The Fear of Being Reborn in the Hells: Death and the Afterlife in Early Twentieth-Century Mongolia
Pages 167 - 190
The collection of Tibetan and Mongolian manuscripts and xylographs of Prof. Dr. Richard Ernst (Winterthur/Switzerland) that currently is catalogued at the Institute for Religious Studies of Bern University holds a couple of Mongolian picture-books (Mo.
1 All names, places and dates are changed to protect the anonymity of my interlocutors.
2 “Mongolisation” is here used as an analytical term denoting the integration and adaptation of non-Mongolian concepts, ideas and structures into Mongolian knowledge cultures.
3 Already Caroline Humphrey observed this in the eighties of the 20th century, see C. Humphrey: “Rituals of Death in Mongolia: Their Implications for Understanding the Mutual Constitution of Persons and Objects and Certain Concepts of Property.” In: Inner Asia 1 (1999), No. 1, p. 67 [pp. 59–86]. However, during his fieldwork among Mongols in Ulaangom and Harhiraa, Grégory Delaplace encountered the belief that the Buddhist hells are places where the souls stay temporarily, depending on their merits (Mo. buyan) accumulated during their lifetime, see his L'invention des morts. Sépultures, fantômes et photographie en Mongolie contemporaine. Paris 2008, p. 87.
4 The transcription of the Uiguro-Mongolian follows I. de Rachewiltz: The Mongolian Tanjur Version of the Bodhicaryāvatāra, edited and transcribed with a word-index and a photo-reproduction of the original text (1748). Wiesbaden 1996, with the exception of the j which is transcribed without the haček. The Khalkh-Mongolian language is transliterated according to H.-P. Vietze: Lehrbuch der mongolischen Sprache. Leipzig 1978. The Tibetan is transliterated according to Wylie, the transliteration of the Sanskrit follows the internationally established rules.
5 The Mongolian texts concerned with Buddhist hells may be roughly distinguished into three different groups: (1) canonical literature belonging to the Abhidharmakośa tradition in a wider sense. Here the illustrated, often bi-lingual, Tibetan-Mongolian, versions of the Saddharmasmṛtyupasthāna-sūtra (Tib. ‘Phags pa dam pa'i chos dran pa nye bar bzhag pa, Mo. Qutuɣ-tu degedü-yin nom-i duradqui oyir-a aɣulqui, Mongolian Kanjur, eldeb, Nos. 1044–1047) have been wide-spread in the Mongolian regions in a compilation prepared by the learned Tshe spel dbang phyug rdo rje (1836–1894), who lived in the Üijen güng-ün qosiɣun baraɣun süme of Sayin noyan qan aimaɣ. Nearly the entire text of the above mentioned Kanjur-text is incorporated in this illustrated hell-almanach, which also includes parts of the Vinayavastu and other Buddhist texts. For this text with the title ‘Di ni las gang gis dmyal ba dang yi dvags gang du skye rgyu las ris mo dang bshad sbrags nas ‘jigs pas nyams su len te lam bzang la ‘jug rgyu'i man ngag bzhugs/ Ene anu yambar üile-ber tamu birid-tü törökü učir-i ilɣan salɣaju tusbüri jiruɣ nom-i qamtu-da üiledügsen-eče ayun angqaraju abubasu sayin mör-tür oroqu-yin ubadis orosibai (“Teaching that through the help of pictures shows the causes to be born in hell and among the pretas and by frightening people leads them on the right path”), see G. Bethlenfalvy / A. Sárközi: A Tibeto-Mongolian Picture-Book of Hell. Budapest 2010 (Treasures of Mongolian Culture and Tibeto-Mongolian Buddhism 5); (2) the Tibetan ‘das log-narratives. Whereas in Tibet stories about so called ‘das log, ordinary people who after their death return back to life and give an eyewitness account of the afterlife, abound, only one such story has been translated into Mongolian, the narrative of the ‘das log Gling bza’ Chos skyid. The story of Choyidjid dagini, as she is called in the Mongolian language, was very popular in Mongolia, as can be seen from the many manuscripts which survived through the centuries, compare A. G. Sazykin: Istoriia Choiidzhid-dagini: Faksimile rukopisi, transliteratsiia teksta, perevod s mongol'skogo, issledovanie i kommentarii A. G. Sazykina. Moskva 1990; (3) the Mongolian versions of the narrative of Maudgalyāyana, see the first section of this paper. Apart from these three groups, other texts, like the apocryphical collection of tales exploring the benefits of reciting the Vajracchedikā-prajñāpāramitā-sūtra, or the biography of the famous Tibetan saint Mi la ras pa, deal with the Buddhist hells, compare K. Kollmar-Paulenz: “Teaching the Dharma in Pictures: Illustrated Mongolian Books of the Ernst Collection in Switzerland.” (Internet article 2013).
