The Culture of the Tibetan Border Regiond1 พิมพ์ อีเมล
เขียนโดย John Blofeld   

BLOFELD, JOHN. THE CULTURE OF THE TIBETAN BORDER REGIOND 1. JSS. VOL.46 (pt.1) 1958. p.1-15.

 

 

            THE CULTURE OF THE TIBETAN BORDER REGIONS1

                                                             by

                                                  John Blofeld

 

The area which forms the subject of this enquiry includes
the  small  countries  of  Sikkim  and  Bhutan, a  small  part  of  the
Indian  frontier  region   around   Darjeeling  and  Kalimpong,  and
(from  some  points  of  view) the  mountain  areas  of    Nepal.  Of
Nepal   we   shall   say   little  here. Whatever   can  be  said  of  its
Tibeto - Buddhist tribesmen  in  the  Nepalese  mountains  hardly
differs   from   what   can   be   said  about  the  rest  of  the  region.
Moreover,  Nepal   is,  in   the  main, a  Hindu  country  with  Hindu
rulers and a predominently  Hindu  way  of  life. It  belongs  to  the
area   with  which  we  are  concerned  here  only  because  of  its
minority population.

Geographically, our area consists of the Eastern foothills
of  the  Himalayas  where  they  rise  sharply from the North Indian
plain, and a part of the mighty  Himalayas  themselves, especially
in  the  neighbourhood  of  that   immense  and  magnificent giant,
Kanchenjunga.  The  author   cannot   claim   to   be   familiar with
the   whole  area. In  fact, his  personal  observations  have  been
confined  to  Southern  Sikkim  and  to  the  Indian  frontier  region
including Darjeeling and Kalimpong. As for Bhutan, it is a closed
kingdom  more  difficult  for foreigners to enter  than  any  country
on  either  side  of  the  so-called Iron and Bamboo Curtains. The
author's  knowledge  of   that  mysterious  kingdom  is  limited  to
hearsay and to his acquaintance with some exceedingly charming
and almost frighteningly intelligent ladies  who  form  part  of  the
Bhutan Royal Family.

The little state of Sikkim, with which  more  than  half  of
this narrative is  concerned, is  only  sixty   miles  long  and   forty
miles broad, but it offers samples of every  type of climate in  the

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1. Adapted from a lecture delivered at the March 10, 1958, meeting of
the Siam Society.

 

 

 

 

 

 

2                                              John Blofeld

 

world, except that  of  the  desert.  The  valleys, with  their  jungles,
rice fields and tropical vegetation,might well be a part of Northern
Thailand. A  little  higher  are  pine  forests  and  other  vegetation
reminiscent of the Shan States. Higher  still,  the  climate  is  like
that of the temperate zone. Here can be seen one of the loveliest
sights imaginable — mile upon mile of  splendid  rhododendron
forest. Above the rhododendrons, one might  be  in  Norway; and,
going higher still, the visitor acquires a pretty good idea  of  what
to expect at the North Pole.

Sikkim is less  of  an independent kingdom that Bhutan,
but  the  Government of India refrains from much  interference  in
her  internal  affairs; it stations no  police  or  troops  in  the  state,
and limits its representation  to  a Resident, who  is  (for  internal
purposes) very much like an ambassador. The  King   of   Sikkim,
like most of the officials and great landowners,is a  Bhutia, which
means a person of purely Tibetan extraction,though not a subject
of  Tibet. The  royal  family  and  other  important  Sikkimese  fami-
lies  have  intermarried  not  only   with  the  rulers  of  Bhutan, but
also  with  the  Lhasa  nobility. They  differ  from  Tibetans  proper
only in having been  resideut  in  Sikkim  for  several  generations.
Their religion, language and customs are almost  purely  Tibetan;
in  a  sense  they  are  more  Tibetan  than  the  Tibetans of  Tibet,
because in religion and certain other matters, they cling  to  older
forms of Tibetan culture.

