Three Years in Tibet, by Ekai Kawaguchi

That's French for "the ancient system," as in the ancient system of feudal privileges and the exercise of autocratic power over the peasants. The ancien regime never goes away, like vampires and dinosaur bones they are always hidden in the earth, exercising a mysterious influence. It is not paranoia to believe that the elites scheme against the common man. Inform yourself about their schemes here.

Re: Three Years in Tibet, by Ekai Kawaguchi

Postby admin » Tue Dec 10, 2019 4:58 am

CHAPTER LIX. A Metropolis of Filth.

Shortly after I had the conversation recorded in the last chapter with the Finance Minister, I went out with the ex-Minister and his attendants for a walk round the lingkor (circuit) of Lhasa, this being the outermost circuit surrounding the city, and measuring about six miles. The journey round this circuit is considered as a highly pious act by Tibetans, who believe that it amounts to visiting every temple and sacred stone house contained within the circuit. There are several modes of performing this journey—walking steadily along, making a bow at each step, or making one at every three steps. Our journey on that occasion had no such religious meaning; it was merely a walk. The walk, however, was rather trying to me, for my host was very tall and had very long legs, so that I had to hurry to keep pace even with his leisurely steps.

By the side of this circuit and to the east of Lhasa stood a queerly shaped high fence, made of countless yak’s horns. The fence measures from one hundred and twenty to two hundred and forty yards in length and as it is entirely composed of the horns, it is hardly possible to form an idea even in imagination of how many horns went to the construction of the fence. The enclosure is used as a slaughtering place for yak. It was not the first time that I had seen that fence, but on that particular day I was able to observe it with greater care than ever before. When I remarked to the ex-Minister how immense must be the number of the beasts that had been slaughtered in the enclosure, my host replied that he felt pity for the beasts. We soon arrived at an opening in the fence and, peeping[408] in, I saw some thirty yaks brought there for slaughter. The work was done in a manner quite improper for such a Buḍḍhist country as Tibet, for no pious ceremony was performed, such as the touching of the head of a beast about to be slaughtered with a Buḍḍhist Text. It was butchered quite unceremoniously, in a thoroughly business-like manner. I subsequently learned that the slaughter of animals is undertaken in Lhasa exclusively by Chinese Muhammeḍans, who are of course not expected to care much about such ceremonies. As it was, I saw a slaughterman chop off the head of a yak in a very impious manner, and in the presence of the other poor beasts, which were staring with tearful eyes at the butchery of their comrades. I really felt pity for the beasts.

The ex-Minister was apparently impressed with a similar sentiment, for he told me that he felt as though he could hardly swallow a morsel of meat after he had witnessed such a horrible scene; yet such is human depravity, he continued, that people soon forget this tender feeling of compassion when they return home, and are displeased if no meat is served to them at table. He could not but conclude therefore that the Tibetans must be the descendants of Rākshasas or devils, and that the blood of those impious savages must be still running in their veins.

The circuit is kept in excellent repair (comparatively speaking, that is to say) for the Hierarchy maintains a regular staff of road-commissioners who are charged with the duty of keeping the circuit in good condition for the benefit of the pilgrims, who not unfrequently have to kneel on the ground for their devotions.

The contrast which the condition of the circuit makes with that of ordinary thoroughfares is beyond description. It is not merely that the other roads are full of holes, but also that they have in their midst open cesspools, specially constructed and openly frequented by both men and[409] women. The filth, the stench, the utter abomination of the streets are extremely loathsome, especially after rains in summer, for though there are plenty of dogs feeding about in the streets they are not enough for the supply. Then remember that the Lhasa people drink water from the shallow wells standing amidst such abominable surroundings. The meaning of the word Lhasa itself is indeed absolutely inappropriate; it signifies the ‘ground of deities,’ and therefore supposedly a place of purity. As Panden Aṭīsha remarked, a place in Tibet is really a city of devils, who subsist on vile substances. I have often heard of the filthy condition of the streets in Chinese cities, but I hardly believe they can be as filthy as the streets in Lhasa, where the people live in utter defiance of all rules of hygiene and even decency. The wonder is how they can escape being exterminated by pestilence, which would be sure to visit most other places that neglected, even in a far lesser degree, the laws of sanitation; and yet, from what I observed during my residence in Lhasa, the people did not seem to suffer to any perceptible extent from such unhygienic surroundings. My own theory is that this immunity from epidemic must be due to the extremely healthy climate of Lhasa. The winter there is sufficiently cold, but is less uncomfortable than in our Hokkaido, for though at night the mercury falls below freezing point, it rises to forty or fifty degrees Fahrenheit in the daytime. In summer, too, the thermometer rarely rises much above eighty. Indeed of all the places I have travelled in or heard of, Lhasa seems to come first in point of a healthy climate. It is owing to this precious gift of nature that the people of Lhasa can live with impunity amidst filth and general contaminations.

All these thoughts occurred to me while I walked round the circuit with the ex-Minister, and also whenever I took a walk in the city.
Site Admin
Posts: 33223
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

Re: Three Years in Tibet, by Ekai Kawaguchi

Postby admin » Tue Dec 10, 2019 4:59 am

CHAPTER LX. Lamaism.

I must here give a brief description of the Tibetan religion, for without it any intelligent explanation of the political system is impossible, while some notice, however cursory, of the administrative organisation must precede an account of Tibetan diplomacy, upon which I also wish to touch briefly.

In describing the Tibetan national religion, I must confine myself only to a popular exposition of the subject, and must leave out of consideration as much as possible other matters that are ulterior and technical.

With that premise I must first of all state that Lamaism is divided into two main branches, one older and the other more modern, the former being popularly known as the ‘Red Cap Sect’ and the latter as the ‘Yellow Cap.’ The older Sect is subdivided into a large number of sub-sects, such as Sakya, Karmapa, Dukpa, Zokchenpa, and others, but they all agree upon cardinal points and in the formula for attaining perfection.

The founder of the Old Sect was a Ṭānṭric priest named Lobon Padma Chungne in Tibetan. That name was derived from a popular tradition that he was born into this world out of a lotus flower in the Pond of Ḍanakosha, in a Royal garden of the Kingdom of Urken, now in Cabul. His career is full of myths far more fantastic than any of those in the Japanese mythology, and there is very little that is tangible and rational about it. One thing seems to be certain—that, although a priest, he strictly enjoined on his disciples the practices of flesh-eating, marriage and drinking. He ingeniously grafted carnal practices on to Buḍḍhist doctrines, and declared that the only secret of[411] perfection for priests consisted in leading a jovial life, and that by this means alone a man born into this world of ‘five impurities’ can hope to attain quickly to Buḍḍhahood and salvation.


The doctrine that it is necessary to satisfy carnal desires is based on the theory that great desires partake of the nature of Mahāboḍhi; that as the greatest of human desires is sensuality, therefore man can attain Mahāboḍhi by indulging this passion, for by it he can best realise the first essential of the reality of Āṭman, that is oblivion[412] of self. The eating of animal flesh, another craving of men, conforms to the principle of mercy, because the soul of the animal can be brought under the beneficial influence of the Boḍhi in the eater, and is thus enabled indirectly to attain this supreme state. Liquors give pleasure to men, so that to enjoy ourselves by drinking them and to live a pleasant life is an ideal state obtained by an intelligent act. In short, according to the doctrines of the Old Sect, men can attain Buḍḍhahood by holy contemplation accompanied by drinking liquors, eating flesh, and indulgence in carnal desires. Such are, in the main, the fundamental tenets of this particular Sect, the details of which I could not give here even if I had ample space at my disposal, for they are too full of obscenity. I may say, however, that this Sect tries to justify the indulgence of human desires under the sanction of Buḍḍhism.

In Japan also there once existed the Tatekawa school of the Shingon Sect, which did much to corrupt social order and morals by preaching similar pernicious theories, though it is not possible to speak authoritatively on this subject, as very few fragments of the texts and canonical writings of that suppressed school are now extant. However, the scope and plan of that quasi-religion must have been extremely limited.

The Old Sect of Tibet is, on the other hand, on a large scale and its doctrine has obtained a wide credence throughout the country.

The texts of this sect are still extant in Tibet and the Samskṛṭ texts prepared in India with Tibetan translations are fairly numerous. The Old Sect has undergone considerable modifications since its introduction into Tibet, for the Lama priests have freely modified the original according to their own views and opinions. In fact the Tibetan texts of this particular Sect are far from preserving the original forms of teaching and expression.

I have brought home, among other Lamaistic writings, quite a large number of volumes treating on the esoteric side of the doctrines of the Old Sect, which are credited as being most authentic, but I have to keep them in a closed box, for they are too full of obscene passages to allow of their being read by the many.

These degenerate doctrines were widely spread throughout Tibet until, about five hundred years ago, they proved to be too pernicious even for such a corrupt country as Tibet. A reaction arose against the Old Sect, which took the shape of the so-called New Sect.

This was founded by Paldan Aṭīsha, a priest from India, in the eleventh century a. d., and was after three centuries further perfected by Je Tsong-kha-pa, who was born in a house “amidst onion plots” in Amdo, a Chinese part of Tibet, situated to the north of Tibet proper. This priest, perceiving the fearful state of corruption into which the Tibetan religion had fallen, assigned to himself the Herculean task of purging that Augean stable.

He took his ground on the fundamental proposition that priesthood must stand on asceticism, that priesthood devoid of asceticism was also void, and that of all the conditions of asceticism abstinence from carnal desires was the most important, for a priest indulging in these had nothing to distinguish him from a layman. Je Tsong-kha-pa set an example of following his own precepts, but first he declared for the necessity of enforcing rules of moral discipline for priests. But there were not a sufficient number of priests qualified to receive ordination. At last a number of his first convents and of the supporters of his precepts were collected to form the nucleus of the new movement, and they raised the standard of a spiritual campaign at Ganden, a place about forty miles from Lhasa.


But the New Sect, in superseding the degenerated national religion, had to conform itself to the national[415] partiality for esoterism, which is more or less present in every form of religion or cult prevailing in Tibet, and it therefore included in its system certain esoteric forms as distinct from the esoterism of the Old Sect. The New Sect did not denounce the images worshipped by the followers of the Old Sect, although they all consisted of dual figures of men and women, often represented in offensive postures; it had, however, to give to them a new interpretation of an abstract nature. Thus men were explained as representing ‘proper means’ and women as representing ‘transcendental knowledge,’ and it was said that the proper combination of the two elements gave birth to Buḍḍhas. Therefore the birth of Buḍḍhas, according to this interpretation, did not come from carnal indulgence. Animal flesh, again, was interpreted as representing mercy, and therefore not intended for eating, while liquors were considered as embodying human intelligence, and as giving an object-lesson to teach men how to exercise their inborn intelligence.

In that symbolic way the New Sect explained the precepts inculcated by its older rival. The images that had been used by the latter were also adopted, only with a new interpretation, so that externally the two sects do not differ much from each other. Strange as it may appear, it is highly probable that worldly circumstances obliged the New Sect to assume this anomalous position. I have to stop here in my description of the doctrinal side of the Tibetan religion, for to go further would lead me into technical and abstruse points.

I shall describe next that peculiar practice or belief of the Tibetan religion which is called incarnation.

The idea embodied in the doctrine of incarnation is that the Buḍḍhas, or saints whose bodies are invisible to man, are reincarnated in the shape of priests of pious virtue for the salvation of the people. The scope of this incarnation is[416] rather comprehensive in Tibet, for almost every lama with any pretensions above the common level believes that he is destined to be reborn into the world to work for salvation. This idea seems to have undergone considerable modifications since it was first conceived, so that such incarnations as are accepted to-day appear quite different from those of older days, as I shall describe further on.
Site Admin
Posts: 33223
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

Re: Three Years in Tibet, by Ekai Kawaguchi

Postby admin » Tue Dec 10, 2019 5:00 am

CHAPTER LXI. The Tibetan Hierarchy.

