A blooming businessman in a yellow hat

By U.ARIUNJARGAL
Last year, Ganaa paid 120 thousand tugrik to fix his four family member’s fortunes at Central Gandantegchinlen Monastery, located 1.9 kilometers from Sukhbaatar Square. Ganaa works as a teacher at a university. He is actually not religious, but he remembered that when he was a child, he saw a monk (or maybe he just called himself a monk) come to his home to fix his grandmother’s fortune, or destiny.
He was curious and peeked through a gap in the door to watch the first part of the ceremony. The monk drank vodka and spit it all over his grandmother’s naked upper back and flung his prayer beads forcefully, mumbling something. One time, after his daughter came back home from a temple visit for the same purpose, she said that two pink-cheeked young monks with dirty fingernails and lama outfits did not stop staring at her during the whole sutra reading process.
His grandmother called herself Buddhist and sometimes she went to a Christian church with friends which was located among the finest and most expensive places in Ulaanbaatar. Her grandchildren asked why she went to the Christian church, and she responded, “Everyday some woman and young boys knock on the door and invite me to visit the Christian church, at least five times a week. When I go to the Buddhist monastery I need to pay money to the arrogant, rich monks, and when I go to the Christian church, I’m served Korean tea and biscuits.”
Ganaa continues, “Generally speaking, Central Gandantegchinlen Monastery is the most beautiful and calm place, but I like to visit and feed pigeons, and don’t like to see some rude and arrogant fat monks.”
Around the start of the 19th century, more than 100 temples and monasteries served a population of about 50,000 in Ulaanbaatar. Only a handful of these buildings survived the religious purges of 1937. It wasn’t until the early 1990s that the people of Mongolia started to openly practice Buddhism again. This monastery is one of Mongolia’s most important, and also one of its biggest tourist attractions. The full name, Gandantegchinlen, translates roughly as “the great place of complete joy”.
Construction of the monastery was started in 1838 by the fourth Bogd Gegeen, but as with most monasteries in Mongolia, the purges of 1937 fell heavily on Gandan. When the U.S. Vice President Henry Wallace asked to see a monastery during his visit to Mongolia in 1944, Prime Minister Choibalsan guiltily scrambled to open Gandan to cover up the fact that he had recently laid waste to Mongolia’s religious heritage. Gandan remained a “show monastery” for foreign visitors until 1990, when full religious ceremonies recommenced. Today more than 600 monks practice at the monastery.
The magnificent white Migjid Janraisig Temple is the monastery’s main attraction. Lining the walls of the temple are hundreds of images of Ayush, the Buddha of longevity, which stare through the gloom to the magnificent Migjid Janraisig statue.
The original statue was commissioned by the eighth Bogd Khan in 1911, in hopes that it might restore his eyesight – syphilis had blinded him; however, it was carted away by Russia in 1937 (it was allegedly melted down to make bullets). The new statue was dedicated in 1996 and built with donations from Japan and Nepal. It is 26 m high and made of copper with a gilt gold covering. The hollow statue contains 27 tons of medicinal herbs, 334 sutras, two million bundles of mantras, plus an entire ger with furniture.
The hopes of families means thriving business
After coming back from the unwanted meeting at the monastery, Ganaa told his wife what happened at the temple. The sutra he ordered to fix his family’s destiny wasn’t present for longer than ten minutes and a monk said that there was no need for him and his family to participate in the reading of the sutra. He said the monks would read the ordered sutra for them even if they were in another country or place.
From the first day of the Mongolian lunar new year, Hajid-suren who is Ganaa’s wife, 27 years old and mother of two, worried about how she could fix her children’s husband’s and relative’s fortune within the first eight days of February. According to tradition, people should go to church or temple and pray to the sutra or mantra read by monks within this time period. She doesn’t like this kind of service provided by monks. After last year she felt like it didn’t work, and the sutra had no good or bad effect. Her relatives told her the same story, that after they paid the monastery, a monk told them go to home and that they would read all the ordered sutras together. After Tsagaan Sar, February is high season for monks. Nearly 90 percent of Mongolians are Buddhists of the yellow sect. According to information from the National Statistical Office, 43 Buddhist temples work in Ulaanbaatar and 810 monks read sutras.
Everybody is trying to fix this new year’s destiny, health issues, jobs and hoping that all things will be performed well during the year. The poorest go to monasteries and temples and middle income or rich people bring monks to their homes to read a sutra to fix or call their good fortune. As for the monks, they do not pay any state taxes for this income. As for the tariff, a monk who goes to a home for services charges an average of 30 to 50 thousand MNT, and will be add more money depending on how much sin a client committed the previous year, for how hard it is to read the ordered sutra, and an additional fee for the calling service. As for Ganaa’s family, they paid 400 thousand MNT for four people, and one child was picked as having a hard to read sutra because that year she “sat at iron and this is the opposite of wood and fire”, according to the monk’s explanation. No one understood this explanation.
Ganaa makes jokes about this, but his wife stops him. It is totally big business when the Mongolian minimum wage is around 192 thousand MNT and monks or students of religious universities make one to five million MNT in 15 days.

Source:UB Post


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