The great majority of the middle  and  lower  classes  in
Sikkim, with the exception of the many Tibeto-tribes such  as  the
Lepchas, are not Tibetan, but Nepalese ( which is a  broad  term,
covering  a  number  of  races). With  these, for  the  purposes  of
this discussion, we are not much concerned.

The first part of the author's journey in this area consisted
of a bus trip which brought him from the torrid plains of  India  high
into the Himalayan foothills, following  a  zigzag  course  along  the
banks  of  the  beautiful  Tista, to  Gangtok,  capital  of  Sikkim. This
little town is about seven thousand feet above sea level. Its

 

 

 

 

              THE CULTURE OF THE TIBETAN BORDER REGIONS               3


temples and a  few  public  buildings  are  Tibetan in style, its  one-
street bazar  more  or  less  Indian  or  Nepalese,  and   its  private
dwellings   very   much   'Bangkapi  -  style,'  except   that   they  are
scattered about the lovely mountainside and approached by steep,
winding    paths.  In   fact,  there  is   very   little   that  is  Specifically
Tibetan   about  the  appearance  of  Gangtok, but  the  author  was
fortunate enough to meet many of  its  Tibetan  inhabitants  and  to
be entertained in their houses.

The Tibetans are  a picturesque people. The upper-class
men  wear  an ankle-length, very full Chinese-style  robe  belted  at
the waist, and  their  hair is still twisted  in  a  long  braid,  fastened
with  a  scarlet ribbon  and  wound  round  the  head. They  look  as
if they had stepped out of some Chinese ancestral  portrait, and  it
is rather incongruous to find them Speaking beautiful English and
talking  of  all sorts of modern subjects, such  as  cinematography
and  scientific  horticulture. The  women   wear   a   purely   Tibetan
dress,consisting of a long,sleeveless wool or silk gown worn over
a blouse with sleeves of a colour contrasting  with  the  that  of  the
gown. They may also wear a  horizontally  striped  apron  in  bright
colours, some of which  show  the  insignia  of  noble  rank  at  the
upper corners. Their  hair  is  worn  in  two  long  braids. I  doubt  if,
on the average, any women  in  the  world  look  healthier  or  more
lovely. Women of all classes wear  costumes  of  much  the  same
pattern, though of differing materials. The men who  are  not  living
the relatively soft  lives  of  officials  wear  great  knee-length  boots
of beautiful, soft, coloured leather and hitch their long gowns  over
their belts, so that the skirts  of  the  gowns  resemble  kilts. Some
of the men wear a large  gold  and  turquoise  earring, in  the  right
ear only.

The manners of all the Tibetans  are  delightful. They  are
kind,  courteous,  hospitable   and   exceedingly   graceful  in  their
movements, so that almost every gesture seems part of a traditional
ritual. Their  houses  are  furnished  with  great  elegance. Instead
of  chairs, they  have  hard, square  cushions  covered  with  small
sections of gaily woven Tibetan carpet, and  these  cushions  may

 

 

 

 

 

4                                            John Blofeld

 

be piled one on  top  of  another  to  provide  a  seat  of  any  height.
The rest of their furniture is of  highly  carved  and  painted  lacquer,
notable for the excellent choice  of  colours  and  for  the  very  wide
variety   of   carved   ornamentation. Though  Tibetans  are  fond  of
bright colours, their natural taste enables them  to  avoid  any  ugly
clashing of colour.

It is a delightful experience to be entertained in a  Tibetan
house. Well-to-do people  do  not  regularly  eat  the  national  food,
Tsampa, which is simply a porridge of parched corn and  water  or
buttered  tea, with  salt. Their  food  is  more  or less Chinese. Tea,
usually churned with butter and salt, is offered very ceremoniously
to guests in porcelain cups with filigreed or chased silver lids  and
saucers. The favourite  alcoholic  drink  is  Ch'ang,  a  sort  of  beer
served in a segment of silver-bound giant  bamboo,  about   a  foot
round, and drunk through a ' Straw ' made of a  length  of  very  thin
bamboo. Specially prepared fermented meal is placed in the giant
bamboo and  hot  water  poured  in  until  the  vessel  is full.  Water
can be added  several  times  before  the beer becomes weak and
tasteless.  If   the   guests  do   not   drink  enough, their   charming
hostesses will  encircle  them,  performing  a  dance  and  singing
words such as:

