Culture is the day-to-day manner in which members of a particular community conduct themselves. Culture is more than a way of life. It is the life itself, through which a community's beliefs, art and language, religion, and value system manifest. As Pellegrini & Klousnitzer (n.d.), note, culture takes two forms: Surface and deep culture. Surface culture entails foods eaten, holidays marked, history and notable personalities associated with a particular culture (Pellegrini & Klousnitzer, n.d.). According to Pellegrini & Klousnitzer (n.d.), deep culture comprises the aspects of culture that are invisible and intangible. Deep culture is passed down generation to generation and is more about what a person holds at a value in their heart, not what they portray through their actions. Ariza et al. (2015) identify an array of elements of deep culture namely marriage and courtship, aesthetics, ethics, family ties, medicine, folk myths, gestures and body language, gender roles, values, taboos, religion, grooming and presence, and ownership. Using the Tibetan culture as a case study, it is possible to identify these elements of deep culture as discussed below.
Aesthetics entails the visually appealing creations of a particular culture, such as art, literature, music, and architecture. In Tibet, painting, carving, and dance form the major aesthetic aspects of culture. Carvings are mostly influenced by Buddhism as well as gods, and historical figures (Tibet Vista, n.d.). The most popular rock carving sites in Tibet are Ritu, Yaowangshan, and Zaxi. Tibetan culture is also represented in murals and frescos present at Potala Palace, Jokhang Temple, and Ruins of Guge Kingdom (Tibet Vista, n.d.). Paintings and frescos represent Buddhist teachings and Tibetan life and scenery, Tibet Vista (n.d.) suggests. Thangka is a distinct Tibetan cultural element. It entails paintings on embroidery to illustrate religious messages (Tibet Vista, n.d.). The most popular Thangka materials are cotton and silk upon which proportional representation of Buddhist deities is made.
To subdue evil spirits in places of worship, Tibetans often perform the Qamo dance. This, according to Tibet Vista (n.d.), is a religious dance that is a mixture of spiritual chants harmonized with music and dancing and is also known as the sorcerers dance. Apart from sacred dance, Xin (2016) identifies folk dances such as the bullboat dance. This traditional dance has become a significant tourist attraction in Junpa area of Tibet.
Jigme (2016) notes that Tibetan literature carries aspects of religion, philosophy, folklore, and history. Important mythical Tibetan features include the Song of Siba Butchering Cows, the songs of Milha Raba, the biography of King Gesar, and Records of Bamya Monastery (Jigme, 2016). To promote Tibetan culture through literature, these informative literary works have been translated into standard languages such as English, and French (Jigme, 2016). Kolas and Thowsen (2005) further note that in the 20th century, Tibetan literature grew immensely especially the short stories genre. The Tibet Autonomous Region Writers Association established the first Tibetan literature journal in1980 (Kolas & Thawsen, 2005). Literature is a preservation tool of culture, as it records beliefs and practices as they emerge and remains available for reference to future generations.
Tibetan architecture is a distinct form of art, representing several aspects of the Tibetan culture. Xin (2016) identifies Tibetan architecture as a mix of rock, wood, earth and cement elements, leading to mostly white tower-like structures. Typical Tibetans build two-story houses, with the ground floor being allocated to livestock while the top floor is designed as a living space with an integrated shrine (Xin, 2016). Tibetans hoist prayer flags on the roof of their houses, which are constructed flat (Xin, 2016). Traditionally, carpentry was a revered Tibetan skill passed down along generations; today, however, concrete work has overshadowed carpentry (Xin, 2016). The most notable Tibetan architecture is the Potala Palace, a world heritage site (UNESCO, n.d.). The palace served as a residence for Dalai Lamas until 1959, when the current Dalai Lama fled to India. Tibetan architecture in all its glory serves as a major tourist attraction, and it is through tourism that the Tibetan culture gets world recognition.
Courtship and Marriage
In most religious communities, marriage is considered a sacred institution, and the Tibetan culture is no different. Tibetan Academy of Social sciences (2012) identifies polygamy, and monogamy as the acceptable forms of marriage in Tibet. Most couples are in monogamous agreements and live with their parents and grandparents on the husband's side (Tibetan Academy of Social sciences, 2012). An interesting form of polygamy common in Tibet is polyandry, where a woman is married by more than one man, usually brothers (Tibetan Academy of Social sciences, 2012). Polygyny is also practiced in the Tibetan culture. Polygyny is the practice of a man marrying his wife's sisters, or his stepdaughters (Tibetan Academy of Social sciences, 2012). Tibetan marriages follow the system of patriarchy, which means that men are seen as the authority figure in a family, unless in unions where a man is absorbed into his wife's family (Tibetan Academy of Social sciences, 2012). In the Tibetan culture, courtship is done free of parental interference (Tibetan Academy of Social sciences, 2012). Tibetan wedding rituals include uncles giving away the bride to her groom's home, as well as songs, speeches and recreational activities undertaken during the wedding ceremony (Tibetan Academy of Social sciences, 2012). Marriage is an essential aspect of Tibetan culture as it is the institution through which bloodlines are carried on, hence guaranteeing the continuity of the Tibet people.