More than four centuries ago there lived a priest named Gendun Tub who was a disciple of the founder of the New Sect. It was this priest who first originated the practice of invocation of oracles which was subsequently elaborated into a peculiar habit of selecting incarnations. It happened in this way. When Gendun Tub was about to expire, he left word that he would be reborn at such and such a place. Enquiry was made, and the birth of a boy was ascertained to have taken place at the specified place. This would not be particularly marvellous were it not for the fact, as recorded in tradition, that, as soon as he could articulate, the boy declared his wish to return to his temple, the name of which he declared to be Tashi Lhunpo, the very temple where the venerable Gendun Tub had died. There was no longer any doubt in the minds of his faithful disciples and followers that their master had been reborn in that boy. The boy was conveyed to the temple, was there brought up, and was finally installed as the second Grand Lama, called Gendun Gyamtso.

Nothing particular occurred in this matter of incarnations during the periods of his third and fourth successors, but they grew quite popular afterwards, especially in the days of the fifth and the sixth Grand Lamas, till at last the whole system of the consultation of divine oracles assumed the shape in which it is found to-day. The fifth Grand Lama was a great promoter of the oracle system. His name was Ngakwang Gyamtso, and though the head of the New Sect, he investigated the texts and all matters of the Old Sect and introduced into his own sect many things pertain[418]ing to the Old. Oracle-invocation was extensively practised in his time, and the privilege of undertaking this solemn work was entrusted to four temples, or rather the deities presiding over them, namely Nechung, Samye, Lamo and Gatong. From the fifth Grand Lama also dates another innovation of far greater importance, that is to say, the establishment of Hierarchical Government.

Before his time, the Grand Lamas held only spiritual power, and had nothing to do with temporal or administrative affairs, for the Grand Lamas had no territories to administer except a small glebe.

About that time a powerful Mongolian chieftain named Shrī Gaumi Tenjin Choe Gyal invaded Tibet and subdued all the petty tribes that had hitherto existed there. These numbered thirteen, each counting according to tradition ten thousand families. Tibet may thus be considered to have contained one hundred and thirty thousand families, and, strange to say, this is also believed to be the present number of the population, according to popular accounts.

The Mongolian conqueror disposed of the districts he had subdued in a very interesting manner, for instead of bringing them under his direct control he presented the whole region to the Grand Lama of the day. Thus originated the system of the Hierarchy, which therefore dates only about three centuries back. But to return to the subject of oracle-consultation.

By this time the process of consultation had to undergo considerable modifications, owing to the fact that the high Lamas who were to be reborn not unfrequently omitted the trouble of enlightening others about the places of their re-appearance on the earth. These places had to be discovered therefore, for the Tibetans firmly held, as they do even to-day, that high Lamas who die are sure to re-incarnate somewhere after the lapse of forty-nine days from the day of death. Hence arose the[419] necessity to determine the place of such re-incarnation, and this task devolved on the oracle-invokers of one of the four particular temples mentioned before.

The process as it is in vogue at present is essentially identical with that prevailing in former times, and is exceedingly strange, to say the least of it. The mediums or invokers who perform this holy business behave themselves in such an extravagant way that the uninitiated would consider them to be stark mad.

The consultation of the oracle is performed by a number of priests, one of whom is a medium, the rest being assistants. These beat drums and strike cymbals, whilst others chant the Texts. The medium is attired in a gorgeous fashion. He wears a big head-cloth with silk pendants of five hues hanging from behind. Sometimes strips of glittering brocade are used instead. The garment is not unlike that worn by Japanese priests, and is of yellow or red satin, decorated with figures of flowers. From the knot of the sash hang long strips of cloth. Thus attired, the medium waits for response from the deities, remaining with closed eyes in a half sitting posture, while all the time the discordant sounds made by the orchestra are kept up. After a while he begins to tremble and shake, this movement gathering force, till all of sudden he either falls on his back or jumps up, according to the nature of the deity who responds to the invocation, and has now descended into the body of the medium. He will then say, still continuing to shudder, that the particular Lama has re-appeared at such and such a place, and in such and such a house which faces in a certain direction; that the family consists of a certain number of members; that a baby born on a certain day is a re-incarnation of the dead Lama, and so on. An enquiry is then made according to the direction and of course the pronouncement of the oracle is confirmed, and a baby corresponding to the description given is found in[420] the house. The boy is left under the care of his mother till he can be weaned, and then he is brought to the specified temple where he is educated. In education special care is taken to inspire in him the strong self-confidence that he is a holy re-incarnation.

At any rate the practice of invoking divine oracles extensively came into vogue from the time of the fifth Grand Lama, and is used for all matters great or small, from vexed international problems to trifling questions that easily admit of solution.

The oracle-giving deities, as I mentioned before, are four, and they are regarded as the guardian angels of the Lama Hierarchy. Of the four Nechung is the most powerful.

Suppose a Grand Lama dies, and a necessity arises to determine the place of his re-incarnation. The four temples dedicated to the four deities are ordered by the authorities to undertake the mysterious business of identification, this order being generally issued about a year after the death of the august Lama. All the priests of the four temples are summoned on that occasion, and they separately consult their own respective oracles. Their deities are, however, not infallible, and often prove just as divided in their judgment as ordinary mortals are, for very rarely do the four oracles coincide, and usually those oracles produce three different candidates. The choice has therefore to be made from among the three.

The three or four boy-candidates (as the case may be) are brought to Lhasa, when they have reached the age of five years. The ceremony of selection is next performed. This is of course conducted with great pomp and solemnity. The dignitaries who are privileged to take part in it are the Chinese Commissioner residing in Lhasa and the Regent Lama; also the Prime Ministers and all the Ministers, Vice-Ministers and a number of high Lamas are allowed to be present. First the names of the boy-candidates (three or four in number, as the case may be) are written on so many pieces of paper, and put in a golden urn which is then sealed. For the period of a week a kind of high mass is performed in the ceremony-hall, in order to entreat the divine intercession for the selection of the real re-incarnation. When this period expires all the dignitaries before-mentioned are once more assembled around the sealed urn. This is carefully inspected and the seal is then taken off. The Chinese Commissioner then takes a pair of tiny ivory sticks something like ordinary chop-sticks in shape and size and, with his eyes shut, puts them into the urn and solemnly picks out one of the papers. The name written on that paper is read, and the bearer of that name is acknowledged as Grand Lama-elect.

From what I have described, there is apparently little room, if any, for trickery, but I have heard from the Secretary of the Chinese Commissioner that dishonest practices are in reality not infrequent. Indeed the temptations are too strong for greedy and dishonest minds to resist, owing to the keen rivalry among the parents of the boy-candidates to have their own boys selected. Strong interest urges them on in this rivalry, for the parents of the Lama-elect are not only entitled to receive the title of Duke from the Chinese Government, but also enjoy many other advantages, above all the acquisition of a large fortune. Under these circumstances the parents and relatives of eligible boys are said to offer large bribes to the Chinese Amban, and to others who are connected with the ceremony of selection. I do not affirm the fact of bribes, but at least I have heard that cases of such under-hand influence have occurred not unfrequently.

The selection of the Grand Lama is thus made by an elaborate process, in which the influence of the oracle-invokers plays an important part. The priests who have charge of this business are in most cases men who make[422] it their business to blackmail every applicant. Most of the oracle-priests are therefore extremely wealthy.

The Nechung who are under the direct patronage of the Hierarchy, are generally millionaires, as millionaires go in Tibet. This, taken in conjunction with another fact, that the re-incarnations of higher Lamas are generally sons of wealthy aristocrats, or merchants, and that it is only very rarely that they are discovered among the lowly, must be considered as suggesting the working of some such practices. I have even heard that some unscrupulous people corrupt the oracle-priests for the benefit of their unborn children, so as to have their boys accepted as Lamas incarnate when born. From a worldly point of view the expense incurred on this account not unfrequently proves a good ‘investment,’ if I may use the profane expression, for the boys who are the objects of the oracles have a good chance of being installed in the temples where their spiritual antecedents presided, which are sure to possess large property. This property goes, it need hardly be added, to the boys, after they have been duly installed. Whatever may have been the practical effect of incarnation in former times, it is, as matters stand at present, an incarnation of all vices and corruptions, instead of the souls of departed Lamas.

I once remarked to certain Tibetans that the present mode of incarnation was a glaring humbug, and that it was nothing less than an embodiment of bribery.

To do justice to the incarnations themselves, they grow up, in eight cases out of ten, to be Lamas of more than average ability, perhaps because they are brought up with special care. Their teachers and guardians treat their wards with kindness and never use rough language to them even when they behave as they ought not to behave. In such case the teachers and guardians appeal to their sense of honor and great responsibility.

This reminds me of the necessity of treating children with consideration, and that to abuse them as blockheads or fools, when they err in their conduct or over their lessons, deprives them of the sense of self-confidence, and hence prevents its natural development. They must be educated in such a way as to allow full play to their sense of self-respect.

The Tibetans have not adopted this particular mode of education for their boy-incarnations from any deep conviction as to educational policy; they are doing so out of their respect towards their boy-masters.

I should add, also, that the general mass of the people are left in complete ignorance of all the tricks and intrigues that are concocted and extensively carried on in the higher circles. With guileless innocence the ordinary people swallow all the fabulous tales that are circulated about the alleged evidences fabricated for establishing the re-incarnation of Lamas. Those only who are acquainted with what is going on behind the scenes at Lhasa and Shigatze treat those ‘evidences’ with scorn, and denounce the re-incarnation affair as downright imposture and a mischievous farce. To them the re-incarnation is an embodiment of bribery, nothing more nor less. At best it is a fraud committed by oracle-priests at the instance of aristocrats who are very often their patrons and protectors.

Oracles are not confined in their operation to matters of incarnation; they are consulted for many other purposes. A Cabinet Minister who has committed some error will hasten to those priests, especially to the Nechung, to prevent his being punished, or to have the punishment modified. In such a case a Minister has to pay to the priests a sum varying from the minimum of one thousand yen to ten or twenty times that amount, according to the gravity of the offence. When in time that offence comes to the[424] ears of the Government, and the question of punishing the offender is brought on the tapis, the latter can sit silent without much perturbation, secure in the thought that he has forestalled the Government and has secretly ‘purchased’ a favorable understanding with the consulters of the oracles. For to these consulters the matter is sure to be brought, sooner or later, for their decision, or more properly for the decision of their deity. The priests will then consult the oracles, but with a foregone conclusion as to the nature of the response, being bound by the accused party with fetters of gold. The oracles will say: “Don’t punish the man, for to do so will be to invite calamity on the country. Only reprimand is enough, for the man is at heart well-meaning. His fault came from inadvertence.” And so the Minister is absolved from the charge, or is sentenced merely to a nominal punishment.

On the other hand, a Minister or any other high personage who is a persona ingrata to the Nechung priests is in danger of bringing down on his head an oracle of terrible nature at any moment, and in the presence of the Grand Lama himself. The unscrupulous priests will even turn the virtues of their unfortunate victim into a means of denouncing him. The power which those oracle-priests wield in the official circles of the Grand Lama’s Government is therefore a formidable one, and the officials hold them in even greater awe than they do their supreme chief. The Nechung priests may be even regarded as wielding the real power in the Hierarchical administration. It is true that the present Grand Lama, being a man of great force of mind, does not blindly adopt in all cases the insidious advice of the priests; still in the great majority of cases he has to follow it, for to reject the Nechung’s words is contrary to the traditions of the country.

The Nechung, who exercise such power even in small affairs, very often prove to be broken reeds when they are[425] confronted with grave national questions. Suppose, for instance, they are asked to consult the oracles about a diplomatic trouble, in the presence of the Dalai Lama and other great dignitaries. The priests proceed to do so with pomp and solemnity, attired in gorgeous dress befitting the occasion. In time the deity responds to the invocation, and is consulted about the policy which the Government has to adopt, say, about the trouble which is supposed to have appeared between it and England. The medium will remain silent, and simply continue to tremble for some time. He will next make one high jump, and then drop down apparently unconscious. The attendants of the medium are then thrown into consternation, all whispering to each other with significant nods and head-shakes that the deity must have been offended at the impious question put to him, and must have therefore gone off in holy wrath. And so for a grave question, for which the aid of the oracle is most needed, the Hierarchical Government is left in the lurch and is compelled to give decision according to its own mother-wit. Such is the farce of the oracle-system.


