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Posted on April 12th, 2014, by

It is known that Buddhism is considered to be a highly philosophical religion, while Lamaism is closely connected with some non-Buddhist beliefs, including shamanism. As the philosophy of the Buddha is focused on the working theory of the Universe, the major issues that should be taken into consideration in the discussion, understanding and practice of Lamaism as a form of Buddhism include the Buddha’s theory of the Universe, the Metaphysics of the Lamas, and the Metaphysics of the Buddha. According to the Buddha’s theory of the Universe, human world is only one of the series which together form a universe or chiliocosm, of which there are many.22

            Lamaism is a form of Buddhism which is based on the combination of features of


  1. Mark Juergensmeye, Global Rebellion: Religious Challenges to the Secular State. (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2008): 137.
  2. Ibid.
  3. L. Austine Waddell, Tibetan Buddhism: With Its Mystic Cults, Symbolism and Mythology, and in Its Relation to Indian Buddhism. (Whitefish: Kessinger Publishing, 2004): 77.

Mahayana and Vahrayana. It is found that this form of Buddhism began in the 7-th century when Buddhism began to penetrate to Tibet. Lamaism has the basic features and concepts of the Buddha’s teaching: samsara and nirvana, life as a form of suffering, the path to salvation and enlightenment, kalachakra, bhava-chakra or the Wheel of life, mandala, psychological training according to the yoga system, and the practice of meditation.23

In addition, the esoteric teaching is transferred directly from teacher to his student by means of personal transmission. The major sacred texts of Lamaism include the Ganjur and the Danjur. However, the particular emphasis is placed on the 2,606 texts of the tantra. In Mongolia, Lamaism as a form of Buddhism is based on the path of enlightenment offered by the tantra to be the most promising.24 It is also found that the important role in the practice of Lamaism is given to the philosophical ideas of the tantra. Moreover, it is necessary to notice that in Mongolia, Lamaism included some features of shamanism. For example, according to the Lamaist interpretation, one of the shamanic spirits of Mongolia, Dayan Derkhe, who acted as the patron of all shamanic initiations, was subdued by a Buddhist holy man and sent by him to serve in Mongolia, where he exceeded the Dalai Lama in the art of plucking people away from the clutches of death.25

            In addition, practically all historical figures in Mongolia were Lamaized, including the rulers of Mongolia, Golden Clan of the Mongol Khans. It is possible to find many common rituals between Lamaism and shamanism in Mongolia. In many cases, the figure of the lama was used to substitute the shaman, while the ritual remained the same. It was used in order to


  1. Ibid.
  2. Natalia Zhukovskaia, Lamaism in Religion and Politics ed. by Marjorie Mandelstam Balzer,( New York: M.E. Sharpe Inc., 2009): 193-97.
  3. Ibid.

spread Lamaism as the form of Buddhism in Mongolia. It is not a secret that after originating in India, Buddhism was spread across Asia, developing several sects. Lamaism is included in the Mahayana Buddhism, which was spread in such countries as China, Korea, Japan, Tibet, Thailand and others. Lamaism can be viewed as a unique form of Buddhism.26 This uniqueness is connected with the features of shamanism. When Buddhism was spread in Tibet, it assimilated to the indigenous religion, the so-called Shamanistic Bon and evolved into Tibetan Buddhism. In the Western countries, Tibetan-Mongolian Buddhism is called Lamaism, or Lamaist Buddhism. The term lama can be defined as a superior one.27 It means that in Mongolia, the monks are called lamas.

            Moreover, in Mongolia, Lamaism as a form of Buddhism has a unique institution based on the system of incarnations and reincarnations. It means that when a Boghda lama or a sacred master lama dies, his followers will search for a successor in order to reincarnate him into the next Boghda lama. The major functions of this system of reincarnation include the perpetuation of the religion and its sacred doctrines, and the administration of the temporal affairs of the religion, the property and the monasteries with their numerous lamas.28

Besides, the Living Buddhas in Mongolia can be viewed as the variation of the Buddhist ideal of Bodhisattva, a lama who managed to attain the greatest virtue and who can release from this world, but chooses to stay and provide help and support to all human beings. A special place for incarnations and a residence for the lamas or Buddhist monks is a temple


  1. Hyer, Paul & Jagchid, Sechin. A Mongolian Living Buddha: Biography of the Kanjurwa Khutughtu. (New York: State University of New York Press, 1983): 14-32.
  2. Ibid, 14.
  3. Ibid.

or a monastery. In such temples or monastic centers, the followers of Buddhism and the lamas gather together and organize rituals. The historic evidence proves the fact that originally, the monasteries and temples were used as institutionalized bodies of the religion, and were not involved into any political affairs. However, with the spread of Buddhism in Mongolia, different religious affairs became closely connected with political affairs of the country and with political power.

Lamaism became a predominant religion in Mongolia, although different ethnic groups had different relation to that religion, and the degree of acceptance varied among them. Lamaism or Tibetan Buddhism tied Tibetans and Mongolians by common religious practices, rituals and festivals. The sacred books which contained the word of the Buddha received divine honors in both Mongolia and Tibet. These books are held materially sacred and placed in high places, and worshiped with incense, lamps, etc., and even fragments of books or manuscripts bearing holly words are treasured with the utmost reverence.29

It is found that the teachings of the Buddha (the Buddha was called the Light of the World) can be found in the Lamaist scriptures which are represented as faithful translations from the Sanskrit Buddhist texts of the 8-th and the 9-th centuries. The major Lamaist scriptures include two great collections of texts: the canon and the commentaries, which are called the Kah-gyur and the Tan-gyur. The great code the Kah-gyur is also known as the Translated Commandment.30 This code includes 108 volumes of 1000 pages each. It is also known that the Kah-gyur was translated into Mongolian in 1310 A.D. by Saskya Lama Ch’os-Kyi Od-zer under the patronage of the Mongolian emperor Kublai Khan.


  1. L. Austine Waddell, Tibetan Buddhism: With Its Mystic Cults, Symbolism and Mythology, and in Its Relation to Indian Buddhism. (Whitefish: Kessinger Publishing, 2004): 156.
  2. Ibid., 157.

The Kah-gyur is divided into two sections, or the Tripitaka, which include the Dul-va, or the Discipline, the Do, or Sermons of the Buddhas, and the Chos-non-pa, or the Metaphysics of the Buddhas, including Transcendental Wisdom.  It is found that all three sections are considered to be the antidotes for the three original sins: thus the discipline cleanses from lust, the sermons from ill-will, and the wisdom from stupidity. 31

In addition, Lamaism in Mongolia is rich in sacred symbols and charms, including mystic numbers, the magic circle, the lotus (of super human origin), the three gems (symbol of the Trinity: the Buddha, his word and the Church), the svastika (fly-foot cross which signifies Life, or the ceaseless becoming), the seven gems (attributes of the lamas which include the wheel, the jewel, the jewel of a wife, the gem of a minister, and the white elephant).32

Special attention should be paid to the rituals in Lamaism. For example, in the everyday worship of any Buddhist divinity, as a rule, there are seven important stages, such as the invocation, inviting the Buddhist deity to have a seat, presentation of different offerings (sacred rice, water, flowers, lamps, music, etc.), the hymns in praise of this deity, mantras, prayers, and benediction.33 In Mongolia, Lamaist rituals are strictly observed and the lamas try to follow the established Buddhist traditions and customs.

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