ETHNONYMS: Bodpa, Bhotia (Chinese terms for Tibetans)
Identification. The Tibetans are a Central Asian group living primarily on the high plateau of southwestern China and throughout sections of the Himalayas. The term "Tibet," which appeared in various forms on early maps of Arabic explorers, is thought to be derived either from the Tibetan term for "upper Tibet," stod bod, or from the early Indian name for Tibet, bhot. Ethnic Tibetans often refer to themselves by the place-names of their geographic area or a tribal name, such as the Ladakhi and Zanskari people of northern India and the Golock tribal people of Amdo.
Location. Prior to 1959, the majority of Tibetans lived on the Central Asian plateau bounded on the south by the Himalayas, on the west by the Karakorum, on the east by the Tangkula Mountains, and on the north by the Kunlun Mountains and the Taklamakan Desert. This is a high mountain plateau of more than 3.9 million square kilometers, which averages 12,000 feet above sea level, has extreme temperature fluctuations, and receives 46 centimeters or less of annual precipitation.
Following 1959, a substantial number of Tibetans migrated from the plateau to Bhutan, Nepal, India, and other countries. There are currently several large reserves of Tibetans in India, some with as many as 5,000 inhabitants.
Demography. Estimates of the Tibetan population are subject to dispute. No internal census was taken prior to 1950; various foreign visitors estimated the total population of Tibetans at between 3 and 6 million. The fighting in the 1950s over control of the plateau caused substantial human loss. The current (1990) Chinese figures for the total population of ethnic Tibetans within Chinese borders is 4.5 million, about half in the Tibet Autonomous Region, the rest in Qinghai, Gansu, Sichuan, and Yunnan provinces. The Indian government has estimated the number of ethnic Tibetans currently in India at approximately 100,000.
Linguistic Affiliation. Tibetan belongs to the Tibetan-Burmese Branch of the Sino-Tibetan Language Family. It is also known as "Bodish." There are two Tibetan languages, Central Tibetan and Western Tibetan, with many regional dialects spoken throughout the plateau, the Himalayas, and parts of South Asia. Tibetan is monosyllabic with no consonant clusters, five vowels, twenty-six consonants, an ablaut verb system, tones and a subject-object-verb word order. The Tibetan script is a readaptation of a northern Indian script devised for the first historical king around a.d. 630.
History and Cultural Relations
Archaeological and linguistic evidence indicate that people entered the plateau from the northeast approximately 13,000 years ago. In time they migrated throughout the plateau and settled in larger numbers along the Tsangpo River, which runs parallel to the Himalayas in the southern region. In this southernly arc, Tibetan kingdoms began to develop as early as a.d. 400, according to some commentators. The oldest extant example of Tibetan writing, which dates from around a.d. 767, indicates the presence in this region of a settled kingdom. Tibetan history begins with the Tibetan Empire period (a.d. 632 to 842): armies conquered and controlled large sections of Central Asia to the northwest and northern China and Mongolia to the northeast. After the murder of the last king of the Yarlung dynasty, decentralizaion ensued and many smaller states were formed throughout the plateau. Buddhism, which had first been introduced during the empire period, gained popularity during this time and became a central feature of Tibetan ethnicity.
In the thirteenth century one sect of Tibetan Buddhism (the Sa skyas pa), with the help of Mongolian supporters, took control of much of central Tibet and established a theocracy that lasted for 100 years. Three secular dynasties followed between the years 1354 and 1642—the Phagmogru, the Rinpung, and the Tsangpa. In the middle of the seventeenth century the Gelugspa, or Yellow Hat sect of Tibetan Buddhism, with the help of Mongolian supporters of their charismatic leader, the Dalai Lama, took control of the central part of the plateau, which they held for 300 years. British incursion into the country from the south and Chinese incursions from the north in the twentieth century demonstrated that the Tibetans had not cultivated military strength. In late 1950 the army of the People's Republic of China marched into eastern Tibet and claimed sovereignty over the plateau but left the Dalai Lama as leader and administrator of the country. A decade of negotiation and military skirmishes ensued, which culminated in a general uprising and the flight of the Dalai Lama and thousands of his supporters to India in 1959.
The plateau and contiguous areas of Tibetan settlement are now part of the People's Republic of China (PRC) and divided between the Tibet Autonomous Region and the neighboring provinces of Qinghai, Gansu, Sichuan, and Yunnan, where several prefectures or counties are designated for Tibetans as autonomous areas. In Dharamsala, India, the Dalai Lama heads the administration of the government-in-exile of Tibet, which oversees the affairs of over 100,000 Tibetans in exile in India, Nepal, and abroad. Negotiations conducted in the 1980s did not produce any compromises nor result in the return of the Dalai Lama to Tibet.
Tibetans are traditionally divided into groups according to geographic origin, occupation, and social status. The plateau was divided into five general regions, each with a distinctive climate: the northern plain, which is almost uninhabited; the southern belt on the Tsangpo River, which is the heart of the agricultural settlements; western Tibet, a mountainous and arid area; the southeast, which has rich temperate and subtropical forests and more rainfall; and the northeast terrain of rolling grasslands dotted with mountains, famous for its herding. Traditionally, settlement patterns were determined by region and by the three major occupations: peasant farming, nomadic herding, and monkhood. Peasants lived in single dwellings as well as village clusters, whereas nomads lived in tents, camping both individually and in clusters as they followed their herds through seasonal migration patterns. Monks lived in monasteries of varying sizes, some reportedly with as many as 10,000 individuals. There are only three major urban centers, all located in the southern belt of the plateau. The nonnomadic society was also divided into hierarchic social groups ranging from the ruler and the noble elite to private landowners, peasants, and craftspersons.
Since the incorporation of Tibet into the PRC after 1950, many Han Chinese have migrated onto the plateau, primarily to the urban centers, where they now outnumber the ethnic Tibetans. Nomads were originally settled into camps but have recently been allowed to resume transhumance patterns.
Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Prior to 1950, Tibetan farmers' primary crop was high-altitude barley, with wheat, buckwheat, peas, mustard, radishes, and potatoes following in importance.
Irrigation systems were coordinated by the village, which was also the cooperative unit for corvée. Nomads raised yaks (animals particularly suited to the high altitude and severe climate of the north), sheep, a cow-yak crossbreed, and at lower altitudes, cattle and goats. At annual or biennial markets throughout Tibet, rural nomads and farmers exchanged produce and purchased other commodities. For distant nomadic communities, annual grain-trading expeditions occurred in the late fall; each encampment of tents functioned as a unit and each family contributed a member or supplies to the group traveling down to the market in the lower regions. The large urban centers, such as the capital city of Lhasa, had daily markets displaying goods from all over the world. Particular areas of Tibet were well known for the production of certain crops or the manufacture of certain items or raw products. For example, bamboo for pens and high-quality paper came from the southeast, excellent horses from the northeast, wood products from the east, and gold, turquoise, and other gems from two or three specific areas in the south and west. Currently, most of the manufactured products in Tibet come from urban centers in the PRC, but local markets in the rural areas continue to allow for pastoralist-peasant exchange.
Industrial Arts. Tibetans practiced a wide range of traditional trades, including flour milling, canvas painting, paper making, rope braiding, wool and fiber processing, weaving and textile production, tanning, metalwork, carpentry, and wood carving. Individual household or small-scale production was the norm, with the exception of a few activities, such as the printing of religious manuscripts and books, which was handled at large monasteries on more of a mass-production basis.
Trade. There is evidence of Tibetans trading extensively both on and off the plateau as early as the seventh century a.d.—exporting raw materials and importing manufactured products. Overland routes to China, India, Nepal, and Central Asia allowed the large-scale export of animals, animal products, honey, salt, borax, herbs, gemstones, and metal in exchange for silk, paper, ink, tea, and manufactured iron and steel products. The government granted lucrative yearly monopolies on products such as salt. In the nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth, British, Russian, and Chinese missions to Tibet tried to control trade and open markets in the country. Since 1950 trade has been regulated by the PRC.
Division of Labor. There were traditional distinctions in wealth and status among both the peasants and nomads. Hired laborers and servants freed wealthier families from most of the manual labor of daily life. Social distinctions between aristocrats and commoners or between different strata of the commoner class were reflected in dress, housing, and speech used to one's superiors, peers, and inferiors.
Although Tibetan women are in charge of child rearing, food preparation, cooking, and other domestic activities and men do the bulk of the work outside of the home, both genders are commonly capable of performing all basic household and nonhousehold tasks. In the monasteries and nunneries, same-sex occupants perform all of the household and external tasks for the community. In larger cities, butchering, metalworking, and other low-status crafts were traditionally confined to particular groups.
Land Tenure. Prior to 1955, much of the Tibetan plateau was considered the ultimate property of the central government in Lhasa and the ruler of Tibet, the Dalai Lama. Each peasant household had a deed, in the name of the eldest male, to the property that it farmed. Many of the peasant farmers were also organized into estates, which were an intermediate form of title holding by monasteries, incarnate lamas, or aristocratic families. The laborers attached to the estate owed taxes and corvée to the lord and were not free to move elsewhere without permission. Being bound to an estate, however, did not prevent some families from hiring others to fulfill their obligations to the lord or from traveling for purposes of trade and pilgrimage. These three levels of ownership constituted the bulk of Tibetan land tenure before 1950. Land-reform policies in Tibet under the Communist government have involved a few experiments with collective farming and ownership. Most rural peasants still farm the land of their family household, but intermediate titles have generally been extinguished.
Kin Groups and Descent. The most important functioning kin group is the extended family constituted as a household. Family names, which are carried by the males of some families, reflect the patrilineal inheritance pattern and are also used to demarcate the noble families.
Kinship Terminology. Formal kinship terminology in the southern region, among the peasant population, distinguishes between patri- and matrilaterals at the second ascending generation, is bifurcate-collateral at the first ascending generation, and shows a typical Hawaiian generational pattern at Ego's generation level. In practice, this system results in a strong bias toward distinguishing between one's matrilateral and one's patrilateral kin for the purposes of inheritance. For relatives of his or her own level, including cousins, the average Tibetan simply uses the terms "brother" and "sister." There is local and regional variation in terminology throughout the plateau.
Marriage and Family
Marriage. Among the peasants of the southern arc of the Tibetan plateau, traditional marriage patterns exhibited a great deal of variety and flexibility through the individual's life cycle. The seven forms of marriage were: fraternal polyandry (a set of brothers marries one woman), father-son and unrelated male polyandry, sororal polygyny (a set of sisters marries one man), mother-daughter and unrelated female polygyny, and monogamy. Monogamy was the most frequent form of marriage. Traditionally, Tibetans calculated the degree of relation allowed in marriage as five generations back on the mother's side and seven on the father's, although many were unable to determine genealogy this far back. Although of astrological and cosmological import, marriage was viewed as a nonreligious joining of two households and individuals. Postmarital residence was generally virilocal.
Marriages were class-endogamous. Serfs from different manors who wished to marry required permission from their lords or their lords' agents. Yellow sect lamas do not marry, but lamas of most other sects are free to do so.
Domestic Unit. The peasant household was the chief domestic unit; it was often, but not necessarily constituted of three generations of males and their wives and children. Individuals of both genders rotated in and out of the household with great flexibility.
Inheritance. Although the traditional inheritance pattern for peasant land was patrilineal descent and primogeniture, both males and females could inherit land or receive it as a gift. Maintenance of the household as the landholding, tax-paying unit could be accomplished by any member of the family. Personal property could also be inherited by any member of the family, although women commonly passed on to their daughters their jewelry, clothing, and other personal possessions. Monks and nuns did not inherit. Wills, oral or written, could alter the inheritance pattern.
