Pandit, Zaya

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Zaya Pandit was the great missionary monk responsible for converting many of the Mongol tribes of China and also the Kalmyks to Buddhism. He was born in 1599 into a princely Oirat family and at the age of 16 went to Lhasa in Tibet for his education.

Over the next decades he grew into an outstanding scholar and teacher. Zaya Pandita’s greatest achievement was to develop a script for the Kalmyk language and then translate numerous texts into that language. He translated about 180 works altogether and also wrote a huge guide to Buddhism called The Clear Mirror of the Dhamma, a work still studied by Kalmyks. Such was his reputation for learning and piety that in 1640 he was able to convince the Mongol tribes to unite for their mutual benefit and to resist pressure from Russia and China. When he died in 1662 he was widely considered to be a saint.