Tibetan Culture and More


Animals of Nomads

Tibetan Language

Contacting Tibetans in Tibet

Long List of Links

    News Site Links

Physical Tibet

Populaton Figures for Tibet

Tibetan Buddhism



from http://www.tibetanculture.org  The Tibetan Culture Conservancy


The Tibetan Plateau, north of the Himalayas, is a vast rangeland area encompassing parts of China, India, Nepal, and Bhutan. There, in what is undoubtedly the most rugged rangeland on earth, an estimated two million nomads still live. The harshness of the land continues to keep farmers out of the region.

Tibetan nomads raise yaks, yak-cattle hybrids (dzo), sheep, goats, and horses. These animals are superbly adapted to the rugged conditions of the Tibetan Plateau and provide nomads with milk, meat, hair, wool, and hides. Mobility is a principal characteristic of Tibetan nomadic life, and movements are extremely well organized. Rotation of livestock between different pastures helps to conserve the grass, and thus the herds that depend on it. Herd movements make the best use of pastures at different seasons. The nomads also mix animals in their herds, a practice that reduces the risk of total livestock loss from unpredictable droughts and severe snowstorms.

Almost all nomads have a home base, usually the traditional winter area, and make established moves with their livestock from there to distant pastures throughout the year. The traditional yak-hair tent is still in common use, although many nomads spend an increasing amount of time, especially in the winter, in their more comfortable houses, which have been constructed in the last couple of decades.

Tibetan nomads in the Himalayan regions of India and Nepal have combined raising animals with the cultivation of crops. They move their animals to high pastures for grazing but grow grains in the lower valleys. Some nomadic refugees from Tibet have resettled in the valleys of Nepal and Ladakh, India, and continue their nomadic existence.


Tibetan nomads raise yaks, yak-cattle hybrids (dzo), sheep, goats, and horses. The rugged land and harsh climate of the Himalayas and Tibetan rangeland require the seasonal movement of these animals between lowland and upland pastures. This pastoral cycle continues today with the movement of millions of animals. These animals provide milk and milk products, meat, hair and wool, and hides for the nomads' basic existence. Yaks are unique to the Tibetan region and make life possible for people across much of Tibet. Their domestication perhaps 4,000 years ago enabled nomads to populate the Tibetan steppe. These animals can withstand colder temperatures than horses and can travel across rough terrain easily. Yaks have been crossbred with cattle so that they will produce more milk and calves. Yaks' long, coarse hair is woven into strong nomadic tents that keep out the rain and fierce winds, yet let light in. Tibetans place so much value on the yak that the Tibetan term for yaks, nor, can be translated as "wealth." Yaks are trained to the saddle and are used as pack animals and mounts. Some yaks are now raised in the western United States.

Sheep provide greater income for nomads than yaks due to the value of their wool. Nomads eat their meat and trade it to settled farmers. Tibetan sheep wool ranks among the highest in quality for carpet production due to its elasticity and deep luster. Tibetan goats are raised primarily in western Tibet. Nomads barter the goats' milk and meat for staples. These animals also produce the fine cashmere wool famous for centuries in shawl production. "Cashmere" got its name from the region of Kashmir presently in India and Pakistan, where the fabric was traded. The reputation of this wool remains strong today through the production of pashmina shawls, a product of the finest goat wool. The controversial shatoosh shawls, appropriately banned in India and the West, are made from the neck hair of the endangered wild Tibetan antelope.



From http://www.tibet.com  The Official Site of the Tibetan Government in Exile


Tibet lies at the centre of Asia, with an area of 2.5 million square kilometers. The earth's highest mountains, a vast arid plateau and great river valleys make up the physical homeland of 6 million Tibetans. It has an average altitude of 13,000 feet above sea level.

Tibet is comprised of the three provinces of Amdo (now split by China into the provinces of Qinghai, Gansu & Sichuan), Kham (largely incorporated into the Chinese provinces of Sichuan, Yunnan and Qinghai), and U-Tsang (which, together with western Kham, is today referred to by China as the Tibet Autonomous Region).

The Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) comprises less than half of historic Tibet and was created by China in 1965 for administrative reasons. It is important to note that when Chinese officials and publications use the term "Tibet" they mean only the TAR.

Tibetans use the term Tibet to mean the three provinces described above, i.e., the area traditionally known as Tibet before the 1949-50 invasion.