6 W. J. Thomas Mitchell: Picture Theory. Essays on Verbal and Visual Representation. Chicago/London 1995, p. 89.
7 Mitchell 1995, p. 89, note 9.
8 A. Sárközi: “A Mongolian Picture-Book of Molon Toyin's Descent into Hell.” In: AOH 30 (1976), pp. 273–308.
9 Concepts of death as well as burial practices vary considerably among different Mongolian groups and, moreover, have been prone to significant changes in socialist times. The practices and concepts I address in this paper should therefore not be taken as the one and only way Mongolians deal with death and the afterlife.
10 For a description of the collection see K. Kollmar-Paulenz: “Eine Schweizer Sammlung mongolischer Handschriften und Blockdrucke.” In: Zentralasiatische Studien 38 (2009), pp. 211–226. I am deeply grateful to Professor Richard Ernst for his kind permission to publish the illustrations and for his constant support of Mongolian Studies in Switzerland.
11 Collector's call number: ET 816.
12 With the exception of folio twenty (r and v) which does not contain any illustrations.
13 The two manuscripts ET 816 and ET 820 use the variant molom instead of molon. Only on folio 20r of ET 816 we find twice the variant molon. The only text known to me other than the manuscript of the Ernst collection which also has the variant molom is the manuscript among the legacy of the Polish scholar Władisław Kotwicz, see E. Dziurzyńska: “Legacy of Władisław Kotwicz in the Archive of Science of the Polish Academy of Sciences and the Polish Academy of Arts and Sciences in Cracow.” In: J. Tulisow / O. Inoue / A. Bareja-Starzyńska / E. Dziurzyńska (eds.): In the Heart of Mongolia. 100 th Anniversary of W. Kotwicz's Expedition to Mongolia in 1912. Cracow 2012, pp. 271 and 272.
14 Molon is the usual Mongolian form of the name.
15 J. J. Jones (transl.): The Mahāvastu. London 1949, vol. 1, pp. 6–21. According to M. Kapstein: “Mulian in the Land of Snows and King Gesar in Hell: A Chinese Tale of Parental Death in Its Tibetan Transformations.” In: B. J. Cuevas/J. I. Stone (eds.): The Buddhist Dead. Practices, Discourses, Representations. Honolulu 2007, p. 369, note 5, the Tibetans received their knowledge of Maudgalyāyana's hell journeys from the Mūlasarvāstivāda-Vinaya.
16 Kapstein 2007, pp. 345–377, deals extensively with the transmission history of the narrative.
17 Whether this text is the translation from an Indian original, is still controversial.
18 For both texts see S. F. Teiser: The Ghost Festival in Medieval China. Princeton 1988; compare also D. Berounský: The Tibetan Version of the Scripture on the Ten Kings and the Quest for Chinese Influence on the Tibetan Perception of the Afterlife. Prague 2012, pp. 78–85.
19 Berounský provides a short overview of the Tibetan versions, see Berounský 2012, pp. 8699.
20 Kapstein 2007, pp. 355–358. For the ‘das log see F. Pommaret: “Returning from Hell.” In: D. S. Lopez Jr. (ed.): Religions of Tibet in Practice. Princeton/Oxford 2007, pp. 377–388; B. J. Cuevas: “The Death and Return of Lady Wangzin: Visions of the Afterlife in Tibetan Buddhist Popular Literature.” In: Cuevas/Stone 2007, pp. 297–325, and Berounský 2012, pp. 44–75, who also compares them to the Chinese zhiguai stories. A full study of the ‘das log provides B. J. Cuevas: Travels in the Netherworld. Buddhist Popular Narratives of Death and the Afterlife in Tibet. Oxford 2008. A Russian translation of the one ‘das log tale that was translated into Mongolian gives Sazykin 1990.