Men of learning and priests of sincere piety and honest conviction are therefore bitterly (though not openly) opposed to the doings of those oracle-priests, whom they denounce as Ministers of devils, and as the worst enemies of religion. Fortunately, however, the two Lamaist chiefs are not installed only by the agency of the Nechungs, as above mentioned.

I may, for instance, refer in passing to the supposed parentage of the present Tashi Lama, the second Grand Lama, of Tashi Lhunpo. He is said to have been born of a dumb woman by some unknown father. Some say that his father was a hermit, while others are of opinion that he was a priest, but the most probable account is the one which I heard from a certain authority, who informed me[427] that a learned doctor, one Meto-ke-sang (chrysanthemum-flower) of the monastery of Sera, was the real father of the present head of the Tashi Lhunpo. This doctor became a monomaniac after having studied the literature of the Old Sect, roamed about the country, and at last cohabited with a dumb woman. The result was the birth of the boy on whom fell the great honor. The Lama is therefore, said to bear a great personal resemblance to that mad doctor. Though this opinion was held by a reliable authority of the Sera monastery with whom I was acquainted, of course I cannot vouch for the authenticity of his explanation.
Site Admin
Posts: 33223
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

Re: Three Years in Tibet, by Ekai Kawaguchi

Postby admin » Tue Dec 10, 2019 5:01 am

CHAPTER LXII. The Government.

I shall next describe the system of the Hierarchical Government, and other matters relative to it based on the information I incidentally obtained on those subjects during my stay in Lhasa. The information is far from being complete, for besides the fact that the subjects were entirely foreign to the primary objects of my Tibetan expedition, and therefore I was not impelled to make any systematic inquiries, I could not without inviting strong suspicion put any questions to my friends in Lhasa about matters of Tibetan politics. Whatever knowledge I could gather on the subject was derived incidentally in the course of conversations with my distinguished host and some others, and as the result of enquiries made in a highly guarded and roundabout way. Hence there still remain many points in the Government system of which I myself am ignorant.

With this reserve, I may state first of all that the Hierarchy is composed of both clerical and lay departments, each consisting of an equal number of men. The priests of higher rank who attend to the affairs of State bear the title of “Tse Dung” and they number one hundred and sixty-five, and there are lay officials of corresponding rank and number known under the title of “Dung Khor”. The priestly functionaries of higher rank are subject to the control of four Grand Secretaries, bearing the title of “Tung yk chen mo” but the real power is vested in the senior priest. Similarly four “Shabpe” (Premiers) are appointed over the head of the higher lay officials. Of these four “Shabpe” the one enjoying precedence in[429] appointment holds the real power, the other three being his councillors and advisers.

The Cabinet is composed of four Prime-Ministers, three Ministers of Finance, two Ministers of War, a Minister of the Household, a Minister of Religion, a Minister of Justice, and four Grand Secretaries belonging to the Order.

All these higher posts, both of priests and laymen, are in most cases filled only by men belonging to the privileged classes; very rarely do they fall to the Ngak-pa, Bon-bo and Shal-ngo castes.

The Tibetan administration is of an anomalous description—a hybrid partaking of feudalism on the one hand and of the modern system of Local Government on the other.

The relation between Peers and commoners apparently resembles feudalism. The first recipient of the title was granted a certain tract of land in recognition of his service, and there at once sprung up between this lord of the manor, as it were, and the inhabitants of that particular place a relationship akin to that between sovereign and subject. This lord is an absolute master of his people, both in regard to their rights and even their lives.

The lord levies a poll-tax on the inhabitants, and even the poorest are not exempted from this obligation. The levy varies considerably according to the means of the payer, from say one tanka paid by a poor inhabitant to even a hundred paid by a wealthier member of the community. Besides, every freeholder must pay land tax, the land held by him being understood theoretically to belong to the lord. However heavy the burden of the poll-tax may be, each person is obliged to pay it, for if he neglects to do so he is liable to be punished with flogging and the confiscation of his property to boot. The only means of escape from this obligation consists in becoming a monk, and there must be in the Tibetan priesthood a large number of men who have turned priests solely with[430] this object of avoiding the payment of taxes. The witty remark once made to me by my teacher, Ti Rinpoche, on this subject may illustrate the state of affairs in the Tibetan priesthood. He said: “I do not know whether to rejoice at or to regret the presence of so many priests in Tibet. Some seem to take this as a sign of the flourishing condition of the national religion and on that ground seem to be satisfied with it. I cannot quite agree with this argument; on the contrary I rather hold that it is better to have even two or three precious diamonds than a heap of stones and broken tiles.” The motives that lead people to become priests lying in that region, it is not strange that the Tibetan priesthood should contain plenty of rubbish with very few diamonds among them.

However, when it is remembered how heavy are the burdens imposed on the shoulders of the people, it is not strange that they should try to evade them by entering the Order. The condition of even the poorest priest presents a great contrast to that of other poor people, for the priest is at least sure to obtain every month a regular allowance, small as it is, from the Hierarchical Government, while he can expect more or less of extra allowances in the shape of occasional presents from charitable people. But a poor layman cannot expect any help from those quarters, and he has to support his family with his own labor and to pay the poll-tax besides. Very often therefore he is hardly able to drive the wolf of hunger from his door, and in such case his only hope of succor lies in a loan from his landlord, or the lord of the manor wherein he resides. But hope of repayment there is none, and so the poor farmer gets that loan under a strange contract, that is to say, by binding himself to offer his son or daughter as a servant to the creditor when he or she attains a certain age. And so his child when he has reached the age of (say) ten years is surrendered to the[431] creditor, who is entitled to employ him as a servant for fifteen or twenty years, and for a loan which does not generally exceed ten yen. The lives of the children of poor people may therefore be considered as being foreclosed by their parents. Those pitiable children grow up to be practically slaves of the Peers.

The relationship existing between the Peers and the people residing on their estates, therefore, partakes of the nature of feudalism in some essential respects, but it cannot be said that feudalism reigns alone in Tibet to the exclusion of other systems of Government. On the contrary a centralised form of Government prevails more or less at the same time. The Peers, it must be remembered, do not generally reside on their own estates; they reside in Lhasa and leave their estates in charge of their stewards. And they are not unfrequently appointed by the Central Government as Governors of certain districts.

Consequently the Tibetans may be said to be divided into two classes of people, one being subject to the control of the lords of the manors and other to that of the Central Government. Not unfrequently the two overlap, and the same people are obliged to pay poll-tax to their lords and other taxes to the Central Government.

The work of revenue collection is entrusted to two or three Commissioners appointed from among the clerical or lay officials of higher rank, and these, invested with judicial and executive powers, are despatched every year to the provinces to collect revenue, consisting of taxes, imposts and import duties, these being paid either in money or kind.

The demands on revenue are many and various, and among the items of ordinary expenditure may be mentioned first of all the sums required for supporting, either wholly or partially, a large number of priests residing both in Lhasa and in the provinces, the former alone numbering[432] about twenty-five thousand. The outlay on account of building temples and religious ceremonies is not small, but that on account of salaries paid to the officials of the Central Government appears to be less. A Premier draws the yearly salary of about six hundred koku or four thousand bushels of wheat, the stipend being generally paid in this grain. The first Lord of the Treasury draws three hundred and sixty koku. What is very interesting about these salaries is that the State functionaries very often relinquish the right of receiving their salaries, and leave them unclaimed. My host, who continued to hold for ten years the post of the Minister of Finance, had persistently refrained during that long period from claiming what was his due. When I marvelled at this strange act of disinterestedness on his part, he replied that his own estate supplied what he wanted and so he did not wish to give trouble to the Grand Lama’s Exchequer. And he further informed me that most of his colleagues who were men of means generally omitted to claim their salaries wholly or in part, though there were some who punctually received the money to which they were entitled by right. Not that even those who showed themselves so disinterested in the matter of official stipends are above corruption, for I heard that some of the Ministers who declined their salaries did not scruple to receive or even to exact bribes. In justice to them I may add that bribery is a universal vice in Tibet, and is not regarded in so serious a light there as in more enlightened countries. My host was a gentleman of strict integrity and morals, but he used to accept presents offered out of respect to him.

The clerical and lay high functionaries, each numbering one hundred and sixty-five, attend to the various affairs of State. They are sometimes appointed as Governors of provinces, while at other times they are sent on judicial business. In such cases appointments are never given to[433] clerical or lay officials only, but both are invariably appointed as associates, and in equal number, one each or two, or sometimes four. The Judicial Commissioners were formerly often guilty of injustice and open to the charge of judging cases, not according to their real deserts, but according to the amount of bribes offered. They are no longer so now, thanks to the vigilance and energy of the present Dalai Lama who, whenever such a case of wrong-doing comes to his ears, does not hesitate to confiscate the property of the offending parties and to deprive them of their rank. Sometimes when a case of grave moment occurs it is submitted to the personal judgment of the Grand Lama himself.

The Grand Lama is therefore placed in a highly anomalous position, for while he is the dispenser of benevolence and the supreme head of a religion preaching mercy and forbearance, he is obliged to pass judgment and to sentence persons to exile or even to capital punishment. As head of a religion he is positively forbidden by its teachings to pass a decree of that nature, whether that decree is justifiable in the worldly sense or not. But the Grand Lama does issue decrees of this irreligious description. He is not, however, a political chief, inasmuch as he faithfully adheres to the rules of mortification enforced by his religion; he has no wife, for instance, nor does he drink intoxicating liquor. His position is really highly anomalous.

And yet all the priests in Tibet take from the Grand Lama the holy vow of discipline; I myself was advised by my Tibetan friends to pass that ceremony, but my religious scruples stood in the way, so I did not follow the advice. However I was initiated by the Grand Lama in the ‘Hidden Teaching,’ for this ceremony had nothing to do with my religious convictions.

The Grand Lama himself being placed in this false position, all the priests under him are naturally open[434] to a similar charge. They are partly priests and partly men of the world, and sometimes it is hardly possible to distinguish them from ordinary laymen. For instance, the Tibetan priests, as I have mentioned elsewhere, undertake farming or business, while the young rowdies among them attend to the work of ordinary soldiers. The only things that distinctly distinguish the priests from laymen are that the former shave their hair and wear priestly robes, and the latter do not; that is all. I am compelled to say that Lamaism has fallen, and that it has assumed a form quite contrary to that to which its great reformer Je Tsong-kha-pa elevated it, and I am sincerely sorry for this degeneration. I shall next describe the education and the caste system in Tibet.
Site Admin
Posts: 33223
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

Re: Three Years in Tibet, by Ekai Kawaguchi

Postby admin » Tue Dec 10, 2019 5:02 am

CHAPTER LXIII. Education and Castes.

Education is not widely diffused in Tibet. In the neighborhood of Shigatze children are taught comparatively well the three subjects of writing, arithmetic and reading, but in other places no provision exists for teaching children, except at monasteries, so that the boys and girls of ordinary people are generally left uneducated, especially the latter.

As might naturally be expected, educational establishments are few and far between. The only institutions worthy of the name are found on the premises of the Palace at Lhasa, and of the Tashi Lhunpo monasteries in Shigatze; all the rest are only ‘family schools’.

From the important position which priests command in Tibet, the system of training them is pretty well developed, and it is only at religious schools that one can obtain even a comparatively advanced education. Sons of ordinary people can enjoy the benefit of that education only by joining the order, for otherwise they are refused admission to Government schools.

