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Examines Tibetan Society and Tibetan Buddhism.

Examines Tibetan Society and Tibetan Buddhism.

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  • One of the most thoroughly theocratic kingdoms of the world is Tibet. We take an overview of this kingdom and introduce the online literature and videos that accompany this lecture.


  • 1. Tibet A Buddhist Theocracy
  • 2. Overview of a Theocracy
    • Much has been made of Tibet as a Shangri-la
    • The real Tibet is at once more and less than meets the eye
    • Tibetan Buddhism is an intriguing model of the universe
    • Daily life of the Tibetan herdsman or peasant is somewhat more mundane
    • We look at both sides of Tibetan life in this module
  • 3. Location of Tibet
    • Tibet lies between China and India in the Himalaya chain
    • Virtually all of the country is highland peaks and plateaus
  • 4. Topography of Tibet
    • Tibet is called “The Roof of the World” for good reason:
    • As a plateau region averaging 16,000 feet, it is the highest region in the world
  • 5. Cultures of Tibet: Subsistence Base
    • Arable land is scarce, so that Tibetans are either herdsmen (upper left) or subsistence peasants
    • The animal of choice is the yak, used as both beasts of burden and for milk, cloth, hides, and meat (lower left)
    • This is an ox whose matted undercoat and shaggy outer hair protects them from the cold
    • Other animals include horses, sheep, goats, and camels
    • Crops grown include wheat, barley, rye, buckwheat, and others
  • 6. Cultures of Tibet: Polyandry
    • Fraternal polyandry has drawn much attention
    • Women marry two or more men who are brothers to each other
    • Rationale: Limited land resources encourage population control
    • Only one child at a time can be born
  • 7. Cultures of Tibet: The Question of Feudalism (Michael Parenti)
    • Were the monasteries of Tibet based on feudalism?
    • Ideal: every household has a male lama in a monastery
    • Argument: 700,000 of 1,2 million were serfs
    • They were allowed a small parcel of land
    • But worked for the monasteries or secular lords
    • Captured escapees were beaten until they bled
    • Some serfs actually welcomed the Chinese ”liberation”
    • Source: Michael Parenti, “Friendly Feudalism: The Tibet Myth” Link: http://www.swans.com/library/art9/mparen01.html#6
  • 8. Culture of Tibet: “A Lie Repeated”
    • Joshua Frei argues Parenti has little direct knowledge of Tibet
    • He relies on four Chinese-related sources for his data
    • All four, including Anna Louise Strong, romanticized Maoist revolution
    • Counterargument: Parenti ignores the statements by the Tibetan refugees themselves
    • For more on this issue, log on to this link: http://studentsforafreetibet.org/article.php?id=425
  • 9. Principles of Buddhism (and Hinduism)
    • With Hinduism, postulates Samsara
    • We live in a world of birth, death, and rebirth
    • (Upper Left, Tibetan Wheel of Samsara)
    • Form of our rebirth is driven by karma
    • Past deeds determine our rebirth
    • Samsara, however, is an illusion
    • Nirvana involves recognition of this illusion
  • 10. Buddhism: Desire and Suffering
    • To the Buddha, the source of all suffering is desire
    • The life cycle (samsara) brings suffering, including old age and death (upper left)
    • The road to nirvana (or moksha) is the ending of desire
    • But could the ending of desire itself be desire? Look at all the pressure (lower right)
    • Alan Watts, Zen expert, makes a similar point
  • 11. Tibetan Buddhism
    • Tibetan Buddhism follows the Mahanyana (Great Vehicle) school
    • The principle lies in reaching a state of Buddhahood or enlightenment
    • In doing so, the lama or monk helps all other sentient beings attain that state
    • Sometimes defined as a state of omniscience, the Buddhist principle that all things derive from mind
    • All limitations to help others are thereby removed
    • Karma of sentient beings limit the Buddhists’ ability to help them
  • 12. Lhasa: The Seat of Tibet Power
    • Left: Panorama of Lhasa as it is today
    • Right: Potala Palace, the home of the Dalai Lama and seat of Tibetan Buddhists of the country
  • 13. Definitions of “Buddhism
    • Introspection, or “internist,” is the Tibetan definition of Buddhism
    • Story of Aryadeva cleaning the outside of a cess-pot
    • When asked why he ignored the inside, replied that ritualism also ignores the essential
    • Two steps: to have taken refuge from the external
    • And to observe the four seals of dharma:
  • 14. Four Seals of Dharma
    • All compounded (complicated) things are impermanent
    • All emotions are painful
    • All phenomena are empty; they lack inherent existence
    • Nirvana is beyond extremes
    • In the absence of these seals, Buddhist path would be theistic, religious dogma
    • The external would displace the internal.
  • 15. Methods of Buddhist Practice
    • Preliminary practice , comprising
    • Renunciation of the world,
    • Bodhicitta (wish to attain enlightenment), and
    • Wisdom (of recognizing emptiness)
    • Vajrayana practice is the fastest way to reach Buddhahood
    • Also the riskiest: it
    • Increases ego problems
    • Induces greater suffering
    • Requires solid preliminary practice under direction of an adept lama.
  • 16. Four Schools of Tibetan Buddhism
    • Nyingmapa: “Ancient ones,” or the oldest tradition founded by Padmasambhava
    • Kagyupa: “Oral lineage,” comprising several sub-sects
    • Sakyapa: “Gray earth,” the most scholarly of the traditions
    • Gelugpa: “Way of virtue,” the tradition to which the present Dalai Lama belongs.
    • The Dalai Lamas of that school ruled from the 17 th to the 20 th centuries
  • 17. Cross-Cuttng Features of the Schools
    • ‘ Old Translation” (Nyingampa): reliance on the original translation of the scriptures
    • “ New Translation” (the other three traditions): reliance on more recent translation
    • “ Red Hat”: Color of the hats worn by lamas in the first three traditions
    • “ Yellow Hat”: Color of the hats worn by lamas of the Gelugpa tradition, the current ruling group
    • Other movements: Jonangpa in Eastern Tibet
    • Rim é , an ecumenical movement
  • 18. Tibetan Book of the Dead
    • A text that is intended to guide the conscious between one life and the next
    • This interval is known as the bardo
    • The text is recited to the dying person or his/her representation
    • The bardo is not so much a place as a level of awareness
    • We actually are in a bardo right now
  • 19. The Three Bardos :
    • Chikhai Bardo: the bardo at the moment of death
    • Chonyid Bardo: experiencing of various realities, represented by various Buddhist forms
    • Whether wrathful or peaceful, the forms are projections of the soul’s own illusion
    • Sidpa Bardo: the bardo of rebirth after Judgment
  • 20. Tibetan Book of the Dead: Images
    • Left: A wrathful deity, which one might encounter in the Chonyid Bardo
    • Right: A more peaceable deity, portraying the Buddha and his consort in an erotic pose.
  • 21. China’s Intervention
    • Chinese troops invaded Tibet in 1951
    • Rationale of invasion: to overthrow the feudal system
    • Replace religion with atheism
    • Hundreds of monasteries were destroyed
    • Lamas, including the Dalai lama, were forced into exile
    • Chinese have repopulated the area with Han (ethnic Chinese)
    • A worldwide Tibetan movement has been launched to recover the country
  • 22. Conclusion
    • Tibet is a classical theocracy
    • Whether it was an oppressive theocracy has been debated
    • Peoples themselves are either herders or peasants or both
    • Tibetan Buddhism emphasizes the major tenets of most Mahayana schools
    • The Dalai Lama represents the Gelugpa tradition
    • Tibetan Book of the Dead is a model of the transition between one life and the next.