21 For them see the important works by V. Mair: T'ang Transformation Texts: A Study of the Buddhist Contribution to the Rise of Vernacular Fiction and Drama in China. Cambridge, Mass. 1989, and his study Tun-huang Popular Narratives. Cambridge 1983.
22 The Tibetan title being ‘Phags ‘dus pa chen po byang chub sems dpa’ me'u gal gyi bu'i ma la phan bdag pa'i mdo; for an overview of the Tibetan versions see Berounský 2012, pp. 86–99.
23 The text titled Qutuɣtu yekede čiɣuluɣsan neretü bodi sedkil-tü modgalavani köbegün eke-degen tusa kürgegsen sudur has been edited by L. Lőrincz: Molon Toyin's Journey into the Hell. Altan Gerel's Translation. 1. Introduction and Transcription. Budapest 1982.
24 B. Ia. Vladimirtsov: “Mongol'skie rukopisi i ksilografy, potupivshie v Aziatskii muzei Rossiiskoi Akademii nauk ot prof. A. D. Rudneva.” In: Izvestiia Rossiiskoi Akademii nauk. Petrograd 1918, pp. 1550–1551.
25 The first edition survived in a single copy which is nowadays kept in the university library of Hohot (PRC), see Bükü ulus-un Mongɣol qaɣučin-un ɣarčaɣ. Kökeqota 1979, No. 0926 (1), quoted after A. G. Sazykin: Videniia buddiiskogo ada: Predislovie, perevod, transliteratsiia, primechaniia i glossarii A. G. Sazykina. St. Petersburg 2004, p. 9, note 11. We possess many copies of this reprint in different libraries around the world. In the nineteenth century, this edition was once again printed from newly carved wood blocks in the Aga monastery of Buryatia, see Sazykin 2004, p. 10, note 18.
26 The Oirat version has been translated into Russian, see N. S. Iakhontova: Oiratskaia “Istoriia o Molon-toine”. Faksimile rukopisi, izdanie teksta, vvedenie, perevod s oiratskogo, transliteratsiia, kommentarii i prilozheniia N. S. Iakhontovoi. St. Petersburg 1999.
27 The small book has been translated into German by W. Heissig: Mongolische Erzählungen. Helden-, Höllenfahrts- und Schelmengeschichten. Zürich 1986, pp. 169–218.
28 This name clearly derives from the Tibetan La phug skyes, see for example the Thabs mkhas pa chen po / pha ma drin lan bsab pa'i mdo, Phug brag bka’ ‘gyur, compare Berounský 2012, p. 121. In the Copenhagen manuscript Labuɣ is called Mudgal.
29 See Jadamsuren: BNMA Ulsyn ardyn khuvcas. Ulaanbaatar 1967, fig. 27 and 28.
30 Jadamsuren 1967, fig. 3.
31 W. Heissig: “Die Religionen der Mongolei.” In: G. Tucci / W. Heissig: Die Religionen Tibets und der Mongolei. Stuttgart 1970, pp. 352–364, especially p. 353. For the so called “Thirty-three gods” (Skt. trāyastriṃśa) of Indian Buddhism, who belong to the six realms of karmic existence, see G. Grönbold: “Die Mythologie des indischen Buddhismus.” In: H. W. Haussig (ed.): Wörterbuch der Mythologie, Erste Abteilung: Die alten Kulturvölker. Bd. V: Götter und Mythen des indischen Subkontinents. Stuttgart 1984, p. 393.
32 In the context of the pañcaskandha (Tib. phung po lnga, Mo. tabun čoɣča) the term is usually translated teyin medeküi, see the respective entry in the Mongolian Mahāvyutpatti (A. Sárközi: A Buddhist Terminological Dictionary. The Mongolian Mahāvyutpatti. Wiesbaden 1995, p. 151, no. 1836). Today the term teyin medel is used in a Buddhist context, see Sutubilig: Chos lugs kyi tshig mdzod / Šasin-u toli. Öbör mongɣol-un surɣan kümüjil-ün keblel-ün qoriy-a 1996, p. 314.