"We're sorry you cannot stay longer;
Why don't you change your mind?
And, at least, while you're here,
Pray do us the honour
Of drinking a long, long drink
To our health. "

Pew can resist such invitations, however often  they  are
offered; and, though the Ch'ang is very mild, few  guests  are  per-
mitted to leave a party absolutely sober. Throughout the entertain-
ment, one is treated with a  very  attractive  combination  of  rather
formal,  ritualistic   manners   and   a  friendly,  laughing  intimacy,
which is most  winning. The  upper-class Tibetans  are  probably
among the few people left in the world whom one can call  highly
sophisticated, using the word without the smallest implication of

 

 

 

 

 

            THE CULTURE OF THE TIBETAN BORDER REGIONS              5

 

'Westernized.'  Almost  all  other  Oriental  cultures  have  suffered
so much from the impact of the West,that the habits and manners
of the educated classes are almost more international  than  tradi-
tional — which  is  rather  sad. Of  the  many  travellers  who  have
written books  on  Tibet, only  a  few  ever  had  the  opportunity  to
come in contact with  the  Tibetan  upper  classes;  but,  wherever
they nave done  so,  they  have  usually  paid  a  similar  tribute  to
Tibetan   good   manners,  good   taste, and   high  sophistication.

In Gangtok, the author visited the chief places of  interest.
Most important, in some respects, is the huge Chorten, a  sort  of
giant   Pra   Chedi,  built   in   five   sections   symbolizing   the  five
elements, including ether.The Tibetans are extremely strict about
keeping the shoulder  towards  holy  structures  of   this  kind. The
author is sure that Tibetan visitors to Nakorn Prathom  would  not
dream of driving straight into the shopping area,thereby exposing
the left side of their cars and themselves  to the Chedi.  Wherever
a Chedi is near a road, a special  path is  built  round  it, so  as  to
avoid this difficulty.

Tibetan  temples  are  not  particularly  attractive  on  the
outside, but   their   interiors   are   lovely.  From   floor  to  ceiling
there are beautiful frescoes of sacred subjects,and there are also
many Tanka, hanging, silken scrolls on  rods  tipped  with  silver,
which serve as mountings for lovely paintings. The silken  moun-
tings usually contain the five sacred colours. One may watch the
court artist at work and be delighted  to  see  that  there  are  still
living exponents of Tibetan art whose standard is not  inferior  to
that of former days.

From Gangtok the auther journeyed to the monastery of
Tashiding, which crowns a conical mountain  in the  centre  of  a
deep bowl, and which is almost an island, for  it   is  nearly  encir-
cled by the waters of  two  mountain  torrents  which   clash  thun-
derously into one near its foot.The  journey,  which   took  several
days, was accomplished partly on horseback and partly  on   foot,
through leech-infested jungles, and along narrow paths, sometimes

 

 

 

 

6                                            John Blofeld

 

through knee-deep water. At  each  stage,  there  is  a  comfortable
government rest house; and, whenever the sun shines, all around
are  magnificent  views  of  green  mountains  with  the  pure  white
Himalayan giants rearing their heads above  them. The  spectacle
of dawn in one of these places is  about  the  loveliest  sight  earth
has to offer—no less  than  a  dance  of  the  tire-gods  across  the
snow.

