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Tibetan Culture

Tibetan Culture

Tibetan Buddhism

Lhasa is the political and economic centre of Tibetan Buddhism. In the city and suburbs lie a multitude of sacred temples and palaces, such as the Potala Palace, the Sera Monastery, the Jokhang Monastery, and the Drepung Monastery and so forth. Here, you can easily find lamas in purplish red Kasaya robes and faithful disciples devoutly going on to a pilgrimage in a one-step-one-kowtow way. The religious atmosphere is sure to leave a deep impression.

The 1,300 years of history has left Lhasa a myriad of cultural heritages. You will feel like you are wandering in the corridor of history. Many visitors come to Tibet wishing to experience Tibetan culture and religion.

The Rotating Buddhist Scripture

In Lhasa and throughout the Tibetan Buddhist regions, it is commonplace to see some Tibetans reading the sutra whilst rotating the wheels of the Buddhist scripture. They usually walk in a certain direction and rotate the wheels clockwise in the vicinity of the lakes beside the temples and around the peaks. This is what people call “the rotating Buddhist scripture”, a solemn and sacred religious ceremony that is common in Tibet.

The wheel of the rotating Buddhist scripture has the Tibetan scripture and magic spells inside. Rotating it clockwise (called “auspicious rotation”, because it is the direction in which the earth rotates) is equivalent to reading the scripture as it also accumulates merits and virtue. The Han living in the central plains of China call it “Tibetan wheel” or “Tibetan rotating wheel”. It is a unique instrument that boasts a history of more than 1,400 years. Legend has it that someone once asked the Buddha a question, “What if the blind and the deaf can’t read the scripture?” “Circuit the scripture and rotate it clockwise, they can also accumulate the same merits and virtues as reading the scripture,” responded the Buddha. In the Liang Dynasty, Master Shanhui (a monk of high reputation) made a huge wheel of the rotating Buddhist scripture by himself for the disciples who were blind, deaf or illiterate. Many “Tibetan wheels” were set up in the temples for people to accumulate merits and virtues all across the land where the Han lived in tightknit communities.

Customs, Rituals and Taboos

Tibetan people are profoundly influenced by their religion in every aspect of their lives. When traveling to Tibet, do make sure that you follow the traditions and customs there.

  • The Tibetan people do not eat dog meat, monkey meat, horse meat or donkey meat;
  • No touching the children’s heads;
  • Rotate the wheels of Buddhist scripture clockwise;
  • While visiting a Tibetan house, if you are not inclined to drinking, you can politely decline the host’s offer of tea or wine. While receiving a hada, you are supposed to take it with both of your hands. If a hada is directly presented around your neck, do not take it off immediately.
  • If taking pictures of people, especially monks and women, you should ask for permission in advance to avoid getting into trouble. Photos are allowed outside many temples but forbidden inside. Breaking these rules may have serious consequences. In some places, you will be asked to pay a small photography fee, please act in accordance with the local regulations.