Despite over 40 years of Chinese occupation of Tibet, the Tibetan people refuse to be conquered and subjugated by China. The present Chinese policy, a combination of demographic and economic manipulation, and discrimination, aims to suppress the Tibetan issue by changing the very character and the identity of Tibet and its people.

Today Tibetans are outnumbered by Han Chinese population in their own homeland.



from http://www.dharma-haven.org


Tibetan is spoken in Tibet, Bhutan, Nepal, and in parts of northern India (including Sikkim). It is classified by linguists as a member of the Tibeto-Burman subgroup of the Sino-Tibetan languages

Tibetan is written in a very conservative syllabary script based on the writing system of the ancient Sanskrit language of India. Used in its present form since the 9th century, it was developed as a means of translating sacred Buddhist texts that were being brought into Tibet from India. The writing system derived from the pronunciation of the language as it was in about the 7th century, and varies in many ways from colloquial Tibetan as it spoken today. 

Beginning in the 8th century, Buddhist texts written in Sanskrit were carried over the Himalayas, and were carefully translated into Tibetan by meditator scholars who had studied the true meaning of the teachings with Indian masters. The flow of texts and teachings ended during the 11th century, when the Indian originals were mostly lost or destroyed in the Muslim suppression of Buddhism in India. Fortunately, by that time the transmission of Buddhist textual, artistic, meditative, and philosophical traditions into Tibet had been largely completed. Over the years Tibetan scholars added commentaries and further teachings to this body of literature.

In recent times the Chinese invasion of Tibet and their attempt to destroy the influence of the Buddhist monasteries led many very advanced meditation masters and scholars to escape to the West, bringing as many of their precious dharma texts and sacred art works as they could carry. These works are now preserved at many Tibetan Buddhist centers in various Western countries, and copies are also available for study in many major libraries. The language in which these texts are written is known as Classical Tibetan. Of the thousands of volumes of these texts, it is said that less than one percent have been translated into any Western languages.

The language as it is actually spoken today is called Colloquial Tibetan by Western scholars. There are four major dialects, and people from widely separated regions may have trouble understanding each other. The "standard" dialect is that of the region around the capital, Lhasa. Another form of the language, found in current writing, is called Modern Literary Tibetan.


from http://www.tibetinfo.net  Tibet Information Network   


Tibetans can face serious repercussions from unauthorised contact with foreigners. The movements of foreign tourists are carefully monitored in Tibet, not only by official methods such as permits and hotel registration, but also by numerous police informers dressed in civilian clothing and by the use of CCTV networks in urban areas. Even if you are not aware of being watched, your movements are not necessarily going unnoticed. It is advisable to be extremely cautious if you make contact with Tibetans, who may be placed at risk if you visit their homes or hitchhike with them.


The Chinese authorities are extremely intolerant of politically sensitive material found in Tibet. In particular, you should note that the Tibetan flag and Dalai Lama photographs are banned in China. A Tibet Guide was recently confiscated from a foreigner at the border because it had a Dalai Lama photo in it. Anti-Chinese and pro-Dalai Lama propaganda or writings by or about the Dalai Lama are equally provocative. Tibetans (especially nuns and monks) may face serious repercussions, even imprisonment, if they are found in possession of these materials. For this reason, it is advisable not to take any of these items into Tibet. Similarly, be careful what you record on film if you are invited into people's private homes or rooms.


Tibetans may also be put at risk if items such as incriminating photos, letters or film footage are found in your possession at the border. If you are asked to take a package, or are taking your own photos or footage of politically sensitive material, out of Tibet, it is important that you and any Tibetans involved are aware of the risks. Similarly if incriminating material taken out of Tibet is published or broadcast, this can place Tibetans in considerable danger.


According to the 1990 Population Census:  Maqu County has a population of 27,242 Tibetans, and 8% of the citizens of the county are Han Chinese, which makes is the highest percentage Tibetan county in Gansu Province (Luqu has 10% Han, Labrang (Xiahe) has 27%.  There are 9 counties in Qinghai and 9 in Sichuan that have a smaller percentage of Han than Maqu and one in Yunnan, but they have a whole heck of a lot of counties with much much more.  Most of the counties in Qinghai that have less are in the Golok area.  I must get out there!  