Socialization. Tibetans dote on their children but believe in strong discipline and religious instruction. Traditionally, the pattern in Tibet was to raise children to follow the same occupations as their parents unless they chose to become traders or take religious vows and leave the family. Only those children entering government service were given formal education.
Social Organization. The web of bilateral kin associated with households was the basis for local social organization. Villages had headmen and head irrigators who coordinated agricultural projects.
Titleholders coordinated estates into social units. Monasteries and nunneries operated as independent social units within communities. Tibetans also form associations called skyid sdug for a variety of purposes: to coordinate prayers, dances, singing, religious festivals, marriages, pilgrimages, funerals, commercial ventures, and other activities.
Political Organization. Much of the Tibetan plateau has been governed, since as early as the seventh century, by a central dynasty or theocracy with a small administrative bureaucracy. This bureaucracy was supplied with officials from the elite nobility and the monasteries in exchange for intermediate title to estates of land. For 300 years prior to 1950, the government was headed by a Buddhist monk, the Dalai Lama, who, upon death, reincarnated into a small child and resumed leadership in a new body. Under his leadership, the bureaucracy was divided into an ecclesiastical branch and a secular branch that handled a redistributive economy based on taxation by household. Networks of monasteries controlled by sects of Tibetan Buddhism were also important political players. Local authority was placed in the village headman or estate steward, who coordinated tax collection and corvée and handled local disputes. Historically, Tibetans have embraced the union of religion and politics and left the functions of the military, thought to be irreligious, to foreign groups such as the Mongols or Chinese. Since 1950 Tibet has been gradually incorporated into the government of the PRC.
Social Control. Tibetans have an ancient and unique set of legal procedures that were based on early law codes and commonly used throughout the plateau. There were few governmental sanctions for any crimes other than murder and treason. A variety of forums was available for the settlement of disputes, and most cases remained open until all parties had agreed. Traditional social control was based on family and village relations.
Conflict. Conflict occurred over land boundaries, animal ownership, commercial agreements, injuries, fights, and a wide range of other issues. In general, it was disdained as an indication of a lack of religious training.
Religion and Expressive Culture
Religious Beliefs. Tibetans are devoutly religious. Tibetan Buddhism, the religion of the entire population except for a tiny Muslim minority, is a syncretic mix of Indian Buddhism, Tantrism, and the local pantheistic religion. The organization of the religion, its public practice, and the observance of religious holidays are coordinated primarily by monasteries associated with temples. The priests, called lamas, were estimated to constitute from one-sixth to one-fourth of the population prior to 1950. Although the goal of Tibetan Buddhism is individual enlightenment, the social organization of the religion rests on a laity that is expected to support the religious practices of the monastic population. Thus, Tibetans contributed sons, produce, savings, and labor to the monasteries to acquire religious merit.
Religious Practitioners. Monasteries of various sects of Tibetan Buddhism were the centers of educational training in all the basic arts, crafts, and professions, including medicine. Monk initiates were divided into groups according to social status and ability and given training for a variety of tasks. The degree of religious teacher, dge bshe, required more than ten years of diligent study, memorization of texts, practice in debate, and examinations. Monks conducted most public religious ceremonies (including operatic performances), which constituted the bulk of Tibetan ceremonial life and followed the traditional Buddhist calendrical cycle. Oracles, mediums, and exorcists were also commonly monks but could be local peasants in rural areas. In western Tibet and pastoral areas of Qinghai, an earlier form of Buddhism mixed with the pre-Buddhist native religion (Bon) is practiced.
Arts. Tibetan traditional arts focused on religious worship and included scroll paintings of deities, sculpture, carved altars, religious texts, altar implements, statues of precious metal inlaid with gems, appliquéd temple hangings, operatic costumes for religious performances, religious music, and religious singing. Most of these crafts were carried out by monks in monasteries. In addition to collections of older Buddhist scriptures, Tibetan writing and literature includes works on history, philosophy, medicine, mathematics, and astronomy as well as works of fiction and poetry. Local peasants produced utilitarian household objects for their own use or purchased them at a local market. Women wore multibanded front aprons, regionally specific headdresses, and jewelry.
Medicine. Tibetan medicine evolved over a thousand years into a series of nonintrusive techniques including listening to blood flow through the wrist, analysis of urine and anatomical parts, listening to the heart and lungs, questioning the patient, and administering carefully prepared herbal pills. The body is considered to be composed of various elements balanced by nutrition, religious practices, mental states, and relations with deities. The training process for physicians was long and often limited to monks.
Death and Afterlife. Tibetans practice sky-burial, a process of returning the corporal body to the environment by pulverizing the parts and leaving them exposed to the elements and the vultures. An individual's karmic seeds are thought to remain in bar do, a liminal zone, for forty-nine days after death, during which time they enter a new body (that of a human, a hell being, a god, or an animal) to start a new life cycle. This recurrent process of life, death, and rebirth continues until an individual achieves enlightenment.
Aziz, Barbara (1978). Tibetan Frontier Families. Durham, N.C.: Carolina Academic Press.
Dalai Lama (1962). My Land and My People. New York: Potala Corporation.
French, Rebecca (in press, 1993). The Golden Yoke: The Legal System of Buddhist Tibet. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press.
Snellgrove, David, and Hugh Richardson (1980). A Cultural History of Tibet. Boulder, Colo.: Prahna Press.
REBECCA R. FRENCH
"Tibetans." Encyclopedia of World Cultures. . Encyclopedia.com. (February 19, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/tibetans
"Tibetans." Encyclopedia of World Cultures. . Retrieved February 19, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/tibetans
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Tibet is a country with ancient religious and mystical traditions that, over the last two centuries, have become the focus of occult legends. The peaceful accumulation of data on Tibet was abruptly altered following the Chinese communist invasion in October 1950, when Tibet lost its independent status. On May 23, 1951, Tibetan leaders were obliged to sign a Sino-Tibetan agreement for "the peaceful liberation of Tibet."