The monastery consists of a long narrow street of  quite
small houses with a large  Hall of Ceremony  at  either  end.  The
chief lama, Tangku Rimpoché, is a man famous for his piety and
learning.  His   rituals   and    meditations   continue   for    almost
twenty-four  hours  a  day, except  in  the  late  morning   when  he
sleeps for a few hours. Careless about his dress and wearing  a
wig  very  much  on  one  side ( for  he  belonged  to  the.  ancient,
' unreformed ' sect who do not shave their heads ), he might be a
figure  of  fun. But  his  charming  dignity,  the  light  of  knowledge
and  spirituality   in  his  eyes,  and  his  great, warm   friendliness
inspire  immediate  respect,  making  one  forget,  after   the   first
moment, his otherwise laughable appearance. His  hospitality is
unbounded.  The  author   shall  never  forget   the  morning  after
an   all-night  ceremony,  during  which  laymen  had   been  busy
cooking a meat dumpling called momo (sarapao) that was bigger than
he had ever seen before. The Lama invited him  to  eat  with  the
group and kept  pressing  upon  him  more  and  more  of  these
gigantic momo. Almost at his last gasp, he  managed  to  choke
down thirteen  of  them, all  protests  having  been   in  vain.  And,
just as the last piece of the thirteenth dumpling was  swallowed,
the old man smiled.It was a lovely smile of simple pleasure and
contentment. The way the Tangku Lama looked at that  moment
was unforgetable. It was one of the high  points  of   the  author's
whole tour.

From  Sikkim  the  journey  led  to  Darjeeling,  which  is
very   lovely   but  a  bit  too  much  of  a  hill  station.  However,  a
most  delightful  story  was  told  there  which illustrates well the

 

 

 

 

          THE CULTURE OF THE TIBETAN BORDER REGIONS         7

 

impressive   manners   of    the  Tibetans.  A  former  Governor  of
Bengal was spending the hot  season  in   Darjeeling. For  some
reason, the Tibetans and British were not on very  good terms  at
the time and, when the Governor sought to entertain  the  Tibetan
gentry   round  about,  very  few, if  any,  Tibetans  accepted.    The
Governor called for his local chief of police, who happened  to be
a Tibetan, and asked him  to  arrange  things  as  best  he  could.
Apparently several distinguished Englishmen had been promised
that they should meet Tibetans, so  Tibetans  there  must   be. On
the night of the ball, some  twenty  or  thirty  grave,  dignified   men
in  long  silk  robes  appeared  at  the  Governor's  residence  and
charmed everybody with their  beautiful  manners. Because  none
of the British present could  speak  Tibetan,  conversation  had  to
be  carried  on  with  the  help  of  the  police  chief. Everyone  was
delighted and the evening was a great  success. It  was  not  until
some years afterwards that the Governor learned  the  truth about
his stately guests. They had been quite humble people, some  of
them  sedan - chair  bearers  from   a   neighbouring   town,   who,
thanks  to   their   borrowed   silk   robes   and   naturally  beautiful
manners, had passed quite easily for distinguished  gentry.  Few
races, certainly, have such graceful manners at all levels of socie-
ty for a trick such as this to be possible.

From Darjeeling the author went to Kalimpong,where he
stayed for quite a long time.  Less  picturesque  than  Darjeeling,
though in any case very lovely, it is  far  more  attractive  because
it  is  the end  of  the  chief  trade  route  from  Tibet. Not  only  are
there many Tibetan scholars and monks living in and around the
little  town, but   thousands  of  Tibetans  journey  back  and  forth
from Lhasa. Kalimpong is an excellent place  for  buying Tibetan
knickknacks, as well as for meeting Tibetans,including the most
lovely and talented  Bhutanese  princesses  who  live  at  Bhutan
House, who  act  as  agents  for  the  King  of  Bhutan. (Incredible
as  it  may  seem, the  Foreign  Minister  of  Bhutan  is, or  was, a
woman. )

 

 

 

8                                                  John Blofeld

 