According to the 2000 Census Figures:

TIN has produced a summary overview of the Tibetan population in the PRC, derived from the 2000 population census. The data available to TIN is aggregated at a provincial level only, which makes the analysis of eastern Tibet, where Tibetans make up only a very small proportion of the provincial population more difficult. However, it still reveals much of the current demographic situation of Tibetans, as well as of the changes that occurred since the last census of 1990.

As expected from numerous informal field reports, the census statistics show that Tibetans remain overwhelmingly rural in all of the five Chinese provinces that incorporate the traditional Tibet (87.2 percent living in rural areas overall), much more so than either the Chinese or Chinese Muslims (Hui) living today in the same regions. Within the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) the rural areas are almost exclusively Tibetan (97.6 percent of the TAR rural population). Chinese residing in Tibetan areas, are predominantly urban and are mainly concentrated in larger towns. The Chinese Muslims are also more urbanised than the provincial averages, mostly concentrated in Lhasa in the TAR, with the remainder spread out between cities and towns in eastern and northeastern Tibet. In contrast, non-Tibetan ethnic groups living in autonomous Tibetan areas in Eastern Tibet, such as the Qiang and the Yi, are even less urbanised than the Tibetans.

In terms of the changes in population between the 1990 and 2000 censuses, both Tibetan and Chinese populations have been growing in the Tibetan regions, Tibetans through natural increase (births minus deaths), and Chinese through natural increase and net migration. The rate of natural increase of Tibetans is one of the highest among all of the ethnic groups in China, much higher than current Chinese rates, and so changes in the ethnic shares of the population depend on whether the net migration of Chinese compensates for differences in the natural increase rates. In the TAR, the Chinese population has been growing faster due to migration, but from a small number, reportedly from 80,000 to 160,000, or from four to six percent of the population. In eastern and northeastern Tibet, Tibetans and other minority populations have been growing faster than the Chinese, even after migration is considered.

Attention to population shares, however, overlooks important qualitative issues. The urbanisation rates in 2000 suggest that most of the changes in the composition of the population in the Tibetan regions have been taking place in the urban areas. While Tibetans have remained predominantly rural, most of the rapid urbanisation has been as a result of Chinese and Chinese Muslim migration, whether from within each province or from without. Because the towns and cities hold the levers of economic and political power, the key issue is not whether the population balance has shifted towards Tibetans or Chinese. Rather it is that economic and political dominance has shifted towards the Chinese because they have become increasingly concentrated in the cities and towns, regardless of their overall position in the population balance.

In contrast, the low rate of urbanisation among Tibetans suggests that they are poorly integrated into the rapid development that has been taking place in the region over the last decade, which has a strong urban bias, much stronger than elsewhere in China (see http://www.tibetinfo.net/news-updates/2003/0804.htm). Chinese Muslims are much better positioned in this regard, with other minorities such as the Yi and Qiang appear to be even less integrated than the Tibetans.

It is therefore important to distinguish between increasing population on the one hand, and actual changes in the population shares of each ethnic group on the other. It is possible that the dominant group, i.e. the Chinese, might be increasing at a slower rate than the Tibetans or other subordinate groups, while at the same time consolidating economic and political power. In this case, an increasing proportion of Tibetans in the population may simply mask their emergence as a marginalised rural underclass in a society in transition; a majority in all regions higher than 3000 metres, but a majority stuck in rural areas with few means or resources to enter into or compete in an urban environment.

According to the census data, the entire population of Tibetans within China in 2000 was estimated to be 5,416,021. In the TAR, the total was 2,427,168, in Sichuan, 1,269,120, in Qinghai, 1,086,592, in Gansu, 443,228, in Yunnan, 128,432. 61,481 Tibetans labelled ¡®other¡¯ in the census were living in inner China or abroad (this figure does not include Tibetan exiles). Because most of these Tibetans were permanently resident in Tibetan areas, the provincial population figures for the Tibetans are likely to be fairly accurate, as opposed to a mobile migrant population, such as the Chinese in Tibetan areas, the Sichuanese in Shanghai, or the Zhejiangese in Beijing.