Tibetans had formerly been a separate people with a distinctive language, culture, and religion, but had been in an uneasy relationship with China since 1720, when the Manchus entered Tibet to help drive out Mongol invaders and used the situation to become overlords. Over the subsequent period, the acknowledgment of Chinese suzerainty was the price of Tibetan autonomy, but for practical purposes Tibet was an independent state.
The 1950 invasion was justified by the Chinese as necessary in order to destroy inequitable feudalism in Tibet and to bring progress, education, and social justice. In practice, this involved suppression of the Buddhist religion, destruction of monasteries and their libraries, and the public humiliation of priests. Tibet was a theocratic society and any reorganization of its governmental system would necessarily involve the destruction of the power held by the Buddhist religious functionaries.
In all fairness, it must be said that these and other reported violations of human rights were largely paralleled by similar excesses in China itself in the early period of the communist revolution and the upheavals of the Cultural Revolution. Since then, however, the age-old Buddhist religion of Tibet has been largely suppressed and related occult practices replaced by practical socialism and exploitation of Tibetan resources and territory.
Religion and Superstition
C.E. and it pushed aside the earlier polytheistic and magical religion of the Tibetan people. However, the price of the conquest was the integration of many of the old deities, beliefs, and occult practices into the unique form of Buddhism that emerged in the land. Also moving into Tibet from India was a form of Hindu tantra, with its emphasis upon the subtle energies of the body and ritualized sex. Strong superstitions, belief in ghosts, demons, and magic coexisted with deep mystical thought.
The apostle of Buddhism in Tibet was named Padmasambhava and entered the country in the 1740s. As Buddhism developed, it divided into various sects, the degree of acceptance of the local religion being an important differentiating factor. The four main groups are popularly distinguished by the color of the hats their followers wear. The older Red Caps or Ningmapas, for example, follow the Adi-Yoga or path of the Great Perfection, founded by the guru Padmasambhava, while the Yellow Cap sect or Gelugpas follow a Middle Way Buddhism; the Kargyütpas, or Followers of Successive Order (deriving from the great Tibetan saint Milarepa, died 1135, successor of the revered gurus Marpa, Tilopa, and Naropa) follow the way of Mahamudra or Great Symbol. As with the various sects of Hindu
religious philosophy, with their many subtle emphases, the general overall philosophy of the four groups is the same.
By the fifteenth century a teaching had emerged in Tibet that the heads of all of the many monasteries were bodhisattvas, highly evolved beings who were refraining from entering Nirvana to assist other souls in their spiritual pilgrimage. The monastic rulers, or lamas, thus attained a unique role in Tibetan Buddhism as well as significant political power as temporal rulers.
The present spiritual leader of Tibet, the fourteenth Dalai Lama, who escaped to India in 1959, and the other lamas and their successors, are dedicated to keeping alive the spiritual traditions and the political aspirations to independence of the Tibetan people.
Like his predecessors, the Dalai Lama is claimed as a living incarnation of the Divine Spirit, and was discovered as such by traditional search and testing. When a Dalai Lama (or any lama for that matter) departs from life, priests traditionally conduct a search for his successor through signs and visions. Selected children are tested by their ability to recognize objects belonging to the former Dalai Lama. After identification, the child is brought to the holy city of Lhasa and initiated as a monk in the monastery of the Potala, which becomes a power center of the Divine Spirit, which issues forth from the Dalai Lama over the whole of Tibet. As Tibetan Buddhism has spread to the west and lamas have died in the west, the search for successors has also been conducted in the families of Western converts and several European children have been "identified" as reincarnated lamas.
The title "Dalai Lama" is from a Mongolian term meaning "Wide Ocean," and is not normally used by Tibetans among themselves, who prefer such terms as "Precious Protector" or "Precious Ruler," of Kundun (Presence), implying spiritual association. The first Dalai Lama was Tsong Ka-pa, born in Am-do in 1358. His disciples became the Yellow Hat sect, as distinct from the earlier priesthood of the Red Hats.
In addition to the regular monastic disciplines of complex prayer, meditation rites, and regular religious festivals, lamas traveling through Tibet were expected to act as oracles, fortune-tellers, and healers for the ordinary people. Prayer wheels with the mystic mantra "Om mani padme Hum" (Om, The Jewel in the Lotus) and rosaries were in use all over the country, and groups of prayer-flags fluttered around the villages. In the monasteries, tankas (complex symbolic mandala banners) became a focus for mystical meditation.
It is not difficult to understand why Lamaism should be permeated with demonology in view of the vast and terrifying grandeur of the Tibetan environment, in which the forces of nature appear to have the power of supernatural beings. Belief in magic was once universal.
The Dalai Lama came under attack in 1998 when he publicly announced that Dorje Shugden practices should no longer be performed by any sect of Tibetan Buddhism. Shugden has been regarded as a protector spirit of the Geluk sect, to which the Dalai Lama himself belongs. However, after studying ancient texts and consulting the state oracle, the Dalai Lama is convinced that Shugden is a hungry spirit and therefore incorrect to worship and regard as a protector for the Buddhist. Due to the Dalai Lama's opposing view, he is accused by some Buddhists for being a religious censor. Since the Tibetan culture and religion is thought to be near extinction, the Dalai Lama attempted to set a level of commonality between all sects of Buddhism. The great controversy that resulted from this attempted act of unification, may have also been the cause for the deaths of three monks in the Dalai Lama's inner circle.
Dissent within the Tibetan culture may be the result of the larger issues that still exist between Chinese and the Tibetan government-in-exile. The Chinese government seeks to control, and ultimately squelch, the Tibetan Buddhism religion. Ultimately the set-up of the religious hierarchy may become the demise of the religion itself. The Dalai Lama exists as the highest, top authority, while the Panchen Lama is the second in command, and the Karampa is the third in power. Presently the Panchen Lama, a boy of ten years, will be the one to choose the next Dalai Lama. However, with the aging Dalai Lama living in India, the Panchen Lama is still being held under Chinese supervision. This is a direct example of the Chinese wishing to control the Buddhist chain of command, and influence the continuity of the religion. The Chinese government conducted the search for this present Panchen Lama but the Dalai Lama announced their discovery publicly before ever having met him. The boy has never even been in Dharmsala, India. Thus, the boy has become a political pawn between the Dalai Lama (Tibetan Buddhism) and the Chinese government.