The doors of those schools are, of course, shut against boys of humble origin. In Tibet there exists one class which is the lowest in the scale of social gradation. This lowest grade is subdivided into fishermen, ferry-men, smiths, and butchers. Smiths are relegated to this grade in Tibet just as in India, and for the same reason—that they pursue an objectionable occupation in making edged tools used for slaughtering living things, the most sinful occupation of all. People of this lowest grade are even prohibited from becoming priests, and if ever they enter the privileged order it is by some surreptitious means and by concealing[436] their real rank. In this way some men of the lowest origin have become priests at places remote from their native villages. Compared with these despised classes, the ordinary people may be said to enjoy a great advantage.

The classes who are entitled to enter the Government institutions are only four:

1. Ger-pa, Peers; 2. Ngak-pa, the manṭra clan, 3. Bon-bo, the Old Sect clan; 4. Shal-ngo, families of former chieftains.

The Peers consist of the descendants of former ministers and generals, and contain the supreme class called Yabshi which is composed of families of the thirteen Grand Lamas, past and present, and also of the descendants of the first King of Tibet, called Tichen Lha-kyari. They all hold the rank of Duke. The descendants in the direct line of that King still exist to this day, and their head is entitled to occupy the same rank as the Grand Lama, only he does not possess any power in public affairs. The highest posts in the Tibetan Hierarchy are within the easy reach of the Yabshi men, who can become Prime Ministers or other great dignitaries of state provided they are judged to possess qualifications for undertaking those high functions. Even when they do not occupy such elevated positions, they at least hold posts that are of next in importance. All the remarks about the Yabshi apply to the families of the Dalai Lamas, installed at Lhasa, for though the other Patriarchs at Tashi Lhunpo also possess Yabshi of their own, they do not enjoy the same privileges as the others. The descendants of the Dalai Lama’s relatives, and those of the former King, may therefore be considered as forming in practice the royal families of Tibet. These should, for convenience, be set apart as a distinct class, though there are other families that do not differ much from them in origin and privilege. Of these, one called De-pon Cheka (families of generals) represents the descendants of the generals and[437] captains who rendered distinguished services when Tibet engaged in war. The merits of those warriors, long since dead, obtain for their descendants great respect from the public and they enjoy great privileges.

The next grade of the Peerage, but considerably below these, consists of the descendants of families of great historic renown, or of ministers of distinguished service. Though occupying the lowest grade in the herald-book of the Peerage, even the portfolio of the Premier is accessible to these Peers, provided that they are men of ability.

In general, honor and ability seldom go together in Tibet, for official posts are freely sold and purchased, though buyers are limited. High officials of real ability are even regarded as a nuisance by their colleagues, and are liable to be dismissed through their intrigues. Such being the case, by far the greater majority of high official posts are held by men who have obtained them in exchange for money.

The class that ranks next to Peers is that of the Ngak-pas or miracle workers, who are the descendants of Lamas who worked miracles, not the least of them being their marriage in violation of the rules of Lama priesthood. Those Lamas transmitted their ‘hidden arts’ exclusively to this social grade, which thus possesses hereditary secrets. The Ngak-pas play an important part in the social organism of Tibet. For instance they are entitled, as already mentioned, to levy the ‘hail-tax’ in summer, and therefore to assume the function of administrators. They are also held in great awe by provincials and townsmen, as being magicians of power. The simple-minded folk believe that if once they incur the displeasure of a Ngak-pa they may be cursed by him, and therefore may bring upon themselves some calamity. As I mentioned before, the Ngak-pa people occupy the advantageous position of being able to procure money in the[438] shape of proceeds of the ‘hail-tax,’ and of presents coming from all classes of people. Strange as it may appear, the Ngak-pa men, while commanding such advantages, are notoriously poor; they even stand as synonyms for poverty. Their sole consolation is that they are conscious of the great power they hold over all classes of people; and even Peers are often seen to dismount from horseback and give a courteous salute when they happen to meet a beggarly Ngak-pa in the street.

The third caste is the Bon-bo the name of an old religion which prevailed in Tibet long before the introduction of Buḍḍhism. The priests of this practically extinct religion were allowed to marry, and have left behind them the class of people who represent this old social institution in Tibet. The Bon-bo people have to play a certain distinct rôle in public affairs. This is more of a ceremonial than of a religious nature. It consists in worshipping local deities, and undertaking ceremonies intended to secure their favor. When people marry, they ask a Bon-bo man to pray for them to their local deity. Sometimes he undertakes other kinds of prayer or even performs symbolic rites with a benevolent or malevolent aim, according to circumstances. Families of this particular class are found almost everywhere throughout the country, though in limited numbers. In some remote villages, as Tsar-ka in the Himālayas, all the villagers are said to belong to this class, but in most cases only one or two families are found in one village or in one district. In such cases the Bon-bo are objects of great respect, and they sometimes act as local magistrates or administrators. Even when they pursue any other kind of business, they still command great respect from their neighbors as descendants of ancient families.

Though the Bon-bo are descendants of an old religious order, their present representatives are no longer priests,[439] for they do not preach their tenets to others, nor try to persuade them to become converts. They are simply content to hand down their ancestral teachings and traditions to their children and so maintain their distinct position in society. Not unfrequently the young Bon-bo enter the priesthood, and these take precedence over all the other Bon-bo. Strictly speaking the respect which the people belonging to this particular class enjoy over others at present is due to their honorable lineage.

The fourth class is “Shal-ngo” and is composed of the descendants of ancient families who acquired power in the locality on account of their wealth in either money or land. The Tibetans are in general a highly conservative race, and therefore they succeed in most cases in keeping intact their hereditary property. Their polyandrous custom too must be conducive to that result, preventing as it does the splitting up of family property among brothers. By far the great majority of the Shal-ngo people possess therefore more or less property; and even a poor Shal-ngo commands the same respect from the public as his richer confrère.

Common people are divided into two grades, one called tong-ba and the other tong-du. The former is superior, and includes all those common people who possess some means and have not fallen into an ignoble state of slavery. Tong-du means etymologically “petty people,” and their rank being one grade lower than that of others, the people of this class are engaged in menial service. Still they are not strictly speaking slaves; they should more properly be considered as poor tenant-farmers, for formerly these people used to stand in the relation of tenant-farmers to land-owners, though such relation no longer exists.

Some tong-ba are reduced to more straitened circumstances than the tong-du, but, generally considered, the tong-ba are distinguished from the others by the possession of property,[440] greater or less as the case may be, while poverty is a special feature of the tong-du.

However low the tong-ba may fall in the worldly sense of the word, and, on the other hand, however thriving the tong-du may become, a strict line of demarcation still continues to separate the two classes. Society continues to treat them as before, and as if nothing had happened in their relative fortunes. No ordinary people deign to eat with one belonging to the tong-du class, nor do they ever intermarry with them.

This strict rule of social etiquette is in force even among the four divisions of the lowest class, that is to say, ferry-men, fishermen, smiths and butchers. Of the four, the first two rank higher than the other two. Thus, though smiths and butchers are not permitted to eat in the same room with common people, the other two classes are allowed to do so, only they may not sit at table with a privileged plebeian, but must eat or drink from their own vessels.

It is hardly necessary to add that a strong barrier is set up between these four kinds of social outcasts and the ordinary common people, to prevent their intermarriage; a man or woman belonging to the latter class, who is so indiscreet as to obey the bidding of his or her heart and to marry one of the despised race, is socially tabooed from his or her own kith and kin. This punishment is permanent, and even when the bond of this mésalliance has been dissolved by divorce, or any other cause, the fallen man or woman can never hope to regain the caste which he or she has forfeited. The mark of social infamy will follow him or her to the grave.

It is curious, however, that the issues of these mésalliances form a social class of their own. They are called tak ta ril, which means a ‘mixed race produced by black and white twisted together’. They occupy a position even[441] lower than that of the four despised classes mentioned above, and are in fact the lowest caste in Tibet.

There is one interesting feature in regard to this rigid canon of social caste, and that is the presence of gentlemen-smiths, who, being men of a mechanical turn of mind, have become smiths from preference. These gentlemen-smiths do not forfeit their birth and rank on this account.

Both by law and custom the higher classes enjoy special privileges, and these go a long way. The children of aristocrats, for instance, are entitled to exact from their humbler playmates great respect and courtesy. When the latter so forget themselves in their disputes and quarrels with their noble associates as to use rough language, they are at once punished, even when they are in the right. It is evident therefore from what has been stated that a plebeian, no matter how wealthy, is obliged to behave respectfully under all circumstances to a man belonging to the Ngak-pa or Bon-bo, even though the latter may be as poor as a church mouse. As each social class forms practically one distinct community with its own particular etiquette, customs and so forth, ranks are more plainly visible on the surface in Tibet than in most other countries. The Tibetan proverb corresponding to the western saying that “blood will out” gains a special significance when applied to the state of affairs prevailing in that semi-civilised country.

The aristocrats of Tibet are distinguished by noble mien and refined manners. Conscious of their elevated position, they possess on the whole a high sense of honor. The other privileged castes occupying a lower plane, such as the men of the Ngak-pa and Bon-bo races and the descendants of ancient grandees, still bear the marks of their respectable birth and can easily be distinguished even by strangers from the common people.

The common people are plebeian in their general bearing and appearance, but one thing to their credit is that they are known for strict honesty, and even extreme poverty seldom tempts them into committing arts of larceny. On the other hand, the lower classes or social outcasts are notorious for their criminal propensities to robbery and murder. In practice they are characterised by crime and wretchedness; they are criminals and beggars. Beggars in fact form a community of their own, the profession being hereditary. These classes are deservedly held in contempt by the public, and their faces even seem to justify such treatment, for they are remarkable for ferocity, depravity and vileness.

As I have mentioned before, lads belonging to the higher ranks are entitled to enter Government schools, but the subjects taught there are at best imperfect. The lessons consist only of learning by memory, penmanship and counting. The first subject is the most important, next comes penmanship, the latter receiving even a larger allotment of hours than the other. Counting is a primitive affair, being taught by means of pebbles, pieces of wood, or shells. The subject matters of learning by memory are Buḍḍhist Texts, the elements of grammar, and lastly rhetoric. This last is a subject of great ambition for Tibetan scholars, who are just like Chinese in their fondness for grandiloquent expressions. Documents to be presented to the Dalai Lama and other high personages bristle with high-flown phraseology and with characters rarely used in ordinary writing, and not found even in Buḍḍhist Texts. The fact is that Tibetan scholars at present hold strange ideas about writing, being of opinion that they should aim at composing in a style unintelligible to ordinary persons. The more characters they can use which cannot easily be understood by others, the better proof, they think, have they given of the[443] profundity of their scholarship. The most scholarly compositions are practically hierographic so far as their incomprehensibility is concerned.


The birch-rod is considered to be the most useful implement in teaching; not exactly a birch-rod, however, but a flat piece of bamboo. The cramming of difficult passages of rhetoric being the principal mode of learning imposed on pupils, their masters are invariably of opinion that they must make free use of the rod in order to quicken their pupils’[444] progress. The relation between masters and pupils does not differ much from that between gaolers and convicts. The latter, poor fellows, hold their masters in such dread that they find it exceedingly trying, at the sight of them and their formidable pedagogic weapons, to compose their minds and to go on unfalteringly with their lessons. They cower with fear, and are filled with the perturbing thought that the rod is sure to descend upon them for the slightest stumble they make in the path of learning. The ordinary way of using the rod is to give thirty blows with it on the left palm of the pupil. Prudence counsels the pupil to stretch out his hand with alacrity at the bidding of his hard master, for in case he hesitates to do so the penalty is generally doubled, and sixty blows instead of thirty are given. It is a cruel sight to see a little pupil holding out his open hand and submitting to the punishment with tearful eyes. Surely this is not education but mere cruelty.