Tibetans are skilled in  many  arts.  Besides  music   and
poetry,  they   have   an   extensive  literature,  largely  on   religions
subjects, and such arts as painting, weaving, rug-making, embroi-
dery, making jewelry of  gold  and  silver  set  with  coral, turquoise
and other semi-precious (or sometimes very precious) stones, metal-
work of several kinds, block-printing, paper-making, wood-carving,
bronze-casting, and architecture. Their taste is so  good  that   one
rarely sees an un-beautiful Tibetan object,  except   those  sold   to
tourists  in  the  great  cities  of  India. And  the  Tibetans  like  their
possessions to have  individual  qualities. A  very  poor  man  may
have nothing in the world but his clothes ( often  ragged  and  filthy
dirty ) and three or four little personal  objects,  such  as  a  sheath,
knife, a   chopstick  case, or   a   flint - lighter. But  usually  each  of
these objects, in addition to possessing  some  artistic  merit, will
be in some way different from similar objects in the possession of
other people.

Religion seems to mean  more  to  the  Tibetans  than  to
any  race  in  the  world, with  the  possible  exception  of  some  of
the   more   traditional   Near  Eastern  Moslems. But,  although ex-
cellent   translations   of   Tibetan   texts   with  very  full  notes  and
commentaries have been published by Dr. Evans  Wentz  (Particu-
larly the Tibetan Book of the Dead and the book about the Tibetan
saint, Milarespa ), the rest of the world seems surprisingly  full  of
misinformation  on  the  subject  of  Tibetan  religion. One  reason,
no doubt, is that so  few  of  the  travellers  who have written about
Tibet have had enough knowledge  of  the  subject  to  be  able  to
judge Tibetan Buddhism at  its  true  worth. The  criticism  usually
made of it is that it is a degenerated form  of  a  noble  religion,  in
which  magic  and  demons  play  a  larger  part  than  the  exalted
teaching of the Lord Buddha.

This criticism is certainly  not  without  some  foundation.
To claim the reverse would be going too far. It  is  true  that  many
Tibetans still follow the ancient Bon religion, and that even  more
of them subscribe to a kind of Buddhism which is really Bon with

 

 

 

 

            THE CULTURE OF THE TIBETAN BORDER REGIONS           9

 

a thin  Buddhist  veneer  and  a  mere  change  in  the  titles  of  the
principal deities. Many foreigners  go  to   the  Tibetan  borderlands
in   order  to  scale  the  mighty  peaks  of  the  Himalayas; the  only
Tibetans or Tibeto-tribesmen with whom they come in  contact  are
generally their bearers, who are most often drawn  from  that  class
of ignorant,   superstitious   folk   to   whom   such   criticism  chiefly
applies. There is yet  another  factor  which  contributes   to  visitors
acquiring  a  poor  impression  of  Tibetan  Buddhism. Among   the
Tibetans education is  limited  to  a  very  small  percentage  of   the
population.The percentage of males who become monks,however,
must be about the highest in the world. These conditions  naturally
lead to to the existence of huge numbers of monks who are  barely,
if   at  all,  educated. The  religious  qualities  of  such  monks  may,
in certain cases, be very high indeed; but, on the whole, uneducated
monks   tend   to  lower  the  high  standards  of   their  religion,  as
Catholic Europe discovered during mediaeval times.

Magic,    sorcery,    divination,    witchcraft,    fortunetelling,
miraculous healing, spirit worship and the evocation of spirits are
all common enough in Tibet.  These  practices  contain  a  certain
fascination for many of us, but  we  shall  not  be  concerned   with
them here. We shall look rather  at   the  more  serious, the   more
spiritual, and the  more  scholarly  aspects  of  Tibetan  Buddhism.
We shall emphasize these just because they have all too often been
lost sight of by most travellers.