The Karampa, third in command, has been raised to heed the Chinese government as well. However, on December 28, 1999, he made his escape from Tibet to India to be united with the Dalai Lama. The two men met " 'as if a father was meeting his dear son after a long separation' ". The Dalai Lama reported his spirit as clear and strong saying after proper instruction he will be able to make great contributions. The struggle between Tibet and China continues and therefore the outcome of the survival of Tibetan Buddhism.
David-Neel's Psychic Sports
For centuries, Tibet was a forbidden territory to Westerners, and only a handful of Europeans succeeded in penetrating the country, usually in disguise. From 1912 on, an intrepid French-woman, Alexandra David-Neel, began a series of travels through Tibet over fourteen years. She acquired the rank of lama.
An Oriental scholar, David-Neel learned Sanskrit and Tibetan and studied the various forms of Buddhism and Lamaism. She became the first European woman to penetrate the holy city of Lhasa. Although skeptical regarding the supernatural, she gained firsthand experience of Tibetan ghosts and demons and saw the paranormal feats of mystics. In her book With Mystics and Magicians in Tibet (1931), she revealed how Tibetan mystics acquired the ability to live naked in zero temperatures by generating a protective body heat (tumo ), how they learned to float in air and walk on water, and how they brought corpses back to life or created thoughtforms that had independent existence.
She described such feats as "psychic sports," acquired by special mind and body training. Amongst such feats was the lung-gom training of "inner breathing" and meditation, which enabled an individual to travel at high speed for days and nights without stopping, sometimes with the feet hardly touching the ground. David-Neel herself witnessed a lung-gom-pa, or swift traveler. She described the special training necessary for feats of levitation and for thought-reading and telepathy ("sending thoughts on the wind").
She successfully experimented in the creation of a tulpa or phantom thoughtforms. After a period in isolation following special concentration techniques, she claimed that she succeeded in creating a phantom monk, who became a guest in her party, seen and accepted by the others. But in the course of time, this phantom form changed from a fat jolly monk, becoming lean, mocking, and somewhat malignant, and it was necessary for her to concentrate on special techniques to destroy a phantom, which was beginning to take on independent life.
She explained that Tibetans believed that such psychic phenomena were the result of utilizing natural forces by the powers of the mind. Her experiences seem to have been the result of a long and intimate association with Tibet and its peoples in a period when magic and mystery were more common. Few subsequent travelers have reported such remarkable phenomena, and her books survive as a unique record of a Tibet that has largely been destroyed. However, they helped create the image of Tibet as a place where the most successful mastery of the occult arts had been made. The spread of Buddhist masters to the
west has done much to offer a more mundane picture of Tibetan life.
Tibetan medicine, the fundamentals virtually unchanged for 2,000 years, is completely intertwined with Tibetan Buddhism, in that they are based on the most essential Buddhist belief, that of karma. Thus, unhealthy human actions, such as, greed, hatred, and desire can be the cause of disease. Like karma, disease can be caused from present as well as past actions. Disease is also thought to be caused by an imbalance of the three basic humors of the body—air, bile, and phlegm. Diagnosis consists of three techniques, visual observation, pulse reading, and questioning. Simply put, Tibetan medicine is highly holistic in the areas of diagnosis and treatment. Treatments are usually always of the non-invasive variety. Lifestyle changes are recommended, medicines are made of herbs, and "surgery" consists of acupuncture, cauterization, hot and cold compresses, hot springs and vapor treatments.
A lot can be learned from Tibetan medicine by Western countries, as it and its practitioners listen and are aware of the individual body, as an extension of religion. The body then exists as only part of the whole scheme of the universe.
It is still too early to predict whether the upheavals of the last half of the twentieth century will involve a permanent loss of spiritual and psychic identity for the Tibetan people. Those many Tibetans who moved into exile have established strong enclaves of traditional Tibetan culture and many people have given of their time, energy, and financial resources to see that the manuscripts and artifacts taken out of the country are preserved.
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"Tibet." Encyclopedia of Occultism and Parapsychology. . Encyclopedia.com. (February 19, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/science/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/tibet
"Tibet." Encyclopedia of Occultism and Parapsychology. . Retrieved February 19, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/science/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/tibet
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ALTERNATE NAMES: Bod Qiang
POPULATION: 4.6 million
LANGUAGE: Tibetan; Chinese
1 • INTRODUCTION
Tibetan civilization began near the Yarlung Zanbo River in present-day Tibet. A Tibetan kingdom was created in the sixth century ad. In the seventh century, the ruler Songtsen Gampo made Lhasa the capital of Tibet. While he ruled, the Tibetan laws, calendar, alphabet, and system of weights and measures were created. Princess Wenchen, his Chinese bride, came to Tibet in 641. She had a great effect on Tibetan culture.
Warfare and political strife weakened the Tibetan dynasty and it collapsed in 877. Tibet was conquered by the Mongolians in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. Later it came under Chinese control. The Qing Dynasty (1644–1911) recognized Tibet's spiritual leaders, the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama. A local government was set up in Tibet, with its own minister from the emperor. This system continued under the Republic of China until 1949, when the communist revolution created the People's Republic of China. The new government created the Tibetan Autonomous Region, covering all of Tibet. The political power of the lamas was taken away and given to Tibetan leaders nominated by the central government in Beijing.
