Tibetan People's Life, Culture & Religion
Since there is a rapid development around the world, especially in mainland China and Tibet, the people's lives have been dramatically changing such as way of eating, drinking, clothing, housing, love relations etc.In general, the Tibetans who live in the cities nowadays such as Lhasa, Shigatse, Tsetang etc, are practicing their daily lives the same as other people around the world who are following modern development of the society. They eat continental food, drink different kinds of alcoholics soft drinks etc, wear different of kinds of modern clothes including baggy jeans, T shirts, skirts etc, live in a mixture of Tibetan traditional and modern houses or complete western styled houses, finding girl friends or boy friends before the marriage or without the parents arrangement.
Actually we have very typical natural meal, know as Tsampa in Tibet ( Tsampa is a very typical Tibetan ready made meal made of Barley and it was the main meal for the entire Tibetans before and even nowadays the Tibetans who live in the country side prefer to have Tsampa as their main daily dishes since Tsampa has very strong power and nutrition for one's body.)
The process of the making Tsampa is that first we grow barley in the same way as the wheat flour is grown. After we collect the harvest, we roast the barley on an oven stove and then grind it into powder by water mill. Once you grinded into powder, it's already become a ready made meal. If you eat it in a simple way when you don't have much time, you can just pour some tea in your bowl and mix it up and then you can eat it right away.
For the last one decade, when the people's lives are transforming in to a rapid development and modernization in the cities in Tibet, people are crazy to eat meals in the restaurants served by using modern technology such as different kinds of peppers, vinegar, Soy sauce etc or at the same time to serve dishes by using the above technology methods by forgetting it's own natural Tsampa dishes. After a decade passed by, the people who live in the cities in Tibet realized that they are getting more disease from those of the meals mixed up with modern technological items, than the time when they were using Tsampa as their daily meals so through many investigation and research about Tsampa by many professional doctors, both in Tibet and main land China, they realize that Tsampa is a very typical pure natural food item. Not only it has very strong power and nutrition, but also it can support greatly for one's own health development such as to protect from the stomach disease, to protect from sweat and sour urine disease and to help keep your heart standard moving and blood pressure equal standard etc so since many professional doctors consulted the people to eat more Tsampa, especially the people who have the above disease.
90% of the Tibetans in the cities are back to love their traditional Tsampa dishes and they at least eat Tsampa once in their daily lives nowadays and most of the people eat Tsampa for their breakfast.
As I earlier mentioned that the Tibetans who live in the countryside, they eat Tsampa for their main daily dishes with some potato soup, pouring some chopped meat in it or sometimes they mix Tsampa with some butter, sugar and cheese which tastes almost the same as a birthday cake, they use Tsampa for breakfast, lunch and dinner respectively and they eat Yak meat, mutton and a little bit of pork only. Eventhough there is a big development of other items of the meat, they still prefer to stick their traditions. In the one hand, they are directed not to eat some other types of animals including horses, or donkeys and in the other hand They believe they would accumulate a big sin if they eat any small sized of animals including the sea food. E.G when you eat sea food, you are not full unless you kill big amount of lives so for your one dish, you are killing hundreds of lives. When you kill a sheep or Yak, it will be long lasting for many dishes and you are only accumulating a bad Karma of killing one live.
In Tibet, everybody does not kill the animals. In the cities, they buy the meat from the market and the country side, they have butcher in their villages and the butchers help them kill the animals. The butcher get salary from the families when he goes to kill the animals. People believe the butcher as a lower caste.
We also have unique traditional drink, known as Chang in Tibetan which is a little bit similar to white wine, made up of barley and it is called barley beer in English another drink is Ja suma, known as Butter tea in Tibetan.
The process of Chang is first we wash the barley and then we boil the barley. After this we put some yeast on the boiled barley and then brew it in a big mud pot covered by very thick warm clothes, After 2 or three full days, it is completely brewed and then we put the water by measure. The Chang is available throughout the Tibet region and it is more popular in the central Tibet part, especially in the farming areas. The Chang is necessarily offered to the guests during Tibetan new year or some other occasions including the wedding ceremony.
The farmers drink Chang for their daily lives, especially they drink a lot when they are working in the filed. The Chang can relax their body from the hard work and it is also has most effective nutrition which can make once body stronger healthier, especially it is very good for the patient who are not enough their body blood and strength.
