Tibet is a mountainous region located in southwestern China, just north of India. In 1950, the Chinese invaded Tibet, which was in a weakened military state at that time. However, the Dalai Lama (religious leader and Emperor of Tibet) was permitted to remain their leader. While negotiations were being made between Tibetan and Chinese officials, Communist Chinese troops continued to oppress the Tibetans. Soon rage and resentment began to grow within the hearts of the Tibetans.
In 1959, a revolt broke out in Lhasa, Tibet's capital. An attack came from the Chinese camp outside the city, and warnings to protect the Dalai Lama were issued. During the night, the Dalai Lama dressed as a Tibetan soldier and set out on a dangerous journey to India. His family, along with some Cabinet members, personal officials, and bodyguards, fled with him. Thousands of Tibetans followed their leader and today, over 100,000 of them remain exiled in northern India and the surrounding countries. The Dalai Lama currently lives in Dharamsada, India and exercises his rule over them.
What Are Their Lives Like?
Though Tibet is now one of China's autonomous regions, the Tibetans of India continue to dream about the country that once belonged to them. They are primarily concentrated in the northern and eastern portions of India.
Tibetans are a Mongoloid people. Many of them are named according to their geographic location in India. Each group speaks a dialect of Tibetan, which is part of the Tibetan-Burmese branch of the Sino-Tibetan language family.
Most of India's Tibetans are either peasant farmers or nomadic shepherds. The farmers grow such crops as barley, buckwheat, and vegetables. Farmers raise a wide variety of fruits and aApricots are a staple fruit with even the pits innards being eaten. Butter tea is a primary staple of the Balti people.
They live either in village clusters or in single dwellings. The nomads live in tents and travel with their herds. They raise sheep, cattle, goats, and dzo (a cross between a yak and a cow). Dairy products and wool are important commodities. They are used for trading during the annual grain-trading expeditions or in various other distant markets.
Not all Tibetans are farmers or shepherds. Some, particularly those living in northern India, have become rulers and nobles. Others are lamas (monks) who live in monasteries and spend their time in prayer and meditation. They may also become doctors, focusing mainly on religious arts and literature. Still others are private landowners or craftsmen. Traditional Tibetan skills include processing wool and fiber, grinding flour, working with metal, painting, and carpentry.
Though these Tibetan emigrants are surrounded by Indian culture and traditions, Tibetan schools have been set up for their children in an attempt to preserve their native culture. Traditional Tibetan ceremonies are also still observed.
Tibetan society is very "open" in nature. For example, polygamy and polyandry (having multiple husbands) are common practices. Marriage is usually viewed as a non-religious joining of two households. Astrology and cosmology play an important part in helping someone to choose a mate.
Tibetan women are responsible for rearing the children and preparing food. They are also allowed to take on responsibilities such as trade or agriculture if they wish, and are not restricted merely to household duties.
What Are Their Beliefs?
Three groups of the Tibetans in India still practice their form of Buddhism, called Lamaism. Lamaism was practiced in Tibet for hundreds of years, and many consider it their native religion. Within this sect, the priests are called "lamas." These three groups (the Groma, the Lahuli, and the Lhasa Tibetans) live in close proximity to the Dalai Lama. Two groups (the Balti and the Burig) are located in northwestern India and have adopted Islam, the dominant religion of that area. Two of the groups (the Ladakhi and the Kanauri) practice a mixture of religions. Beliefs of the Ladakhi consist of Lamaism and Islam, while the Ladakhi religion is a mixture of Lamaism, Hinduism, and various ethnic religions. The three remaining groups (the Adi, the Adi-Galo, and the Rabha) are ethnic religionists.
Buddhism teaches that right thinking, ritual sacrifices, and self-denial enable the soul to reach nirvana (a state of eternal bliss or "enlightenment" at death). They believe in reincarnation (re-birth) after death in another life form, either human or animal. The law of karma states that every action in the present life influences how the soul will be born in the next life. Many of the groups practice "sky-burial." The exposed body is placed in a tree, where it will eventually wither away. They believe that its "karmic seeds" will remain, enter another body, and then begin a new life cycle.
With Lamaism, worldly attachments are considered to be the root of suffering. Many try to rid themselves of these attachments by disciplining their minds through meditation. They believe that if one meditates on peace, he will eventually reach nirvana.
What Are Their Needs?
These precious people must know that true peace can only be found through knowing Christ.
* Ask the Lord to call people who are willing to go to India and share Christ with the exiled Tibetans.
* Ask God to encourage and protect the small number Tibetan Christians.
* Pray that Christian broadcasts will be made available to all of the Tibetan groups.
* Ask the Holy Spirit to soften their hearts towards Christians so that they will be receptive to the Gospel.
* Pray that God will raise up loving Indian Christians to reach out to their Tibetan neighbors.
* Ask the Lord to raise up strong fellowships of believers among the Tibetan groups.
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