Tibetan culture developed under the influence of a number of factors. Contact with neighboring countries and cultures- including Nepal, India and China–have influenced the development of Tibetan culture, but the Himalayan region's remoteness and inaccessibility have preserved distinct local influences. Buddhism has exerted a particularly strong influence on Tibetan culture since its introduction in the 7th century. Art, literature, and music all contain elements of the prevailing Buddhist beliefs, and Buddhism itself has adopted a unique form in Tibet, influenced by the Bön tradition and other local beliefs. Tibet's specific geographic and climatic conditions–its altitude, short growing season, and cold weather–have encouraged reliance on pastoralism, as well as the development of a different cuisine from surrounding regions. General Influences
Buddhist missionaries who came mainly from Nepal and China introduced arts and customs from India and China. Several works on astronomy, astrology and medicine were translated from Sanskrit and Chinese. The general appliances of civilization have come from China, among many things and skill imported were the making of butter, cheese, barley-beer, pottery, water mills and the national beverage tea. A Tibetologist noted: “we may in fact say that the present civilization of Tibet was taken mainly from China, and only in a lesser degree from India." Tibetan art
Yama, Dharmapala, the Lord of Death, is revered in Tibet as a guardian of spiritual practice, and was likely revered even before the conversion of Tibet from Bön to Buddhism in the 4th century Field Museum, Chicago. Tibetan art is deeply religious in nature, a form of sacred art. Thangka paintings, a syncrestism of Chinese scroll painting with Nepalese and Kashmiri painting, appeared around the 11th century. Rectangular and painted on cotton or linen, they are usually traditional motifs depicting religious, astrological, and theological subjects, and sometimes the Mandala. To ensure that the image will not fade, organic and mineral pigments are added, and the painting is framed in colorful silk broadcades. Mahayana Buddhist influence
As Mahayana Buddhism emerged as a separate school in the 4th century BC it emphasized the role of bodhisattvas, compassionate beings who forgo their personal escape to Nirvana in order to assist others. From an early time various bodhisattvas were also subjects of statuary art. Tibetan Buddhism, as an offspring of Mahayana Buddhism, inherited this tradition. A common bodhisattva depicted in Tibetan art is the Chenrezig deity (Avalokitesvara), often portrayed as a thousand-armed saint with an eye in the middle of each hand, representing the all-seeing compassionate one who hears our requests. Tantric influence
More specifically, Tibetan Buddhism is a subset of Tantric Buddhism, also known as Vajrayana Buddhism for its common symbolism of the vajra, the diamond thunderbolt (known in Tibetan as the dorje). Most of the typical Tibetan Buddhist art can be seen as part of the practice of tantra.
Detail of the Vajrayana mandala shown above. This is a Garbhadhatu mandala, representing Vairocana Buddha surrounded by eight Buddhas and bodhisattvas (clockwise from top: Ratnaketu, Samantabhadra, Samkusumitaraja, Manjusri, Amitabha, Avalokitesvara, Dundubhinirghosa, Maitreya). A surprising aspect of Tantric Buddhism is the common representation of wrathful deities, often depicted with angry faces, circles of flame, or with the skulls of the dead. These images represent the Protectors (Skt. dharmapala) and their fearsome bearing belies their true compassionate nature. Actually their wrath represents their dedication to the protection of the dharma teaching as well as to the protection of the specific tantric practices to prevent corruption or disruption of the practice. Bön influence
The indigenous shamanistic religion of the Himalayas is known as Bön. Bon contributes a pantheon of local...
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