Allied Committee: Common Voice Vol. 2(1992) India, Mongolia, Tibet

Common Voice

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Common Voice: Volume 2 (1992) India, Mongolia, Tibet

Nirmal C. Sinha

The three countries are mentioned in an alphabetical order. Since the Dharma spread from Tibet to Mongolia, Mongolia as the last entry is appropriate in a historical sense. Yet Mongolia as the first entry would not be inappropriate either.

An old tradition in India places the World of Gods far beyond the Himalayas in the distant north. While the Western scholars would locate the original home of the Aryans as somewhere north of the Pamirs, some Hindu scholars would even specify the Arctic regions of Siberia, Mongolia, in such reading, is identified with the Ancestral Land of the Vedic sages. The protectors of these sages, introducing horse as an instrument of war and peace in India as elsewhere, must have acquired their equestrian skill in the steppes of Mongolia.

It is thus not unlikely that ancient India's first contact with ancient Mongolia was through the Vedic sages and the Vedic kings. The contact was renewed during the Kushana period when Manju, as in Manjusri, emerged as a popular coinage in Sanskrit, Manjusri's popularity in Mongolia a thousand years later was admittedly because Manju was a native term known from ancient-most times.

A few centuries later an offshoot of the KaKhans carved out an empire in India through sword and fire and consolidated it through religious toleration and freedom of worship. Akbar, the Great Mughul, as the first great secular ruler in history, was no doubt upholding the testament of the KaKhans, who took Refuge in the Three Jewels but would permit a Hebrew or a Muslim, a Christian or a Confucian to the highest office. An Indian historian cannot deny the obscure but enduring Mongol contributions to Indian civilization.

Likewise Tibetan influence on Indian culture remains obscure. With the antiquity of Tantra traced back to the Indus Civilizalion and with Mount Kailas as the focal point in Tantra, regular exchanges and contacts between the mystics on both sides of the Himalayas in pre-Buddhist and even pre-Vedic times are not ruled out. Some scholars hold that Indian Tantra was developed from the ancient shamanism called Bon in Tibet.

In the first decade of this century some British scholars had suggested Tibeto-Mongoloid origins for the oligarchic republics of the Himalayas and that the Buddha (Sakya Prince) was not of Indo-Aryan stock. These suggestions were inspired by political motives and had offended Indian scholars, Buddhist and Hindu.

Now, in the two decades following independence (1947), Indian scholars have discovered much ethno-linguistic data to prove that the Tibeto-Mongoloids were partners with the Dravidians and the Aryans building up the Indic (Sanskrit) civilization. Our National Professor of Humanities, Suniti Kumar Chatterji, with his characteristic objectivity, would describe the Buddha as an Indo-Mongoloid.

In the present writer's contention the Buddha's ancestry and life symbolized certain non-Vedic and non-Aryan elements which changed the course of Indian, and Asian, history. The epithet Tathagata is suspected by philologists to be a Aryan term. While such conclusion will not wound Indian readers, the Tibetans - monks, scholars and laymen alike - will consider this as blasphemy. In Tibetan belief the Sangs-rgyas (Skt. Buddha) as well as the Damchhos (Skt. Saddharma) originated in Phagr-Yul (Skt. Aryabhumi).

In Tibetan memory, while some costumes and cuisine or social customs and secular institutions might have come to Tibet from the east, the Indian Pandita was the reflex of the Tibetan mind. The Tibetans escorted Hoshang out of Tibet and banned for ever the preaching of Dharma by the Chinese. Till the fifties of this century the Expulsion of Hoshang was a popular mystery play in the monasteries of Tibet.

After a decline in the ninth and tenth centuries, there was a renascence of the Dharma in Tibet with the arrival (1042) of Atisa (Srijnana Dipankara). Already over sixty, Atisa spent the last twevle years of his life in preaching in Wetern and Central Tibet. Grateful Tibetans enshrined his mortal remains in a Stupa near Lhasa (Neythang). Atisa's disciples would "Go forth for the gain of the many, in compassion for the world" in all directions.

The monks of the Sakya Sect were particularly active in the north, and in the time of Chingiz Khan (1162-1227), the Dharma was not unknown to the nomadic tribes of Mongolia. Tibetan diplomats, a team of abbots and aristocrats successfully dissuaded Chingiz from any invasion of Tibet. In the next generation led by Godan and his successor Kublai, the leading Mongol tribes took to the Dharma. Kubilai, then Emperor of China with his imperial seat in Khan Balyk (Peking in later days), recognized his teacher, the Sakya Lama, as Priest-King of Tibet.

While in China the Sakya propagation was confined to the metropolis, the Dharma spread over the distant parts of Mongolia. With the fall of the Mongol dynasty in China and the rise of division among the Mongol tribes, the Mongols lapsed into Shamanism. They, however, continued a degree of veneration for the Dharma and its homeland, India. The first Indic impact on Mongol mind may be read not only in Mongol versions of works like Lalitavistara and names and titles with Buddhist or Sanskrit background. Sometimes Sanskrit forms would be preserved in Mongol, e.g. Darma (for Dharma), Erteni (for Ratna) or Vehir (for Vajra). Indian legends and myths were incorporated into Mongol literature and even Mongol legends and myths were traced back to India. Tibet as the courier of Dharam came to be held in Lhe same esteem as India.

