Inside the lives of Mongolia’s ‘millennial monks,’ who play basketball, pray for 12 hours a day, and visit the outside world only twice a year

29-year-old Lobsang Tayang is one of several millennial monks who are rejuvenating Buddhism in Mongolia.

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29-year-old Lobsang Tayang is one of several millennial monks who are rejuvenating Buddhism in Mongolia.
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Reuters/Thomas Peter

  • Thousands of Buddhist monks in Mongolia were killed under Communist leadership in the 1930s.
  • Today’s millennial generation is the first to come of age since democracy was introduced, and young monks are finding a new set of challenges to keep their religion alive.
  • The leaders of one revered monastery are in their 20s and 30s, and are struggling to attract new students.

In Mongolia, the future of one of the world’s oldest religions is in the hands of millennials.

Young Buddhist monks are increasingly being given control of Mongolia’s monasteries as the religion struggles to find new blood.

The millennial generation of monks is the first to come of age since democracy was introduced to Mongolia in 1990. Prior to that, Buddhists in this sparsely-populated country faced deadly persecution – an estimated 17,000 monks were killed in Stalinist purges in the late 1930s.

Now, monks in their 20s and 30s are tasked with leading the next generation of Buddhist religious leaders. At one monastery in northern Mongolia, the monks alternate hours of religious study with games of basketball and the occasional phone call, a privilege reserved for people older than 25.

Here’s what life is like for Mongolia’s generation of millennial monks.


The millennial generation of monks in Mongolia is the first generation to come of age since democracy came to the country in 1990. Before, under communist leadership, Mongolia lost thousands of monks to bloody purges.

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Reuters/Thomas Peter

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Religious centers like the Amarbayasgalant Monastery are shells of what they once were. Before the purges, 800 monks resided at the monastery. Just 40 live there today.

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Reuters/Thomas Peter

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Located in the seemingly endless grasslands of northern Mongolia, the monastery is struggling to attract and retain students.

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Reuters/Thomas Peter

Source: Reuters


29-year-old Lobsang Tayang is four years into his studies, but has already been tasked with teaching two younger students — a role that generally requires two decades of experience.

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Reuters/Thomas Peter

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“I felt like I hadn’t gained enough knowledge yet,” Tayang told Reuters. “I was thinking, ‘Is it right for others to call me teacher when I myself am still learning?'”

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Reuters/Thomas Peter

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Tayang wakes up his students at 7 a.m. every day to test their memory of their scriptures, a task that takes the entire morning to complete.

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Reuters/Thomas Peter

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In the afternoon, students learn secular topics like math or literature, but there are hardly enough teachers to go around.

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Reuters/Thomas Peter

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Monks at the monastery wind down by playing basketball at sunset …

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Reuters/Thomas Peter

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And they play with dogs after their evening prayers have concluded.

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Reuters/Thomas Peter

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Finding young people to become students at the monastery can be an arduous task.

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Reuters/Thomas Peter

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For one thing, monks are only allowed to visit the outside world twice a year.

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Reuters/Thomas Peter

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As for cellphone use, that’s restricted to those over the age of 25.

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Reuters/Thomas Peter

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“Nowadays it’s very rare to find monks who can remain faithful to their vows,” Lobsang Tayang told Reuters.

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Reuters/Thomas Peter

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The leaders of the monastery hope their students can overcome these modern challenges.

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Reuters/Thomas Peter

Source: Reuters


“It’s easy to chop down a forest, right?” Lobsang Rabten, the monastery’s second-in-command, told Reuters. “But it takes a long time for new trees to grow back.”

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Reuters/Thomas Peter