These totals can also be broken down according to city, town, and rural, as per census definitions, revealing the rate of urbanisation of Tibetans in each province; that is, the percentage of the Tibetan population living in cities or towns. It also shows whether the urban population of Tibetans was concentrated in towns or in cities. 'City' in this case represents a city with a population greater than 500,000, or Lhasa in the case of the Tibet Autonomous Region. 'Town' represents small cities, towns, and rural administrative centres that have been designated as towns.



















































City/Total (%)







Town/Total (%)







Rural/Total (%)














rate of urbanisation













Similar to Qinghai, the rate of urbanisation of the Tibetans in Gansu is less than ten percent, although it is not the lowest in the province, as the Dongxiang are exceptionally rural, at only 3.7 percent urban. The Chinese population is also one of the most rural in the PRC, but they are mostly concentrated outside the Tibetan areas, around Lanzhou and in the southeast of the province.



http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/tibet/understand/ information from PBS

that site had this excerpt from a book by John Powers.  

At dawn in Dharamsala, as the sun rises over the mountains, a number of people are already awake and walking on the path around the residence of the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of the Tibetan people. Dharamsala is a small town perched on the side of a mountain in the foothills of the Himalayas, the world's highest mountains, and Dharamsala today is the center of the Tibetan Buddhist exile community in India and the home of the Dalai Lama. Tenzin Gvatso, the fourteenth Dalai Lama, is considered by his followers to be a physical manifestation of Avalokitegvara, the buddha of compassion and patron deity of Tibet. Forced to flee his homeland in 1959 when the Chinese army forcibly annexed Tibet, he and many of his people have resettled in India, where they continue to look over the mountains, hoping someday to return to their homeland.

The harsh realities of diaspora and the tenuousness of their position in exile have not dimmed the reverence of the Tibetan people for the Dalai Lama, and the crowds of people who circumambulate his residence in Dharamsala are a testament to their respect for him. The people on the path are a cross-section of Tibetan society: young and old, laypeople, monks, nuns, and people from all levels of society. Some are on their way to work or to shop, and chose the path around the Dalai Lama's residence because it is thought that circumambulating it brings merit, even if one only walks part of the way. Many of the people on the path will make the circuit a number of times, and their walk will be an act of religious devotion.

Most carry prayer beads, used to mark the number of times they chant a mantra. The use of mantras is deeply rooted in Tibetan Buddhism. They are short prayers that are thought to subtly alter one's mind and make a connection with a particular buddha, or enlightened being. Tibetan Buddhism has no gods in the Western sense of the term-the deities of Tibetan Buddhism are buddhas, literally "awakened ones," who in past lives were ordinary people, but who have transcended the ordinary through their meditations and realizations. When Tibetans chant a mantra associated with a particular buddha, they are not simply asking for the blessings and aid of the buddha-the final goal of the practice is to become buddhas themselves, since buddhas are sentient beings who have actualized the highest potential that we all possess.

The Tibetins walking around the Dalai Lama's palace often chant the mantra of Avalokitesvara-om mani padme hum-a practice that pays tribute to the Dalai Lama as an incarnation of Avalokitesvara and focuses their minds on the goal of eventually attaining his level of wisdom and compassion, the two qualities that buddhas embody. Many will stop along the path at chodens (mchod rten, stupa),1 small shrines that generally contain religious artifacts of some sort. Often the Tibetans will make prostrations toward the chodens or toward the Dalai Lama's residence. This is thought to bring great religious merit and, like the chanting of mantras, helps to focus one's mind on the goal of buddhahood.

One of the truly striking features of this practice is its primary focus: other living beings. It is generally thought that if one performs religious actions solely for one's own benefit, the practices are ineffective and yield little or no merit. Since one is trying to attain buddhahood, and since buddhas are beings whose compassion extends to all living beings, anyone who chants the mantra of the buddha of compassion or pays homage to the Dalai Lama solely for personal gain is thought to be profoundly misguided. Tibetans recognize this, and when asked they will generally indicate that they offer the merit of their religious devotions for the benefit of all sentient beings.

All along the path are religious symbols, most of which are connected with Avalokitesvara or his human manifestation, the Dalai Lama. There are several "mani walls," which are piles of stones, each of which is inscribed with the mantra om mani padme hum. This literally means, "om jewel in the lotus hum," and it has tremendous significance for devout Tibetan Buddhists. The syllable om is commonly found in mantras and is said to symbolize the ultimate nature of all reality, the final truth of things. The "jewel in the lotus" is compassion, the quality that Avalokitesvara is thought to embody.