The author's own impression of Tibetan Buddhism, based
on   a   twenty - year  study  which  began  under  the  tutelage  of
learned Tibetan and Mongolian lamas in China long ago, is that
it   is   a  religion  of  strange  contrasts. If   it  is   true   that  some
Tibetan monks  are  remarkable  for  ignorant  and  superstitous
practices, it is also true that the genuine scholars  among  them
have probably  gone  more  deeply  into  the  implications  of  the
Dharma   than   almost   any   other   group   in  the  world   today.
What is  even  more  important, they  have  achieved   heights  of

 

 

 

 

10                                         John Blofeld

 

Spirituality which have been very seldom  equalled  anywhere  in
the modern world. Some of these scholars have spent as  much
as thirty or forty years at the great Buddhist university  in  Lhassa,
which instructs thousands of monks in every  aspect  of  religion,
as well as medicine, logic, and other subjects. Moreover, during
the   years  they  spend  at  the  university,  they  do  not  vegetate.
They apply themselves constantly  to  the  study  of  the  Dharma,
the human spirit, and the mind of man. No less  a  psychologist
than   the   great  Jung  has  paid  many  glowing  tributes  to  the
discoveries Tibetan students have made of the workings  of  the
mind. Some of the results obtained by them he  actually  utilized
in his own work.

The criticism of 'ignorant superstition' levelled constantly
at Tibetan Buddhists may be partly  due   to  a  misunderstanding
of another kind than those already  mentioned. Tibetan  Buddhist
practice is highly ritualistic, although the Lord  Buddha described
ritual   as  one  of   the  great   hindrances  to  Enlightenment. The
author has often discussed this matter  with Tibetan  lamas  and
has received an answer somewhat as follows:

" It is quite true that rituals recited or  performed  by  rote
without   any  proper  understanding  of,  or  reflection  upon, their
meaning are, at the  very  least,  useless  and,  at  most,  a  great
obstacle  to  progress. But   our   rituals  are  not  intended  to  be
treated in that way. The Dharma  is  very  profound  and  contains
all sorts of more or less abstract ideas which the ordinary disciple
finds it hard to  recall  or  even  to  understand. One  of   the  main
purposes of our rituals, besides encouraging a spirit of devotion,
is to impress the different aspects of the Dharma upon the minds
of the devotees taking part."

To illustrate the meaning of this reply, a few examples
are offered here. When a Tibetan is about to prostrate  himself,
he first raises his hands ( palm to palm ) above his head, then
lowers them to the level of  his  face  and,  finally,  brings  them
down to his chest. This symbolizes the threefold purity of body,

 

 

 

 

 

        THE CULTURE OF THE TIBETAN BORDER REGIONS           11

 

Speech  and   mind, which   he   hopes  to  achieve by submitting
himself to the Dharma. Upon most Tibetan  altars  will  be  found
two  rows  of  offerings  consisting  of  the  same symbols ( water,
flowers,  incense,  etc. ), but  laid  out  in  reverse  directions. This
serves to prevent simple-minded people from supposing that the
Buddha resides in the statue or tanka (picture) before  which  the
offerings stand. One row is offered to the Buddha, as symbolized
by  that  statue; the  other  'to   the   Buddha   in   our   own  hearts,'
which one may assume refers to the potential  Buddha-nature in
all of us.

A more complicated example concerns the Tibetan mantra,
Om  mani  padme  hum. The meanings  of  this  short  sentence are
so manifold that a German scholar  has  recently  produced  a book,
translated into three  European  languages, in  which  he  treats  the
mantra   in   no   less  than  four  hundred  pages. The   words  mani
padme
are usually translated as the  Jewel  in  the  Lotus, a  correct
translation,  but   one   with   an   incredible   number   of   meanings
which  the  Tibetans ( or  Some  of    them )  know   intimately.  Accor-
ding   to   one   interpretation,  the  Jewel   is    the  Buddhist  Church
together with  all  outward  manifestations  of  Buddhism;  while  the
Lotus refers  to  that  inner  meaning  of  the  Dharma  which  only  a
few   of  us  will  be  fortunate  enough  to  discover  in  this  life.  The
word   om   (or  aum),  when  properly  pronounced, begins  right  at
the   back   of   the   mouth   and  ends  with  the  lips  closed. It  thus
symbolizes,  among   other   things, the   totality   of   all  sound,  but
rather in the spiritual  sense  of  that  expression  best  conveyed  in
English   by   'The   Music  of   the   Spheres.' The    word   hum  is  a
'creative' sound,  symbolizing  the  purity  and  religions  or  spiritual
worth   of   the   devotions   being   or   about   to  be  performed. The
whole mantra  is  used  in  scores  of  different  ways, of  which  one
may    be    mentioned    here.  According   to   traditional     Buddhist
teaching, there are six kinds of life; that  in  the  Loka  or   temporary
heavens,  that   of   the   Asura,  that   of   men,  of   animals,  that   of
Preta, and  of  sufferers  in  the  temporary  hells. The   six  syllables
of the mantra are  therefore  recited  very  slowly  indeed,  while   the