33 Compare D. Keown: A Dictionary of Buddhism. Oxford 2004, pp. 328–329, s. v. vijñāna.
34 Erika and Manfred Taube: Schamanen und Rhapsoden. Die geistige Kultur der alten Mongolei. Wien 1983, p. 81; see also Á. Birtalan: Die Mythologie der mongolischen Volksreligion. In: E. Schmaltzriedt / H. W. Haussig (eds.): Wörterbuch der Mythologie. I. Abteilung, Bd. VII: Götter und Mythen in Zentralasien und Nordeurasien. Stuttgart 2001, pp. 1045–1046.
35 For bla see K. Kollmar-Paulenz: “Die Mythologie des tibetischen und mongolischen Buddhismus.” In: E. Schmaltzriedt / H. W. Haussig (eds.): Wörterbuch der Mythologie. I. Abteilung, Bd. VII: Götter und Mythen in Zentralasien und Nordeurasien. Stuttgart 2001, pp. 1158–1159. Cuevas 2008, p. 30, stresses that bla “is described in Tibetan medical sources as a vital physiological and intellectual support principle pervading the entire body and dependent on the respiratory breath (dbugs).” See also B. Gerke: “Engaging the Subtle Body: Re-approaching Bla Rituals in the Himalayas.” In: M. Schrempf (ed.): Soundings in Tibetan Medicine. Anthropological and Historical Perspectives. Leiden 2007 (Proceedings of the Tenth Seminar of the IATS, 2003. Volume 10), pp. 191–212.
36 See, for example, the illustration in the Vaidūrya sngon po, written by the Tibetan regent Sangs rgyas rgya mtsho in the seventeenth century, in: Y. Parfionovich / G. Dorje / F. Meyer: Klassische Tibetische Medizin, Illustrationen zur Abhandlung Blauer Beryl von Sangye Gyamtso (1653–1705). Bern 1996, table 5.
37 Molom toyin-u jiruɣ-tu taɣuji, fol. 2v13–14: Iji minu asuru ɣurban maɣu jayaɣan-u jobalang ni sanaju tasulaqu keregtei.
38 Molom toyin-u jiruɣ-tu taɣuji, fol. 3v3–22: altan mönggö-iyer olan mal-yi qudaldun abču borduɣad tarɣun bolɣaju modun-ača elgüjü amidu ber mun-a-bar jangčiju čisu nöji-i beyengdür quriyan amta ni sayiqan kemeged alaɣulun miq-a čisu-yi nayiraɣulan sarimsuɣ ba: darasu qoliju iden jirɣabai: basa jiɣasu-i amidu-bar quba toɣun-iyar qabqaɣlaju qaɣurju idebei: basa ɣalaɣu takiy-a terigüten olan šibaɣu-ud-i amidu-bar qalaɣun toɣun-du qabqaɣlan öberün qošiu [= qošiɣu]-iyar üsü julɣaɣaju ükümüi: tedeger sibaɣun-u miq-a-i dabusun- dur dürejü idemüi: basa ɣaqai-yi amidu-bar jirüke-i suɣulaju abuɣad maɣu ongɣod-i takin eldeb jüil jüil-ün olan maɣu kilingče nigül-i ali dur-a-bar üiledčü jirɣan saɣubai:
39 A strong alcoholic beverage made from fermented milk of mares, cows or sometimes female camels.
40 Molom qatun ariki aɣuju soɣtun amui.
41 Ongɣod are also the ancestor spirits that protect the household. When the immortal female soul, the “flesh-soul”, which is generally friendly disposed towards the household, after the death of a person looses its home, the physical body (this is supposed to happen after three years, when the corpse is finally decomposed), people make small figures from felt or other material to give the female soul a new home. The ancestor spirits are venerated and fed daily. Even nowadays these small felt figures can be seen in yurts in the countryside.
42 The Mongolian term for the yurt.
43 Molom toyin-u jiruɣ-tu taɣuji, fol. 7r6–15: labuɣ inu eke-yuuɣan yasun ni abdarlan ger-ün qoyimara-ban talbiju […] döčin yisün qonoɣ-tu eke-yuuɣan yasu-i ɣarɣaju aɣulan-dur talbiju ebesün-iyer ger bosqaju jaɣun edür-e sakiy-a kemebe.