In later Mongol tradition the Grey Wolf was Tibetan legend as the Mongol royalty was of the north or the west, all moral and intellectual items came from the south. In fact this total sentiment, rather than the mass of positive data accepted by the modern scholars, measures the Indic impact on the Tibetan mind. Two events from the history of Tibet may be cited to illustrate the Tibetan sentiment.

When the need for an alphabet was felt, the Tibetan authorities looked for a model in India and finalized one in the first half of the seventh century. Difficulties of adapting pictograph ruled out borrowing from China. Sanskrit alphabet (or Brahmiscript) was however not the only phonetic medium known in Central Asia; Aramaic (Kharoshthi) for instance was widely prevalent. Tibetan acquaintance with several phonetic scripts prevailing in Central Asia is well known, but the linguistic and morphological grounds which called for the Brahmi script (or the Sanskrit alphabet) are not known.

Asked for the precise reasons for an Indic preference, a Tibetan scholar would answer thus, "As we got the Sacred doctrine from Aryabhumi we naturally sought a writing medium in Aryabhumi and there was no question of assessing the merits of the different scripts known to us." Eventually, the Indic medium revolutionized the contents, the thought processes and the modes of expression in Tibetan language. The role of the Sacred Letter is second only to that of the Sacred Doctrine in the history of Tibet.

The other event is the docrtinal debate between the Indian (Kamalasila) and the Chinese (Hoshang) in the last decade of the eight century. Two different views about the attainment of Nirvana led to this great debate. As modern researchers bear out either view was valid but the Tibetans assembled gave support to the Indian exponent really because he was a native of Aryabhumi.

The re-conversion ofthe Mongol tribes began in the sixteenth century with the Yellow Sect whose founder Tsongkhapa (1357-1417) was an incarnation of Manjusri, a deity popular among the Mongols. Besides the code of celibacy and auster life of the Yellow monks, who could also wield sword for the preservation of the Dharma, attracted the warlike nomads very firmly to the Dharma. The Mongols gave up Shamanist rituals like animal sacrifices and their tribal chiefs submitted to the authority of the Yellow Sect hierarch, who was also the incarnation of Avalokitesvara. Avalokitesvara, Spyan-ras-gzigs (Chenrezi) in Tibetan, is the ruling diety in Mahayana pantheon and his earthly manifestation is thus the lord of the mundane world. The third and fourth incarnations had names ending with the suffix Rgyamtsho (Gyatso), equivalent of Sanskrit SAGARA, meaning ocean or sea. the Mongol equivalent Dalai (Ta-le) would be the highest honorific in Mongol diction. The leading Mongol Khan addressed the Yellow hierarch as Dalai Lama. The Russians and the Chinese followed this form and eventually all Yellow hierarchs, the fourteen successive incarnations of Avalokitesvara, are known as the Dalai Lama.

The two neighbours that the then Mongolia had, besides Tibet in the south, were Russia in the west and north and China in the east and south. The expansion of Han population from the second half of the eighteenth century cut down the size of Mongolia and cut off the corridors connecting Tibet and Mongolia. Curiously enough the non-Han, that is, Barbarian peoples were responsible for the Han expansion at the expense of the non-Han.

In the middle of the seventeenth century (1644) a Barbarian dynasty, the Manchu from the north, occupied the throne of the Son of Heaven and ruled China till their expulsion in 1911-12. The Manchu, following the earlier Barbarian emperors like the Toba (wei) and the Mongol (Yuan), could not get admission into Confucianism and remained a devout follower of the Dharma which was already popular in his homeland of Manchuria. The Dharma had tamed the Mongol tribes vis-a-vis Tibet and might even make them allies of the Manchu.

The first Manchu Emperor, Shun-chih, addressed several invitations to the Fifth Dalai Lama whose accession to the Golden Throne of Tibet took place two years prior to that of the Manchu in China. The Great Fifth visited Peking in 1652-53. The Manchu, despite the contrary advice of his Han ministers, received the Dalai as a sovereign dignitary. In return the Dalai made a polite promise that he would advise the Mongols to cease raids on Manchuria or China. The Dalai also blessed the Manchu with a high place in the order of incarnations. Himself the Paramount deity of the Mahayana patheon, that is, the earthly manifestation of Avalokitesvara, the Dalai Lama called the Manchu an incarnation of Manjusri. This however did much to cement the loyalty of both the Manchu (a corrupt form of the Mongol word Manju) and Mongol tribes.

