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The Tibetan ethnic minority (8)


10:59, August 08, 2011

The strict social caste system was manifested even in the use of language. The Tibetan language has three major forms of expression: the most respectful, the respectful and the everyday speech, to be used respectively to one's superiors, one's peers and one's inferiors.

The social distinctions were also reflected in people's dresses, houses, horses and Hadas -- silk scarves presented on all social occasions to show respect.

Lamaism belongs to the Mahayana School of Buddhism, which was introduced into Tibet in the seventh century and developed into Lamaism by assimilating some of the beliefs and rites of the local religion called "Bon." Lamaism is divided into many different sects, each claiming to be the orthodox. Apart from the Red sect, all the others, including the White sect, the Sakya sect and the Yellow sect, established at different times local regimes that integrated political and religious powers.

The Yellow sect practices the institution of reincarnation of living Buddhas. The Dalai Lama and Bainqen Erdini are supposed to be the reincarnations of two Grand Living Buddhas of the Yellow sect. It was stipulated during the Qing Dynasty that the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama, the Bainqen Lama and other Grand Living Buddhas of the Yellow sect had to be approved by the Qing court or determined by drawing lots from a gold urn. When a Grand Living Buddha dies, his disciples are required to choose a child, in most cases from a noble family, to be his reincarnation. Monasteries of the Yellow sect are scattered all over the Tibetan areas. The most famous of them are the Sera, Drepung, Zhashi Lumpo and Qamdo, as well as Lapuleng in Gansu and Ta'er in Qinghai.

In the western part of Tibet and the pastoral areas of Qinghai and Sichuan provinces, the early Tibetan native religion, the Bon, known locally as the Black sect, is still active. There are also Taoist temples built by the Han people, mosques built by the Huis and some Christian and Catholic churches built by foreign missionaries in a few places.

A large amount of cultural relics, including ancient scripts, woodblock, metal and stone carvings, have been preserved in the Tibetan areas. The engraved block printing technique was introduced from other parts of China. Some books were written in Sanskrist on loose leaves. Apart from the two well-known collections of Buddhist scriptures known as the Kanjur and the Tanjur, there are works on prosody, language, philosophy, history, geography, astronomy, mathematics and medicine as well as novels, operas, biographies, poetry, stories and fables, which are all distinguished for their unique styles. Many of the early works, such as the Thirty Rules of Tibetan Grammar, the four-part Ancient Encyclopaedia of Tibetan Medicine, Feast of the Wise, the epic Princess Wen Cheng, world's longest epic poem King Gesser, the biographical novels Milarib and Boluonai, the Sakya Maxims and the Love Songs of Cangyang Gyacuo (the Sixth Dalai Lama), are very popular and have been translated into many languages and distributed in China and abroad.

Education in the Tibetan areas used to be monopolized by the monasteries. Some of the lamas in big lamaseries, who had learned to read and write and recite Buddhist scriptures and who had passed the test of catechism in the Buddhist doctrine, would be given the degree of Gexi, the equivalent of the doctoral degree in theology.

Others, after a period of training, would be qualified to serve as religious officials or preside over religious rites.

Tibetan medicine has a long history. Doctors of this school of medicine pay great attention to practical skills. They diagnose illnesses by observation, auscultation, smelling, interrogation and pulse feeling. They also know how to collect medicinal herbs and prepare drugs and are skilled in acupuncture, moxibustion and surgery. Tibetan doctors are especially outstanding in veterinary medicine.

The Tibetans have their own calendar. They designate the years by using the five elements (metal, wood, water, fire and earth), yin and yang, and the 12 animals representing the 12 Earthly Branches. A year is divided into four seasons and 12 months; which have 29 or 30 days.

The technique of Tibetan sculpture is superb. The portraits of the Grand Living Buddhas are the very images of the persons depicted. Tibetan painting features fine lines, well-knitted composition, vivid expressions of figures and bright colors. Tibetan architecture is unique in style, with buildings neatly arranged or rising like magnificent towers and castles. The Potala Palace in Lhasa was built on the sunny side of a mountain slope. With golden roofs and white-washed walls, the building rises naturally with the slope, looking extremely imposing. It is a masterpiece of Tibetan architecture.

Maxims and proverbs are very popular among the Tibetans. The metaphors are lively and pregnant with meaning. Tibetans are also good dancers and singers. Their songs and music are well-modulated in tone and the words fit well with the tunes. They often dance while they sing. Their dancing is beautiful with movements executed either with the arms and waist or with legs and feet, and the tap dance is most typically Tibetan. Most of the musical instruments were introduced from the interior of China. Long-handled drums and trumpets are the main musical instruments used by the lamas. They can depict natural sounds, the cries of animals and the singing of birds that can be heard at a great distance. Religious dances are often performed by people wearing masks of deities, humans or animals. The Tibetan opera is one of the famous opera forms in China. It is performed without curtain or stage. In the past, all performers were men. Wearing masks, they danced and sang to the accompaniment of musical instruments. Sometimes the orchestra would chime in with the singers, creating a lively atmosphere.

There are many taboos and activities that bear a strong mark of religion. Buddhists are forbidden to kill. Many wild animals, including fish, field vole, Mongolian gazelle and vulture, are under protection. The Tibetans, rich or poor, all have family niches for keeping Buddha statues. Most people wear a metal amulet box, about the size of a cigarette case, on the breast, and turn prayer wheels. It is forbidden to turn prayer wheels counter-clockwise and stride over ritual objects and braziers.

The Tibetan New Year is the most important festival in Tibet. People in their holiday best extend greetings to each other and go to the monasteries to receive blessings. On the 15th day of the first moon, all major monasteries hold religious rites and all families light up butter lamps when night falls. It is also the occasion for lamas in the Ta'er (Ghumbum) monastery in Qinghai and the Qoikang monastery in Lhasa to display their exquisite and beautifully decorated butter carvings.

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