44 Delaplace 2008, p. 127.
45 For an account of the introduction of cemeteries in socialist Mongolia, see Delaplace 2008, pp. 52–59.
46 This observation does not pertain to the burial of qans and nobles. They were buried at secret places, often on the southern side of a mountain, and the territory declared to be qoruq, a forbidden enclosure. Once again I have to stress that generalisations do not do justice to the multiple burial practices in Mongolian regions. It is also important to note that burial customs were socially stratified in Mongolian societies.
47 In recent times people in Ulaanbaatar tell many stories about čötgör, undead spirits which have multiplied in the imagination of the people. The soul of a deceased can easily turn into a čötgör. Interlocutors mention as one reason for this increase of čötgör the “wrong” burial in cemeteries (personal communication of Alia Solov'eva, January 2014). Compare also her paper: “Rasskazy o prodelkakh nechistoi sily v mongol'skom fol'klore.” In: Mongolica X, Sankt-Petersburg 2013, pp. 33–40.
48 Such purifying rites have already been attested in the times of the Mongolian empire. Johannes de Plano Carpini, the papal emissary to the Qan's court, gives an extensive account of burial customs and ritual purification in his report, see Johannes von Plano Carpini: Kunde von den Mongolen 1245–1247. Übersetzt, eingeleitet und erläutert von F. Schmieder. Sigmaringen 1997, pp. 52–55. Compare also the remarks of William of Rubruck, who travelled to the Mongols at the instigation of King Louis IX, in his travel report: The Mission of Friar William of Rubruck. His Journey to the Court of the Great Khan Möngke, 1253–1255. Translated by P. Jackson. Introduction, notes and appendices by P. Jackson with D. Morgan. Indianopolis/Cambridge 2009, pp. 94–96.
49 In many of the burial places high up in the mountains, where graves were found in rock crevices, the corpses were had been put in wooden coffins, see J. Bemmann/G. Nomguunsüren: “Bestattungen in Felsspalten und Hohlräumen mongolischer Hochgebirge.” In: Steppenkrieger. Reiternomaden des 7.–14. Jahrhunderts aus der Mongolei. Darmstadt 2012, pp. 199–217. It is still open to discussion whether only high-ranking persons were interred in this way, as written sources maintain.
50 Humphrey 1999, pp. 66–75 gives a detailed account of the different aspects of the death ritual as it was practiced in the eighties of the twentieth century.
51 Humphrey 1999, p. 74.
52 From Tib. dar lcog.
53 This custom is shown in the famous film Urga by the Russian film director Nikita Michalkov 1991 (available on DVD, trigon-film 2007, Switzerland).
54 Forty-nine days are the ideal, but in reality the number of days depends on the financial means of the family of the deceased. The ritual is quite costly: the monks have to be fed during the entire period, and the offerings have to be paid. Therefore, the actual duration of the ritual is often much shorter. For an evaluation of the time-length of the bar do state in the broader Indian religious context see M. Gouin: Tibetan Rituals of Death. Buddhist funerary practices. London / New York 2010, pp. 97–99.
55 Compare note 31.
56 See Louis La Vallée Poussin (transl. Leo M. Pruden): Abhidharmakośabhāṣyam. Berkeley 1988–1990, pp. 456–458. Berounský 2012, pp. 33–41, provides a translation of a Tibetan commentary to the Abhidharmakośabhāṣyam which describes the spatial dimensions of the hells.
57 In Tibetan literally “provincial” (nye tshe ba) hells.
58 Birtalan 2001, p. 981.
59 See Kollmar-Paulenz 2002, pp. 1237–1238. For a short survey of the historical development of this mythical figure see Berounský 2012, pp. 20–23.
60 See the ārya-saddharmānusmṛtyupasthāna, Tib. ‘Phags pa dam pa'i chos dran pa nye bar bzhag pa, Mo. Qutuɣ-tu degedü-yin nom-i duradqui oyir-a ayulqui, Mongolian xylograph Kanjur, eldeb, Nos. 1044–1047 (L. Ligeti: Catalogue du Mongol Kanjur Imprimé. Budapest 1942). The work is also known under the short title Dran pa nye bar bzhag pa'i mdo. Compare also note 5 of this paper.
