Repository logo

Mergen Ulanov, The Role of the Oirats in Spreading Gelug Buddhism

Change log


Terbish, Baasanjav 


Mergen says that of all schools of Buddhism, Gelug was the most open to the masses. Whilst other schools, which were more closed, did not send out missionaries, Gelug pursued this line of activity. Despite being like this, Gelug also comprises of esotericism and secret tantric practices. The Oirats played an important role in the establishment of the Gelug tradition. Gushi Khan’s campaign, the creation of the Kokonor Khanate and the creation of a theocratic state in Tibet itself – these are all the contribution of the Oirats. The Oirats were also first among the Mongolian peoples to adopt Buddhism. In addition, the Kalmyks were instrumental in spreading Buddhism in modern Europe and the United States. There are many hypotheses about when Buddhism spread among the Oirats. Some scholars say that it was during Chingis Khan, others take it further back to the pre-Chingis period, and yet there are scholars who contend that Buddhism began to spread in the 17th century. At present, there are no historical sources to verify any of these theories. Before adopting Gelug, various Mongolian tribes practiced other Buddhist traditions. The question of why Mongolian tribes chose Gelug can be explained partly by the fact that Altan Khan of Mongolia had personal contact with the Dalai Lama III, head of the Gelug school. Born in the 15th century, Gelug spread among the Mongols in the 16th century. Why was Gelug so popular among the Oirats? In Mergen’s view, this school’s lavish ceremonies involving large numbers of monks might have attracted the Oirats. To this should be added Buddha’s prediction that his religion would spread to the north. There could be geographical factors as well added to this explanation.



Buddhism, history, Oirats

Is Part Of


Kalmyk Cultural Heritage Documentation Project, University of Cambridge

Publisher DOI

Publisher URL

Sponsored by Arcadia Fund, a charitable fund of Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin