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New Mongolian calendars include ancient no-hunting guidelines

March 16 2006:

A unique calendar has been published in Ulaanbaatar for wide circulation amongst monasteries, Buddhist schools, herder families and local settlements.

Produced by a team of Buddhist monastic astrologers, in association with ARC and the World Bank, the calendar provides an authoritative schedule of auspicious and inauspicious days, accompanied by details of traditional rules related to how natural resources should be treated at these times.

According to Mongolian and Tibetan Buddhist teachings, mountains, waters, the earth and plants are all controlled by invisible beings known as naga and savdag, which arrive and return on specific days of each month. Special offerings should be made to these beings on their dates of arrival, and any taking of life or disturbance of the natural world should be avoided on the dates of their return.

Yet until now the astrological customs for identifying the dates of arrival of these spirits have varied considerably within Mongolia, with the result that many Buddhists remain unaware of the actual days on which the natural spirits are supposed to depart, and as a result they cut trees or kill animals on such dates.

"There are certain dates on which it is forbidden to hunt, cut trees, dig in the earth, or otherwise render harm to the environment."
There are certain dates on which it is forbidden to hunt, cut trees, dig in the earth, or otherwise render harm to the environment. Compilers of the calendar and its sponsors hope to see a positive ecological impact if these dates are better known and publicised.

Sacred Urban Landscape Programme Update

In addition, as part of the ARC/World Bank Sacred Urban Landscape Programme, the monks at Gandantegchenlin Monastery in Ulaanbaatar are working to redefine the role of the monastery in managing urban development in the surrounding residential district.

According to law, the land surrounding Gandantegchenlin officially belongs to a ‘special protected area’ designed to preserve the monastery’s cultural heritage. It is hoped that by addressing the urban issues on this land directly, it will be possible to develop a better understanding of the relationship between urban issues and the environment.

Since November 2005, the Gandan and ARC Project Team, funded by the World Bank, has focused on initiating a dialogue amongst stakeholders to raise and address concerns related to the interconnected issues of urban planning, urban ecology, social development and cultural heritage preservation.

The team has just completed the first land use survey distributed to 600 families living in the ger district on this ‘special protected area’ so that their decisions can be included in future environment and development plans. The results will be presented at a stakeholders’ meeting, convened by the Ulaanbaatar ARC team later this month, at which all partners will be present including monks, local residents, Ulaanbaatar municipal authorities and the World Bank Urban Services Improvement Project.

According to the ARC/World Bank report: "the issue of urban planning in the wider Gandan Hill area has long been fraught with controversy, with great differences in opinion existing over whether the land in this area should be privatised, whether the existing residents should be evicted to create a planned residential district or religious complex, and whether Gandantegchenling Monastery should enjoy direct control over the land outside its own walls."

While there is very strong agreement among the local population that Gandantegchenling Monastery is a significant historical and cultural site, it is evident that residents do not believe the existence of a religious complex in this area necessarily implies a need to control the ownership, management or development of the current residential district.

Approximately 85% of residents surveyed believed the area should remain a ger district, while 76.6% favoured developing of the site as a modern residential area, whether or not this involved keeping gers. Only 29.2% of residents stated they would willingly surrender their lots even if offered fair compensation, and more than two-thirds of the population do not expect to leave this area under any circumstances; 92% of residents support the privatization of the land surrounding the monastery.

The survey report suggests that a zoning-based development strategy for this urban region could be viewed as most acceptable by local residents, who support the private development of the residential district but would also like to see the historical and cultural value of the Gandan hill sacred area better protected. Such a strategy would recognize the right to private ownership of the area surrounding the monastery, but would impose some zoning restrictions on property use and on construction, in the interest of maintaining the overall integrity of the site.

A meeting of stakeholders from the monastery, local and national governments and the local population is expected to be held in March to discuss the management of this historic site in further detail. An official Site Management Plan for the Gandantegchenling Monastery / Geser Temple area is to be finalized this spring.

The full text of the report can be found here.

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Buddhist Faith Statement
A formal statement of Buddhist beliefs about creation and ecology: "The trees are like our mother and father, they feed us, nourish us, and provide us with everything"
The lost sutras of Mongolia
Mongolian Buddhist tradition marked out sacred landscapes, where animals and vegetation were protected
March 21, 2006:
Prince Charles visits Sacred Gift project in Egypt
The Prince of Wales began his five-day visit to Egypt yesterday with a visit to the Al-Azhar Park in Cairo, built on the site of a 500-year-old rubbish tips and one of the Sacred Gifts presented at the WWF/ARC Kathmandu meeting in 2000.