Add to the ignorance and superstition in Catholic-controlled countries, where even the light of Christ has partially penetrated and His name is known, the superstition and ignorance of heathenism, and the blight of devil worship united to form Lamaism, and how great is the darkness ! G. H. Bondfield describes the good and evil effects of Lamaism thus:
"Its effect upon the Mongols has been deep and far-reaching. Its Buddhist doctrine of reincarnation has restrained their predatory and savage instincts, and given a new value to life. It has welded them together, has leavened their civilization with religious ideals, and has made them kind and hospitable. It has kept before them the ideas of sin and personal responsibility, of a future life and divine judgment, of expiation and deliverance. It has emphasized the value of prayer, and has given a religious sanction to every act and relationship.
"But, on the other hand, it has robbed their manhood of its energy and natural ambition. Its ecclesiasticism has crushed their life into a narrow mold, strangled their progress, and held back their material prosperity. It has kept them ignorant, and confused their sense of right and wrong. It has degraded worship and prayer to a mechanical ritual, and an unintelligible mummery. It has debased womanhood, destroyed the sanctity of family life, flooded the land with immorality, and made even its religious establishments hotbeds of vice."—"Mongolia: A Neglected Mission Field," p, 9, London, 1910.
With centuries of this religion as a background, and an environment of extreme cold in winter and a scarcity of water, the Mongol has naturally fallen into an indifference to cleanliness, and has continued in his primitive habits introduced centuries ago. He has, up to the present, resisted virtually all forms of modern progress. With this has come an extreme form of fatalism, lack of ambition, laziness, quick temper, love of strong drink, and indifference to truth. He is, however, simple-minded, fearless, and self-reliant. He is generous, and in the interior of Mongolia, comparatively honest. He is kindly, hospitable, easily approached on any point except religion, if treated with proper consideration, and is equally sensitive and quick to resent slights.
The religious approach to a Mongol or a Tibetan is extremely difficult, owing to his lack of mental background and his degraded understanding of religion. However, certain avenues of approach are usable, and certain methods of labor may be considered helpful. A few of these are discussed here in the hope that they may be of help to others who are interested or who may be called to labor for these people.
First of all, the missionary who works for the people of Lamaism, who are mostly nomads, must have a strong physical constitution to be able to withstand the extreme cold, the privations, and the hardships of travel. With this he must also have unlimited patience and endurance, and great faith in God. He must be able to overlook the incessant begging and scheming on every hand. He must still treat all with kindness and respect. Truly, nerves of iron and an extra supply of the love of God are required to see in the uncleanly, unattractive exterior and in the indifferent interior a hopeful prospect for God, and to continue a labor of love day by day without much to encourage, and with much to discourage.
The message of the last- hour has a few things in common with Lamaism, even though that which the two systems have in common is found in greatly perverted form in Lamaism. These likenesses form an avenue of approach and command respect. The first I wish to mention is our doctrine of health reform. This may sound like a paradox to those who know the diet of the Mongols, which is chiefly meat. Nevertheless, one of the doctrines of Lamaism, as well as of Buddhism, is vegetarianism, and some few very holy lamas live entirely on a vegetarian diet, in spite of the difficulty of securing such a diet where no farming whatever is done. These men are very highly respected, and I have found that the Mongols have a deep sense of religious respect for me when I tell them of my convictions and practice in this matter. Although they refrain from meat eating because of their concept that it is wrong to kill rather than from a health viewpoint, yet there is a door of approach to tell them more of the gospel truth, and to help them to see the real values of health.
Again, once a year in each temple they have what amounts to a cleansing from sin which bears a faint resemblance to the cleansing of the sanctuary in ancient Israel. This most interesting ceremony, consuming three days, could not be explained in detail here for lack of space. However, I will say that the closing part of each day's service, after giving a visible demonstration of the judgment scene according to their superstition, is very enlightening in showing the striving of man to get rid of sin. The congregation kneels by twos in a long row, while two lamas carry the eucharist, or wafer, supported in a small cup on a triangular-shaped framework, over their heads. This is supposed-to remove the sins of the people, as the sacrifice of the mass purports to do -in Catholicism. This wafer is then carried outside the holy ground of the temple and quickly thrown onto a fire already prepared and waiting. Thus they have a removing of sin to a sin bearer, and a cleansing by fire. By referring to this, one can point them to the real Sin Bearer who "taketh away the sin of the world," and to the final conflagration which will eventually purify the earth and destroy sin.
We are waiting the soon return of our Saviour to earth. Lamaism is also waiting the coming to earth of their god Maitreya, to establish the lost truths in all their purity. He is represented as a European sitting on a throne with feet down, not folded under him Mongol fashion, like their other gods. He is the Buddhist Messiah—Buddhism no doubt having incorporated Christ into its mythology with its distortions. Even though they do not expect him for at least several hundred years, according to their sacred books, yet here is another opportunity of presenting Christ, the true Coming One, and the purpose of His soon coming.
Mongolia and Tibet, the countries of Lamaism, have surely been neglected countries, as far as the gospel is concerned. This has no doubt been due to the difficulties of entry, and the problem of labor with its meager results.
With so little knowledge as a background, few people being able to read, constant teaching and training are necessary in order to lead them to understand even the simpler truths. Yet "this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world, for a witness unto all nations." This includes the lands of Lamaism, and God is calling young men and young women, strong in body and faith, to carry it on to completion.