2 • LOCATION
The Tibetans live on the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau. It extends to the Himalayas, the highest mountain range in the world. Most Tibetans are found in the Tibet Autonomous Region. However, many live in Qinghai, Gansu, Sichuan, and Yunnan provinces. China's total Tibetan population was 4.6 million in 1990. There are about 100,000 Tibetans in India, and tens of thousands live in North America and Europe. Southwest Tibet has a damp, mild climate. Northwest Tibet is quite barren, but its river valleys provide land for nomads to raise their cattle.
3 • LANGUAGE
The Tibetan language belongs to the Sino-Tibetan family. It has three dialects. Tibetan is written from left to right. Tibetan writing was developed in the seventh century. In urban Tibet, many Tibetans also speak Chinese.
4 • FOLKLORE
According to a Tibetan myth, a divine monkey married a female monster in Yarlung Valley long ago. They gave birth to six children whose descendants spread over the earth but had a hard life. They lived off of wild fruits of the forest. Then the monkey gave them seven kinds of grain, and they learned how to farm and began to speak.
5 • RELIGION
Mahayana Buddhism combined with the native Tibetan religion (Bon) to create a new form of Buddhism, called Lamaism. Many different lamaist sects arose. The Gelupa, or Yellow Sect, which came to dominate Tibet, was founded by Tsong Khapa (1357–1419).
Reincarnation (the belief in rebirth) was an established Buddhist doctrine. When an important lama died, his successor (the divine child) was sought among male children who were born at about the time he died.
Bon, the native Tibetan religion, is still practiced in western Tibet and in parts of Qinghai and Sichuan. It calls for worship of gods, spirits, and nature. Its practices include ritual dance.
6 • MAJOR HOLIDAYS
The Tibetan New Year takes place the first week of January and lasts three to five days. Tibetans all dress in their finest clothes. Relatives and friends pay New Year calls and visit monasteries to pray for a good year. Tibetan operas are performed. People wear masks and pretend to be gods. They sing and dance to drive away the ghosts.
The Lantern Festival is held on January 15. Huge sculptures of birds, animals, and humans made from colored yak butter are paraded in the streets of Lhasa. Festive lanterns, also made of yak butter, are hung on fences. People dance under the lanterns all night.
April 15 marks both the Buddha's enlightenment and the Chinese Princess Wenchen's arrival in Tibet. The streets overflow with people on pilgrimages, and the monks pray. People walk around the Potala Palace, go boating on the lake, and then pitch tents to rest.
7 • RITES OF PASSAGE
Three or four days after a baby is born, a tiny piece of zamba (the Tibetans' main food) is stuck to the infant's forehead. This is a rite to make the baby pure. When the baby is one month old, the parents paint the tip of its nose with soot from the bottom of a pan to keep away ghosts. With their relatives, the child's parents go to the monastery and pray to the Buddha for protection.
Girls' hair is combed into two braids when they are under twelve years of age. They wear three braids when they are thirteen or fourteen, and five braids at the age of fifteen or sixteen. When a girl reaches seventeen, her hair is combed into dozens of braids to show that she is an adult.
There are several types of Tibetan funerals, depending on the social status of the person who has died. In a "sky burial," friends burn piles of pine tree branches and scatter food over them. The smoke is supposed to draw vultures. The body is chopped up and the bones are pounded together with zamba. Vultures eat what remains of the body. The rest of the remains are burned and the ashes are scattered over the ground. "Water burial" is for widows, widowers, and poor people. "Fire burial" is for lamas, and "ground burial" is for people who died of infection or were executed as criminals.
8 • RELATIONSHIPS
Tibetans are polite. When they meet, they stretch out their arms with their palms turned up, and bow to each other. To show respect, one person nods his head and sticks his tongue out. The other nods and smiles. When two people meet for the first time, one gives the other a hada. This is a long, narrow strip of white or light blue silk that is a sign of respect. It is held in both palms while bowing.
Today, young boys and girls mingle freely but still have some traditional restrictions.
9 • LIVING CONDITIONS
Tibetans build their houses on high ground, facing south, and close to water. The walls are made from earth or piled up stones. Houses are two or three stories high. They have flat roofs, many windows, and courtyards. The living room and bedrooms are on the second floor, and the first floor is for storage or to house livestock. Herdsmen dwell in large tents made of canvas or woven yak wool.
10 • FAMILY LIFE
The Tibetan family centers around males. The man inherits property. A woman must obey her husband, even when he lives with her parents. Today, most Tibetans are monogamous (married to only one person). Nomads and peasants still have arranged marriages. Lamas and shamans (spiritual leaders) are usually consulted.
11 • CLOTHING
Men in urban areas wear a felt or fur-trimmed hat, a short vest with sleeves, trousers, and a robe. Those in rural areas wear a very long robe with long sleeves and a loose collar. The robe is tied around the waist with a long band. Herdsmen wear the fur of a sheep year-round, and a pair of long trousers. Tibetan men all wear boots. Women usually wear a sleeveless robe with a shirt under it and a beautiful apron around the waist. A long robe with sleeves is worn during the winter. Women living in rural areas wear a sheep fur over a long skirt.
12 • FOOD
In rural areas, Tibetans eat barley, wheat, corn, and peas. They stir and fry barley and peas and grind them into flour. Then they mix it with yak butter and tea. This is called zamba. They press it with their fingers in a wooden bowl and make it into a ball before eating it. They may also cook zamba into a porridge with meat, wild herbs, and water. Their favorite drinks are barley wine and tea with butter. The main foods of Tibetan herdsmen are beef, mutton, and milk products.
13 • EDUCATION
Education was once reserved for monks in monasteries. Since 1949, a complete educational system from primary school to university has been created in Tibet and Qinghai. It includes medical and technical schools. However, Tibet's small population is scattered over such a wide geographic area that it is difficult for many students to travel to a school. A growing number of young Tibetans go to the cities to study.
14 • CULTURAL HERITAGE
Tibetan dances differ strongly from those of China's other minorities. The dancers' long sleeves add to their charm. They sing on high pitches and mostly in minor keys. Tibetan opera is performed in the street without any stage. There is a band, and performers sing while they dance.