I once made an earnest remonstrance on this subject with the Minister of Finance who, in common with the rest, used to teach his boys with a liberal application of the rod. To do justice to the Minister, his method of teaching was much more considerate than that of most of his countrymen, and he very seldom resorted to rough handling, such as binding pupils with cords over-night or compelling them to go without dinner or supper. When however I remonstrated with him on the ground that the infliction of corporal punishment was entirely opposed to all sound principles of education, he at first defended the Tibetan system with great earnestness. We had a somewhat animated though courteous dispute on the subject; but at length, being a man of great candor of mind, he seemed to perceive the merit of my position. At any rate he ceased to use the rod as he did before, and generally confined himself to giving a reprimand when[445] any of his boys went astray with his learning. The Minister afterward informed me that his boys seemed to make better progress when they were spared the rod.

Abuse is also considered as an efficient means of educating boys. “Beast,” “beggar,” “devil,” “ass,” “eater of parents’ flesh,” are epithets applied to backward boys by their teachers, and this custom of using foul language is naturally handed on from teachers to pupils, who when they grow up are sure to pass on those slanderous appellations to the next generation.

While the education of the sons of laymen is conducted with such severity, that of boy disciples by Lama priests is extremely lenient, and is quite in contrast to that of the others. The disciples are not even reprimanded, much less chastised, when they neglect their work. The priests generally leave them to do as they like, much as uxorious husbands do towards their wilful wives, so that it is no wonder that the disciples of Lamas very seldom make any good progress in learning. They are spoiled by the excessive indulgence of their masters. Some of these masters own the evil of their way of education, and are careful not to spoil the youthful pupils placed under their care, and it is precisely from among these latter disciples that priests of learning and ability may be expected.

The memorising part of the Tibetan system of education, as mentioned above, is a heavy burden on the pupils. To give some idea of what an important part this work occupies in their system, I may note that a young acolyte, who has grown to fifteen or sixteen years old, has to commit to memory, from the oral instruction of his teachers, from three hundred to five hundred pages of Buḍḍhist texts in the course of a year. He has then to undergo an examination on what he has learned. Even for a lad of weak memory, the number of pages is not less than one hundred in a year. For those who have grown older, that[446] is for those whose age ranges between eighteen and thirty, the task imposed is still more formidable, being five to eight hundred and even one thousand pages. I was amazed at this mental feat of the Tibetan priests, for I could barely learn fifty sheets in six months, that being the minimum limit allotted for aspirants of poor memory.
Site Admin
Posts: 33223
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

Re: Three Years in Tibet, by Ekai Kawaguchi

Postby admin » Tue Dec 10, 2019 5:03 am

CHAPTER LXIV. Tibetan Trade and Industry.

I shall now describe the trade of Tibet, though my account must necessarily be imperfect for obvious reasons.

I shall begin with an interesting incident that occurred to me in November, 1901, when I was enabled to send home letters for the first time after my arrival in the country. That was on the 18th of the month, and through the agency of Tsa Rong-ba, a Tibetan trader with whom I had become acquainted at Darjeeling. This man started for Calcutta on Government business to buy iron, and as I knew him to be trustworthy I entrusted him with a letter addressed to Sarat Chandra Das, in which were enclosed several others addressed to my friends and relatives in Japan.

The iron which he was commissioned to procure was for the purpose of manufacturing small arms at an arsenal situated at Dib near Che-Cho-ling, on the bank of the river Kichu, which flows to the south of Lhasa.

This industry was an innovation in Tibet, and in fact had begun only about eight years before that time. It was introduced by a Tibetan named Lha Tse-ring who had lived for a long time at Darjeeling and, at the request of his Government, brought back with him about ten gunsmiths, mostly Hinḍū and Cashmere Mohamedans. Only two of these smiths remained in Tibet at the time I reached Lhasa, the rest having returned home or died; but as several of the Tibetan smiths had acquired the art from them, no inconvenience was experienced in continuing the industry. This was a great improvement on the old state of affairs, for Tibet had formerly possessed only flint-lock muskets, and even these could not easily be[448] introduced from India. The manufacture of improved firearms was therefore a great boon to the country, and the Government did not spare expense and trouble to encourage the development of the art. Hence it came about that my acquaintance was authorised by the Government to proceed to Calcutta and procure a supply of iron.

It ought to be mentioned that about this time the departure of Tibetan merchants to foreign countries for the transaction of business had become quite frequent. They proceeded first of all to British India, next to China, and lastly to the Russian territories. The trade with the last was, however, quite insignificant as yet, and whatever relations Tibet may have with Russia are in most cases political and very rarely commercial.

I shall first describe the Tibetan trade with British India and Nepāl.

Of Tibetan products exported to India wool is the most important, and next musk and the tails of yaks, furs and leathers. Buḍḍhist images and books, being liable to confiscation when discovered, seldom go abroad, though they are more or less in demand in India. Other goods exported to India are insignificant. Formerly more or less Chinese tea for consumption by the Tibetans residing at Darjeeling used to go to India, but this is no longer the case.

The quantity of wool sent abroad is quite large. From five thousand to six thousand mule-packs go to Darjeeling, about one thousand five hundred to Bhūtān, about two thousand five hundred to Nepāl and about three thousand to Ladak. These figures are of course far from precise, for (reliable official returns being wanting) I based my estimates on information obtained from the traders. Besides the figures given above, there are quantities, greater or less, sent to China and also westward to Mānasarovara, but as I did not visit either district, and moreover had no means[449] of making an estimate about them, I have nothing to say on the subject.

Musk is obtained in Tibet, but from a certain species of deer and not from civet-cats. The musk-deer is found almost everywhere in that country. It is of about two and a half times or three times the size of an ordinary cat, and though resembling the Japanese deer in shape, it is not so tall as the other. The musk-deer subsists on herbage, and is covered with light and soft fur of a deep grey color. It has an exceedingly amiable face indicative of its mild nature. One characteristic feature is that it has two small but pretty tusks somewhat curved projecting from the upper jaws. The musk is found only in the male, and is contained in a little pouch attached to the hinder part. A strange fact is that the pouch is said to grow gradually in size from the beginning to the middle of each lunar month and then gradually to be reduced again until the end of the month, this periodic change appearing with great regularity. The musk-deer is therefore shot about the middle of the month, generally between the 13th and 15th.

The musk-deer is shot with a gun, but in preserved forests such as are found round about Lhasa and other Buḍḍhist headquarters, where shooting and hunting are strictly forbidden on pain of severe penalties, hunters catch the animal, clandestinely of course, by means of traps. Though the deer is found almost everywhere in Tibet, its principal habitation is in such remote districts as Kong-bo, Tsari and Lo. Musk is very cheap in all those districts, costing about one-tenth of the price given in Japan. The musk produced there is also purer than that produced in more prosperous places, for the people being simple-minded do not tamper with it nor adulterate it with other substances. The musk coming from Lo, for instance, is especially reputed for purity and cheapness. The[450] district is inhabited by half-naked aborigines, who resemble in outward appearance both Tibetans and Hinḍūs, though ethnologically they are more akin to the former than to the latter.

The musk produced by these savages is bartered against articles either of ornament or domestic utility, such as mirrors, glass beads, iron pans, sickles, knives, flour, confectionery and foreign trinkets.

Though the musk is obtainable at a very reasonable price in these districts, the risks and dangers from highwaymen which traders encounter on the road are so great that only those who are uncommonly adventurous proceed thither to get a supply from the natives.

The Tibetan musk is sent in larger quantities to China than to India, notwithstanding the fact that transport to the latter is easier. Almost all goods from Tibet to China travel through Ta-chien-lu. However, even at present, more or less is sent to Yunnan, whence Japan has been used to obtain its supply. The so-called ‘Yunnan-musk’ so much prized in Japan therefore comes originally from Tibet.

The ‘Blood-horn’ of the ‘Precious deer’ is the most valuable item among the commodities on the export list to China. This horn makes a medicine highly valued by Chinese physicians, being considered to possess the power of invigorating the body, prolonging life and giving lustre to the face. It is in fact used as an elixir by the Chinese. The horn therefore commands a high price, and even in Tibet a Chinese merchant will give as much as five hundred yen in Japanese currency for a pair of good horns. The inferior horns, however, can be bought at even two or three yen a piece, these being used not for medicine but only for ornament. Sharp, experienced eyes are required to distinguish a good and valuable horn from an inferior one, and even in Tibet there are not many such experts.

This special kind of deer is found in the wild districts of the south-eastern and north-western parts of Tibet, especially in the former. It is a large animal, larger than an average horse, but in shape it resembles an ordinary deer, only that it is plumper. As a rule it is covered with greyish hair, though some are covered with fur of other hues.

The horns are renewed every year, the growth beginning from about January of the lunar calendar. The new horns are covered with a hairy epidermis and consist of nothing but thickened blood. They continue to grow, and about March or April produce one ramification. At the same time the base becomes hard and bony, whilst the upper parts remain of the same consistency as before. They are further ramified and elongated with the lapse of time, and the growth reaches its climax by about September, after which the counter process of decay commences and the horns, now grown quite long, drop off about the middle of December. The largest specimens I saw measured thirteen inches in length with the main stem of about 1⅘ inches in girth, and even such horns are completely covered with hairy integument.

The best season for the horns, that is when they are medically most efficacious, is believed to be April or May, and it is then that the natives go out to hunt the animal. The shooting should be done with accurate aim so as to drop the animal at once, and the hunters therefore generally aim at the forehead. This is owing to the fact that when the animal is only wounded, instead of being brought down by a single shot, he invariably knocks his head against rocks or trees and breaks the precious horns to pieces. About the month of April or May, the animal, probably from the necessity of protecting his horns, sojourns in less remote and rocky places, and this habit makes him fall an easy prey to the hunter.

I may mention that I brought home a fine specimen of these horns which I bought at Lhasa. They are genuine, for I had them judged by a competent expert.

The exports to Nepāl comprise wool, yak-tails, salt, saltpetre, woollen goods and a few other articles. To the districts lying to the north-east of Tibet, that is to the north-western parts of China and Mongolia, go various kinds of woollen goods; Buḍḍhist books also go largely to Mongolia, as do also Buḍḍhist images, pictures and various paraphernalia. These, considered as objects of art, are worthless, though formerly Tibet produced images and pictures of high artistic standard. The contrast between old and new images and pictures, both of which are to be seen in most temples in Tibet, is sufficiently glaring, for the latter are as a rule clumsy performances, offensive to the taste and also to the sense of decency, being invariably bi-sexual representations of men and women with one common body. I was once struck with the notion that the Tibetans are characterised by four serious defects, these being: filthiness, superstition, unnatural customs (such as polyandry), and unnatural art. I should be sorely perplexed if I were asked to name their redeeming points; but if I had to do so, I should mention first of all the fine climate in the vicinity of Lhasa and Shigatze, their sonorous and refreshing voices in reading the Text, the animated style of their catechisms, and their ancient art. But to cut short my digression, and to resume the description of Tibetan trade, I must next give an account of the import business.

Of the imported goods, those coming from India are mostly in evidence. Among them may be mentioned woollen cloth for decorating the rooms of temples and for other uses, silk handkerchiefs, Burma crêpes, Benares brocades, silk tissues, and cotton fabrics. White cotton piece-goods are mostly in demand, next piece-goods of[453] light blue and of russet color. Figured chintzes of various patterns are also imported more or less.

Imports from China comprise first of all silk fabrics of sundry kinds, as brocades, tussore silk, crêpes and satins of various kinds. Silver bullion and drugs are also imported, but in respect of value tea stands first on the list of Chinese imports. From what I have roughly estimated, the quantity of tea arriving at Lhasa alone will cost not less than six hundred and fifty thousand yen a year approximately, while the import to Eastern Tibet, which is more thickly inhabited than the other half of the country, must of course reach a larger figure, for the Tibetans are great tea-drinkers and both high and low imbibe a large quantity of the beverage all through the year. The poorest people, who cannot afford to buy, are satisfied with a thin decoction obtained from the refuse of the tea-pots of wealthier people. Tea is rather costly, for one brick of inferior quality measuring about one foot long, 6½ inches wide and three inches thick costs two yen seventy-five sen at Lhasa; a brick consisting of only leaves without any mixture of twigs cannot be obtained at less than five yen. The prices rise as we go westward, owing to the cost of transportation, and for a brick costing two yen seventy-five sen at Lhasa as much as three yen twenty-five sen has to be paid in Western Tibet.