The symbolism of this mantra reveals a great deal about the presuppositions and practices of Tibetan Buddhism. A lotus is born in the muck and mud at the bottom of a swamp, but when it emerges on the surfice of the water and opens its petals a beautiful flower appears, unstained by the mud from which it arose. Similarly, genuine compassion arises from the muck of the ordinary world, which is characterized by fighting, hatred, distrust, anxiety, and other negative emotions. These emotions tend to cause people to become self-centered and lead to suffering and negative actions. But just as the world is the locus of negative emotions, it is also the place in which we can become buddhas, enlightened beings who have awakened from the sleep of ignorance and who perceive reality as it is, with absolute clarity and with profound compassion for suffering living beings.

Just as the lotus arises from the mud of the swamp, so buddhas were formarly human beings, immersed in the negative thoughts and actions in which all ordinary beings engage: the strife, wars, petty jealousies, and hatreds to which all ordinary beings are subject. Through their meditative training, however, buddhas have transcended such things, and like lotuses have risen above their murky origins and look down on them unsullied by the mud and mire below. The symbolism may be extended still further, because buddhas do not simply escape the world and look down on others with pity or detached amusement; rather, like the lotus, which has roots that still connect it with the mud at the bottom of the lake, buddhas continue to act in the world for the benefit of others, continually taking human form in order to help them, to make them aware of the reality of their situations, and to indicate the path to the enlightenment of buddhahood, which can free them from all suffering.

All of these symbols are operating in the minds of the Tibetans who are making the circuit around the residence of the Dalai Lama. They perceive him as the embodiment of their own highest aspirations, a person who through individual effort, compassionate activity, and diligent meditation has transcended the world, but who still continues to emanate physical manifestations for the benefit of others. The compassion of Avalokitegvara is completely unstained by any ordinary emotions; he has no need for praise, does not seek the approval of others, and his actions are completely untouched by thoughts of personal gain. Rather, he embodies the highest and purest level of compassion, a compassion that is said to be inconceivable to ordinary

beings. The development of such pure compassion in the ordinary world of ignorance, desire, and hatred is said to be as rare as a lotus growing up from the bottom of a swamp and opening its petals to reveal a perfect jewel in the middle. This indicates the multi-faceted nature of the symbolism of the mantra that Tibetans chant as they circumambulate the residence of the Dalai Lama. As they walk, they try to keep this symbolism in mind, because it is thought that the more one familiarizes oneself with something, the more natural it becomes, and one comes more and more to think and act accordingly.

This is a basic idea underlying the system of tantric meditation, which is considered by Tibetans to be the most effective means for attaining buddhahood. In this system, one tries to transform one's mind through meditation and through surrounding oneself with symbols that resonate with one's religious goals, that draw the mind toward thoughts of compassion, wisdom, altruism, ethical behavior, patience, etc. The people on the path around the Dalai Lama's residence are making religious merit that is expected to pay dividends in the future, but on a deeper level they are trying to reorient their minds in the direction of greater and more spontaneous compassion, since ultimately thev hope to ittain the sai-ne level as Avalokitesvara. As they catch glimpses of the residence of Avalokitesvara's human manifestation, they aspire to become like him, and the mani walls, chodens, and rock faces called with his mantra all serve to draw their attention to the task at hand, which is not just to ask some powerful deity for help, but to become deities themselves and work for the betterment of others.

One aspect of life in a Tibetan community that strikes most Westerners immediately is the pervasiveness of such symbolism. Everywhere one walks, Buddhist symbols stand out: there are walls of prayer wheels inscribed with mantras, and people who turn them are thought to be sending out a prayer for the benefit of all sentient beings. Prayer flags with short mantras or invocations written on them flap in the wind, each movement sending out a prayer for the benefit of others. Shrines of various sizes, as well as monasteries, monks, nuns, temples, and statues catch the eye everywhere, and many of the people one passes are engaged in activities associated with Buddhist practice: a woman on the way to the market is holding her prayer beads and softly chanting a mantra; a group of children is prostrating in front of a temple; and a line of people is moving slowly around a wall of prayer wheels, turning each one for the benefit of others.

Everywhere one looks, one perceives signs of activities that would be identified by most Westerners as "religious," but they are so deeply woven into the fabric of daily Tibetan life that it is difficult to single out a part of the tapestry that is purely "religious" or a part that is only "secular." There is no clear distinction between religious and secular life in Tibetan societies, and "religion" is not compartmentalized into certain places and times as it tends to be in Western societies. Rather, Buddhism is the very lifeblood of the community, and its influence is seen in all aspects of daily life.

