Case Study 2: The Erdene Zuu Endeavor
In partnership with ARC,
the British Embassy and the Mongolian Government.
The Erdene Zuu monastery is built on the site of Chinggis Khaan’s capital, Karakorum
(Kharkhorin), in the centre of the country some six hours drive from Ulaanbaatar. In
its prime there were 62 temples inside the compound, housing more than a thousand
lamas – but during the purges of 1939 all but four were destroyed. In the 1990s,
authority over the Lavran temple was returned to the monks, while the other three
remaining temples now form a museum complex, visited by many tourists. There are
some 30 monks at Erdene Zuu, although the majority of them are children.
Today the monastery is a model for carrying out educational, environmental and
social justice projects under its charitable branch Erdene Zuu Endeavor (EZE). Set
up in 2005 it is funded largely through donations from Buddhists visiting the temple,
and it has also received funding from ARC, the British Embassy and the Mongolian
Ministry of Nature And The Environment.
In 2005 the monastery opened the “Environmental Buddhist Elementary School”
where 30 young monks from throughout Mongolia receive training in traditional and
modern conservation alongside their religious education.
2. The Traditional Mongolian Ecology Project
The monastery also runs the Traditional Mongolian Ecology Project, which aims to
minimise damage to protected woodland in the region. A key problem is that children
from mostly poor families go into the now sparse forest above the town and cut
trees down for kindling and to sell to restaurants for their wood burning stoves. From
their local knowledge of the community – from which many of the monks have come
- the monks therefore decided that they would run life skills classes for these child
woodcutters and their families, and the results exceeded their expectations.
Between April and July 2005, 50 young woodcutters attended a 40-hour Life Skills
course, based on a UNESCO model, learning traditional conservation and religious
values alongside life skills such as building self-esteem, decision-making, critical and
creative thinking and communications skills. In 2006, locals requested further training
and EZE hosted another course for 50 children – and then another for the parents,
who wished to experience this training for themselves. Awareness of the problem of
woodcutting also arose, although in a region where fuel sources are critical in winter
in particular, the aim is to now also develop training in traditional crafts to sell to the
many tourists visiting Karakorum – giving families an alternative source of income
– as well as to find a suitable and sustainable fuel alternative for restaurants to use
in their stoves, and continue running a tree nursery in which the local people have
an active stake.
3. A meditation garden with trees
Karakorum is a landscape on the edge of the vast steppe, with few trees to give
fuel and shelter, except in the hills, where the small forest areas are being rapidly
depleted. However a few kilometres outside the town, monks have fenced off a 2,000
square metre area, to protect it from grazing animals, experiment in tree growing,
and create a huge wooded area for meditation and contemplation, based around a
model of the Green Tara deity. At the moment this is still at the experimental stage.
In 2007 they brought in 800 pine seedlings from another province but the majority
of them died in the Karakorum soil and climate. The intention is to use the land
partially to experiment to find out which trees might grow best, in order to extend that
knowledge to enable the land to be reforested, to work towards people’s fuel needs
being met in a sustainable way.
4. An ecology temple
The EZE recently built a small ecology temple on a hillside above Karakorum. It is
dedicated to the Deity of Ecology and it contains maps and pictures of Mongolia’s
wildlife, with strong injunctions to visitors not to mistreat nature. The Ecology Temple
distributes a small calendar, inspired by the one produced by Gandan Monastery in
conjunction with ARC, on which are detailed the days on which people should not
cut wood or kill animals in accordance with local beliefs.
5. Sacred land
Knowledge and reverence of sacred mountains in Mongolia tends to be a local
activity. The EZE has plans, which need financing, of going out into the local villages
to find out which families have held onto ancient sutra texts, protecting them from
the purges. “My idea is to find the sutras, copy them, and then translate them
into modern Mongolian and print them locally. That way the local people will be
reminded of what they contain, and the local temples can organise puja rituals on
the special days,” says head monk of Erdene Zuu, Baasansuren. “The problem right
now is how to find the sutras – some families are afraid to show them, as they hope
they will sell them for cash, which they need.”
6. Prison outreach
EZE also arranges outreach into the local men’s prison. When the prison governor
wanted to arrange for the prisoners to learn horticultural skills he asked the monks
if they knew how to find a fertile field for vegetable production. Through the monks
they made contact with the British Embassy, which facilitated this.
Ven. Baasansuren, Head Lama of Erdene Zuu Monastery & CEO of Erdene Zuu
Endeavour, tel: +976-99097711, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Pages about Mongolian Environmental Wisdom, taken from the Handbook.
The Mongolian Lord of Nature.
Sacred texts, places and ovoos.
Traditional Environmental Law in Mongolia.
The work that the monks, in conjunction with ARC and the World Bank and others, are carrying out to rediscover the sutras about sacred land in Mongolia.
Do you want to support this?
For full contact and address details of Mongolian Buddhist Monasteries, please see page 57 of the
Handbook. And for details of local Development, Environmental and Educational NGOs, please visit pages 58-59 of the
Other links to Mongolian Buddhism and the Environment
Link here to access the news story about the launch of the Mongolian Buddhist Handbook.
here to download the Mongolian Buddhist Handbook in English. (Please note this file is 1.15MB)
here to download the Mongolian version of the Handbook.(A 2MB file.)
Link here to download the guide to the Mongolian Buddhists’ Eight Year Plan (this file is 4.13MB).
Link to Mongolian Case Studies.
here on how to make contact with the Sangha.
To download the A3 poster of a new thangka about Buddhists protecting Nature, link
Brief History of Mongolian Buddhism.
Buddhism and the Environment.
Women in Buddhism in Mongolia.
Key Figures in Mongolian Buddhism.
Key Meetings in Mongolia.
Mongolian Buddhists and Development.
Mongolian Buddhists and Ecology.
Mongolian Buddhist Hunting Ban.
The Lost Sutras.
How ARC was formed
From its beginnings in Assisi in 1986, and later as a separate charity in 1995, how ARC grew into a worldwide network
Last updated: September 24, 2009 :
Latest news on the Long Term Commitments
A sample of some of the faith groups around the world that are creating Five, Seven, Eight and Nine Year Plans to protect the natural environment, through the UNDP-ARC framework.