A conversation with Kunze Chimed – Buddhistdoor Global
The cultural heritage of khandmaas (Tib: khandromaSKT: dakini) and nuns has been passed down from generation to generation through Mongolia’s long history. While female Buddhist practitioners have been largely unknown in Mongolian history, maintaining the secrecy of the Dharma, a new book by Kunze Chimed, Legacy of Buddhist Womenis a unique source on the stories of these remarkable women and a great contribution to the growing wealth of literature on Buddhist practitioners.
Kunze Chimed is a Mongolian yogini who has dedicated her Dharma work to preserving the ancient traditions of Buddhist women in Mongolia and reviving the cultural heritage of nuns and lay practitioners. She is the director of the Buman Khand (Million Dakinis) Buddhist women’s association, a brilliant interpreter of Tibetan mantras, author and translator. Legacy of Buddhist Women is an anthology of stories, interviews, and articles about Mongolian nuns and yoginis, as well as their temples and practice.
The third chapter of the book presents the traditions of the Mongols khandmaa— practitioners of profound wisdom and compassion and endowed with extraordinary abilities. Information of this long and unbroken tradition in Mongolia has been limited through the ages, but with the revival of Buddhism in 1990, this tradition grew along with that of the nuns.
The book was launched on May 26, under the auspices of Saka Dawa Duchen, with an online conference in which I had the honor of participating and discussing the intriguing subject of khandroma and the heritage of Buddhist women. After the conference, Kunze Chimed agreed to speak with Buddhistdoor Global about her book and the lives of Mongolian Buddhist women.
Buddhistdoor Global: Kunze Chimed, can you tell us about some of the most inspiring stories in your book?
Kunze chimed: Lots of amazing khandromas lived in Mongolia. Old people khandromas I have met have memorized Buddhist teachings, stories, myths and mantras which were secretly transmitted by monks to their daughters during the revolution*, when they faced very difficult times to practice the buddhadharma.
In 1913, five women, led by Zurchiin Tamjav, founded Tantung Chöd Temple, northwest of Baldan Bereeven Monastery and located in Khentii Province. Tamjav Khandmaa of Zurch also taught his only daughter, Tuvaanjav, the Tibetan practice of chöd (Cut through the Ego) to the monastery she founded. Tuvaanjav received the chöd practice at the age of 13, and at the age of 28, she accumulated eight times Chumig Gyatsa (Hundred Sources). By the time she reached the age of 83, she had practiced chöd continuously for 70 years. In his recollections, Dulamjav Khandmaa, head of Janchiv Dechenling Monastery, mentioned about five sisters who were chöd practitioners during the same period. These stories inspired me a lot.
While researching female Buddhist leaders in many countries around the world, I was inspired and motivated to read about the work of the American bhikshuni Venerable Karma Lekshe Tsomo. I am very proud of Ven. Lekshe Tsomo, who worked for women’s rights and inspired their spiritual and intellectual activities, not only in Mongolia but all over the world. She has made a valuable contribution to the development of women.
BDG: What was the most important characteristic of the Buddhist women you met?
CC : Mongolian Buddhist women follow a long tradition of devoting their lives to accumulating virtue and respecting and honoring their root guru (Tib: lama tsawei). The esoteric Buddhist teachings are based on the Tantric tradition and traditionally the lama’s instructions were kept secret.
Most of the women I have encountered during my research are committed to the Buddhist path with loyalty, morality and kindness. They devote themselves to valuable activities such as the preservation of spiritual tradition, the worship of the priesthood, and the protection of nature and the earth.
BDG: What is your general conclusion about the lives of Buddhist women in Mongolia?
CC : Cherishing, preserving and developing our cultural heritage is part of Mongolian state policy. Mongolian women follow the tradition of passing on national heritage and folk customs to their children.
The particularity of Mongolian Buddhist women is that they combine their devotion to the Three Jewels with their duty as mothers. They devote their time to the proper care and upbringing of their children by applying the compassionate teachings of the Buddha.
Many Buddhist women around the world do not follow their country’s culture, nor can they receive full ordination like monks. Mongolian Buddhist women follow the Vajrayana teachings and only practice secret tantric rituals. The unbroken oral tradition of Mongolian khandmaas is mainly based on various tantra sources. One of their main practices is chöd, associated with exorcism and the taming of spirits. Learn the chöd practice, wander through spooky areas and meditate in haunted places, cremation sites and mass graves.
Mongolian Buddhist women make positive contributions to our society and culture, but with the developments of modern society, they need to improve and reform. Due to the imbalances between the roles of men and women in Mongolian Buddhism, it can be observed that they do not freely express their opinions on internal religious matters. Therefore, this book offers a number of suggestions for the empowerment of Mongolian women. This concerns their values, their leadership in religious and cultural activities, the education of the younger generation and learning from the examples of women in other Buddhist countries. I hope my book will be a beneficial resource of Buddhist cultural traditions and of great value to the public.
* The Mongolian Revolution of 1921 was a military and political event in which Mongolian revolutionaries, with the help of the Soviet Red Army, expelled the Russian White Guard from the country and founded the Mongolian People’s Republic, a unitary sovereign socialist state that existed from 1921. –92.
Related features of Buddhistdoor Global
A conversation with Mongolian Yogini Kunze about her new book: Lujin
The Sound of Awakening: Meet the Mongolian Yogini Kunze Chimed
Buddhist women in Mongolia: interview with Kunze Chimed, part 2