Tibetan literature includes novels, poems, stories, fables, and dramas. Many works have been translated and published in other countries. The Tibetan religion has effected every part of Tibet's culture.
15 • EMPLOYMENT
Tibetan herdsmen raise sheep, goats, yaks, horses, mules, and oxen bred from cattle and yaks.
16 • SPORTS
Yak racing is one of the favorite Tibetan sports. It is similar to horse racing. It takes a highly trained expert to ride a racing yak. Tibetans are also excellent mountain climbers.
17 • RECREATION
The Tibetans have their own theater company, opera, music and ballet performers, broadcasting stations, and film studio. Many Tibetan newspapers, magazines, and books are published each year.
18 • CRAFTS AND HOBBIES
Tibetan folk art includes figures of the Buddha found in monasteries and figures made of yak butter. Goldsmiths and silversmiths craft items for daily use. These include spoons, chopsticks, bowls, plates, and dishes. They also make bracelets, rings, and necklaces. Tangka is a painted Tibetan wall-hanging depicting Buddhist themes.
19 • SOCIAL PROBLEMS
Lack of formal education is one of the major social problems facing Tibet today. It is hard to educate Tibet's small population because the Tibetans are scattered over huge stretches of land.
20 • BIBLIOGRAPHY
Kendra, Judith. Tibetans. Threatened Cultures. New York: Thomson Learning, 1994.
Snellgrove, David L., and Hugh Richardson. A Cultural History of Tibet. New York: F. A. Praeger, 1968.
Stein, R. A. Tibetan Civilization. Trans. by J. E. Stapleton Driver. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1972.
Embassy of the People's Republic of China, Washington, D.C. [Online] Available http://www.china-embassy.org/, 1998.
World Travel Guide. China. [Online] Available http://www.wtgonline.com/country/cn/gen.html, 1998.
"Tibetans." Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of World Cultures. . Encyclopedia.com. (February 19, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/international/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/tibetans
"Tibetans." Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of World Cultures. . Retrieved February 19, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/international/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/tibetans
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Tibet (tĬbĕt´), Tibetan Bodyul, Mandarin Xizang, autonomous region (2010 pop. 3,002,166), c.471,700 sq mi (1,221,700 sq km), SW China. A Chinese autonomous region since 1951, Tibet is bordered on the south by Myanmar, India, Bhutan, and Nepal, on the west by India (including the disputed Kashmir), on the north by Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region and Qinghai prov., and on the east by Sichuan and Yunnan provs. The capital is Lhasa.
Land and People
Almost completely surrounded by mountain ranges (including the Himalayas in the south and the Kunlun in the north), Tibet is largely a plateau averaging c.16,000 ft (4,880 m) in height. Many of the mightiest rivers of E Asia, especially the Chang (Yangtze), the Mekong, and the Thanlwin, rise in Tibet; the most important is the navigable Yarlung Zangbo (the Brahmaputra), which follows an easterly course through S Tibet. North of the Yarlung Zangbo are many salt lakes, the largest being Nam Co (Tengri Nor) in the east.
The indigenous inhabitants are of Mongolian stock and speak a Tibeto-Burman language. There are also substantial numbers of Han and other Chinese, especially in E Tibet and in urban areas; the number of non-Tibetans has increased significantly since 1990. Before the unsuccessful revolt of 1959 (see History), many city dwellers were Tibetan Buddhist monks, who may have comprised as much as one sixth of the country's male population. The chief figures of Tibetan Buddhism, the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama (or Tashi Lama, for the lamastery at Tashi Lumpo), were at least the nominal heads of the Tibetan government. In general, the former administration was equally divided between lamas and the feudal aristocracy.
Tibet is a land of scant rainfall and a short growing season, and the only extensive agricultural region is the Yarlung Zangbo valley, where barley, wheat, potatoes, millet, and turnips are grown. In this valley as well are nearly all the large cities, including Lhasa, Xigazê (Shigatse), and Gyangzê (Gyangtse). Most other areas of Tibet are suited only for grazing; yaks, which can withstand the intense cold, are the principal domestic animals, and there are also large herds of goats and sheep. Much of the population traditionally was engaged in a pastoral life, but the advances made by irrigation and the growing of forage crops combined with Chinese attempts to spur economic development and relocate Tibetans into new housing developments have reduced nomadism and also increased the urban population. In addition to vast salt reserves, Tibet has large deposits of gold, copper, and radioactive ores.
Traditionally, goods for trade, particularly foreign trade, were carried by pack trains (yaks, mules, and horses) across the windswept plateau and over difficult mountain passes. In exchange for hides, wool, and salt there were imports of tea and silk from China and of manufactured goods from India. Motor roads now connect Lhasa with Qamdo (Chamdo) in E Tibet and with Xigazê and Gyangzê in the Yarlung Zangbo area and link Gar (Gartok) in W Tibet to the northern regions. A major highway runs from Tibet to Chengdu, in Sichuan prov., providing a link to the great Chinese cities in the east; Tibet is also connected by highway with Xinjiang and Qinghai in W China. A rail link to Qinghai prov. was opened in 2006.
Evidence of human habitation dating between 12,000 and 11,000 years ago has been found in NW Tibet, and in S Tibet the Yarlung Zangbo valley was, over the centuries, the focus of ancient trade routes from India, China, and Central Asia. Tibet emerged from an obscure history to flourish in the 7th cent. AD as an independent kingdom with its capital at Lhasa. The Chinese first established relations with Tibet during the T'ang dynasty (618–906), and there were frequent wars of conquest. The Tibetan kingdom was associated with early Mahayana Buddhism, which the scholar and mystic Padmasambhava fashioned (8th cent.) into Tibetan Buddhism. Toward the end of the 12th cent. many Indian Buddhists, fleeing before the Muslim invasion, went to Tibet. In the 13th cent. Tibet fell under Mongol influence, which was to last until the 18th cent. In 1270, Kublai Khan, emperor of China, was converted to Buddhism by the abbot of the Sakya lamasery; the abbot returned to Tibet to found the Sakya dynasty (1270–1340) and to become the first lama to rule Tibet. In 1720, the Ch'ing dynasty replaced Mongol rule in Tibet. China thereafter claimed suzerainty, often merely nominal.
