Local traditions and culture in Tibet

  • Local Customs
    by blueskyjohn
  • Local Customs
    by blueskyjohn
  • Local Customs
    by blueskyjohn

Most Viewed Local Customs in Tibet

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    Don't be Stupa, It's a Chorten!

    by blueskyjohn Written Jul 21, 2013

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    All throughout Tibet you will see these monuments called Stupa's or Chortens. I have always wondered what the difference was between the two and I am still wondering. I have asked Tibetan guides and they tell me they are the same. Stupa/Chortens contain relics, ashes of Buddhist monks or Buddhist scriptures. They are very religious monuments. Local Tibetans and pilgrims will visit these monuments and sometimes do prostrations but more like walk around the stupa in a clockwise direction.

    Stupas/Chortens all have some notable designs the same where ever you go. Typically, they will have a square base, hemispherical dome, with a conical spire and a crescent moon with circular disc on top. I have seen these without the hemispherical dome. I have noticed that the ones without the dome were referred more frequently by locals as Chortens while the ones with the dome were referred to as Chortens.

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    The Endless Knot

    by blueskyjohn Written Jul 15, 2013

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    The Endless Knot is one of the 8 auspicious symbols in Tibetan Buddhism. It can be found along with the other 7 symbols but you will see this symbol more than any other throughout cities and monastery's around the country.

    As you can see the endless not has no beginning or end. In Tibetan Buddhism it can symbolize many things for example, the endless cycle of birth, death and rebirth. It also has reference to wisdom and compassion mixing together. The knot also serves as a reminder that all action is dependent on other actions and that same action has an effect, positive or negative, on all beings.

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    Green Tara

    by blueskyjohn Written Jul 8, 2013

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    Green Tara is one of the more popular deities in Tibetan culture. The Green Tara is said to be the Buddha of Compassion and Action. Those who call upon Green Tara, do so for relief from physical, emotional and spiritual suffering. To gain merit and call for assistance a practitioner will recite a mantra, "Om Tare Tuttare Ture Soha."

    Green Tara can be found painted or carved on stone along Kora's, in Thankgkas and within Monastery temples. The position of Green Tara is consistent. The deity would be seated on a lotus with the left leg folded and the right leg lowered or stretched out to show she is ready for action. Typically she will hold blue lotus flowers in her hands to show purity and power.

    However, Green Tara's primary role is savior. She is believed to help her followers overcome dangers, fears and anxieties, and she is especially worshiped for her ability to overcome the most difficult of situations. Green Tara is intensely compassionate and acts quickly to help those who call upon her.

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    Butter Lamps

    by blueskyjohn Written Jul 6, 2013

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    Every monastery has butter lamps. Usually lit and placed in front of deities as an offering, they are accompanied by 7 bowls of pure water. These are also offerings symbolizing various uses of water. The lamps are fueled by Yak butter. When pilgrims visit a monastery, they may bring along large packets of Yak butter, about 12-16 ounces. As they make their way through the monastery, they will make offerings to deities by spooning in Yak butter to an already lit lamp. This is a very common practice. The lamps could be a single wick and flame or much larger bowls with many flames.

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    Prayer Wheels

    by blueskyjohn Written Jul 6, 2013

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    There are two styles of prayer wheel. The stationary type that typically line the pathway of a Kora or entrance of a Monastery and the hand held type, carried by pilgrims. Both will contain prayers written on a long piece of paper/scrolls and placed within the cylinder. The cylinders are made of either metal or wood. The prayer wheels are always turned in a clockwise direction.

    Why turn a prayer wheel?

    Turning a prayer wheel is said to help gain wisdom and to accumulate merit which is good karma and to purify bad karma. While turning the prayer wheel, practitioner's will repeated recite the mantra, Om Mani Padme Hum. It is also believed that just touching a prayer wheel will bring purification to bad karma.

    After the practice or session is completed, the true practitioner will dedicate merit they gain to sentient beings. This is a large part of Buddhism.

    If you would like to turn the prayer wheels, go right ahead. You do not have to avoid them or be embarrassed as it is part of the Tibetan culture.

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    Rules on drinking tea

    by blueskyjohn Updated Jun 26, 2013

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    It is tradition, that when you are a guest in a Tibetan house and you are offered a cup of tea, accept it with two hands. Before your initial sip, dip your finger into the tea. You then would flick that finger three times to show respect for Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. After this you may take a sip. The host will then fill your cup again. After the third refill you should drink all the tea to the end.

    I have been offered tea many times in monasteries and have done this several times and sometimes not at all. Tibetans are easy going people and would not be offended if you did not follow this tradition.

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    So that's how they're made!

    by blueskyjohn Updated Jun 22, 2013

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    While walking the Tashilhunpo Kora, about only 5 minutes in, I came across a man carving mantras into large pieces of slate. I've always seen these when walking Kora's. They seem perfectly made as if done by a machine. Now I see the intricate work that goes into making these.

    I really didn't put it together until after I left Shigatse, but I wonder if he was making these on the Kora to sell? A missed opportunity. But I truly admired his work.

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    Mani Stones

    by blueskyjohn Written Jun 22, 2013

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    Mani Stones are stones, usually some type of slate, with a carved Tibetan prayer on them. The prayers is typically "Om mani padme hum" which is a mantra or praise to "the jewel in the lotus." Mani stones can be found all along Kora's and most times will be piled up on top of each other at specific sacred sights. When approaching these piles of Mani Stones, locals will circle the mound clockwise as in a mini kora.

