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Understanding the aspects of another culture not only allows one to develop cultural competency but also utilize ways in which a cultures history, traditions, and values may help another. This paper focuses on this concept by offering an explorative glimpse into the multi-dimensions of Mongolia’s cultures. One of the most defining features of Mongolian culture is its Tibetan Buddhism religion and the unique enlightenment belief system it entails. With the context of this part of Mongolia’s past, there is further clarity brought to its present educational flaws, social class displacement, ethnic discrimination, and fears of cultural fragmentation.
In contrast, modern Mongolia has been making great strides to better these issues and prepare future generations to pass on the best of Mongolia’s values. Unfortunately, there are still worse fears over accessible healthcare and education to poor and rural Mongol people. Collectively, each section of this paper will tell one side of a greater culture of Mongolia’s story.
The majority of Mongolia and its people practice Tibetan Buddhism. This variant of Buddhist practices is a folk religion composed of numerous structures heavily adapted from Indian Buddhism, Tantric teachings, and Chinese Buddhism (Dundruk 2019). Most native Mongolians are governed by these philosophical structures and teachings of Tibetan Buddhism, which appear as Four Noble Truths (Harderwijk 2016). To start with, The Four Noble Truths discuss the many aspects and steps entailed in suffering/stress/unsatisfied such as the nature, arising, end, and path to sufferings end (Harderwijk 2016). The First Noble Truth establishes three core distinct types of suffering in that there is suffering of suffering [pain, fear mental distress], suffering of change [realization that nothing truly last, and everything is eventually claimed by decay and death], and the all-pervasive suffering [suffering is a constant] (Harderwijk 2016).
In essence, the First Noble Truth characterizes birth, aging death, illness or any association with unpleasantness as symptoms of suffering. The Second Noble Truth delves into the causes of suffering, which are negative actions motivated by delusions of attachment, anger, and ignorance that not only has the potential to harm oneself but also harm others as well (Harderwijk 2016). Despite both inevitability and inescapability of suffering, the Third Noble Truth proposes a way to end suffering that is primarily dependent on ones’ state of mind. This Noble Truth emphasizes that training of one’s mind and body to detach itself from one’s delusions can end their suffering, and potentially take them into a state of Nirvana. Finally, there is the Fourth Noble Truth, which points an instructional path toward ending suffering, most commonly known as the Noble Eight-Fold Path.
Within this Noble Eight-Fold Path, one must practice correct thought [acknowledging the all Noble truths and pursuing good-will and non-violence], correct speech [avoiding lying, gossip, and negative comments], correct action [avoid killing living beings, stealing, and sexual misconduct], correct livelihood [make a living that avoids all harm to oneself and others], correct understanding [developing genuine wisdom], correct effort [improving one’s mind and actions when faced with an healthy thought], correct mindfulness [contemplating oneself in relation to nature in which everything is empty], and correct concentration [maintaining a calm but attentive and meditative state of mind] (Harderwijk 2016). If done correctly, then practicing these guidelines should allow one to experience feelings of happiness, love, compassion, and joy (Harderwijk 2016). Additionally, these Tibetan practices also tend to determine one’s Karma and Reincarnation (Dundruk 2019).
During the 1240s, Prince Koton, commander of the Mongol forces, invaded and conquered Tibet. Within the following years, Prince Koton and other high Mongolian authorities had pressured a meeting with the Tibetan Buddhist master Sakya Pandita Kunga Gyaltsen and his nephew, Phagpa. While in the presence of these Mongolian authorities, the Tibetan Buddhist master had shared his teachings of Buddhism. As a result of this meeting, the Tibetan Buddhist master’s teachings were heard but not sympathized enough with until the intervention of Phagpa. Phagpa was able to meet with Prince Kublai, the prospective Lord of the Mongol Empire, and convince him to not only understand but also sympathize with Buddhism. After their meeting, Phagpa was adopted as “court priest” of Kublai’s headquarters, which made way for further spreading of Tibetan Buddhism among Mongolian nobles.
Later in 1260, as Kublai became a Khan, he appointed Phagpa to the rank of Kuo-Shin [State Instructor] until Phagpa reached his nirvana and was then promoted to Ti-shih [Imperial Tutor]. Due to Phagpa’s efforts amongst the Mongolian elite, Tibetan Buddhism was not only able to become a religious faith of the Mongol imperial clan but also other ruling classes of Mongols as it continued to have a greater influence on Mongol thoughts. In spite of the collective efforts of Kublai Khan, Phagpa, and the Great Tibetan Buddhist Master of Sakya, Tibetan Buddhism failed to affect the masses because their efforts were limited to successful spreading amongst the Mongol ruling class. This chain reaction of the Mongols Tibetan Buddhism failure included the fall of the Yuan Dynasty, and the fading of Buddhism and other foreign religions. Although Buddhism’s fade had led Mongol into its “dark -ages”, there was still hope for its revival.
Fortunately, the Mongol “dark-ages” along with the fading of Tibetan Buddhism was brief enough for the new Khan during 1577, Altan [descendant of Kublai], to reclaim their lost territories while rebuilding intimate ties with Tibet. Then, Altan Khan used the help of the Great Master of the Gelug at the time, Sonam Gyatso [Tibetan Buddhist], to convert himself into Tibetan Buddhism and work with the Great Master to promote the Law of the Buddha. With the news of Altan Khan’s conversion in addition to his prestige in Mongolia, Tibetan Buddhism had spread throughout Mongolia and far enough beyond that a unified system of leadership in Mongolia was born. This historic period was when Mongol religion and politics became unified.
