As a member of the great family of the Chinese nation, the Tibetan people have created and developed a distinctive culture in the long history of continuous exchange and mutual absorption from the culture of other ethnic groups. The Tibetan culture has always been a pearl both in the Chinese culture and world culture. The Tibetan culture was formed gradually by the integration of the Turk culture in the Yarlung Zangbo River basins and ancient Xiangxiong culture in the west region of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau.
In the 7th century, Buddhism was introduced into Tibet from mainland China, India and Nepal, and gradually developed into a distinctive Tibetan Buddhism. At the same time, the India and Nepal culture of South Asia, Persian culture and Arab culture in West Asia also influenced Tibetan culture in a significant way. Due to the profound influence of Buddhism, the 14th Dalai Lama always describes Tibetan culture as Tibetan Buddhism culture.
After a long period of development, Tibetan architecture, sculpture, painting, opera, language, writing, and medicine achieved a high level.
Tea in Tibet is said to have been brought by Princess Wencheng as a dowry. Throughout history, the people here have developed a Tibetan diet, among which buttered tea is a wholesome drink known for its nutrition and unique making method. Buttered tea can produce high calories, which can prevent cold in elevated regions. It is a very suitable tea in Tibet. Until now, the tea culture on the Tibetan Plateau has developed over one thousand years.
Buttered tea, with unique Tibetan ethnic characteristics, has been integrated into the social customs, etiquette, and daily life. Drinking a bottle of tea is an indispensable part of Tibetan social life. Tibetan people will serve up a cup of buttered tea to guests from far away, which is a custom in Tibet and shows respectful, harmonious, and peaceful relief in their life. In the hall of the railway station or airport, it is common to find people carrying warm water bottles filled with buttered tea to see their relatives or friends off. To celebrate the new birth of a baby, friends, or family will bring the buttered tea as a gift. In the hospital, a bottle of buttered tea can comfort a patient much.
Due to the differences in natural conditions, customs, cultural traditions, and dialects across the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, Tibetan Opera has developed into several varieties and schools. Tibetan Opera originated from 600 years ago, 400 years earlier than Beijing Opera, so it’s been called the living fossil. The art of Tibetan opera was derived from Tibetan opera, which is spread by the monks and pilgrims to the Tibetan areas in Qinghai, Gansu, Sichuan, and Yunnan. It’s also been circulated to India and Bhutan.
There are many kinds of Tibetan Opera, and the mainstream is the blue mask opera. The traditional performance of this blue mask opera is divided into three parts. The first part is the open ceremony called “Dun”, actors performing the sacrificial songs and dances. The second part is called “Xiong”, actors playing the history story or legend. The third part is a greeting part called “Taxi” which means blessing. The actors never make up, and they only wear a mask to perform from the beginning to the end.
Under the restrictions of religion, Tibetan culture has been less influenced by the mainland and keeps its original features. You can enjoy the Tibetan Opera during festivals and celebrations.
Prayer flags were used as talismans to protect Tibetans during the war, starting from Bon religion. It’s printed with the Buddhist scriptures. The locals believe every time the prayer flags blowing in the wind; it means chanting sutras once and conveying good wishes. For this reason, long prayer flags are tied to windy places, such as high passes and riverside; short prayer flags are tied on the branches of trees in the front of squares and monasteries.
They decorated the images of snow lion, dragon, and tiger on the flag. Gradually, prayer flags become one of the parts of Tibetan Buddhism and add prayers or messages of hope and peace. There are five different colors of Tibetan prayers flags with different significant meanings, blue standing for wind, white for air, red for fire, green for water, and yellow for earth. Prayer flags should be updated every year, and the date to change the prayer flags is based on the Tibetan Calendar.
Sky burial is a traditional way of burial in Tibet. After death, the body will be dismembered and taken to a particular place to feed vultures (or other birds, animals, etc.). It is not the only kind of burial, but it is the most popular way to dispatch the dead in Tibet.
Tibetans are devoted their lives to Buddhism and believe that death only separates the body and the immortal soul. The core of the sky burial is immortality and reincarnation. Sky burial is highly regarded by Tibetans, as they believe that feeding vultures with the discarded body is the most honorable gift, reflecting the highest realm of Mahayana Buddhism - devoting. It’s not like some tourism guide book mentioned that sky burial’s a way to send the soul-spirit to heaven. There’s no such saying in Tibetan Buddhism.
Sand Mandala, དཀྱིལ་འཁོར། in Tibetan, is the most exquisite Buddhist art in Tibet. The monks in the monastery use colorful sand to paint their ideal Buddhist world in significant religious events. They may paint it for several days or even months.
However, the masterpiece with monks’ great efforts is not used to show off their beauty to people. The Buddhist world painted by sand will be swept away once it's finished without any hesitation. Colorful sand will be put into bottles and dumped into the river.
Some explain that the theme of Sand Mandala is to show the illusion of the world. For Lama, they only destroy the external paintings and firmly keep their inner Mandala. It also shows the transience of life.