Tibetan People

Lhasa Travel Guide

Explore Tibet

In Tibet, modern clothes are replacing the traditional ones. It is not difficult to see young Tibetan girls who are garish and sexy passing you, wearing jeans and short shirt above nave with several strands of hail dyed red.

Lamas in Lhasa

Tibetan Buddhism was also called Lama sect before. Actually, it is not a name of a religious sect but an honorific title (same as heshang in Chinese), meaning high monk in Tibetan. “Geduiba”, its formal title in Tibetan, means monk. Lamas are stable workers of religion, taking the responsibility of spreading Buddhist teachings and officiating various religious ceremonies. The local people believe that lama is the only teacher who can lead them to Buddhism and they need his guiding no matter they are alive or died. So, put at the first place as “monk” among the three jewelries in people’s heart, lama has always been an object of respect and worship. For the populace, lamas, no matter from any sect, are the ones they can rely on. When meeting difficulties in life, they, no matter female or male, old or young, always turn to lamas, who are consequently respected by the whole society. As mouthpieces of gods, lamas deliver gods’ will to men; on the other hand, they also represent people to communicate with gods, showing their respect and fear and presenting their wishes and prayers. Therefore, for Buddhist believers, lamas are very divine and in a high position in their heart. So, becoming a lama has been an ideal for Tibetans, and, families are all willing to send their children to temples.

Although there are many kinds of lamas in Tibet, generally speaking, children of laboring people, who want to be lamas, must learn Buddhist scriptures in monasteries. From becoming zhaba (a title given to beginners) to lama until winning the Geshe degree (the highest Buddhist philosophy degree), the period of learning lasts almost 20 years, longer than the one from primary school to college at present. So, there are only a few who can complete all the courses and pass countless exams and finally get their Geshe degree. However, for the majority who failed to get the degree, some of them went to remote mountains to cultivate themselves; some work at painting, sculpture, medicine and so on after learning related specialties; some becoming abas (sorcerers) who left monasteries and lived on incantations and charms; some although lived in monasteries, often went to fields to pray for happiness or rain and against hail; some were reduced into monks charged with chores in the monastery. In Tibet, where there was no school, monasteries are the education centers as well. Therefore, average people, who wanted to study, had to be tonsured to a monastery. Subsequently, lamas become respectable teachers who spread knowledge in Tibet.

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