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Across Mongolian Plains by Roy Chapman Andrews

The Hutukhtu of Mongolia is third in the Lama hierarchy


Although to foreign eyes and in the cold light of modernity the Hutukhtu and his government cut a somewhat ridiculous figure, the reverse of the picture is the pathetic death struggle of a once glorious race. I have said that unaccustomed luxury was responsible for the decline of the Mongol Empire, but the ruin of the race was due to the Lama Church. Lamaism, which was introduced from Tibet, gained its hold not long after the time of Kublai Khan's death in 1295. Previous to this the Mongols had been religious liberals, but eventually Lamaism was made the religion of the state. It is a branch of the Buddhist cult, and its teachings are against war and violent death.

By custom one or more sons of every family are dedicated to the priesthood, and as Lamaism requires its priests to be celibate, the birth rate is low. To-day there are only a few million Mongols in a country half as large as the United States (exclusive of Alaska), a great proportion of the male population being lamas. With no education, except in the books of their sect, they lead a lazy, worthless existence, supported by the lay population and by the money they extract by preying upon the superstitions of their childlike brothers. Were Lamaism abolished there still would be hope for Mongolia under a proper government, for the Mongols of to-day are probably the equals of Genghis Khan's warriors in strength, endurance, and virility.

The religion of Mongolia is like that of Tibet and the Dalai Lama of Lhassa is the head of the entire Church. The Tashi Lama residing at Tashilumpo, also in Tibet, ranks second. The Hutukhtu of Mongolia is third in the Lama hierarchy, bearing the title _Cheptsundampa Hutukhtu_ (Venerable Best Saint). According to ancient tradition, the Hutukhtu never dies; his spirit simply reappears in the person of some newly born infant and thus comes forth reembodied. The names of infants, who have been selected as possible candidates for the honor, are written upon slips of paper incased in rolls of paste and deposited in a golden urn. The one which is drawn is hailed as the new incarnation.

Some years ago the eyesight of the Hutukhtu began to fail, and a great temple was erected as a sacrifice to appease the gods. It stands on a hill at the western end of Urga, surrounded by the tiny wooden dwellings of the priests. "The Lama City" it is called, for only those in the service of the Church are allowed to live within its sacred precincts. In the temple itself there is an eighty-foot bronze image of Buddha standing on a golden lotus flower. The great figure is heavily gilded, incrusted with precious stones, and draped with silken cloths.

I was fortunate in being present one day when the temple was opened to women and the faithful in the city. Somewhat doubtful as to my reception, I followed the crowd as it filed through an outer pavilion between a double row of kneeling lamas in high-peaked hats and robes of flaming yellow. I carried my hat in my hand and tried to wear a becoming expression of humility and reverence. It was evidently successful, for I passed unhindered into the Presence. At the entrance stood a priest who gave me, with the others, a few drops of holy water from a filthy jug. Silent with awe, the people bathed their faces with the precious fluid and prostrated themselves before the gigantic figure standing on the golden lotus blossom, its head lost in the shadows of the temple roof. They kissed its silken draperies, soiled by the lips of other thousands, and each one gathered a handful of sacred dirt from the temple floor. From niches in the walls hundreds of tiny Buddhas gazed impassively on the worshiping Mongols.


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