Monday, January 20, 7400

Beginnings of Tibetan Buddhism (c. 400)

[Potala Palace at Lhasa, and environs]

Tibet is a plateau region in Central Asia and the home to the indigenous Tibetan people. With an average elevation of 16,000 ft., it is the highest region on Earth and is commonly referred to as the "Roof of the World." Geographically, UNESCO and Encyclopædia Britannica consider Tibet to be part of Central Asia, while several academic organizations consider it part of South Asia.

Tibetan Buddhism is the body of religious Buddhist doctrine and institutions characteristic of Tibet and the Himalayan regions, which include northern Nepal, Bhutan, India (Arunachal Pradesh, Ladakh and Sikkim), Mongolia, Russia (Kalmykia, Buryatia and Tuva) and northeastern China (Manchuria: Heilongjiang, Jilin). It includes the teachings of the three vehiclesof Buddhism: the Foundational Vehicle, Mahayana, and Vajrayana.

According to a Tibetan legendary tradition, Buddhist scriptures (among them the Karandavyuha Sutra) and relics (among them the Cintamani) arrived in southern Tibet during the reign of Lha Thothori Nyantsen, the 28th "king of Tibet" (fifth century), who was probably just a local chief in the Yarlung valley. The tale is miraculous (the objects fell from the sky on the roof of the king's palace), but it may have an historical background (arrival of Buddhist missionaries).

The music of Tibet reflects the cultural heritage of the trans-Himalayan region, centered in Tibet but also known wherever ethnic Tibetan groups are found in India, Bhutan, Nepal and further abroad. First and foremost Tibetan music is religious music, reflecting the profound influence of Tibetan Buddhism on the culture.

Tibet - Voices

Tibetan music often involves chanting in Tibetan or Sanskrit, as an integral part of the religion. These chants are complex, often recitations of sacred texts or in celebration of various festivals. Yang chanting, performed without metrical timing, is accompanied by resonant drums and low, sustained syllables. Other styles include those unique to the various schools of Tibetan Buddhism, such as the classical music of the popular Gelugpa school, and the romantic music of the Nyingmapa, Sakyapa and Kagyupa schools.

Long Trumpets and Shawms

Long trumpets, shawms, and percussion instruments are all part of Tibetan Buddhist ritual.

[Philip Glass - Kundun - Tibetan sona oboes, long trumpets, and cymbals at 1:45]

Tibetan music has had a profound effect on some styles of Western music, especially New Age. Composers like Philip Glass and Henry Eichheim are most well-known for their use of Tibetan elements in their music. The soundtrack to Kundun, by Philip Glass, has helped to popularize Tibetan music.

[7404 Attila the Hun / 7400 Tibet / 7400 Mauritania]