Hūhéhàotè Huhhot

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Capital city of the province of 內蒙古 Inner Mongolia. A pleasant city with a number of interesting temples, pagoda and the tomb of the Han Dynasty beauty Zhaojun. It was founded in the mid 16th century by Altan Khan. (More on Altan Khan below).

Huhehaote is an interesting town, home to the fascinating cross cultural music 蠻漢調 Mahandiao or Menghandiao which is performed in a 24 hour music spots called 草園城 Caoyuancheng, Grassland City. Mahandiao is a mixed Chinese and Mongolian music. In one style called 山曲 Shan Qu the melody is Mongolian and the words Chinese. Another si called 二人台 errentai, duets. The vocals are backed up by hammered dulcimer, flute, wooden clappers. There is much improvisation as the songs develop.

The Caoyuancheng is a square surrounded by a one story building divided into many simple small singing halls. Tea and fruit is served, and beer and baijiu. One pays by the song with some negotiation.

Altan Khan, the founder of Huhehaote, played a decisive role in introducing, or more properly re-introducing, Buddhism to Mongolians.

"Altan Khan reigned from 1543 until his death in 1583. He was cut from the old mold of his Mongol forefathers who had not been weakened by the corrupting influences of sinitic civilization. Even before the death of his grandfather he conducted a raid into Ming China in which he took 200,000 prisoners and seized over two million head of livestock. His raids into China became an almost a yearly exercise, and in 1550 he advanced as far as the outskirts of the Ming capital of Beijing, looting the suburbs before retreating to the fastnesses of his native steppe. Along with this iron-fisted approach Altan also favoring the establishment of frontier marts where Mongolian and Chinese goods could be exchanged, although of course always with the implicit threat that if trade was not forthcoming he would simply ride into China and take what he wanted.

In 1552 Altan and his grand-nephew Sechen Khongtaiji, ruler of the Ordos, united forces to expel almost completely from the territory of modern-day Mongolia the Oirat who had held on in the western part of the country after the death of Esen and their defeat by the legendary Mongol Queen Mandughai. The Oirat regrouped south of the Mongol-Altai Mountains in Zungaria, what is now the Chinese province of Xinjiang, and in addition to advancing westward as far as Mogholistan (current-day Kyrgyzstan) continued to harass Khalka Mongolia itself.

It was during this resurgence of the Chingisid Mongols-those who traced their lineage back to Chingis Khan himself and not the Oirat usurpers-that the Mongol rulers turned their attention to Buddhism as practiced in Tibet. There are indications that Tibetan Buddhism was introduced to the Mongols of the Ordos Desert as early as 1566. While on an expedition to Tibet-it is not clear this was a predatory raid or a more benign mission-Sechen Khongtaiji, Altan Khan's grand-nephew, met some Tibetan monks whom he brought back to the Ordos with him. Again it is not clear whether these monks came of their own volition or as prisoners. In either case, they introduced Sechen Khongtaiji to the teachings of Buddha and finally managed to convert him to Buddhism as practiced in Tibet. He then attempted to convert his uncle Altan Khan. According to one account, Sechen Khongtaiji implored his uncle:

Defeat the Oirad [Oirat] . . . and take into your hands the power of the state. The wise and learned say that divine teaching is important for this and the next two lives that will follow. Would not it be a wonder if the Buddha . . . of the Land of Snows . . . comes here and a state religion is created?

Although Altan Khan may have been influenced by his nephew, according to most accounts it was he himself who captured Buddhist monks who introduced him to the doctrines of Shakyamuni. Even these accounts vary considerably. According to one, he was conducting pillaging raids in northern Tibet (probably present-day Qinghai province of China) when he met various Tibetan monks who had impressed him with their spiritual knowledge. According to another story, after a battle on the borderlands of Tibet he acquired two Tibetans monks as war booty and it was they who instructed him in Buddhism. Yet another account claims that while on a raid into the Uighur regions of East Turkestan (current day Xinjiang province of China) Altan Khan captured two Uighur chiefs and three Uighur Buddhist monks. The Uighurs, who had originated in Mongolia (the ruins of their ancient capital can still be seen north the present-day town of Kharkhorin) had in the 840s migrated southwest to East Turkestan and established an elaborate Buddhist culture centered around the cities of Beshbaliq, north of the Tian Shan Mountains (near of present-day Jimsar), and Qocho and Yar-khoto in the Turfan Depression. The Mongols had long looked to the Uighurs for intellectual guidance-the Mongol script, adopted during the days of Chingis Khan, was based on the Uighur form of writing-and Uighur monks and priests may also have provided spiritual guidance to Altan Khan.