The Tibetan language does not even have a term with the same associations as the English word religion. The closest is the word cho (chos), which is a Tibetan translation of the Sanskrit word dharma. This term has a wide range of possible meanings, and no English word comes close to expressing the associations it has for Tibetans. In its most common usage it refers to the teachings of Buddhism, which are thought to express the truth and to outline a path to enlightenment. The path is a multifacteted one, and there are teachings and practices to suit every sort of person. There is no one path that erveryone must follow and no practices that are prescribed for every Buddhist. Rather, the dharma has something for everyone, and anyone can profit from some aspect of the dharma.

Because of its multifaceted nature, however, there is no one "truth" that can be put into words, nor is there one program of training that everyone can or must follow. Tibetan Buddhism recognizes that people have differing capacities, attitudes, and predispositions, and the dharma can and should be adapted to these. Thus, there is no one church in which everyone should worship, no service that everyone might attend, no prayers that everyone must say, no text that everyone should treat as normative, and no one deity that everyone must worship. The dharma is extremely flexible, and if one finds that a particular practice leads to a diminishment of negative emotions, greater peace and happiness, and increased compassion and wisdom, this is dharma. The Dalai Lama even states that one may practice the dharma by following the teachings and practices of non-Buddhist traditions such as Christianity, Islam, Judaism, or Hinduism.2 If one belongs to one of traditions, and if one's religious practice leads to spiritual advancement, the Dalai Lama counsels that one should keep at it, since this is the goal of all religious paths.

In this sentiment he hearkens back to the historical Buddha, Sakyamuni. who was born in the fifth century B.C.E. in present-day Nepal. As he was about to die, the Buddha was questioned by some of his students, who were concerned that after the master's death people might begin propounding doctrines that had not been spoken by the Buddha himself and that these people might tell others that their doctrines were the actual words of the Buddha. In reply, the Buddha told them, "Whatever is well-spoken is the word of the Buddha."3 In other words, if a particular teaching results in greater peace, compassion, and happiness, and if it leads to a lessening of negative emotions, then it can safely be adopted and practiced as dharma, no matter who originally propounded it.

This flexibility makes it difficult to write about Tibetan Buddhism. Tibetan Buddhism is a multilayered tapestry comprised of many different strands, and anyone hoping to write an introduction to this system is faced with the daunting task of sorting through centuries of history, huge amounts of textual material, and multiple lineages of teaching and practice. The problem is compounded by the scope of Tibetan Buddhism, which is found throughout the Tibetan cultural area. This area includes the core religions of central Tibet; large parts of western Tibet that have traditionally been autonomous; Amdo and Kham in the eastern regions which, although culturally Tibetan, speak distinctive dialects and have maintained their independence from the central regions; the open plains of the Changtang, home of the Tibetan nomads; much of present-day Mongolia; large areas of central Asia; smaller areas in present-day Russia and parts of several republics of the former Soviet Union; much of the Himalayan region of northern India, including Ladakh, Zanskar, and Sikkim; and the neighboring countries of Nepal and Bhutan.

In addition, due to the diaspora of the Tibetan people brought about by the invasion and occupation of Tibet by China, today Tibetan religion and culture are being spread all over the world, and increasing numbers of people in the West consider themselves to be adherents of Tibetan Buddhism. Millions more have heard teachings or read books and articles by Tibetan teachers, with the result that Tibetan culture is attracting unprecedented attention outside of its homeland at the same time that it is being systematically eradicated in the land of its origin.

In the chapters that follow, some of the distinctive features of Tibetan Buddhism will be discussed. Some specialists will no doubt question my choice of topics, and it would be entirely possible to write an introductory study of Tibetan Buddhism that would be far different from this one. The choices of which topics to discuss and how much space to give them reflect my own orientation, which is primarily concerned with philosophy, and meditative practice. Many important elements of Tibetan culture, ethnographic studies, and historical issues have only been mentioned briefly, or even omitted completely. However, it is hoped that this book will serve its primary purpose, which is to draw students into the subject of Tibetan Buddhism and open up further avenues of exploration in this rich and multifaceted tradition.


1. Throughout this book technical terms are mostlv consigned to the indexes at the end. Important ones are placed in parentheses, with the Tibetan term first, followed by a Sanskrit equivalent where appropriate.