If you are offered Chang while you are in Tibet , we have polite way of drinking. The family or restaurant fills your Chang glass and then comes to offer you. So before you drink it, you need to throw three times in the ear with your right hand third finger. The first throw in the ear represents to offer your Chang to the three jewels of Gods, the second throw in the air represents to offer to the heaven and the third throw represents to offer to the Naga. This way of offering symbolizes, in the one hand that Tibetans have very deep faith in Buddhist religion and they believe they can gain merits if they can offer to the above sacred objects. In the other hand, they believe they will be more successful in whatever they do if they can offer to the above most sacred objects in Tibetan Buddhism.
After the process of throwing in the air, we you need to make three sips and each sip will be refueled and then bottoms up. This is for your beginning process, After this you can drink independently.
The process of making butter tea is first we boil the water. After boiling water, put salt and Yak butter ( It is used to say Yak butter in the western countries because in most of the English guide books, they say Yak butter. Actually Yak is a male and it can't have butter. The femal Yak is called Dri and it must say Dri butter indeed ) in the churner and then churn it several times and becomes butter tea.
People usually drink butter tea in the morning for their breakfast. It is a similar custom that the westerners drink coffee for their breakfast.
Tibetans have different gowns for both men and women, they have long sleeve gowns and gowns without sleeve, made up of sheep wool, sheep skin etc. People in the villages, wear those traditional gowns, especially in the nomadic area, the men wear gown made up of sheep skin so that they are not afraid of cold weather beneath 20 degrees.
However in the cities, you can only see old people, especially the women are wearing traditional gowns. Because of the rapid development, the young generations prefer wear modern clothes in the cities except during special occasions such Tibetan new year, Wedding festival etc.
In Tibet , there are three main religions, practiced by the people. Around 90% of Tibetans are Buddhist followers, 7% of Tibetans are Bon followers one who believe in Shamanism, & 3% percent Tibetans are Muslim followers. Since the Buddhism was widely spread in Tibet , here are brief introduction to Tibetan Buddhism.
The Buddhism originally penetrated in Tibet in around 5 th Century during the reign of 28 th Tibetan King Lha Thori Nyenstan. It is believed that a volume of a Buddhist scripture had fallen on to the roof of Yumbu Lhakang from the sky in the Lhoka region, the cradle of Tibet but at that time Tibetans did not have their own scrip so they could not read or practice it until 7 th century during the reign of 33 rd Tibetan King Songtsen Gamp. The scripture was kept in Yumbu Lhakang as a secret since they could not read it so it is named as melodious secret.
During the King Songtsen Gampo, he sent one of his wise ministers, Sam Bhota to India to study Sanskrit and he successfully completed his studies in India . After Sam Bhota's return to Tibet , he created a Tibetan own script based on Sanskrit which is the Tibetan language that we are using today. After this the Buddhism began in Tibet and in around 8 th century during the reign of 38 th Tibetan king Trisong Detsan, the Buddhism developed. The King Trisong Detsan sent many of his ministers or Tibetan scholars to India to study. After their successful studies, they returned to Tibet and translated many Buddhist scripture into Tibetan. The king Trisong Detsan invited Pedmasamvawa from India and built Samye monastery, the first monastery of Tibet and created a characteristic Buddhist sect, called Nyingma pa or known as red hat sect.
In the 9 th Century, the 40 th Tibetan King Tri Ralpa Chen, the Buddhism flourished very widely throughout Tibet and it became the major religion of Tibet . There was a demand from the local government that every single family has to send on of their sons to the monastery and study there as monks.
Nevertheless, in the end of 9 th century, the King Tri Ralpachen's brother Lang Dharma assassinated the king and enthroned to his brother's seat and became the Tibetan King. He destroyed most of the temples in Tibet , monks were ordered to work as lay men so since then until 11 th Century the Buddhism was almost disappeared in Tibet . Not long after he took the throne, he was shot to death with an arrow by a Buddhist monk called Lhalung Paldor and Tibet left to decentralization.
However, in 11 th Century, Lha Lama Jangchu Woe invited Atisha from India and brought the Buddhism back to Tibet . Atisha traveled from India through the western part of Tibet and finally to Lhasa , spent some years in Nyethang, close to Lhasa , preaching and writing, the stages of the path to enlightenment. He created a new Buddhist sect, called Kadampa. He got two famous Tibetan students, Dom Tonpa and Nog Lepai Sherrap. Dom Tonpa built the Tara temple of Nyethang and Reting monastery in the northern Tibet .