During the 18th cent., British authorities in India attempted to establish relations with Lhasa, but the Gurkha invasion of 1788 and the subsequent Gurkha war (1792) with Tibet brought an abrupt end to the rapprochement. Jesuits and Capuchins had visited Tibet in the 17th and 18th cent., but throughout the 19th cent. Tibet maintained its traditional seclusion. Meanwhile, Ladakh, long part of Tibet, was lost to the rulers of Kashmir, and Sikkim was detached (1890) by Britain. In 1893, Britain succeeded in obtaining a trading post at Yadong, but continued Tibetan interference led to the military expedition (1904) of Sir Francis Younghusband to Lhasa, which enforced the granting of trade posts at Yadong, Gyangzê, and Gar.
Tibet and China
In 1906 and 1907, Britain recognized China's suzerainty over Tibet. However, the Tibetans were able, with the overthrow of the Ch'ing dynasty in China, to expel (1912) the Chinese in Tibet and reassert their independence. At a conference (1913–14) of British, Tibetans, and Chinese at Shimla, India, Tibet was tentatively confirmed under Chinese suzerainty and divided into an inner Tibet, to be incorporated into China, and an outer autonomous Tibet. The Shimla agreement was, however, never ratified by the Chinese, who continued to claim all of Tibet as a "special territory." After the death (1933) of the 13th Dalai Lama, Tibet gradually drifted back into the Chinese orbit. The 14th Dalai Lama, who was born in China, was installed in 1939–40 and assumed full powers (1950) after a ten-year regency.
The succession of the 10th Panchen Lama, with rival candidates supported by Tibet and China, was one of the excuses for the Chinese invasion (Oct., 1950) of Tibet. By a Tibetan-Chinese agreement (May, 1951), Tibet became a "national autonomous region" of China under the traditional rule of the Dalai Lama, but under the actual control of a Chinese Communist commission. The Communist government introduced far-reaching land reforms and sharply curtailed the power of the monastic orders. After 1956 scattered uprisings occurred throughout the country, but a full-scale revolt broke out in Mar., 1959, prompted in part by fears for the personal safety of the Dalai Lama. The Chinese suppressed the rebellion, but the Dalai Lama was able to escape to India, where he eventually established headquarters in exile.
The Panchen Lama, who had accepted Chinese sponsorship, acceded to the spiritual leadership of Tibet. The Chinese adopted brutal repressive measures, provoking charges from the Dalai Lama of genocide. Landholdings were seized, the lamaseries were virtually emptied, and thousands of monks were forced to find other work. The Panchen Lama was deposed in 1964 after making statements supporting the Dalai Lama; he was replaced by a secular Tibetan leader. In 1962, China launched attacks along the Indian-Tibetan border to consolidate territories it claimed had been wrongly given to India by the British McMahon Commission in 1914. Following a cease-fire, Chinese troops withdrew behind the disputed line in the east but continued to occupy part of Ladakh in Kashmir. Some border areas are still in dispute.
In 1965 the Tibetan Autonomous Region was formally established. The Cultural Revolution, with its antireligious orientation, was disastrous for highly religious Tibet. Religious practices were banned and over 4,000 monasteries were destroyed. Though the ban was lifted in 1976 and some Buddhist temples have again been in operation since the early 1980s, Tibetans continue to complain of widespread discrimination by the Chinese, and in more recent years the sometimes forcible relocation of Tibetans from traditional communities to new housing developments has contributed to dissatisfaction. Several protests in Tibet in the late 1980s and early 1990s were violently suppressed by the Communist government and martial law was imposed in 1989. Demonstrations against Chinese rule have nevertheless continued, and other countries have increasingly raised the issue of human-rights violations in Tibet and pressured the Chinese government to moderate their stance in the region. Religious tensions were again underscored in 1995 when China rejected the boy who was confirmed by the Dalai Lama as the new Panchen Lama and forced the selection of a different boy and in 2000 when the 14-year-old Karmapa lama fled Tibet for India. Significant new protests and riots erupted in Tibet and among Tibetans in neighboring provinces in 2008 and to a lesser degree in Tibet in 2012.
See N. Barber, From the Land of Lost Content: The Dalai Lama's Fight for Tibet (1970); J. MacGregor, Tibet: A Chronicle of Exploration (1970); R. A. Stein, Tibetan Civilization (tr., rev. ed. 1972); D. Snellgrove and H. Richardson, A Cultural History of Tibet (1980); T. W. Shakabpa, Tibet: A Political History (1984); M. C. Van Praag, The Status of Tibet: History, Rights, and Prospects in International Law (1986); M. C. Goldstein, A History of Modern Tibet (3 vol., 1989–2013); T. Shakya, The Dragon in the Land of Snows (1999); L. B. and S. Halper, Tibet: An Unfinished Story (2014); T. Woeser and W. Lixiong, Voices from Tibet (2014).
"Tibet." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (February 19, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/tibet
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"Tibet." World Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. (February 19, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/tibet
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Ti·bet·an / təˈbetn/ • n. 1. a native of Tibet or a person of Tibetan descent. 2. the Tibeto-Burman language of Tibet, also spoken in neighboring areas of China, India, and Nepal. • adj. of or relating to Tibet, its people, or its language.
"Tibetan." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . Encyclopedia.com. (February 19, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/tibetan-0
"Tibetan." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . Retrieved February 19, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/tibetan-0
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"Tibetan." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . Encyclopedia.com. (February 19, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/tibetan
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"Tibet." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . Encyclopedia.com. (February 19, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/tibet
"Tibet." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . Retrieved February 19, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/tibet