Joint funding from Khyentse Foundation (US$5,000) and the Santa Barbara Institute for Consciousness Studies (US$2,000) supported Mongolia’s first Youth Buddhist Summer Camp in August 2011. The two-week camp offered 20 university students Buddhist teachings and meditation classes to make Dharma meaningful and accessible in their urban lives.
Modern Mongolian youths are exposed to a variety of life choices offered by religious freedom and socioeconomic changes since 1990: Democracy has given Mongolians permission not only to study and practice dharma, but also to convert to vigorously proselytized missionary Christianity. The camp demonstrated to its participants that Buddhadharma is not an outdated tradition of their grandparents, but contemporary and relevant to Mongolia today.
Buddhism is deeply embedded in Mongolian history and culture, but 20th century communist rule and religious purges sent most practices underground. During the 1930s, the “Mongolian Stalin” (Dictator Choibalsan) enforced the destruction of nearly 600 monasteries and temples and countless sacred texts and objects. From the estimated one-third of Mongolia’s male population leading monastic lives in the 1920s, the government killed or secularized the monks down to a carefully chosen handful at Gandan Tegchinling Monastery in Ulaanbaatar.
Now Gandan Monastery is the center of Mongolia’s Buddhist renaissance. Four Gandan lamas—Ven. Munkhbaatar, Ven. Davapurev, Ven. Da Lama Byambajav, and Ven. Lhagvadorj—and Dr. Vesna Wallace conceptualized and lead the camp at Tsagaan Sum (White Temple), in Arkhangai district. The team set up two traditional gers (Mongolian tents) for practice, sleeping, and cooking, and began the daily routine. Teachers introduced the students to Generating Bodhicitta, the Four Immeasurables, and Tonglen in morning and evening Shamatha meditation sessions. Ven. Byambajav taught Lam Rim, and Dr. Wallace and Ven. Davapurev lectured on practical applications of Buddhist principles in everyday life, including their relevance to environmental conservation and scientific study. Students also learned prostrations, Dharma songs of praise, and supplications to Buddhas and Bodhisattvas in the Mongolian language (rather than the usual Tibetan, which most Mongolians do not speak).
Between teachings, students visited two monasteries and holy sites, played games and sports, collectively repaired the roof of the monk’s temple residence, bathed in the nearby river and hot springs, and became close friends with the teachers and with one another. Students and teachers alike felt inspired and encouraged by the camp’s success.
For the first week, a Mongolian National TV journalist attended and filmed the camp for a popular Sunday morning broadcast. A member of Mongolia’s Ministry of Justice also spent a week at the camp and left inspired to contribute to the renewal of Mongolian Buddhism.
Interest in Dharma among young Mongolians is already growing after the students’ return to the city, where they are teaching their friends to practice and helping the monastery with its activities. Ven. Da Lama Byambajav, the third-highest lama in Mongolia, writes, “Generally, people come to Buddhist monasteries only to make prayers and rejoice at chantings held by monks, but [the camp] changed this old concept. [S]tudents have rediscovered Buddhism and its treasures.”
Gandan Monastery is planning two camps for 2012, one focused on meditation for general practitioners attending monastery meditation classes and one for a larger number of university students.
The monastery team sends great thanks to Khyentse Foundation and the Institute of Consciousness Studies: “May the virtue accumulated from this wholesome event be a sublime cause of bliss for those who assisted and supported and a cause for generating wisdom and compassion for those who participated and a cause of happiness for those who heard and rejoiced!”