Most Mongolians traditionally value collectivism, which shown through their family structure. Mongol families prioritize family rather than the individual person (Uvsh 2017). Among family structure, there is a strong hierarchy that grants the elderly the ability to dictate the lives and behaviors of the young (Uvsh 2017). This hierarchy emphasizes that age determines privilege, authority, and that the elderly are supposed to be respected by all, especially, the young. To an extent, children in traditional family structures were moderately deemed as unimportant until progressive reform redefined the structure of family in its role as the base of modern Mongolian culture.
Within traditional Mongolian family structure, there are also distinct roles and rights between men and women. Instances of these role distinction are common shared with other traditionalist cultures, in “the man is responsible for maintaining, providing for and protecting his family” (Amicus 2020). A father’s duties include decision-making power over family, financial and medical responsibility for their children health and education until the child is married (Amicus 2020). Second, there is the role of a traditional Mongolian woman in family structure that holds them at a lower rank than men. The mother’s duties positioned her as a homemaker, caregiver [nurturer] for her family.
In Lieu of the inequality that traditional Mongolian values had, the modern family structure and non-governmental organizations has been fighting for gender equality and more opportunities for women. Thus, the modern Mongolian woman is expanding in their roles in society and politics rather than being limited to mothers and child rearing (Amicus 2020). Comparably to other cultures that have undergone progressive changes, there is an understanding that these equal opportunities for will be gradual.
Since the world is continue change, Mongolians deem it most necessary to maintain a unifying front with one another in hopes of promoting and preserving their culture. Some of the ways in which culture Mongolians maintain their culture include mediums such as music, art, food, clothing, and [most importantly] language. Overall, most Mongolians were able to agree that family should be valued, especially, with children as the future leading generation.
Traditionally, Mongolia used shamans, Mongolian Buddhist healers, bonesetters, and countryside healers to conduct medical treatment (Neumann & Warburton 2015, 17). These traditional treatments still have a prevalent presence with the additional help of modern hospitals (Neumann & Warburton 2015, 17). Nevertheless, Mongolia faces 2.84 to 1,000 doctor to patient ratio, which does not account for the unequal distribution of doctors that are heavily stationed in cities rather than rural areas (Neumann & Warburton 2015, 18). In regards to healthcare access, there is a recurring “lack of infrastructure, low population density, residents’ nomadic lifestyle” (Neumann & Warburton 2015, 18). Due to recent the influxes of Mongolian population from migration to cities, new migrant citizens face the difficult task of receiving “social services including health care, education, and disability and unemployment insurance” (Neumann & Warburton 2015, 18). Furthermore, the status of Mongolian access to proper healthcare resources has been in a constant state of flux by reason of intervention of political and social powers. For example, the political powers are known for replacing government employees such as highly skilled healthcare service workers, which complicate the process of progressive policy implementation [because new staff training] (Neumann & Warburton, 2015, 20). Therefore, Mongolia has initiated healthcare reforms to improve better access to healthcare and diagnostics for remote [rural] populations (PHCPI 2019). With the push of these reforms, Mongolia’s government is now working to support low-income and vulnerable populations by subsidizing their healthcare costs and partially funding accessible healthcare (PHCPI 2019).
Current education in Mongolia is facing issues such as discrimination [of ethnic minorities] “poor quality of curriculum, materials and teacher training, inconsistent standards, low quality learning environments and conditions, and irrelevant vocational programs” (Thelwell & Bradley 2017). In addition to this, children with disabilities are barely tended to while children from poor or rural communities are less likely to attend school at all (Thelwell & Bradley 2015). Consequently, external nongovernmental organizations such as the READ (Rural Education and Development) project are helping to improve education in Mongolia (Thelwell & Bradley 2015). For example, the READ project “created 3,560 libraries in 383 rural primary schools (Thelwell & Bradley 2015). Mongolia is gradually undergoing more improvements to education.
Although Mongolian is the main [official] language of Mongolia, there are numerous subgroups of Mongolians bearing different dialects that are respective to their group (Britannia 2016). Nevertheless, Mongolia’s largest and most dominant subgroup is the Khalkha Mongols, making up “more than 80 percent of the population of Mongolia” (Britannia 2016). The Khalkha dialect is the foundation of the official Mongolian language that is mainly derived from Southern Mongolian such as Shiliin gol, Ulaanchab and Sönid (Britannia 2016).
Most Mongolians note that the origin of the Mongolian language is unknown. Both spoken [Khalkha] and written language [Cyrillic] have been only been categorized through three developmental periods of active linguistic spreading, Ancient, Middle, and Modern (Binnick 2011). However, the Mongol language’s Khalkha dialect dates back to the 12th, 13th, and 14th century [during the rule of Genghis Khan and its aftermath].
During Genghis Khan’s rule, the Khalkha were a part of Mongolia’s ruling class and acting imperial warrior stronghold [contributing to the successes of the Mongol empire and promotion of Tibetan Buddhism]. For example, Genghis Khan with the aid of the Khalkha managed to achieve unification and subdual of Northeast Asian nomadic tribes [meaning further spread of Mongolian cultures on to other tribal populations], which marks one of the reasons behind the Khalkha dialect’s survival into current culture.
As mentioned earlier, Khalkha Mongols are the largest and most dominant group of Mongols. They are also considered to be direct descendants of Genghis Khan (Britannia 2016). This contextual significance of the Khalkha, in relation to Genghis Khan, refers to the work continued by the Khalkha after Genghis Khan’s death. Soon after Genghis Khan’s death, the Khalkha along with Genghis Khan’s biological descendants Kublai Khan and Altan continued Genghis Khan’s work with the Mongol empire, which included reforming and preserving the developmental structures of Mongolia’s sacred religion and medicine [Shamanism to Tibetan Buddhism]. The Khalkha Mongols, whose name translates to “shield” or “protection”, are not only the founders of Mongolia’s current language but also the keepers/reason of its preservation. (Britannia 2016).
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