Oyin-i geyigülügči [The Illumination of the Mind]: Science of Salvation in a Sa skya Soteriological Treatise in Pre-Classical Mongolian Verse

Colloquium | October 31 | 5-6:30 p.m. | 180 Doe Library

 Brian Baumann, UC Berkeley

 Center for Buddhist Studies, Mongolia Initiative

With a promise of salvation from this mortal coil and the threat of infernal perdition for heretics, religions such as Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam expound a doctrine of faith in the possibility of achieving a catholic state of enduring peace and justice irrespective of any one individual. With this faith these religions gained supremacy over their respective worlds by winning unto their dominion the submission of the aristocracy. The ultimate triumph of soteriological religion in world history came in the year 1260 when Qubilai Qa’an (b. 1215, r. 1260-1294) abrogated the Great Mongol Empire and willingly submitted to his guru ’Phags pa lama (1235-1280) and the Buddhist dharma. This act would end the age of kings, when rulers such as his grandfather, Chinggis Qan, reigned supreme. In service to the dharma, he would become Buddhism’s foremost patron and together with others in his “golden clan” bring Buddhism to its apogee as a world religion. Although Buddhism itself declined with the collapse of Mongol power, Qubilai’s model of aristocratic deference to soteriological religion for the sake of propagating a vast and stable empire was taken up by European Christians. And this model would hold sway in global politics until James Madison separated Church from State in 1789. Around this time soteriological religion came to be challenged by a secular movement grounded in an even greater faith, faith that achieving a perfect world order was not only possible but materially imminent for the remarkable advances in learning being won through reliance on inductive methods of inquiry. So successful was the soteriological movement in using a faith-based epistemology to transform world order, what the old world order entailed, what methods and means proponents of soteriological teaching used to supersede it, and how the politics of new world order spread from nation to nation have been forgotten. All that is left of soteriological teaching in the minds of many are its otherworldly concerns with life after death—whether in heaven above or hell below.

This talk introduces the science of the old world and applies it to questions of Buddhism’s place in the greater soteriological movement, that movement’s this-worldly program for achieving world dominion, and Buddhism’s methods and means in comparison with those of its counterparts. It does so through the exemplar of a Sa skya treatise on salvation in pre-classical Mongolian verse titled Oyin-i geyigülügči [The Illumination of the Mind].

Brian Baumann is a lecturer at UC Berkeley. He received his Ph.D. in Mongolian Studies from Indiana University. He studies the language, history, and culture of the Mongols. This compels him to study Mongolian Buddhism in particular and Buddhism at large (as best he can). He has published a book: Divine Knowledge: Buddhist Mathematics according to Antoine Mostaert’s Manual of Mongolian Astrology and Divination, (Brill). That work’s subject matter led him to study Eurasian astral science broadly. He focuses on Buddhist philology, translation of Buddhist texts, Buddhism’s relationship with secular dominion, and Buddhist astral science. Currently he is publishing a series of articles discussing aspects and implications of scientific epistemology.

 buddhiststudies@berkeley.edu, 510-643-5104