The imports from Bhūtān or Sikkim comprise tussore-silk goods, woollen fabrics, and cotton goods.

Then from India, Kashmīr, or Nepāl are imported copper utensils, grains, dried grapes, dried peaches, dates, medical drugs, and precious stones of various kinds, as diamonds, rubies, agates, turquoises and corals. Of these turquoises and corals are the most important, being widely used by the Tibetans as a hair decoration. For this purpose the best quality of turquoises are even more prized than diamonds, and a good turquoise of the size of the tip of the small[454] finger fetches as much as one thousand two hundred yen. Coral without spots is rather rare, and most of those seen on the heads of the Tibetan women are spotted more or less. The Tibetans are fond of the reddish or deep reddish variety, which are not popular among the Japanese. Superior kinds come from China, and one good coral ball from China commands from one hundred and twenty to two hundred and thirty yen. Indian specimens are usually inferior in quality. Coral-beads are also imported from that country. Glass beads do duty for corals for poorer folk, and imitation corals made in Japan are sold also. These were formerly passed off as genuine by dishonest merchants, and were sold at comparatively speaking fabulous prices. They are now taken at their proper value. Cheap foreign fancy goods and Japanese matches also find their way to Tibet through India.

Several queer customs prevail in Tibet concerning business transactions. The mode of selling woollen and cotton piece-goods is particularly singular. The standard of measurement is the length of the two outstretched hands, while another measurement based on the length from the elbow to the tip of the fingers is also used. This measurement is determined by the buyers, so that a large person enjoys the advantage of getting a longer measure, while the merchant is subjected to so much disadvantage. However, this primitive mode of measurement is generally applied to the native products only, as for foreign cloth the unit of measurement is a square, each side of which is equal to the breadth of the cloth to be sold. This is called a kha, and a kha varies with the breadth of each piece of cloth.

Very seldom are native merchants honest in their dealing; even the most trustworthy ask a price ten to twenty per cent higher than is reasonable, and the price asked by the more dishonest is really monstrous, being double or even as much as five or six times the real rate.

Another interesting feature in Tibetan transactions is the blessing which the merchants bestow on anything which people buy from them. The most common formula of blessing is to this effect: “May the goods you have bought from me avert from you disease or any other suffering; may your purchase bring good luck and prosperity, so that you may grow richer, build storehouses, and buy more and more goods from us!”

The blessing accompanying the parting with sacred books is more ceremonious. The merchant reverentially lifts the book over his head in both hands, and then hands it over to the purchaser (a priest in most cases) with this blessing:

“May your reverence not only seek the true light from this sacred work, but may you conduct yourself according to that light, so that you may attain better intelligence, wisdom and morals, and fit yourself for the holy work of salvation, for the good of all beings!”

The purchaser has also a ceremony to perform in this transaction, and I must confess that his performance is more obviously selfish, outwardly at least; for in handing the price he just touches the dirty coin with his tongue, then wipes it on the neck of his garment, and finally hands it to the merchant after having cast upon it one lingering glance indicative of his reluctance to part with it. This act of licking and wiping signifies that the purchaser has licked off and wiped away for his own benefit all the good luck that was contained in that piece. The coin that goes to the merchant is therefore considered as a mere empty thing, so far as the virtue that was originally contained in it is concerned.

Though these tedious processes are omitted by big merchants, such as those engaged in dealing in tea, all the others faithfully observe them, especially those in the country.

It may be supposed that with so little to export and so much to import, the country would be impoverished. This, however, is not the case, as I shall explain. Tibet has been used to obtain a large amount of gold from Mongolia—more as donations to Tibetan Lamas than as the price paid for Tibetan goods. This influx of gold from Mongolia has done much thus far in enabling the country to keep the balance of her trade. She therefore cannot adopt an exclusion policy economically, even though she may without much inconvenience do so politically. In fact the enforcement of economic exclusion would be followed by serious internal trouble, simply because it would put a stop to the inflow of gold from Mongolia.

However, so far as this Mongolian gold is concerned, it seems as if circumstances were about to bring Tibet to a result tantamount to the enforcement of economic exclusion, for since the war between Japan and China and especially since the Boxer trouble the inflow of Mongolian gold to Tibet has virtually ceased, so much so that the Mongolian priests who are staying in Tibet for the prosecution of their studies are sorely embarrassed owing to the non-arrival of their remittances from home. Some of them have even been obliged to suspend regular attendance at lectures, and to seek some means of earning their livelihood, just as the poorer native Buḍḍhist students are accustomed to do.

Another thing that adds to the economic difficulties of the Tibetans is their tendency to grow more and more luxurious in their style of living, a tendency that began to be particularly noticeable from about twenty years ago. This has been inevitably brought about by the foreign trade of Tibet and the arrival of goods of foreign origin. All these circumstances have impressed the Tibetans with the necessity of extending their sphere of trade with foreign countries instead of confining their commercial operations[457] within the narrow bounds of their own country. The consequence is that a larger number of the inhabitants have begun to proceed every year to China, India and Nepāl on commercial enterprises.

Now suppose that Tibet should prohibit her people embarking in this foreign trade, what would be the consequence? In the first place she would be unable to get any supply of goods from India, China and other countries, goods which are now articles of daily necessity for her people. This, though sufficiently hard, might be endured; but what would be unendurable would be the closing of Indian markets to the wool of Tibet, India being the most important consumer of this staple produce of the country. More wool being produced than can be reasonably consumed at home, the close of foreign markets is certain to bring down prices, and therefore to rob the sheep-farmers, or more properly the nomadic people of that country, of the greater part of the income they are at present enabled to get from their wool. The supply for food is, on the other hand, less than the demand, and as the prices of this essential of life cannot be expected to go down in proportion to those of wool, the sheep-farmers who constitute the greater part of the whole population would be threatened with starvation.

The incoming of gold from Mongolia being suspended, Tibet cannot, even if she would, cut off her commercial relations with the outside world.

Urged by necessity, trade is advancing with great strides, judging at least from the larger number of people engaged in it, for as matters stand at present the Forbidden Land may without exaggeration be considered as a “nation of shop-keepers”.

In fact all the people, with the exception of those who are disqualified through physical defects and age, are engaged in business of one kind or another. Even[458] farmers are partly traders. In winter when farm-work is slack they proceed to northern Tibet to lay in their stock of salt, obtained from the salt lakes that are found there. Then these men start for Bhūtān, Nepāl or Sikkim, to sell their goods in those places.

Priests are not too proud to deal with secular dollars and cents, and monasteries often trade on a large scale.


The Government itself is a trader, not directly, but through its regular agents, who in virtue of the important trust reposed in them enjoy various privileges, such as the liberty to requisition horses for carrying their goods or to take lodgment gratis.

Peers are also traders, mostly by proxy, though some of them refrain from making investments and are content to subsist on the income derived from their land. None the less the business spirit permeates the whole Peerage, and even these non-trading Peers are ready to make small bargains now and then. Suppose a visitor to a Peer’s house takes a fancy to some of the furniture or hall decoration in it. In such a case it is not considered impolite for the visitor to ask the host the price of that particular article, and to ask him, if the price is considered reasonable, to sell it to him. Nor is it thought derogatory for the host to sell his belongings, and so the bargain is struck when both parties can come to terms. The whole proceeding is conducted with the shrewdness and vigilant attention to details which characterise regular businessmen.

It is interesting to note that even boy-disciples in monasteries are traders in their own way, and do not hesitate to invest their money whenever they happen to notice in the shops or other places articles that appeal to their fancy. These they bring home and either sell, (generally at a large profit) to other boys, or exchange for other objects.

One great evil attends this propensity, and that is the danger of stimulating cunning practices, each party trying to impose upon the other in all those dealings.
Site Admin
Posts: 33223
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

Re: Three Years in Tibet, by Ekai Kawaguchi

Postby admin » Tue Dec 10, 2019 5:04 am

CHAPTER LXV. Currency and Printing blocks.

Commodities are either bartered or bought with regular coins. I should more strictly say the coin, there being only one kind of coin, and that is a twenty-four sen silver piece. That is the only legal tender current. Transactions have to be conducted therefore in a rather complicated manner, inasmuch as that coin admits of being divided in two ways only. In the first place it may be cut into two, thereby producing two twelve-sen pieces; or it may be divided into a ⅔ piece and a ⅓ piece, the former passing at sixteen sen and the latter at eight. The cutting is far from being exact, and cut pieces are in most cases perforated in the centre or worn down at the edges. These however are passed and received without complaint.

In Lhasa and other prosperous places the unit of transactions is four sen, but there being no four-sen piece one must take with him in making a purchase of four sen one ⅔ piece valued at sixteen sen, and receive in return for it one ½ piece valued at twelve sen. When the seller happens not to possess this one-half piece, the buyer then produces one ½ piece and one ⅔ piece, and receives in return for the two one whole piece called a tanka which is valued at twenty-four sen. For a purchase of eight sen a buyer produces one tanka and receives a ⅔ piece in change.

The unit of transaction being four sen there are six gradations of value between this minimum and a tanka, each possessing a distinct denomination. Thus four sen is called a khakang, eight sen a karma, twelve sen a chyekka, sixteen sen a shokang, twenty sen a kabchi and twenty-four sen a tanka.

In less prosperous places, and indeed everywhere except in Lhasa and Shigatze, it is impossible to make a purchase of less than one tanka, owing to be the absence of divided pieces of smaller value.

In some places are found silver pieces which are locally circulated, as in the north-western steppes which form the boundary line between Tibet and India. These pieces are semi-circular in shape, but are not accepted in the Grand Lama’s dominions.

Here I should like to recount what occurred to me in my monetary dealings. It was not an ordinary transaction, but a sort of blackmail carried out at my expense.

I have spoken before of the prodigal son of the house of Para. One day this man sent his servant to me with a letter and asked for a loan of money, rather a large sum for Tibet. Of course he had no idea of repaying me, and his loan was really blackmail. I sent back the servant with half of what he had asked, together with a letter. I was told that he was highly enraged at what I had done, exclaiming that I had insulted him, and that he had not asked for the sum for charity, and so on. At any rate he sent back the money to me, probably expecting that I would then send him the whole sum asked for. But I did not oblige him as he had expected, and took no notice of his threat. A few days after another letter reached me from that young man, again asking for the sum as at first. I decided to save myself from further annoyance and so I sent the sum. Like master, like servant; the latter, having heard most probably from his spendthrift master that I was a Japanese, came to me for a loan or blackmail of fifty yen. I gave that sum too, for I knew that they could not annoy me repeatedly with impunity.

About that time I chiefly devoted my leisure to collecting Buḍḍhist books, for I had a fairly large amount of money. I must remark here that Buḍḍhist works not in[463] ordinary use are not sold by booksellers in Tibet; they are kept in the form of blocks at one monastery or another, and any person who wishes to get a copy of any of such works must obtain from the owner of the copyright permission to get an impression of it. In return for this permission an applicant has to forward some fee and some donation to the monastery which owns and keeps the particular set of blocks from which he wishes to get an impression or impressions, this donation generally consisting of a quantity of tussore silk. The fee, more or less differing in rate according to monasteries and kind of blocks, ranges from about twenty-five sen to about one yen twenty sen per hundred sheets. The permission obtained, the applicant next engages either three or six printers, two printers and one assorter forming a special printing party, so to say. Wages for the men are generally fifty sen a day without board, and as they work in a very dilatory manner, the cost of printing is rather heavy. The paper used in printing is of native origin, made of a certain plant, the leaves and roots of which are poisonous. The roots are white and produce excellent tough fibres. The Tibetan paper is therefore sufficiently strong and durable, but is not white, owing to bad bleaching.