    Along with these Mani Stone can be larger stones with extended mantra prayers. These can also be referred to as Mani stones but technically are not.

    Needless to say, don't take any of the stones. They are not meant to be souvenirs.

    Mound of Mani Stones
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    Prayer Flags!

    by blueskyjohn Updated Jun 22, 2013

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    There is definitely no shortage of prayer flags in Tibet. Prayer flags typically have an order of 5 colored pieces of cloth with prayers printed on them. There is a specific color order that goes from blue, white, red, green and yellow.

    Prayer flags can be found just about everywhere. Mostly at passes through the mountains and along Kora's and peaks. Anywhere wind is likely to blow through them.

    The idea of the prayer flags is to have the prayers written on the cloth sent out to the universe. By doing this, it is said to benefit all beings.

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    Prostrating

    by blueskyjohn Updated Jun 21, 2013

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    Prostrating is a very common scene in Tibet, especially in front of temples, monasteries and religious sites. Prostrations are done at a minimum in a series of three. To do a prostration, place the palms of your hands together and raise them over your head, then lower to your neck area then your chest. While doing this, Tibetans will recite a prayer. When the hands come to the chest, the practitioner will kneel down, then lay flat on the ground with the hands extended far in front of the head. Stand and repeat three times or more.

    Prostrating can also be done as you walk a Kora. The same process as above however, after one prostration, the practitioner will take three steps forward then another prostration. Continue until the Kora is complete. This can be quite an undertaking!

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    Tsampa

    by blueskyjohn Updated Jun 21, 2013

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    Tsampa is one of the main foods for Tibetans. Tsampa is Barley flour. The tsampa is usually mixed with a small amount of butter to mold the tsampa together. You definitely don't want to but too much butter tea or it becomes more like a paste. They really just put enough in to loosely mold the flour. I had this served to me once in a monastery but I had no guide explain what to do. It actually became quite a mess.

    Tsampa is also used in some Buddhist ceremonies as well.

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    Butter tea...an acquired taste

    by blueskyjohn Written Jun 21, 2013

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    Butter tea is a part of Tibetan's everyday life. They drink this all throughout the day. Butter tea is often commonly served to visitors of a Tibetan's house or in Monasteries. When drinking butter, your should take separate sips. Often your host will continue to refill you tea cup. This could be a little uncomfortable because of the taste of butter tea. It tastes just like it sounds. Imagine melting a stick of butter in water and drinking it. Well maybe not that bad but it is something to get use to. I find I can't drink more than one cup or I start getting a little queezy.

    Note the cups of butter tea in front of each monk
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    Hey! Don't stick that thing out at me!

    by blueskyjohn Updated Jun 19, 2013

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    I have had this happen to me on several occasions. Always it was when greeting an elderly person and never a younger Tibetan. Maybe a sign of the times and how traditions are being lost.

    I am referring to the act of sticking ones tongue out when meeting someone. In Tibet, this is a sign of respect. However, it was originally meant to show the person you were meeting that you can be trusted and you are not the reincarnation of an evil king who had a black tongue.

    Interesting concept. So don't be offended if someone sticks their tongue out at you!

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    Walk the Kora

    by blueskyjohn Updated Jun 19, 2013

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    A "Kora" is typically a walk or trek around a Monastery, temple, stupa or any other sacred location. In Tibetan Buddhism, this circumambulation is done in a clockwise direction, always starting to the left. Unless you are at a Bon Monastery where you enter in a counter-clockwise direction.

    There are various ways people, usually pilgrims, walk the Kora. While they walk they may spin a hand held prayer wheel, repeatedly chant a mantra (aloud or to themselves) or simply just walk. To the extreme, a devout Tibetan Buddhist may prostrate the entire Kora.

    Kora's can often be lined with stationary prayer wheels. It is not a requirement to spin the prayer, but you would not offend anyone if you did and were not Buddhist.

    Potala Kora Notice every walking clockwise around these stupas Ganden Kora - Kora's can be larger scale to peaks
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    The High Lamas of Tibet

    by Maria81 Written Dec 17, 2011

    Dalai Lama

    Titled 'Ocean of Wisdom", the Dalai Lama is a high lama of the Gelugpa order (though not its official head!) and has historically been both the spiritual and the temporal, or secular, leader of Tibet. The current Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyantso, is the 14th to hold the title, though he has given up the temporal power over the Tibetan Government in Exile.

    The Dalai Lamas are thought to be incarnations of Avalokiteshvara, or the Bodhisattva of compassion. The seat of the Dalai Lamas (prior to exile in Dharamsala) has been the Potala Palace in Lhasa, as well as the summer palace of Norbulingka.

    Panchen Lama

    After the Dalai Lama, the Panchen Lama is the highest ranking lama of the Gelugpa school of Tibetan Buddhism. Currently, the Panchen Lama lineage is at the 11th reincarnation (although the subject is controversial - two rival Panchen Lamas have been recognised by the Tibetans and the Chinese, with the Tibetan Panchen Lama vanishing from public life).

    The Panchen Lamas are said to be incarnations of Amitabha Buddha, and hence titled 'Great Scholar. The seat of the Panchen Lamas is the Tashilhunpo Monastery.

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Tibet Local Customs

blueskyjohn's Profile Photo

Tibet has many customs.  However the most important to remember would be those used when visiting Monasteries. When entering a Buddhist monastery, enter and walk to the left.  The same...

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