Manjushri, ca. 1996
Tibetan thangka painting, St. Lawrence University Permanent Collection

Tibetan Traditional Way of Life

Tibetans are an aboriginal group closely related to the aborigines of western China, the Himalayas, and the Ladakh in Kashmir. There are an estimated six million Tibetans living today, including those who live outside of Tibet in parts of India, China, and other places. About 1500 Tibetan refugees live in the United States.   

Tibetans share a common language, and 99% are Buddhist. Their alphabet is based on Sanskrit. Social organization includes the high classification of lamas, clergy, and nobility; the northwestern nomads or herdsmen; and the southern farmers. Nomads use grasses for food, clothing and shelter, and their animals give them food such as meat, milk, butter, cheese and yogurt. Farmers labor in fields using yak-drawn plows and glacial irrigation. They rotate crops and produce barley, winter wheat, peas, soybeans, and buckwheat. There is little industry, mostly wool spinning, weaving, knitting, and production of religious artifacts. Although mining is not a traditional industry, production of coal, iron, and copper can now be found in northeastern Tibet.

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