Booksellers in Tibet, at least so far as I observed at Lhasa, do not sell their books at their own houses, but at open stalls in the courtyard in front of the western door of the great temple-shrine of the Buḍḍha Shākyamuni, called Cho Khang. I saw ten such bookstalls in Lhasa and two or three at the bazaar in Shigatze, and those stallkeepers arranged their stock in trade in heaps instead of leaving their books open to invite inspection, as booksellers of other countries do.

The books which I collected either through purchase, or by getting special impressions from the original blocks, were at first kept in my room at the Sera monastery, and[464] my collection was a subject of wonder and curiosity to the priests who were quartered in the rooms not far from my own. The collection, they were heard saying to each other, contained three times as many books as even a learned doctor possessed in Tibet, and they could not but wonder how I, a student from a remote country, could carry home so many books. I therefore kept all my subsequent purchases in my room at the house of my host, in order to avoid suspicion.

Meanwhile the end of the month of December drew near and at last the New Year’s eve arrived. I made an arrangement to keep the day according to the Japanese custom. Accordingly I sent my boy to the Sakya Temple in the city with clarified butter to make an offering of light to the Buḍḍha enshrined in the edifice. This is done by putting clarified butter into the gold lamps placed before the tabernacle. Any one who wishes to make this offering has simply to pay in the usual charge of two tanka to the keepers of the edifice, and on that particular occasion I therefore sent my boy with two tanka pieces.

I arranged my own room in a manner suitable to the occasion. I hung a roll on which was painted an image of Buḍḍha, set in front of it a tiny sacred tabernacle, then three stands of silver lamps, and lastly various offerings. After the preliminary service had been concluded, I began, after the hour of midnight, a regular service and kept it up till four in the morning of the New Year’s Day. Then I performed a ceremony in order to pray for the prosperity of their Imperial Majesties the Emperor and Empress, H. I. H. the Crown Prince, and also for the greater prosperity and glory of the Empire of Japan. I thought that during the three thousand years that had elapsed since the founding of the Empire this must be the first time that one of its own subjects had offered such a prayer in that city of the Forbidden Land; then a strange[465] sensation came over me, and somehow I felt grateful tears rising in my eyes.


As I turned my eyes outward, while continuing the service, I noticed the New Year’s sun beginning to ascend in the eastern sky, reflecting its golden rays on the snow that covered the surrounding hills and plains. Nearer before my eyes and in the spacious court of the monastery, several snow-white cranes were stalking at leisure, now and then uttering their peculiar cry. The whole scene[466] was exquisite and quite captivating; how I should have liked to invite my own countrymen to come and share this pleasure with me! The service, the thought about my dear home, the snow-scene, the cranes, and the New Year’s Day—these roused in me a chain of peculiar sentiments at once delightful and sad, and this strange association of thoughts I embodied on that occasion in a couple of awkward utas freely rendered into prose thus:—

“Here on this Roof of the World and amidst the ascending dawn heralded by the cry of the cranes, I glorify the long and prosperous reign of our sovereign liege who reigns over his realm in the Far East.

“I hear in the garden of the holy seat the voice of the pure-white cranes, glorifying the triumph of the Holy Religion.”
Site Admin
Posts: 33223
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

Re: Three Years in Tibet, by Ekai Kawaguchi

Postby admin » Tue Dec 10, 2019 5:05 am

CHAPTER LXVI. The Festival of Lights.

On January 4th, 1902, that is to say, on November 25th of the lunar calendar, the festival of Sang-joe commenced, this being the anniversary day of the death of Je Tsong-kha-pa the great Lamaist reformer. This may be called the “Festival of Lights,” every roof in Lhasa and in all the adjoining villages blazing with lights set burning in honor of the occasion. Hundreds, even thousands of such butter-fed lights were burning on the roofs of monasteries, and presented a unique sight, such as is rarely seen in other parts of the world.

The Sang-joe is one of the most popular festivals, and lasts for two weeks. It is the season when the Tibetans, priests and laymen, give themselves up to great rejoicing, when dancing, singing and feasting are the order of the day, and when people put on their gala dresses.

The arrival of the season is announced by an interesting custom, a sort of religious blackmail, enforced at the expense of people of position from about the second decade of the month of November according to the lunar calendar. According to this custom every person enjoys the privilege, for the sake of the coming festival, of begging a present of money from any superior in rank or position who may visit his house. Even people of good position and means do not think it beneath them to exercise this privilege of begging. I myself felt the effect of this custom and was obliged to present here a tanka and there two tanka. In this way I spent about five yen in Japanese money during this season of public begging. I did not doubt it when I was told by some acquaintance[468] that my Sang-joe item next year would be threefold what it was in the present year, owing to the enlargement of the circle of my acquaintances.

The religious side of Sang-joe is a sort of vigil, performed every night from about midnight to early dawn, the service consisting of the reading in company of holy Texts. This midnight ceremony is a solemn affair which every person in the monastery is obliged to attend.

As I attended this ceremony in the Sera monastery I was highly impressed with the solemnity of the function, and felt that the peculiarly subdued tones of the chanting exerted upon my mind a powerful effect. It seemed to me as if angels were conducting the service.

The whole surroundings were in keeping with the solemnity of the occasion. The lofty hall was hung with tapestries of glittering brocade and satin; the pillars were wound with red woollen cloth with floral designs in blue and white; while on the walls and from the upper parts of the pillars were hung religious pictures regarded as masterpieces in Tibet. All these were lighted up by several thousand lamps containing melted butter, the lamps shining bright and clear with pure-white rays, not unlike those of gas-burners.

Sitting in the hall amidst such sacred surroundings, and listening to the chanting of the holy Texts, thoughts of profound piety took possession of my mind, and I felt as if I were transported to the region of Buḍḍha.

The Sang-joe is also a great occasion of alms and charity, and the priests, especially the acolytes and disciples, go round at dawn to collect alms in the temple when the service is concluded. The people being more generously disposed at this season than at other times give quite liberally. I am sorry to say that this pious inclination on the part of the people is often abused by mischievous priests, who do not scruple to go, in violation of[469] the rules, on a second or even third or fourth round of begging at one time. I was astonished to hear that the priests who are on duty to prevent such irregular practices are in many cases the very instigators, abetting the younger disciples in committing them. The ill-gotten proceeds go into the pockets of those unscrupulous ‘inspectors’ who, urged on by greed, even go to the extreme of thrashing the young disciples when they refuse to go on fraudulent errands of this particular description. Now and then the erratic doings of these lads come to the ears of the higher authorities, who summon them and inflict upon them a severe reprimand, together with the more smarting punishment of a flogging. The incorrigible disciples are not disconcerted in the least, being conscious that they have their protectors in the official inspectors, and of course they are immune from expulsion from the monastery.

These mischievous young people are in most cases warrior-priests. These warrior-priests, of whom an account has already been given, are easily distinguished from the rest by their peculiar appearance and especially by their way of dressing the hair. Sometimes their heads are shaved bald, but more often they leave ringlets at each temple, and consider that these locks of four or five inches long give them a smart appearance. This manner of hair-dressing is not approved by the Lama authorities, and when they take notice of the locks they ruthlessly pull them off, leaving the temples swollen and bloody. Painful as this treatment is, the warriors rather glory in it, and swagger about the streets to display the marks of their courage. They are, however, cautious to conceal their ‘smart’ hair-dressing from the notice of the authorities, so that when they present themselves in the monastery they either tuck their ringlets behind the ears or besmear their faces with lamp-black compounded with[470] butter. When at first I saw such blackened faces I wondered what the blackening meant, but afterwards I was informed of the reason of the strange phenomenon and my wonder disappeared as I became accustomed to the sight.

I am sorry to say that the warrior-priests are not merely offensive in appearance; they are generally also guilty of far more grave offences, and the nights of the holy service are abused as occasions for indulging in fearful malpractices. They really seem to be the descendants of the men of Sodom and Gomorrah mentioned in the bible.

They are often quite particular in small affairs. They are afraid of killing tiny insects, are strict in not stepping over broken tiles of a monastery when they find them on the road, but walk round them to the right, and never to the left. And yet they, and even their superiors, commit grave sin without much remorse. Really they are straining at gnats and swallowing camels.

There lived once in Tibet a humorous priest named Duk Nyon, a Tibetan Rabelais, who was celebrated for his amusing though none the less sensible way of teaching. This priest met on the road a priest of the New Sect, and it may be imagined that sharp repartees must have been exchanged between the two. On the road Duk Nyon noticed a small stone, which he carefully avoided and instead of walking over it walked round it. Next they came to a big rock, which hardly admitted of walking over. The humorist stooped low to give momentum to his body and the next instant he jumped over it. His companion marvelled at this strange behavior of Duk Nyon; he could not understand why he should have avoided a small stone and then should jump over a large one. So the New Sect priest bantered Duk Nyon on what he considered a silly proceeding, but Duk[471] Nyon replied that he had been merely giving an object-lesson to the New Sect folk, who were meticulously exact about small things, but were wont to leap over grave sins without remorse. The story goes that his companion was much abashed at this home-thrust of the humorist. This witty remark of the old priest may be said to hold true even at the present time, for though the Sang-joe presents a solemn and impressive front outwardly, it is full of abominable sights behind the scenes. It is merely a season of criminal indulgence for the warrior-priests and other undesirable classes.
Site Admin
Posts: 33223
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

Re: Three Years in Tibet, by Ekai Kawaguchi

Postby admin » Tue Dec 10, 2019 5:05 am

CHAPTER LXVII. Tibetan Women.

As the position of women bears a vital relation to the prosperity and greatness of a country, I shall devote a chapter to this subject. Of the women of Tibet those residing in Lhasa are regarded as models of Tibetan womanhood, and they therefore demand most attention.

First let me describe the Lhasa ladies, beginning with their mode of dress.

It is interesting to note that the women’s garments do not differ much in appearance from those of men; both are cut in the same way, and the only perceptible difference in appearance, if difference it be, is that women are attired with more taste and elegance than men. Another distinguishing mark in Tibetan attire is a sash, a narrow band about an inch and a half wide and eight feet long, terminating at one end in a fringe. The sash is not tied, as in Japan, but is merely wound round the body with the end tucked in. Some persons wear a belt made of a piece of silk cloth, passing it three times round the body.

The ladies of Lhasa dress their hair somewhat like their sisters of Mongolia, though this fashion is not followed by those in Shigatze and other parts of Tibet. They use a large quantity of false hair, imported from China, their natural supply being rather scanty. The hair is divided into two equal parts down the middle, and each half is plaited into a braid and left flowing behind. The ends of the braids are tied with red or green cords with fringed knots, and these two cords are connected by other beaded cords, the cords consisting usually of seven or eight threads on which pearls are strung as beads with a larger pearl or turquoise in the middle.

They also wear a head-ornament made of turquoises or corals, with one large piece surmounting the rest; and they put on the middle of the head a cap made of small pearls. Then there are usually golden ear-rings and a breast ornament (which may cost as much as three or four thousand yen), besides a necklace of precious stones. The pendant is generally a miniature golden tabernacle which may cost from two hundred to three hundred yen. The arms are decorated with bracelets, the right one made of pretty shells and the left one of engraved silver. I must not omit to mention that all the Lhasan women, both rich and poor, use an apron, which in the case of the ladies is made of the best Tibetan wool woven in variegated hues. Finger-rings are comparatively plain, being generally of silver, excepting those worn by ladies of the highest class. Shoes are also pretty, and are made of red and green woollen fabrics.

With all their splendid attire, the Lhasan ladies follow a strange custom in their toilet, for they often paint their faces, not with white powder as their sisters of other countries do, but with a reddish-black substance. The Tibetans think that the natural color of the flesh peeping from underneath the soot adds very much to the charm of the appearance.

