Buddhist Writings by the Mongols
Tibetan Buddhism was disseminated among Mongols in two major waves: the early dissemination occurred during the Mongol Empire from the 13th century to the 14th century, and the later dissemination occurred beginning in the mid-16th century, during the fragmentation period of Mongol tribal groups, and onward. Although there were translations of Buddhist texts from Tibetan into Mongolian and, to a certain extent, original compositions of Buddhist texts in the Mongolian language during the initial dissemination period, the second dissemination is far more significant for the sheer number of Buddhist literary pieces translated and composed by ethnic Mongol scholars. In addition to the large number of Mongolian translations of Tibetan Buddhist indigenous works in the mid-18th century, this period also saw the completion of the Mongolian Buddhist canon as a translation of the Tibetan Buddhist canon in over 320 volumes. Before the incursions against Buddhism in Mongolia during the 20th-century political turmoil in Inner Asia, hundreds of Mongolian Buddhist authors composed thousands of Buddhist texts in various genres. The vast majority of these works were written in classical Tibetan, which then served as the language of scholastic curricula for Mongolian monastics.
Many of these Mongol-authored works have sadly been lost, and those that survive today have not been properly compiled; these endangered materials are a vital part of the cultural heritage of Mongolia and of humanity. Although some Mongolian and international scholars have reported valuable information regarding these works, we still do not have a complete or reliable record of them. To effectively understand how Buddhism was received and developed by premodern ethnic Mongolians, it is imperative to gather and compile more information surrounding these endangered works from the mostly uncatalogued texts in library repositories in Mongolia with the goal of creating a comprehensive catalog. The National Library of Mongolia and Gandan Tegchenling Monastery, the Center of Mongolian Buddhists, are the two major sites where many such works are currently held.
Fortunately, in the second half of the 20th century, the Indian scholar Lokesh Chandra and the Mongolian lama Gurudeva individually managed to publish some of the collected works of a number of important Mongol scholars in India. Several Mongolian scholars have also shed light on additional works by Mongolian authors. In 1958, the Mongolian monk-scholar Ishtavhai published in Ulaanbaatar a list of 100 authors, who had been active in the Khalkha region of the modern-day country of Mongolia. In 1959, the Mongolian monk-scholar Gombojav presented a similar list of over 200 Mongolian authors, including non-Khalkha scholars, in the First International Congress of Philologists-Mongolists. These lists also include basic information for the number of volumes that each of the authors wrote. Mr. Byambaa Ragchaa, in his “Bibliographical Guide of Mongolian Writers in the Tibetan Language and the Mongolian Translators, Volume I” which was published in Ulaanbaatar in 2004, mentions that the list can be extended with the names of 400 to 500 authors, each of whom wrote between one and thirty volumes of works. More work remains to be done in order to ensure that the valuable contributions of Mongolian authors writing in Tibetan can be properly documented and made accessible to the world.