The millennial generation in Mongolia is slowly taking over the country’s monasteries in order to save them.
This new generation of monks is coming of age after decades of Soviet religious persecution, which nearly wiped out the Buddhist monk population in the country. Roughly 17,000 monks were killed in Mongolia with the arrival of Communism in the 1930s. The number of monks in the country dropped from about 100,000 in 1924 to just 110 in 1990. More than 1,250 monasteries and temples were demolished.
Once communism ended, Buddhism—the country’s predominant faith—began making a comeback. But the religion still faces steep challenges due to generations of suppression.
The ornate and sprawling Amarbayasgalant monastery in the Selenge province in northern Mongolia is now home to 40 monks, who spend their time praying and studying Buddhist teachings. Still, the monastery had 800 monks living there before the Soviet era began.
Only 28 of the monastery’s 40 original buildings remain. In effort to preserve the historic site, UNESCO funded restoration projects there starting in the late 1980s.
Finding young people to pursue a monastic career in the modern world can be difficult, but the monks at Amarbayasgalant remain faithfully committed to ensuring that monasteries survive for future generations—so they keep teaching and inviting people to join them.
Lobsang Tayang, a 29-year-old at the monastery who is four years into his studies to become a monk, is already teaching two other young monks. Four years is an unusually short amount of time for a monk to become a teacher; previously, monks would only become teachers after 20 years of learning and practicing the religion themselves.
“I felt like I hadn’t gained enough knowledge yet,” he said in an interview with Reuters. “I was thinking, ‘Is it right for others to call me teacher when I myself am still learning?’”
Yet Tayang hopes to keep the monastic way of life alive, in his generation and beyond.