The complexion of the Lhasan women is not quite fair, but very much resembles that of their Japanese sisters. In general appearance too the two cannot be easily distinguished, but the women of Lhasa, and indeed of all Tibet, are taller in stature and stronger in constitution than the women of Japan. Indeed one hardly ever finds in Tibet women who are so short and frail as are the average Japanese ladies. The Tibetan ladies being moreover attired in loose and capacious garments look very imposing.

The ladies of the higher classes have fair complexions and are as pretty as their sisters of Japan.

The women of Kham and the surrounding districts are especially fair-complexioned, but they generally lack attractiveness, and look cold and repellent. Their way of speaking also strikes one as inelegant and uninviting. In contrast to them, their sisters of Lhasa are charming to look at, and full of attraction. Their only defect is that they lack weight and dignity, such as commands respect from others, and their daily conduct is not quite edifying. For instance, they do not mind eating while walking in the streets. They are also excitable, or pretend to be excited by trifling circumstances, are prone to flirt and to be flippant, and seldom possess such nobleness as befits women of rank. If one criticises them severely, one would say that they are more like ballet-girls than ladies of high station. They are therefore objects more to be loved and pitied, than to be respected and adored. Altogether they lack character. Probably this singular defect may have been brought about by the polyandrous custom of the country.

There are many things which I might cite to the discredit of the fair sex of Tibet, but of these I will single out only two, their love of liquor and their uncleanly habits. Uncleanliness is, it is true, universal in Tibet, but it naturally stands out more conspicuously in contrast to the general habits of women in other countries, especially in Japan. Most of the Tibetan women are content with simply washing their faces and hands, but this washing is seldom extended to other parts of the body; the ladies of the higher classes however, are less open to this charge; having no particular business, they have plenty of time to devote to their toilet.

That which is particularly noteworthy about the women of Tibet, and probably constitutes their chief merit, is their great activity, both in the matter of business and also in other respects. The women of the middle and[475] lower classes, for instance, regard trade as their own proper sphere of activity, and they are therefore very shrewd in business of every description. They even choose their husbands from a business point of view.

As ladies are not required to engage in such kind of work, their activity is more shown in the form of counsels to their husbands, whether invited or not. It seems that the Tibetan ladies enjoy great influence over their husbands, for not only are they allowed to have a voice in the affairs of men, but are often taken into confidence by them about matters of importance.

The ladies, perhaps, command even more leisure than their sisters in other countries. They have practically no special and public duties, while their domestic cares are also very light, as they do not undertake sewing. Sewing is considered in Tibet as men’s work, and even for a little stitching they rely on the tailor. Nor do the ladies of Tibet care much about weaving and spinning, though some women of the lower classes pursue either one or both as their regular profession. Spinning is done with primitive distaffs, and is a tedious and awkward process, incapable of producing yarn of an even and fine size. Yarns such as are produced by spinning jennies are never obtained from native distaffs.

The condition of Tibetan women with regard to men, especially in the provinces, may be considered as surpassing the ideal of western women, so far as the theory of equality of rights between the sexes is concerned. For their stout sisters of Tibet enjoy from the public almost equal treatment with men. They receive, for instance, equal wages with men, and indeed there is nothing wonderful in this when it is remembered that the women of Tibet, being strongly built and sturdy, can work just as well as the rougher sex, and therefore are perfectly entitled to receive the same remuneration. These women, though looking[476] modest and lovely, are nevertheless very courageous at heart, so that when they fall into a passion their husbands are hardly able to keep them under control. They rage like beings possessed, and no soothing words or apologies can pacify them. Cases in which husbands were apologising on bent knees to wives furious with passion often came to my notice while I was staying in Tibet. They are demure as cats when they are at peace, but when their passion is roused they are dreadful as tigers. They are very selfish and really rule the roost. What is worse, they are not always faithful to their husbands, but regard acts of inconstancy as something of quite ordinary nature; and they are often audacious enough to lay the blame on the shoulders of their poor hen-pecked husbands, alleging their inability to support their own wives!

The whole attention of the Tibetan women is concentrated on their own selfish interests, and they do not care a straw for the good of their husbands so long as they are satisfied. The shrewdness they exercise in promoting their own selfish aims is something remarkable. From the highest to the lowest, they are allowed to have their own savings, more or less, according to their position and circumstances, and fortified with that source of strength they receive a decree of divorce from their husbands without any sense of regret. They will, in that case, pack up their belongings and leave their husbands’ doors with alacrity.

On the other hand, Tibetan women are extremely affectionate and considerate to the men of their own liking, as if to make amends for their lack of virtue towards the husbands they do not love. They lavish their love upon them, devote their whole attention to pleasing them, and spare neither pains nor money to anticipate their wishes and so to give them satisfaction. In short, the women of Tibet seem to possess two antagonistic qualities, and are disposed to run to extremes.

Perhaps this apparent anomaly comes from their immoral habits, and also from the fact that the sense of chastity in women must have been seriously affected by the polyandrous custom of the country. Though sufficiently shrewd to protect their own interests, they are never self-dependent; they invariably lean on the help of one man or another, even when they have sufficient means at their disposal to support themselves and their children. If a husband dies and leaves his widow and children enough to live on, very rarely does the bereaved woman remain faithful to the memory of her departed husband. Only very ugly or old women remain widows; all the rest marry again with indecent haste. Indeed the idea of fidelity to the husband of her first love never seems to enter the mind of even a well-educated woman, for such stories of faithfulness as are common in other countries are conspicuous by their absence in Tibet.

I shall touch only briefly on the occupations of Tibetan women of the middle and lower classes. The women in the provinces attend to farming and rear cattle, sheep or yaks. But the commonest business for them is the making of butter and other substances obtained from milk, the process being in this wise: first the milk is subjected to heat, and then left to cool till a coating of cream appears on the surface. This cream is skimmed off, and to the remainder a quantity of sour milk is added and the mixture left for about a day in a covered vessel. The mixture becomes curdled, and this curdled milk is transferred to a narrow deep vessel and a small quantity of lukewarm water is added to it. A piece of wood of the same shape as, and in size slightly smaller than, the vessel is put into it, and is moved up and down by a handle. When the curdled mass is sufficiently churned in this way, the fat begins to separate from the watery portion. According to the condition of that separation, more or less lukewarm water[478] is added and the stirring is resumed, till the butter-fat and water are completely separated. The butter is then strained, and the remainder is boiled till coagulated clots appear, easily separable from the sour watery portion. These clots are known as chura, and they are very nice to eat. The water or whey, though sour, is not unpalatable, and is especially good for quenching thirst. The chura is used either fresh or in a dried form, the latter corresponding to the cheese used by western people.
Site Admin
Posts: 33223
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

Re: Three Years in Tibet, by Ekai Kawaguchi

Postby admin » Tue Dec 10, 2019 5:06 am

CHAPTER LXVIII. Tibetan Boys and Girls.

Boys enjoy better treatment in Tibet than their sisters, this discrimination beginning soon after their birth. Thus the naming ceremony is almost always performed for boys and very seldom for girls. Though differing more or less according to localities, this naming ceremony is generally performed after the lapse of three days from the time of birth. One strange custom about the birth is that a baby is never washed, nor is there a regular midwife. The only thing done to the new-born baby is the anointing of its body (especially the head) with butter, this being carried out twice a day. As this anointing is rather copiously applied, the Tibetan baby may perhaps be described as being subjected to butter-washing.

On the naming-day, a priest is asked to perform the ceremony. The process commences with the sprinkling of holy water on the baby’s head. The water is first blessed by the priest, and a quantity of yellow powder made of the saffron flower is then added to it.


The name is generally determined according to the day of the birth, and especially according to the nomenclature of the days of the week. For instance a boy or a girl who is born on Sunday is named Nyima, this meaning Sun in Tibetan. The babies born on Monday bear the common name of Dawa; those on Saturday Penba; those on Friday Pasang; and so on. This general use of the same names giving rise to confusion, a specific individual surname has to be given to each baby. The individual appellation either precedes or follows the common designation. One baby bears the name of Nyima-Chering[481] meaning “Sun longevity,” another Dawa-pun-tsuok, meaning “Moon-all-perfection.”

The choice of such individual names is usually made by the Lama who attends the ceremony, or is determined by an oracle-consulter, and only rarely by the father of the baby.

Sometimes the week nomenclature is disregarded and names of abstract meaning are given to the babies; sometimes also names of animals are used. On the whole the surnames are of an abstract nature as in the case of Japanese names. I may add that the boys take a religious name when they enter the priesthood.

On the naming-day of boys a great feast is held in honor of the occasion, and the relatives and friends of the family are invited to it. These of course bring with them suitable presents, such as casks of liquor, rolls of cloth, or money. The ceremony and the banquet that accompanies it are chiefly observed by people residing in or near a city, for in the provinces only wealthy people can afford to follow this custom.

When the naming ceremony is concluded, the officiating priest reads a service, in order to inform the patron deity of the place or of the family of the birth of a baby, and of the fact that that baby has received such and such a name, and praying that the baby shall be taken under the protection of that patron deity. This service may be undertaken by a priest of either the New or Old Sect or by an oracle-consulter. The last named functionary performs with his own hand all the ceremony of name-giving, when a baby is born to him, and does not entrust this business to another priest.

The beginning of school-attendance is another great occasion for boys, and it arrives when the boy attains the age of eight or nine. This day also is celebrated with a feast, to which the relatives and friends of the house are[482] invited, and these present to the boy a kata, which the boy hangs around his neck with the two ends suspended over his breast. If the boy is sent to a teacher residing at some distance from his home, he leaves his paternal roof and lives under that of his master; but when his master lives in the neighborhood he daily attends his lessons from home.

The other great occasions for boys are at the end of school life, and the admission to official service, the latter requiring a ceremony of far greater importance and a more splendid banquet than the other.

The ceremonies performed for the benefit of female children are fewer in number than those for their brothers. Generally only one ceremony is performed, this being a festival for celebrating the advent of girlhood, and consists of dressing her hair for the first time since her birth. The dressing is done in a simple style. The hair is tied and made to hang down behind in four braids, surmounted with a pretty hair ornament made of red coral and turquoises. On this occasion a large number of people are invited to a feast, and these bring to the house various kinds of presents.

Boys’ amusements are much like those in Japan. In winter, for instance, they play at snow-balling, and in summer their favorite sport is wrestling. Throwing stones to a distance, pitching at a target with a stone, skipping, either singly or in company, hitting from a distance a small piece of hardened clay with another piece, or the striking out from a circle marked on the ground a silver piece placed in its centre by means of a stone or any other hard object—these are some of the popular games of boys. Sometimes both boys and girls join in theatricals. Ball-games are now and then seen, but not often. Horse-riding too is a great amusement for boys, but only the sons of rich families can indulge in this. Poorer boys have to con[483]tent themselves with mounting on improvised horses, such as rocks or logs of wood.

The Tibetan girls do not differ much from those of other countries in preferring quiet and refined games to the rough sports of their brothers. Dolls are a favorite amusement, and then singing, which is either theatrical (Aje-lhamo) or religious (Lama-mani). The latter is associated with an interesting custom, and is an imitation of “Lama-mani,” who go about the country singing or reciting in quaint plaintive tones the famous deeds of the Buḍḍha, or high priests, or even great warriors. These Lama-manis do not use instruments, but possess pictures illustrating the popular historical accounts of those mighty persons. The Tibetan girls sing those pieces, in imitation of the recitation of the minstrels, one girl acting as conductor and the rest of the juvenile company reciting in chorus, with now and then a religious chant interposed.

I may mention here that Lama-manis are quite numerous in Tibet. In winter and when the field work is suspended, they go on tour in the provinces, but about the month of May, when the field-work is resumed and the provincials are busy with it, the minstrels return to Lhasa and ply their trade there. Their arrival at the capital generally coincides with the appearance of the red dragon-flies, so these flies are popularly known by the rather respectable name of ‘Lama-mani.’
Site Admin
Posts: 33223
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am


Return to Ancien Regime

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 6 guests