Telo Tulku, About Tsagan Aav
Telo Tulku: Tsagan Aav is a worldly deity. It is not considered as an enlightened being, god or semi-god such as Amitayus, Green and White Taras and other deities. People believe that he is a protector of the land. These are deities who made a pledge to protect the land, but that does not mean he has achieved enlightenment. There is a difference. There is Tsagan Aav in Mongolia, in Buryatia, and he is never placed on the altar, he always on the lower side. In the seniority of Buddhas and Boddhisattvas he is the most junior of those deities. Nomads love legends, therefore many legends were created and told about Tsagan Aav. Many of those are fiction. Baasanjav: Is the Tsagan Aav included in the Buddhist pantheon? TT: No, he is not. But there is a ritual. In Tibetan it is called Sangsol, which is essentially a good smell offering. This offering is made to all Buddhas, Dharma protectors, all nagas, all worldly deities. So he is included in this ritual, but he is not mentioned in Buddhist texts or rituals. B: Some people in Kalmykia think that he is a shamanic deity. Is the Tsagan Aav a Buddhist or a shamanic deity, or something else? TT: I do not think shamans have any deities at all. Shamans worship nature, sky, rivers, forests, trees, mountains. So Tsagan Aav is not a shamanistic deity or spirit. B: In Kalmykia I saw that Kalmyks place the Tsagan Aav above Buddhas on their altars. TT: That is wrong. This is where people make mistake. They do not understand the seniority of deities. Tsagan Aav is propagated as a Kalmyk deity of high respect. That is a very strong nationalistic approach rather than spiritual. For example, in Khurul (ed: Central khurul in Elista) he is placed outside, he is not even placed inside the temple. This is a sign that he is not a highly realised being. B: There are two iconographic traditions of depicting the Tsagan Aav. In Kalmykia it is a standing one, in Mongolia and Buryatia Tsagan Aav is depicted as a sitting one. Could you talk about these two different traditions? TT: Mongols and Buryats stayed where they were, but Kalmyks got up and left. That is why the Kalmyk one is standing. That is, of course, a joke. There is a standing and sitting Buddha, which symbolises his different deeds. I think in case of the Tsagan Aav, it is more artistic approach. In Kalmykia the standing Tsagan Aav is more popular, I do not know why. I do not have a clear answer to this. B: In Kalmykia people refer to sitting Tsagan Aav as cosmic one, and to a standing one as Delkyan Tsagan Aav. TT: I haven’t heard this. In Mongolian, Tibetan and Chinese tradition Tsagan Aav is a man who represents longevity, long life. I believe that he symbolizes longevity. But Kalmyks made up this folklore that he is the protector of Kalmyk land, of the Kalmyk nation. I do not think that is true. I agree with the Mongolian, Tibetan and Chinese tradition where he represents longevity. In Kalmykia Tsagan Aav was modified to fit the Kalmyk mentality. B: In Mongolia Tsagan Aav is a protector of nature, animals as well as longevity. TT: If you look at Mongolian, Tibetan and Chinese tradition, next to Tsagan Aav there is a deer. In Kalmykia it is a sheep next to Tsagan Aav. This is a clear sign he was modified. These are superficial beliefs. There is no historical or scientific fact. B: Do Kalmyks in America worship or revere Tsagan Aav? TT: No, he is not of much importance. B: I heard contradicting stories from old people that before the Revolution Tsagan Aav was highly revered, but others say he was not revered in the past as he is today. TT: I do not believe that before the deportation Tsagan Aav was highly respected. If you look at all images, tangka paintings of old temples and monasteries in Kalmykia you would see images of Buddha, Okon Tengri, Maitreya Buddha. These are the main images you come across. You would not see images of the Tsagan Aav placed on the altar. His images are fairly new. It was adapted later and created into something like a fairytale when people started to believe it. If you ask a Kalmyk to tell the life story of Buddha, we have historical proof – writings of how Buddha lived, archaeological facts where he lived, etc. Not only Buddha but other Buddhist deities too: we have scientific explanations of their existence. There is no proof of Tsagan Aav’s existence. There is no such scientific proof. So it is shamanism, it is not a religion. It is a way of life, a tradition, a belief system. Today in Mongolia, in Siberia where shamanism is very popular, people would say it is a shamanistic way or a shamanistic belief. But shamanism has no doctrine like Buddhism, Christianity, Islam or Judaism. The teachings are based on what? It has to be based on some system, historical or scientific belief. B: Can we say that it is based on folk knowledge transmitted from one generation to the next? TT: I can say that, but it needs to be proven.