though here and there among the great princes and learned lamas there were one or two of doubtful faith, they were repressed by the prestige of the Bogd and since moreover all the Mongols detested such men, the result was that they could not come out into the open.
Thus the Bogd Gegeen gained the almost unqualified support of the common people, the nobles, and the lower and middle ranking monks. Only among the higher ranking monks did some objections remain, for example on the part of the Khamba Lama of Ikh Khüree, who in the heat of an argument the Bogd Gegeen had punched in the chest and whose assistant he had grabbed by the scruff of his neck and tossed out of the meeting room. Yet such men learned to keep quiet, since opponents of the Bogd Gegeen had an uncanny propensity for falling ill and dying for one reason or another.
The Eighth Bogd Gegeen's Winter Palace
There was a decidedly negative side of the Bogd Gegeen which would eventually become more and more manifest. As early as 1890, the Russian Consul in Örgöö was filing confidential dispatches to his superiors back in St. Petersburg about the Bogd Gegeen’s attempts “to free himself from the conventional restrictions prescribed for lamas and lead an independent life.” He also noted that the Bogd appeared in public while drunk and openly flirted with women, but added that most people had a very forgiving attitude toward such discretions. Pozdneev had intimations of trouble as far back as 1892. The Bogd’s face, noted the Russian traveler, was “unpleasant by virtue of some sort of childish willfulness and capricious stubbornness which is always present in it, and also from the lips, which are extraordinarily sensuous in their development.”

Other aspects of the Bogd Gegeen’s life did not appear to be in accord with his role as the Buddhist leader of Mongolia. He kept a wife, the famous beauty Dondovdulam, apparently in violation of his vows of celibacy as a Gelug monk, and when she died he took on yet another wife. He was also rumored to be involved in various homosexual liaisons, an inclination which had led to the downfall of his predecessor, the Seventh Bogd Gegeen. Pozdneev pointed out his predilection for young lamas “distinguished only their inclination and ability to carouse.” One of his male consorts had died in mysterious circumstances, according to Bazaar gossip poisoned on orders from the Bogd Gegeen himself. And there seems little doubt that he was a hard-core alcoholic. Even the Diluv Khutagt, who held the Bogd in great respect, felt compelled to comment on this:
The Bogd was very hard to do business with because he was such a fearful drinker. He would sometimes sit cross-legged for a week drinking steadily night and day. The officials attending him would be changed frequently, but he would go on drinking, never lying down to sleep and never moving except to go out to the toilet. At times he would seem to be completely unconscious, with his head lying on his chest; he would seem not to understand anything that was said to him; then he would raise his head and demand another drink, and the new drink would seem to sober him up so that he could conduct business. Even after a bout like this he would not sleep except in naps of two or three hours at a time. Yet he was a very able politician and kept control of things within the limits of his rapidly vanishing power. By 1920 he had become practically blind.
As Pozdneev noted however, “. . . the Gegen’s carousing did not in any way lessen his charm as far as the people were concerned; [they] looked upon his every eccentricity as something mysterious and tried to explain his every exploit in his favor on the basis of their sacred books . . .” (to be continued . . .)
Entrance to the Winter Palace Complex