The Rosary of White Lotuses, Being the Clear Account of How the Precious Teachings Of Buddha Appeared and Spread in the Hor Country, a massive history of the introduction of Buddhism into Mongolia written in 1880s by the Tibetan monk Damcho Gyatsho Dharmatala, relates, on the other hand, that in the Iron Sheep Year of the 10th Rabjung (1571) a wandering Tibetan lama named Aseng told Altan Khan about his teacher, a extremely learned man by the name of Sonam Gyatso who was then the head of Drepung Monastery in Lhasa. Intrigued by stories of this Buddhist prodigy, in 1571 the Altan Khan sent a delegation to Lhasa to met Sonam Gyatso and invite him to visit the Khan's court and conduct teachings. Although Sonam Gyatso did not make the journey until seven years later his eventual meeting with Altan Khan would have monumental consequences which continue to reverberate down to the present-day.

Sonam Gyatso was believed to be the reincarnation of Gendun Gyatso (1475-1542), a prominent lama and teacher who himself was believed to be a reincarnation of Gendun Drubpa (1391-1474), one of the original disciples of Tsongkhapa, founder the Gelugpa sect of Tibetan Buddhism which would later acquire both religious and political domination of the country of Tibet. Sonam Gyatso almost didn't bother making an appearance in this world. According to the traditional Tibetan account, after the death of Gendun Gyatso-Sonam Gyatso's predecessor-his disincarnated self made an appearance before the formidable triumvirate of Padmasambhava, who had first introduced Buddhism to Tibet in the eighth century, Tsongkhapa, founder of the Gelugpa sect, and Maitreya, the future Buddha, during which he was questioned about his future plans. For the moment these were uncertain, he explained. Given the sorry state of the world with various factions warring with each other in Tibet-often in the name of religion itself-with the virtual disappearance of Buddhism in India under the Islamic onslaughts which had resulted in the deaths of so many monks and the destruction of monasteries, temples, and libraries, and with the Mongols rampaging to the north and the Manchus threatening from the east, Gendun Gyatso's disincarnation opined that perhaps returning to an earthly existence wasn't such a great idea after all. Padmasambhava then felt it necessary to buck him up with the prediction that if he choose rebirth, after 100 years his subsequent reincarnation would achieve both religious and secular dominance within Tibet and have it within its power to end much of the conflict which his previous incarnation had found so disturbing. As Tibetologist Glenn Mullin, who relates this legend points out, "Exactly one hundred years later-the year was 1642-this prophecy fulfilled when the Fifth Dalai Lama was appointed both spiritual and temporal leader of a newly unified Tibetan Nation.

When Sonam Gyatso received his first invitation from Altan Khan in 1571 he replied that he was not free at the moment but would come at a later date. In the meantime he sent one of his disciples, Tsundru Zangpo, as his personal representative to the court of the Khan. Apparently he was not adverse to the journey himself. According to one of his recent biographers, Glenn Mullin, he "felt that he possessed a karmic link with Mongolians that would enable him to civilize them and cause them to abandon their war-like ways." Many Tibetans, however, both monks and lay-persons, feared for his safety on such a long and hazardous journey to the court of the unruly Mongols and made strenuous objections.
The Altan Khan issued several more invitations and finally his entreaties could no longer be ignored. One never knew with the Mongols. If his requests continued to be ignored it was just possible that Altan Khan and his army would ride to Lhasa and seize Sonam Gyatso just as he had captured the monks who had taught him about Buddhism in the first place.

Sonam Gyatso finally left Lhasa for the Khan's court in late 1577 (the 28th day of the 11th Hor month, according to the Rosary of White Lotuses). A huge entourage, including the previous and then-current Gandan Tripas who headed the Gelugpa sect, following him to Reting, the monastery 95 miles north of Lhasa which had been founded in 1057 by Dron Tönpa, chief disciple of Atisha, and where Tsongkhapa was inspired to write his famous work The Great Exposition on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment, which is still in print today. Here Sonam Gyatso's followers again begged him to abandon his hazardous journey to the court of the Altan Khan. But there could be no turning back now. Ordering most of the entourage to stop here at Reting, he was about to continue on his journey when Tibetan King Tashi Rabten ran up and told hold of his stirrup, crying out:

"May your lotus feet proceed safely, o Lama who are the glory of the Buddha's Teachings! May the whole word fill with the Holders of this teaching!"