 

 

 

 

 

 

12                                             John Blofeld

 

devotee radiates thoughts of kindness and compassion to all beings
who are bound to the Wheel of Life and who are undergoing one
of these six states of existence. Each of the states is  thought  of
separately in conjunction with the solemn intoning of  the  appro-
priate syllable of the mantra.

Almost   every  Tibetan  temple  contains  a  large,coloured
picture  of  the  Wheel   of   Life, known   to   many   English   readers
through  Kipling's  novel,  Kim. The  explanation  of  all  the  symbols
on this Wheel requires  several  hours, but  we  will  attempt  to  give
some broad indications of its most obvious meanings. In the centre
is a small circle containing pictures of cock, snake  and  pig, symbo-
lizing  lust,  malice   and   ignorance , the   three   fires  of  evil  which
cause us to revolve upon the  Wheel. Around  this  is  another  circle
with representations of beings progressing upwards or downwards
in    accordance   with   their   self - built   karmic   destiny. The   next
circle is  divided  into  six  sections,  representing  the  six  states  of
existence   already   alluded    to.  Graphic   representations   of   the
pleasures and pains of the various sorts of  life  fill  these  sections.
If the picture of the  Wheel  is  a  large  and  detailed  one, there  will
be within these six sections various  sub - types  of  being, such  as
men   or   animals   enjoying   a  relatively  pleasant  existence   and
others   who   undergo   almost  hellish  sufferings  while  stil  l well
above   the   state   of   hell. The   outermost   circle   is  divided  into
twelve sections, each containing a picture representing one  of  the
twelve nidana, the chain of cause  and  effect  which  entails  count-
less   rebirths. Of   these, we   shall  have  something  to  say  later.
The whole Wheel, or series of concentric circles  is  grasped  by  a
hideous demon, who symbolizes avidhya, or primordial ignorance,
the main cause of all our woes, of our endless journeying from life
to death and from death to life, ever bound  to  the  great  Wheel  of
Sangsara. The  implication  is  that  striving  for  rebirth  in  Heaven
or   in   any   of  the  other  relatively  high  states  is  foolish,  for,  in
any   case, such   beings   are   still   within  Sangsara. When  their
stock of good karma has been exhausted, they will have to descend

 

 

 

 

        THE CULTURE OF THE TIBETAN BORDER REGIONS       13

 

to one of the  lower  states  and  fight  the  ancient  battle  all  over
again. At the top left corner  of  the  oblong  picture  on  which  the
Wheel   is  displayed   is  a  figure  of  the  Lord  Buddha  pointing
towards the  opposite  corner  at  a  small  wheel  depicted  there,
representing  the  Wheel  of  the  Law  (Dharma). The  implication
is obvious. Instead of striving for Heaven, or some such transient
reward, we should follow the teaching of the Dharma and escape
forever from Sangsara into Nirvana.
                  The Twelve Nidana are:

1. A blind man, symbolizing ignorance which leads to the rest  of

 the twelve links and, in turn, results from them.

 2. A potter, symbolizing the fashioning, or the taking on of

 personality which results directly from the operation of ignorance.

 3. Two men  in  a  boat, symbolizing  nama-rupa ( roughly,  name

 and form) or the particular type of personality which follows.

 4. A monkey and fruit, symbolizing 'tasting  good  and  evil,' or the

 formation of consciousness.

 5. Six empty houses, symbolizing the six senses ( including  cog-

 nition ), which grow from consciousness.

