Chapter 2

Tibet and its History

"There was a black void, within which a light breath began to manifest itself. Slowly, over a long period of time, the airs stirring grew until a wind filled the atmosphere in all directions accelerating to the point of extreme violence. Then suddenly, there was a huge explosion of thunder, and flashes of multi-forked lightning, dense clouds filled the heavens and the clouds became so heavy they began to empty their rain, their diluvial water, each droplet the diameter of a large wheel.

The rain fell non-stop many years, and when the rain finally stopped, the deluge had formed the first ocean .

The elements calmed and the surface of the ocean  became smooth and tranquil. But tranquility is not in the nature of wind, and it rose again producing the first waves.

A thick yellow foam was formed around the ocean, and as cream becomes butter, so the foam was transformed into earth, which thus was born from the oceans. The earth rose very high, like a soaring mountain whose summit disappeared into the sky, surrounded by clouds brought by the breeze.

When the rain fell again, it flooded the earth and the waters became salt. It was thus how the oceans of our universe were created.

(An interpreted excerpt from one of the Tibetan Buddhist canons, "The Teachings of Buddha" )


So much of the history of Tibet is bathed in mystery and mythology that it is very difficult to determine where one ends and the other begins.

Tibet is surrounded by vast mountains, some of the most forbidding structures on our planet. In the south, the huge Himalayas, in the west, by the ranges of the Karakoram, and in the north, by the Kunlun and Thangka mountain ranges.

Tibet spreads from India in the west, right through to China in the east, and from Nepal in the south to Turkistan in the north. The source of one of the world's greatest rivers, the Tsangpo rises near Mount Kailash in the west of Tibet and flows downward into Assam, where its name changes to the Brahmaputra. Two other major rivers originate in Tibet, the Indus and the Sutlej.

The northernmost uninhabited part of Tibet is mostly barren desert. Because of this severe environment, and because it is above the treeline, there are virtually no forests. With altitudes above 4.500 metres, and such gigantic extremes of climate, this part of Tibet is accordingly barren, and inhabited only by rare visits from nomads and soldiers. . Recently, a curious discovery by the French explorer and academic, Dr Michel Peissel, revealed that he had observed, previously unrecorded beehive - shaped homes in this freezing, inhospitable northernmost territory which were probably the remnants of a lost civilization that predated Buddhism in Tibet. He identified two types of hive-like dwellings used by nomads, that were similar in structure to the bulbous shape of a beehive. (See Photo. No.4 for the only known example of these structures, captured in the sculpture of a small bronze plaque). Dr Peissel says "These unusual dwellings could be remnants of the semi-mythical, pre-Buddhist kingdom of Shang-Shung, which scholars have been trying to locate for more than a century." (Reuters Paris, 1998)

However, the southernmost part of northern Tibet is an amazing panorama of grasslands, populated by nomads with their cattle, yak, sheep and goats and wild horses. The people live in tents and trade food and cloth with their neighbours. This area of Tibet is huge, comprising nearly 50% of the entire area of Tibet. In the south of Tibet, where the majority of Tibetans live, protected by the mountains in their fertile valleys, are the great centres of religion such as Lhasa, Shigatse and Gyantse. Lhasa is the capital of present-day Tibet and has been as far as we know, for centuries past.

Eastern Tibet and southeastern Tibet are the most breathtaking of regions, with their ravines that cascade dramatically down the narrow gorges and creviced canyons into the vast areas of Asia. Rivers like the Yangtse and the Mekong, (of which Dr Michel Peissel claims to have discovered the source, in a hazardous expedition in 1994) wind their way through Tibet carving the landscapes into vast geological configurations. As eastern Tibet comprises 30% of Tibet's total area, and this area is also rich in factors conducive to agriculture, the people thrive. The air is crystalline, and waving forests against gargantuan hills and mountains etch their sculptures on the landscape like a storybook dream.

The Tibetan peoples belong to the Mongoloid race, who originated in the northern parts of Tibet and much later from Assam and Burma. The people are generally short in stature and high cheek-boned, except in the areas of Amdo and Kham, where the people are taller and more athletically proportioned. The population statistics of Tibet, now and then varies in accuracy, but it seems to be agreed by experts in the field to be estimated somewhere in the region of three million.

Tibet's people and its then civilization existed before Buddhism and very little has survived of the languages. Many linguists believe the Tibetan language to be almost as old as Chinese, but because there is a vital lack of early examples of the written word, this is still a hypothetical theory. Originally the thinking was as follows, that the language of the Tibetans was highly influenced by the ethnic peoples of Burma, however, modern thinking assumes a priori that the influence of the Chinese language had a greater impact, and that an origin loosely based on an amalgamation of Burmese -Chinese - and indigenous Tibetan is really responsible for what we now regard as the Tibetan language. Regional dialects and accents proliferate throughout the land and are inter-communicable, thus everyone understands each other and this is assisted by the fact that, a unified writing of the language is separated into two basic scripts, known to most educated Tibetans.


The mythological kingdom of Shambala.

Shambala in Sanskrit means a place of peace. Although it sounds a lot like the mythical Atlantis, Shambala was written about in early Indian literature called the Puranas, written more than two thousand years ago. A brief outline of Shambala is referred to in the voluminous Kanjur and Tanjur which contains the teachings of Buddha in one hundred and eight books (former) and the two hundred and twenty five books which contain commentaries on history, medicine, astrology and even poetry (latter).

Shambala is regarded by the Tibetans as a fantasy world not unlike Thomas More's Utopia, where paradise existed and wisdom prevailed and unified the community against dissension.

It is very easy to confuse the concept of a paradise on earth with the various legends of the holy grail or the belief and search for the land of Atlantis. But with the Shambala legend of a land set in a lake of iridescent nectar, it is not difficult to dismiss this imagining, and wishful place, as so much nonsense.

However, having said that, references are made about this sacred place in many unexpected places and even the great Tibetan sage and reformed Tsong Khapa (1355-1417 AD) appealed to the Tibetan people to aspire to the peace and tranquillity that he believed existed in that wondrous place.

Shambala, or Dejung as it is called in Tibetan, could only be reached by being flown on the back of a large bird. Once, inside this land surrounded by the labyrinthine walls of mountains, into this oasis of the spiritual resurrection of humanity, a higher state of consciousness existed, whereby the knowledge of the Bodhissatvas was available to all regardless of one's station in life. Shambala was simply the birthplace of gods and a place where all discoveries in science were to be found there to eradicate disease and pain, and where Nature was eternal, because matter is Nature herself.

It is believed that in the Water-Sheep year of the twenty-second cycle (2425 AD), all evil and its forces will cease and the world will come under the direct protection of the Buddha, and a perfect dawn will break. Plato believed that until kings became philosophers, mankind would never know a golden era. Prophetic words?