Winning Hearts in Land of Genghis

November 30, 2006

Author: Peter Calder

Source: New Zealand Herald

The man on the stage is the Dalai Lama, who in August visited Mongolia for the seventh time. More than 20,000 heard him give teachings.

As he spoke, a grim visage looked on. On a steep hillside south of the city, the face of history's most famous Mongolian, Genghis (Chinggis) Khan, is depicted 50m high by thousands of carefully assembled white stones.

Through the 66 years of the Soviet rule that the Mongolians call "the socialist era", Buddhism was repressed. But so was any mention of Genghis who, 800 years ago, united the region's disparate and warring tribes under a single banner.

Now, 16 years after the Soviets marched out, taking more than a third of the country's economy with them, the cult of Genghis is alive and well. Buddhism may be reviving, but its hold on the heart of Mongolians is nowhere near as strong as that of the Mongol warrior.

The exiled leader of the world's Buddhists made it plain that Mongolia holds a special place in his heart, said Carol Beairsto, the Canadian-born director of the Mahayana Buddhist Centre in Ulan Bator.