The most popular myth amongst Tibetans is that of their origin. The myth asserts that the Tibetans originated from a Raksasi and a monkey. A Raksasi (an ogress), one day, approached a monkey wanting to get married, but the monkey declined. The ogress vowed to get married to a devil and bear countless children. The monkey consulted the mother Buddha, and she allowed him to marry the ogress, and thus the Tibetans were born after the monkey became human. (China Tour Guide, n.d.). Folk myths are an essential part of a culture, as they serve as carriers of beliefs, values, and traditions that are passed down from generation to generation.
Health and Medicine
Every culture has its traditional medical practices, steered by specialists such as healers and diviners. Tibetan medicine is practiced through healing rituals, divination, and astrology (Sarsina et al., 2011). To make a diagnosis, Tibetan medicine first establishes a person's humoral makeup (wind, fire, and water and earth) (Sarsina et al., 2011). The three humors determine a person's bodily functions such as digestion and risk of infection (Sarsina et al., 2011). By establishing a person's humor, it is, therefore, possible to prevent diseases and infections. Tibetan doctors also assess a person's living environment to determine whether there is a balance of different natural elements that affect health, such as heat and cold (Sarsina et al., 2011). To give a particular diagnosis for a sick person, Tibetan doctors' focus is centrally on the digestive system (Sarsina et al., 2011). The logic here is that organ imbalances originate from digestion and hence diet is a major pillar of Tibetan medicine (Sarsina et al., 2011). A person's pulse is also used to check for their humor while their urine is analyzed regarding color, smell, sediments, film, and bubble formation to further indicate imbalances (Sarsina et al., 2011). As is the case with modern medicine, Tibetan doctors give their patients follow up visits, and for chronic illnesses, a management plan is instituted to support health and balance (Sarsina et al., 2011). For spiritual patients, Tibetan doctors additionally prescribe meditation exercises such as yoga (Sarsina et al., 2011). Although Tibet has modern medical care and training facilities, Tibetan medicine is still widely practiced as an alternative healthcare system (Sarsina et al., 2011). As an indigenous practice, Tibetan medicine is difficult to replace with modern medicine as it encompasses diagnosis, treatment, and the cultural aspects of divination, and meditation as opposed to current medicine, which concentrates solely on diagnosis and treatment. Therefore, Tibetan medicine is more reliable to the locals.
Gestures and Kinesics, and Taboos
Tibet is considered a holy land and as such, hand, body and eye language is given specific Tibetan meanings. When offered a gift in the Tibetan context, one is expected to receive it with both hands (Tibet, n.d.). Tibetans consider the head as a sacred body part and as such, touching a person's head, even a child's, is deemed to be taboo (Tibet, n.d.). Further, when sited, one is expected to cross their legs, and when entering a Tibetan house, one should never step on the threshold (Tibet, n.d.). In the Tibetan culture, eagles are considered sacred birds, and as such, gestures to send them away or hurt them are forbidden (Tibet, n.d.). Cows with green, red, or yellow ribbons are marked for sacrifice to Tibetan gods and as such, should never be disturbed. Spitting or clapping hands behind a person is considered taboo and "Tashi Delek" is the official Tibetan greeting (Tibet, n.d.). If one uses their hands for eating, only the right hand should be used, and eating fish is a taboo in the Tibetan culture (Jigme, 2017). Tibetans do not wear short skirts or shorts, and hats within monasteries and the direction of walking inside these sacred grounds is always clockwise unless in Bon temples, where one is expected to walk counter-clockwise (Jigme, 2017). Discussions into the Dalai Lama and political conversations are taboo in the Tibetan culture (Jigme 2017). An interesting greeting gesture in the Tibetan culture is sticking out of tongues to prove that one is not a devil or has no bad intention (Jigme, 2017). Public display of affection is taboo in Tibet and bowing as if in prayer is the acceptable sign of acknowledgment (Jigme, 2017). Like any other culture, the Tibetans are keen on observing these body language rules to avoid offending each other, and the gods.
The most prominent religion in Tibet is Tibetan Buddhism. Buddhist faithful believe in reincarnation where an individual is born and reborn in a continuous cycle, though they cannot remember their previous lifetime (Otero, 2010). Through enlightenment, Buddhists believe that they can influence their life cycle, for example, where they will be reborn in the next lifetime (Otero, 2010). The Dalai Lama is the Buddhist spiritual leader and was based in Tibet until 1959 when the 14th Dalai Lama was exiled to India in the wake of the Chinese invasion (Otero, 2010). Tibetan Buddhists live on the anchor of four truths: True suffering, true cause (karma), true cessation, and the true path (The Office of Tibet, n.d.). Although low in popularity, Bon is the indigenous Tibetan religion, which reveres all components of nature (China Tour Guide, n.d.). BBC (2004) notes that Tibetan Buddhism is continuously under attack from the Chinese government. Tibetan monks and nuns have the potential to organize Tibetans into an opposition movement against China, which is why China is very intent on crippling monasteries and convents in Tibet.
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