2. See, for example, John Avedon, An Interview with the Dalai Lama (New York: Littlebird Publications, 1980, p. 14.

3. See Anguttara-nikaya IV.163; and George Bond, The Word of the Buddha (Columbo: M.D. Gunasena, 1982), p. 30ff.



from http://www.travelchinaguide.com/cityguides/tibet/

The fluttering prayer flags can often be found along with piles of mani stones on rooftops, mountain passes, river crossings, and other sacred places. Prayer flags are actually colorful cotton cloth squares in white, blue, yellow, green, and red. Woodblocks are used to decorate the prayer flags with images, mantras, and prayers. Usually at the center of a prayer flag, there is an image of the Wind Horse which bears the Three Jewels of Buddhism. On the four corners of the flag, are images of Garuda, Dragon, Tiger, and Snow Lion which are the four sacred animals representing the four virtues of wisdom, power, confidence, and fearless joy respectively. Sometimes auspicious Buddhist symbols can be found on the edges. In the blank spaces between the images, prayers and mantras are printed. There are two kinds of prayer flags, the horizontal ones called Lungta in Tibetan and the vertical ones called Darchor. Horizontal prayer flags are squares connected at the top edges with a long thread. The less used vertical prayer flags are usually single squares or groups of squares sewn on poles which are planted in the ground or on rooftops. Tibetans believe the prayers and mantras will be blown heavenward as offerings to their deities and will bring benefits to the one who hangs them, his neighborhood, and all sentient beings, even flying birds. However, if the flags are hung on the wrong astrological dates, they will bring only negative results. And the longer it hangs, the greater the obstacles which will arise. Old prayer flags are replaced with new ones annually on Tibetan New Year.


The Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama, both of the Gelugpa lineage of Tibetan Buddhism, are at the top of the lama hierarchy in old Tibet. They used to be the religious and administrative leaders of the Tibetans. The Dalai Lama ruled Utsang (front Tibet) while the Panchen Lama ruled Tsang (rear Tibet).

The title ¡°Dalai Lama¡±, meaning Ocean Of Wisdom, was first conferred on Sonam Gyatso by the Mongol King Altan Khan who was converted to Tibetan Buddhism in 1578. Sonam Gyatso is the third Dalai Lama since his two predecessors were posthumously conferred as the first and the second Dalai Lamas. The practice of conferring the title ¡°Dalai Lama¡± became established when Emperor Shunzhi of the Qing Dynasty bestowed the same title on the Great Fifth (the fifth Dalai Lama, Ngawang Losang Gyatso) in 1653. The Dalai Lama is considered the incarnation of Chenrezi (Avalokiteshvarra), Bodhisattva of Compassion and the patron deity of Tibet by Tibetan people. There have been fourteen Dalai Lamas, each one considered a reincarnation of the former. The fourth is of Mongol descent and the sixth is Menpa while the rest are all Tibetans. The present Dalai Lama lives in India.

The title of Panchen, Great Scholar, was conferred on Lobsang Choekyi Gyaltsen by Qosot Mongol Gushri Khan in 1645. Lobsang Choekyi Gyaltsen was the fourth Panchen Lama and the three abbots before him were conferred the title posthumously. In 1713, Emperor Kangxi conferred the title of Panchen Erdeni (Erdeni, in Manchurian, means treasure) to the fifth Panchen Lama. The Panchen Lama is esteemed as the incarnation of Amitayus, Buddha of Infinite Light. Tashilungpo Monastery is the traditional seat of the Panchen Lamas. Till now there have been eleven Panchen Lamas. The eleventh Panchen, identified in 1995, now lives in China.


Om Mani Pedme Hum (or Om Mani Pedme Hung), is the most common mantra in Tibet, recited by Buddhists, painted or carved on rocks, prayer wheels, or yak skulls and seen around most usually. Tibetan people, almost all Buddhists, do believe that it is very good to practice the mantra of Chenrezi, the Bodhisattva of Compassion (The protective deity of Tibet), which may, relieve negative karma, accumulate merit, help rescue them from the sea of suffering and achieve Buddhahood. Speaking the mantra loud or silently, spinning prayer wheels with the mantra, and carving mantra into stones are the usual practices.