61 Also called dakin edegeregči.
62 See the table in Bethlenfalvy/Sárkösi 2010, pp. 32–33. It may be a variant of the third hot hell, “Concentrated oppression” (quriyan daruɣči).
63 It would be worthwhile to follow up on the names, in order to identify the sources the unknown author of the picture-book used, but this task is outside the aims of this communication.
64 One of the earliest Buddhist texts translated in the late sixteenth century into Mongolian is the Qara kelen neretü sudur, the “Sūtra of evil speech”, a text to render harmless curses and evil speech. See W. Heissig: Die Pekinger lamaistischen Blockdrucke in mongolischer Sprache. Materialien zur mongolischen Literaturgeschichte. Wiesbaden 1954, p. 38. The work was translated first by the famous Mongolian translator Ayusi Güüsi, on whom see K. Kollmar-Paulenz: “A Note on the Mongolian Translator Ayusi güsi.” In: K. Kollmar-Paulenz / C. Peter (eds.): Tractata Tibetica et Mongolica. Festschrift für Klaus Sagaster zu seinem 65. Geburtstag am 19. MaUrz 1998. Wiesbaden 2002, pp. 177–187. In another picture-book of the hells this punishment is spared for people who spread false teachings. It takes place in the fourth sub-hell of the eighth great hell “Not calming down” (Mo. Amulasi ügei, Tib. mnar med), compare A. Sárközi: “A picture book of Tibetan hell.” In: B. Kelényi (ed.): Demons and Protectors. Folk Religion in Tibetan and Mongolian Buddhism. Budapest 2003, p. 104.
65 Molom toyin-u jiruɣ-tu taɣuji, fol. 13v17–19: edeger inu qadam ba öber-ün eč ige eke kiged er-e ba: quvaraɣ-du-i ülü kündülen dorumčilaɣsan-iyar.
66 This is probably a variant name of usun čöbürgün delbelegči, “Exploding blisters”.
67 Molom toyin-u jiruɣ-tu taɣuji, fol. 15v6–8: basa süm-e-yin baɣan-a ba: toorɣ-a metü kilburi-tu bey-e-i abču töröged ergükü tolaqui-yin jobalang ni edelmüi.
68 Molom toyin-u jiruɣ-tu taɣuji, fol. 15v12–15: ede quvaraɣ-un süm-e bayising-ü baɣan-a-i tüsigsen tebseger-tür nisü šilusu tügürgegsen-ü tula ene metü jobčaɣamui. In the illustration the hell is named after the punishment: ene baɣan-a metü tamu.
69 An overview of the social and economic situation in the nineteenth century gives Ch. R. Bawden: The Modern History of Mongolia. London / New York 1989, pp. 135–186.
70 See Agvan Dorzhiev's autobiography Delekei-yin ergijü bitügsen domoɣ sonirqalun bičig tedüi kemekü orošiba. In: A. G. Sazykin / A. D. Tsendina: Agvan Dorzhiev. Zanimatel'nye zametki. Opisanie puteshestviia vokrug sveta (Avtobiografiia). Faksimile rukopisi, perevod s mongol'skogo A. D. Tsendinoi, transliteratsiia, predislovie, kommentarii, glossarii i ukazateli A. G. Sazykina i A. D. Tsendinoi. Moskva 2003, pp. 97–124.
71 On the interface of Mongolian and Russian national visions in this movement see V. Tolz: “Imperial Scholars and Minority Nationalisms in Late Imperial and Early Soviet Russia.” In: Kritika: Explorations in Russian and Eurasian History 10, 2 (Spring 2009), pp. 261–290.
72 K. S. Gerasimova: Obnovlencheskoe dvizhenie buriatskogo lamaistskogo dukhovenstva. Ulan-Ude 1964.
73 Molom toyin-u jiruɣ-tu taɣuji, fol. 18r6–13: yerü amitan möngke [busu] buyu üligerlebesü ebesü modu oi šiɣui aɣula tal-a kiged bügüde čaɣ-taɣan kürübesü ebderkü bügetel-e amitan-u möngke busu-i yaɣun öggülkü dayin atal-a cambudib-tur ene amitan em-e köbegüd uruɣ sadun tegüs bui bügesü ü küküi čaɣ-tur nökör ügei ɣaɣčaɣar jobun odqui-ača […].