Tibetan and Himalayan Library - THL

THL Title Text
Mongol Pilgrimages to Wutai Shan
Isabelle Charleux, National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS)
JIATS, no. 6 (December 2011), THL #T5712, pp. 275-326
Section 6 of 6 (p. 37)

Conclusion

Wutai Shan was a complete holy site, gathering together in the same place various natural features such as caves, rocks and springs, a stūpa enshrining a relic of Śākyamuni, prestigious monasteries, stūpa and icons, and at certain times, high reincarnated lamabla mas – whereas most of the Tibetan and Mongolian pilgrimage sites presented less variety. Its layered past and its pan-Asian character, its particular promotion since the Yuan dynasty, and the importance of Mañjuśrī for Mongols made Wutai Shan a unique pilgrimage site. The proximity to the Mongolian border and the good pastures and trade opportunities also turned Wutai Shan into an important centre in the pastoral economy of the Sino-Mongolian frontier. For Mongols, Wutai Shan could therefore compete with the great Tibetan pilgrimage sites, that, comparatively speaking, attracted more monks than Wutai Shan,175 yet perhaps a smaller variety of social groups. Besides, the “national” and local Mongolian pilgrimages – Yeke Kuriye, Erdeni Juu, important monasteries and reincarnations – must not be underestimated, but could not completely replace the journey to Wutai Shan.

Among the motivations of Mongol laymen undertaking the pilgrimage, the will to bury a relative there seems to be the main element that distinguishes the Wutai Shan pilgrimage from other Tibetan and Mongolian pilgrimages. We have no Mongol travelogues that could help us understand from an insider’s view what Wutai Shan represented for ordinary Mongol pilgrims and we must content ourselves with exterior witnesses and stone inscriptions. But the few sources I gathered seem to show that the Mongols saw Wutai Shan as a sacred Tibetan mountain and stressed the importance of the womb cave ritual as one of the major moments of their journey. The will to bury a loved one, but also the desire to be purified of their sins and be reborn in this life, made the pilgrimage to the Wutai Shan holy land a journey between death and (a better) rebirth.

Whatever the role of the Manchu emperors and the Buddhist institution in creating and promoting the pilgrimage to Wutai Shan among Mongols, the pilgrims came and invented a lived pilgrimage that was in some parts adopted by the Chinese pilgrims themselves. They linked the pratices and rituals they performed at Wutai Shan with their local pilgrimages in Mongolia, be they Buddhist, Buddhicized, or popular/shamanist.


[175] The monasteries of GandenDga’ ldan, Drepung’Bras spungs (GomangSgo mang college), LabrangBla brang, KumbumSku ’bum, Gönlung JamlingDgon lung byams pa gling had strong links with Mongol monasteries, which was not the case for the Wutai Shan monasteries. For traveling monks, Wutai Shan was only one stop in their pilgrimage circuits including AmdoA mdo, Central Tibet, Urga, and sometimes India. As shown by Paul Nietupski for the monks of LabrangBla brang (Paul K. Nietupski, “Bla brang Monastery and Wutai Shan,” Journal of the International Association of Tibetan Studies, no. 6 [December 2011], http://www.thlib.org?tid=T5718), the motivations of Mongol monks in visiting Wutai Shan were probably more political than spiritual, although this question certainly deserves further study.

Note Citation for Page

Isabelle Charleux, “Mongol Pilgrimages to Wutai Shan in the Late Qing Dynasty,” Journal of the International Association of Tibetan Studies, no. 6 (December 2011): , http://www.thlib.org?tid=T5712 (accessed ).

Note Citation for Whole Article

Isabelle Charleux, “Mongol Pilgrimages to Wutai Shan in the Late Qing Dynasty,” Journal of the International Association of Tibetan Studies, no. 6 (December 2011): 275-326, http://www.thlib.org?tid=T5712 (accessed ).

Bibliography Citation

Charleux, Isabelle. “Mongol Pilgrimages to Wutai Shan in the Late Qing Dynasty.” Journal of the International Association of Tibetan Studies, no. 6 (December 2011): 275-326. http://www.thlib.org?tid=T5712 (accessed ).