Religion and Culture of Tibet

Religion and Culture of Tibet


Tibetan Culture

Tibetan culture was flourished under the cultural influence of neighboring nations including China, Mongol, Nepal, India, and Bhutan which played an important role in the past centuries. Gradually the variations in Tibetan culture came to exist because of the different geographical parts of Tibet like Kham (far-eastern part), Utsang (central and western Tibet), and Amdo (northern part). In addition that Tibet became isolated from the rest of the world due to the remoteness and inaccessibility.  

The rich and ancient culture of the immense plateau of Tibet is largely based on religion. Though the modernization has touch Tibet since 1980 during the country opened for foreigners, Buddhism philosophy has deeply rooted in Tibetan people’s day to day life, supporting to preserve their unique culture. Tibetan is well known for its religious paintings (Thangka) on walls and woods, metal images, etc. The cheerful performances of Cham (dance perform by monk), Lhamo (Tibetan Opera), Gorshe (groups circle dance) and folk Songs represent the people’s love toward their brave deeds of ancestors and the resplendent land. Tibetan intensively celebrates a number of festivals relevant to religion and pilgrimage to monitories, Lakes, and Mountains became an indispensable part of their life. So, once H.H the 14th Dalai Lama said that Tibetan culture is Buddhist culture.

If you are traveling to Tibet you must greet Tibetan people with Tashi Delek. That is the first step to learn Tibetan from your side. 

Tibetan Religion

Buddhism is the dominant religion of the present Tibet. Tibetan Buddhism is Mahayana Buddhism. Beside Tibet, it is widely practiced in the Himalayan regions of Bhutan, Ladhak, Sikkim, and Nepal, even seen in other countries like Mongolia and Tuva. Buddhist people always do Kora (circumambulate) religious sites like monastery or Chorten (Stupa) in a clockwise. Sacred objects which area belongs to their religion are highly respected. Religious pilgrimage sites like monasteries and holy lakes, mountains were established throughout the nation.  Praying flags have beautifully decorated them in five different colors.  

Bon is a pre-Buddhism which was the first known religion in Tibet.  Although Bon religion is distinct in some ways of practices from Buddhism at the same time, some practices of Buddhism are influenced by Bon like offerings during the ritual activities with symbolic animal forms made from barley flour. For centuries Bon was widely practiced in Tibet and gradually Buddhism was introduced the first time during the period of Tibetan King Songtsen Gompo. At present, you will find some similarities in rituals and concepts which are adopted by both religions. 

Between the 7th and 8th centuries, Buddhism was widely flourished in Tibet especially during the reign of Dharma King Tisong Detsen (38th emperor of Tibet). The origin and Buddhist teaching are from India. Although the Tibetan Alphabet creation was done in the 6th century during the 33rd emperor of Tibet, Songtsen Gampo, but active annunciation did not begin until the 8th century.  Later on, four different Tibetan Buddhsim sects were formed, namely the Gyelugpa, Skyapa, Nyikmapa, and Kyagyupa. Each sect has its own way of practices and head lamas which can be seen nowadays too. 

The people who speak English in Tibet are happy to chat with you. It is appreciated by locals when you try speaking Tibetan and greeting them by Tashi Delek. To know more about the 90s culture and lifestyle of Tibet read the book: “My Land and My People”, the Original Autobiography of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama.


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