Tashi Rabten wanted to say more, but he burst into tears and was unable to continue his speech. Sonam Gyatso comforted him with the words:

May there always be faithful and

Devoted patrons of the Dharma such as you;

And may there be auspicious signs

Of the Dharma flourishing for long

Continuing on with a much smaller retinue Sonam Gyatso and his party eventually reached the Yangtze River. it was in flood and they were unable to cross, but according to legend, Sonam Gyatso repeated mantras and prayers which caused the river to subside and soon they were able to continue on. (According the Rosary of White Lotuses, "he only pointed at it with his finger and the river became quiet, allowing him to cross." ) The same thing happened at the Yellow River crossing.
Soon they reached a place called Upper Nyentsho, where a multitude of monks and lay people assembled for teachings and initiations. In return they gave Sonam Gyatso "3000 silver sangs and other gifts."

After a few more obstacles-one night a host of evil horse-headed and camel-headed Mongolian demons appeared and tried to cause mischief, only to be "subdued and dominated" by Sonam Gyatso, according to the Rosary of White Lotuses-the party arrived at a place known as the White Areg Plateau (present-day name unknown), where a camp had been set up for him by his followers among the local nomads. The nomads also made elaborate offerings, including a thousand horses and 10,000 head of other livestock. A delegation of 500 men from the court of Altan Khan, led by Tsundru Zangpo, who Sonam Gyatso had earlier sent ahead as his representative, soon arrived at the White Areg Plateau. Accompanied by this group Sonam Gyatso and his retinue proceeded northward, the party getting ever larger as the nomadic peoples of the region streamed to met the Tibetan religious leader.

They finally arrived at the Altan Khan's camp south of Qinghai Lake (Khökh Nuur in Mongolian) on the 15th day of the 5th month of the Earth Male Tiger Year, the 12th year of the 10th Rabjung, according to the Kalachakra calendar (May of 1578), some seven months after leaving Lhasa. Thousands of Tibetan and Mongolian monks and lay-persons lined the route of his arrival. According to the Rosary of White Lotuses,

When they reached the site of their midday meal, [Altan Khan] himself-the Turner of the Wheel of the Golden Age, he whose long life Heaven had protected-arrived, dressed in white clothes, which meant he had whitened the boundless realms of darkness. He was accompanied by the retinue of about 10,000 men, his wife and many attendants.

In those days the Mongols still expected religious figures to perform mirific feats and Sonam Gyatso did not disappoint, as least according to traditional Tibetan sources. Asked by the Altan Khan to demonstrate his power, "he reached his arm into an enormous boulder lying near the Khan and from it extracted a huge conch shell, the matrix of which circled in reverse. He placed the conch to his lips and blew a sharp note, whereupon the earth shook."

Sonam Gyatso then delivered a discourse to the assembled throng. He implored them to give up the practice of human and animal sacrifices which so often accompanied the death of a important Mongol (Chingis Khan's own son Ögedai had forty "moon-faced virgins" and numerous horses and other livestock scarified in honor of his father's memory) and told them to destroy their ongghot, the shamanic idols which many Mongolians kept in their homes and worshipped. Instead of blood sacrifices he suggested that the Mongols offer part of the deceased possessions to temples and monasteries and offer prayers to the deceased. He also implored the Mongols not to conduct bloody raids on their neighbors, including the Chinese, the Tibetans, and other Mongol tribes, and instead try to live in peaceful coexistence with their neighbors. He also suggested they make prayers and conduct other religious practices on the days of the new, half, and full moons. Finally he taught them a meditation on Avalokiteshvara, the bodhisattva of compassion, and the accompanying six-syllable mantra om mani padme hum.

In honor of this auspicious convocation Altan bestowed upon Sonam Gyatso the title of "Dalai Lama". Dalai is a Mongolian word meaning "vast" or "oceanic"; it is also a direct Mongolian translation of the Tibetan word gyatso and thus a particularly fitting title for Sonam Gyatso. In turn, Sonam Gyatso gave Altan Khan the title "King of the Turning Wheel and Wisdom" and officially recognized him as a reincarnation of Khubilai Khan, the grandson of Chingis Khan and founder of the Yüan Dynasty in China."

Quoted from The Life of Zanabazar: The First Bogd Gegen of Mongolia, www.zanabazar.mn/Life/zanabazar.3.html

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