So what is the mantra? There is no definite answer to the question since it is not easy to translate the mantra into other languages. According to the Dalai Lama, the six-syllable mantra means one can transform one's impure body, speech and mind into those of a Buddha by following the path which is inseparable integrality of method and wisdom. The first syllable, Om, symbolize one's impure body, speech and mind, and also the pure noble body, speech and mind of a Buddha. Buddhism claims that an impure body, speech and mind can be transformed into pure ones of a Buddha, who was once impure and later by removing their negative attributes, achieved enlightenment on his path.

Mani, the jewel, symbolizes factors of method, compassion and love, the altruistic intention to become enlightened. "Just as a jewel is capable of removing poverty, so the altruistic mind of enlightenment is capable of removing the poverty, or difficulties, and of solitary peace. Similarly, just as a jewel fulfils the wishes of sentient beings, so the altruistic intention to become enlightened fulfils the wishes of sentient beings", the Dalai Lama says.

Padme means lotus and symbolizes wisdom. Growing out of mud but not being stained by mud, lotus indicates the quality of wisdom, which keeps you out of contradiction.

The last syllabus, Hum, means inseparability, symbolizes purity & can be achieved by the unity of method and wisdom.


It is common to see various religious symbols when traveling in Tibetan monasteries, villages. They are used as sacred adornments.

The Eight Auspicious Signs, or eight motifs, generally symbolize how to progress along the Buddhist path.

White Umbrella: a symbol of loyalty and faith and Dharma protection from all evil.
Golden Fish: a symbol of happiness, soul emancipation, and salvation from the sea of suffering
Vase: stores the nectar of immortality and symbolizes hidden treasure
Lotus: symbolizes purity and spiritual enfoldment
Conch Shell: proclaims the teachings of the enlightened ones and symbolizes the spoken word.
Knot of Eternity: symbolizes the unity of all things and the illusory character of time.
Victory Standard: the cylinder symbolizes the victory of Buddhism over ignorance and death.
Dharma Wheel: symbolizes the unity of all things, spiritual law and Sakyamuni himself. The wheel is usually flanked by two deer, the first to listen to Sakyamuni's teachings. The male deer symbolizes the realization of great bliss while the female deer symbolizes the realization of emptiness.

Other common symbols:

Swastika: commonly seen on home walls or on monastery floors. Meaning good fortune, it symbolizes infinity, universe and sometimes sun and moon. Buddhists draw it clockwise while bon followers draw it anticlockwise.

Kalacakra Seal: an adorning motif in murals or on monastery walls. It symbolizes the highest initiations into occult knowledge which can only be possessed by a few high lamas.
Wheel of Life: in murals or on monastery walls. The demon of impermanence holds a wheel, segmented into six sections, which mean all realms of existence respectively. These are: Heaven, demigods, humankind, hell, hungry ghosts and animals. The hub in the center symbolizes ignorance, hatred and greed, the three poisons.
Sun and Moon: usually seen on village houses and top of stupas. The adorning motif symbolizes the source of light and union of opposites



 http://www.tibet.ca this site has a lot to offer in terms of DAILY updates in news stories related to Tibet.  

 http://www.tibetnews.com  this is the official news site of the Tibetan Government in Exile.  

 http://www.tibetinfo.net this is a site that has news in Tibetan script and Chinese Characters as well as English.


http://www.chinanews.bfn.org this has a separate section for many areas of China, including one for Xinjiang and Tibet.   It has a lot of useful information including how to access blocked sites (half the sites I want to see about Tibet are blocked) and links for embassies, currency conversions, etc.  

http://www.tibettimes.net/  we can't open it here, but it's a newspaper that has news in Tibetan.  

http://www.oeaw.ac.at/ias/tib/tib/links.html lots of links to places you can read in Tibetan.  



 http://www.tibetinfor.com.cn  This site might be good to look at to hear the Chinese perspective.  On the other hand, it's a load of propaganda and the site really has benefit only for it's links and the opportunity to listen to some Tibetan songs and see some poems and what not.  

http://www.awesomelibrary.org/Library/Local_Information/Asia/Tibet.html  lots of links.  

http://www.khandro.net/links_Tibet.htm really useful list of links- even a link to how to eat Tsampa!  

http://www.ilovetibet.net  sort of a Tibet fan club site.

 http://www.churchward.com/rel.html a good site for info on Tibetan Buddhism.

http://www.tibethouse.org this is the group that Richard Gere helps to fund.  

from http://www.tibetancc.com The Tibetan Culture Center in Bloomington, Indiana (where the brother of the cool woman I recently met in Xiahe is a monk).