Tibetans in India
A cluster profile of 10 Tibetan groups located in India.
In 1959, a revolt broke out in Lhasa, Tibet's capital. An attack came from the Chinese camp outside the city, and warnings to protect of the Dalai Lama were issued. During the night, the Dalai Lama dressed as a Tibetan soldier and set out on a dangerous journey to India. His family, along with some Cabinet members, personal officials, and bodyguards, fled with him. Thousands of Tibetans followed their leader; and today, over 100,000 of them remain exiled in northern India and the surrounding countries. The Dalai Lama currently lives in Dharamsada, India and exercises his rule over them.
What are their lives like?
Tibetans are a Mongoloid people. Many of them are named according to their geographic location in India. Each group speaks a dialect of Tibetan, which is part of the Tibetan-Burmese branch of the Sino-Tibetan language family.
Most of India's Tibetans are either peasant farmers or nomadic shepherds. The farmers grow such crops as barley, buckwheat, and vegetables. They live either in village clusters or in single dwellings. The nomads live in tents and travel with their herds. They raise sheep, cattle, goats, and dzo (a cross between a yak and a cow). Dairy products and wool are important commodities. They are used for trading during the annual grain-trading expeditions or in various other distant markets.
Not all Tibetans are farmers or shepherds. Some, particularly those living in northern India, have become rulers and nobles. Others are lamas (monks) who live in monasteries and spend their time in prayer and meditation. They may also become doctors, focusing mainly on religious arts and literature. Still others are private landowners or craftsmen. Traditional Tibetan skills include processing wool and fiber, grinding flour, working with metal, painting, and carpentry.
Though these Tibetan emigrants are surrounded by Indian culture and traditions, Tibetan schools have been set up for their children in an attempt to preserve their native culture. Traditional Tibetan ceremonies are also still observed.
Tibetan society is one of a very "open" nature. For example, polygamy (having multiple wives) and polyandry (having multiple husbands) are common practices. Marriage is usually viewed as a non-religious joining of two households. Astrology and cosmology play an important part in helping someone to choose a mate.
Tibetan women are responsible for rearing the children and preparing food. They are also allowed to take on responsibilities such as trade or agriculture if they wish, and are not restricted merely to household duties.
What are their beliefs?
Buddhism teaches that right thinking, ritual sacrifices, and self-denial enable the soul to reach nirvana (a state of eternal bliss or "enlightenment" at death). They believe in reincarnation (re-birth) after death in another life form, either human or animal. The law of karma states that every action in the present life influences how the soul will be born in the next life. Many of the groups practice "sky-burial." The exposed body is placed in a tree, where it will eventually wither away. They believe that its "karmic seeds" will remain, enter another body, then begin a new life cycle.
With Lamaism, worldly attachments are considered to be the root of suffering. Many try to rid themselves of these attachments by disciplining their minds through meditation. They believe that if one meditates on peace, he will eventually reach nirvana.
What are their needs?
© Copyright 1997
Bethany World Prayer Center
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