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Book: Buddhist Violence and Religious Authority

Chapter: 4. Exorcizing the Body Politic: The Question of Conversion at the Tibet-Mongol Interface

DOI: 10.1558/equinox.40725


Goden Ejen (Tib. Lha sras go tan rgyal po, 1206–1251) was Chinggis Khan’s grandson and a military leader involved with Mongol campaigns against the Song Dynasty. The second son of Ögedei Khaan and a brother of Güyük Khan, Goden Ejen ruled over large swaths of China prior to the rise of Khubilai Khan and the establishment of the Yuan Dynasty in 1271. According to later Tibetan and Mongolian memorialization, it was Goden who directed the Tangut military general Doorta to lead Mongol troops into eastern Tibet in 1240. In time, Goden summoned the Central Tibetan Buddhist polymath Sakya Paṇḍita, by then already an old man, to his court at Liangzhou. The elderly Tibetan master is said to have converted Goden to Buddhism, which then opened the great dispensation of the Dharma into Mongol lands that deepened over the course of the Yuan, the Northern Yuan, the Ming, and the Qing periods. In honor of Michael Jerryson’s field-building work to center violence in Buddhist thought and society as a way to trouble modernist and Eurocentric presumptions in the study of Asian religions, this chapter examines 13-20th century monastic memorialization of the bodily violence enacted upon Goden Ejen at the center of this “Buddhist conversion of the Mongols.” This chapter examines the therapeutic practices and metaphors used in these sources to describe the bodily afflictions that besot Goden and counter-violence enacted by Sakya Paṇḍita as a critique of the usage of Christo-centric “conversion” in the study of pre-modern Inner Asian Buddhist history.

Chapter Contributors

  • Matthew King ( - mattking) 'University of California, Riverside'