Thus from the middle of the seventeenth century the Mongols became more and more reconciled to China ruled by the incarnation of Manjusri. At the same time they drifted away from Russia under the Christian Tsar. This was of grave importance as since the time of the Ka-Khans, the widely spread Mongol tribes had trade outlets in the west up to the Volga; and trade in the east could be possible only on payment of "Tribute" to the Son of Heaven.

However, as followers of the same Dharma, the Mongols had opened a new chapter. For purely temporal reasons like trade and defence, the Mongol Khans in 1680s had to make a definite choice of alignment between the Russian Tsar and the Manchu Son of Heaven. In 1688 the decision was handed over to the Hutukhtu of Urga, the highest Mongol esteem. The Hutukhatu decided in favour of the Manchu Emperor.

In 1691 the Manchu Emperor, Kang-hsi, came to Dolon Nor to receive the oath of allegiance from the Mongol Khans, 24 in number. The Mongol annals record this event as the ratification of an event of 1636 when the Mongol tribes had submitted to the Manchu over lordship "as long as Sun, Moon and Manchu flourish." In Han view of the event of 1691 signified the incorporation of Mongolia into the Han Motherland.

Yet the annexation of Mongolia did not alleviate Han suspicion that the Manchu was excessively loyal in the Buddha or the Living Buddha as the Confucian scholars would describe the Dalai Lama. Kang-hsi had to make a show of chastising heterodoxy like that of Tibet and Mongolia and fervently prayed for "peace and harmony among religions". His son Yungchen (1723-36) built the famous Buddhist Cathedral in Peking and named it Yung-ho-kung, the Palace of Harmony. Chien-lung (1736-96) who consoliadted the Imperial hold on Tibet and Mongolia and whose reign inaugurated the systematic Han colonization into Eastern Tibet and southern Mongolia had to tender an elaborate apology for his Barbarian bias towards Buddhism. The royal apology entitled Dissertation on Lamaism was engraved on a marble slate in the Palace of Harmony.

Chien-lung's successors were neither devout believers nor worthy rulers and throughout the nineteenth century the Imperial hold over Tibet and Mongolia was running out. When the Chinese Republican Revolution, called the Expulsion of Manchu, took place, Tibet and Mongolia also called for the expulsion of Manchu, Ching or Han from their sacred soil.

The collapse of Manchu authority was fully evident in the summer of 1911 when corrupt and oppressive Chinese agents had a free hand in Mongolia. In July 1911 a delegation of Mongol Princes, who had journeyed to St. Petersburg to discuss the Chinese position in Mongolia, sought Russian protection. In November 1911 the Mongol Princes proclaimed the Hutukhatu of Urga as the ruler of Mongolia, and immediately after the proclamation of the Republic in China (January 1912) the Mongol tribes (including some in Inner, that is, Chinese Mongolia) affirmed allegiance to independent Mongolia. In November 1912 a Russo-Mongolian agreement was concluded in Urga signifying Russian support for Mongolia's independence.

Meanwhile the Thirteenth Dalai Lama, who had been in refuge in India, returned to Tibet and completed the expulsion of all Manchu and Han forces and civilians from Tibet. He had also proclaimed the independence of Tibet and his own sovereign rights. In February 1913, on the occasion of the Tibetan New Year, the Dalai issued a proclamation affirming that his title to rule Tibet was "conferred by Lord Buddha's command from the glorious land of India" and that he was king of Tibet as the incarnation af Avalokitesvara. This proclamation was needed to tell the Chinese Republic and its Western supporters that the Lama as a temporal authority could sign or ratify treaties. Tibet and Mongolia had concluded a treaty in January 1913 each affirming the independence of other from China and both affirming their common interests.

In November 1912 the Chinese Republic had resorted to an anachronistic diplomacy. President Yuan-shih-kai got the deposed Manchu, a child of six, issue an edict that there should be a union of Five Races: Han, Manchu, Mongol, Tibetan and Muslim. But both Tibet and Mongolia had disowned the incarnation of Manjusri even earlier than he was deposed. The Tibet-Mongolia Treaty was a flat refutation of the deposed Manchu's authority.

From 1913 ownwards till the end of the Second World War, both Tibet and Mongolia led independent existence, though in an undefined manner. While the Powers friendly to Tibet did nothing to define Tibet's status, Soviet Russia at Yalta conference (February 1945) obtained the agreement of United Kingdom and United States to define Mongolia's status. Significantly China was not even informed, since Mongolia had sworn allegiance to the Manchu and not the Han.

Modern Mongolia dates from 11 July 1921 when the Mongol People's Republic was established. Mongol scholars, proud of their historic past and their progressive present, highlight the links which the Dharma forged between India and Mongolia. It is sad that few Indian scholars highlight India's debts to Mongolia.

*Nirmal C. Sinha is a founder-member ofthe Namgyal Institute of Tibetology and its director since 1958. Formally a teacher of History in Calcutta University and an officer in the National Archives of India, his interest has been gradually drawn towards Tibet and Central Asian history in which he specializes now. He was awarded the Padma Shri by the Indian Government for his outstanding work in this field of studies.

Tibetan Review, April 1973

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