 6. A pair   of  lovers, symbolizing  the contact of the newly incarna-

 ted personality with external phenomena.

 7. A man blinded by two arrows, symbolizing the distinctions  we

 foolishly make between ' pleasant ' and ' unpleasant.'

 8. A  man  drinking   Chang,  symbolizing   the   thirst    for    more

 ' pleasure.'

 9. A monkey gathering flowers, symbolizing  the  grasping  which

 arises from desire for 'pleasure.' 

 10. A pregnant woman, ymbolizing  the  certainty  of  rebirth  as  a

 result of our grasping at life.

 11. A woman bearing a child, symbolizing the actual  process  of

 rebirth.

 12. A corpse, symbolizing the death which follows one birth  and

 precedes the next.

 

 

 

 

 

14                                                 John Blofeld

 

From these several examples, which are by no means the
most   profound,  but   rather    the  more  popular  sort  of  Tibetan
teaching, it will be  obvious  that  the  Tibetans  are  very   far  from
being the ignorant, degraded followers of a debased religion. On
the contrary,they are so deeply religious and spend so much time
upon religious  study, meditation  and  discussion  that  they have
amplified the inherent doctrines , filling  in  the  details  from  their
own   religious   experience,  until   Tibetan  religious  works  have
come to be almost the  bulkiest  Buddhist  literature  in  the  world.
Moreover, the quality of much  of  this  literature  is  extremely high.
It   may   be   pointed  out   that,  in  some  instances, the  Tibetans
have   departed  from  the  original  teaching  of  the  Lord  Buddha.
But any Buddhist would  be  unwise to  cast   this  particular  stone
at Buddhists in another country.

It is not the intention here to give the impression  that  the
Tibetans, because they are religious, are a very serious and gloomy
people.   Very    much   to   the   contrary,  they   are  gay  and  full  of
humour. If,  in   their   more  serious   moments,  they  find  life  sad
( and who, during such moments, does not ? ), they certainly make
the best of it.

The  outstanding  characteristics  of  the Tibetans, most of
which  have  at   least been touched on here,would seem to be due
to  a   fairly  rare combination of  circumstances. On  the  one  hand,
the Tibetans are (in a sense) a  very simple  people, mountaineers
who  have  no  conception  of   the   complexity  of city  life  and  who
have remained almost untouched by the great changes which have
destroyed the traditions of other races. On  the  other  hand,  thanks
to  the  wisdom  of  their  kings  more  than  a  thousand  years  ago,
they have for centuries  drunk  deeply at fountains of  wisdom  from
both India and China. One remembers that in the middle centuries
of   the  first  millennium  after  Christ,  some  of  the  most  learned
scholars of Christian  Europe  went  out  to  inhabit  the  wild  coast-
lands   of   Scotland   and   Ireland.  The   combination   of   extreme

 

 

 

 

           THE CULTURE OF THE TIBETAN BORDER REGIONS            15

 

simplicity and profound scholarship which doubtless resulted from
this must surely have had  a  close  resemblance  to  the  cultural
atmosphere of Tibet today.

It may be thought that the author is inclined to look at the
Tibetans through rose-coloured spectacles. It may also be that a
longer residence in that lovely part of the world might cause  him
to modify some of his opinions. But, in self-defence  he  can  say
that most of those few writers  who have  had  the  opportunity  to
come in close  contact  with  the  more  highly  cultured  Tibetans
share his enthusiasm to a very considerable degree. And in that
part of the region contained in India proper will be found  quite  a
few Westerners who have settled down for the rest of  their  lives,
partly no doubt because of the bracing climate and the gorgeous
scenery, but largely because they find the Tibetans such a fascina-
ting and congenial  people. If  the  author  were  sentenced, for  a
crime, real or imagined, to perpetual exile in one or  the  other  of
the Tibetan lands,he should be inclined to present the judge with
his cherished Volkswagon, useless in Tibet, as a trifling token of
esteem to a most generous benefactor.

 

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