In the late 11 th Century, a famous Tibetan scholar also considered as a very high Lama, Marpa Lotsawa who went to India many times and brought many Buddhist scriptures from India and translated them in to Tibetan Language. He created a new sect, called Kagyupa and accepted Mila Repa as the main disciple. Mila Repa was a very famous Tibetan Yogi who is believed to achieve the enlightenment within a life time and built Saker Guthok temple (9 storey high) by himself without any help from others. In the 12 th Century, another new sect called Sakyapa founded by Kon Kunchok Gyalpo and Drogon Choegyal Pagpa. Drogon Choegyal Pagpa was the first Tibetan Lama who took the ruling power in Tibet .
In around the 14 th century, a famous Tibetan scholar, Tsongkapa from Amdo region traveled to Lhasa and on the way he has taken many teachers from those above sects and realiased that the monastic rule in those three sects was not proper one because there were many monks who also got married or drank alcohol etc within those three sects so finally he founded a new sect, known as Gelukpa which is the most popular and biggest sect in Tibetan Buddhism at the present day and he emphasized the monastic rule. After a monk admitted a monastery, he had to take the vow of junior monkhood first and then senior monkhood respectively. Once the monks have taken those above vows, they were not allowed to drink, marry, slaughter etc. Those four sects are practiced throughout Tibet and among them, the Gelukpa is widely followed.
Pilgrimage is the tradition of Buddhist in Tibet ,For the ordinary Tibetan, pilgrimage is a means of accumulating merit or good luck. They may go on pilgrimage in the hope of winning a better rebirth, cure an illness, end a spate of bad luck or simply because of a vow to take a pilgrimage if a bodhisattva granted a wish.
Present Khada is a common practice among the Tibetan people to express their best wishes on many occasions, such as wedding ceremonies, festivals, visiting the elders and the betters, and entertaining guests. The white Khada, a long narrow scarf made of silk, embodies purity and good fortune.
Sky burial is a common form in Tibet . We believe you will still gain merit if you were given your dead body to the hungry vulture and besides once you were dead, your body is considered as same as soil or rock so there is not feeling of harmfulness. There are many prohibitions. Strangers are not allowed to attend the ceremony and Tibetans are fully paying this respect to the family of the dead person. Visitors should respect this custom and keep away from such occasions.
Etiquettes and Taboos
With unique culture and religion, Tibetans have different ways of behavior in many aspects. There is an old Chinese saying: "Sing the local songs when you get to a local place." So please keep in mind the following tips:
- Remember not to step on threshold when entering the tent or house.
- Calling somebody in name please add "la" behind the name to express respects.
- If you are asked to sit down, please cross your legs, do not stretch your legs forward and face your sole to others.
- you should accept the gift with both hands. While presenting the gift you should bend your body forward and hold the gift higher than your head with both hands. While offering tea, wine or cigarette, you should offer them by both hands and any fingers do not tough inside of the bowl.
- Do not touch, walk over or sit on any religious texts, objects or prayer flags in monasteries.
- When the host presents you a cup of wine, you should dip your ring finger in the wine and flick the wine into the sky, in the air and to the ground respectively to express your respects to the heaven, the earth and the ancestors before sipping the wine. The host will fill the cup, and you take a sip of the wine again. After the host fills your cup again, you have to bottom it up.
- Tibetan people do not eat horse, dog and donkey meat and also do not eat fish in some areas, so please respect their diet habits.
- It is not polite to clap your palms and spit behind the Tibetan people.
- Tibetan people stretch out their tongue to say hello to you. Also it is a courtesy to put their hands palm in front of breast.
- Do not smoke in monasteries. Also it is banned to touch the statue of Buddha and religious articles and take pictures of them. In addition, all should walk clockwise (not in the Bon temples).
- Seeing any pagodas, monasteries or Mani piles, please go around them clockwise (not of the Bon), do not cross them.
- Eagles are the sacred birds in the eyes of the Tibetan people. You should not drive them away or injure them. On the outskirts, you could not drive or disturb the sheep or cows with red, green or yellow cloth strips on.
Since more and more tourists are going to Tibet, more and more Tibetan people get used of seeing the "Big Noses" (western people) with jeans, sun glasses and some of them with shorts (It is prohibited to wear shorts among the Tibetans.), the above rules are not obeyed so strictly as before. But we still suggest you take the above advices and travel to behave well.