Tibet and its Historical Foreign Influences

Tibet geographic location throughout history has made it essentially the crossroads of Asia. The Middle Eastern influence from the West, Mongolian influence from the northeast and of course influence from the two most populous civilization in history: the Indians to the south and Chinese to the East. However Tibet still created and maintained its own distinct culture and language and also influenced these nations themselves and other smaller surrounding nations in return(some more that others). So the question I ask is which people had the largest influence on Tibetans throughout history and why? What examples are there of these peoples influence?

Here are just a few foreign cultural influences in Tibetan culture, there are many others. Please list any other you can find.

Middle Easterners:
-Tibet has a small minority of Tibetan Muslims known as “Kyangsha or Gya Kachee“. “Tibetan Muslims…are largely of Kashmiri and Persian/Arab/Turkic descent through the patrilineal lineage and also often descendants of native Tibetans through the matrilineal lineage”.

-Tibetan dress and clothes were adopted from the Mongolians.
-“The actual title [of Dalai Lama] was first bestowed by the Mongolian ruler Altan Khan upon Sonam Gyatso in 1578″. Reincarnations of the Dalai Lama were many times supported by Mongol rulers.

-“The most important event in Tibetan Buddhist history…was the arrival of the great tantric mystic Padmasambhava in Tibet in 774 at the invitation of King Trisong Detsen. It was Padmasambhava (more commonly known in the region as Guru Rinpoche) who merged tantric Buddhism with the local Bön religion to form what we now recognize as Tibetan Buddhism. In addition to writing a number of important scriptures (some of which he hid for future tertons to find), Padmasambhava established the Nyingma school from which all schools of Tibetan Buddhism are derived”.
Alot of Tibetan scholarly knowledge has been learned from Indians throughout Tibets Buddhist history, “In 1204 he Kashmiri master Shakyashribadhra arrived in Tibet accompanied by an entourage of Indian scholars…Tibetan scholars were inspired by this opportunity to learn directly from knowledgeable Indians”. From contacts like this Tibetans applied themselves to mastering Sanskrit grammar and other aspects of Indian linguistic and literary learning, whether Sanskrit was introduced by the Indians I am unsure of though but it seems most likely. Tibetans also learnt and developed much of what they know on Buddhism from the Indians, like most Buddhist states in Asia.
-“The Tibetan writing system was based upon sixth or seventh century North Indian or Central Asian scripts that were derived from the more ancient Brahmi script (which, in an early form, had been used to inscribe many of the edicts of the famous Indian monarch of the third century BCE, Ashoka)”.

-“The King of Nepal and the Emperor of China offered their daughters to the Tibetan Emperor in marriage. The wedding to the Nepalese and Chinese princesses were of particular importance, because they played important roles in the spread of Buddhism in Tibet”. There is controversy in regards to which princess played a major or predominant role in the spread of Buddhism in Tibet. Chinese sources claim that it was the Chinese princess Wen Cheng whereas Tibetans claim that it was the Nepalese princess and not the Chinese whose influence was greater.
– The Tibetans, like the Japanese, had loaned their pronunciation for numbers from the Middle Chinese pronunciation.

What I think:
In my opinion I think the greatest influence on Tibet is a very close choice between India and Mongolia with China third and the Middle Easterners fourth. I think I would give the slight edge to India since Tibetans seemed to be more accepting of Indian things. I say this because obviously today there is hostility between Tibetans and Chinese but also if you look back in history there was always animosity between Tibet and China for most of the relations between both states. We can see this sentiment in the Tibetan language. The word for China in Tibetan is “Gyana” which translates into “Black Kingdom”, whereas the word for India comparably is “Gyaga” which translates into “White Kingdom”. Also previous to the introduction and spread of Buddhism into Tibet, China and Tibet were in many battles over caravan routes along the Tarim Basin, thus adding to the hostility. Tibetans seemed to be more accepting of India than China especially later on with the spread of Buddhism since India is the land from where Buddhism originated. Now I know that just because Tibetans were more accepting of India than China historically does not equate to India having more of an influence on Tibet, but it does make it more plausible and more likely since obviously culture would be more easily spread where it is eagerly accepted than where it is not. In Tibetan history you hear of many Tibetans who sought after Indian religious teaching, scriptures, and Indian scholars, whereas I don’t believe Tibetans ever sent emissaries to China to learn Chinese culture and teachings and than bring it back to their native lands to be taught, like Japan and Korea had done throughout their histories.


6 thoughts on “Tibet and its Historical Foreign Influences

  1. Tsering Chopel

    it was an intresting reading. i never thought gya-ga and gya-na had meanings. plus i think we had quite an influence from china regading food, astrology and medicine. but india definitely is the winner though.

  2. Jigme32

    Actually Chinese food was influenced alot by India because of the spices and other ingredients that was introduced from India. They say that Chinese food was really bland until Indian influence.

    I found an example of possible Indo-European influence on Tibet:

    Many Tibetan modern and classical words also have close similarities to Indo-European word groups like the modern Tibetan term for denoting victory and kingship is “rgyal(reh-gyal)” which resembles the Indo-European word group we find preserved in English words such as ‘regal’ and ‘royal’. For the term ‘wheel’ in Classical Tibetan we find “khor-lo”, which for the Modern Tibetan pronounciation is “kholo”. The English word (which in Old English was hweol) is ultimately derived from an Indo-European word reconstruction as “K-w-EK-w-LO”. Comparably in Old Slavonic the term for wheel is is ‘kolo’.

  3. tsering chopel

    speaking of words, i always found it intresting that word for mother is almost same for every language. ma (hindi), mom(english) ama(tibetan). these are three i know but i am sure other language also has same similarities. somehow (m) is always there.

  4. Jigme32

    “mama is a common word produced by babies, because the sound “m” is one of the first sounds a baby starts producing when he or she reaches the stage when babies start blabbering.

    In each culture, the people around the baby will make the baby understand which sounds are permissible sounds in the surrounding language, and which are not. “m” is a very common, almost universal sound.

    A word with one or two “m”s are very commonly found all over the world. In many languages, it means ‘mother’, but it’s not always the case: ‘mama’ means ‘father’ in Georgian and ‘food’ in Japanese baby languages if I’m not wrong.

    This is just how adults interpret baby language.

    Notice how “pipi” is also an easy sound combination to produce for the baby and how it means ‘urine’ in some languages.

    All in all, “m” is one of the first consonants for a baby to make when she or he reaches the blabbering stage. It’s the adults that reinforce and put those sound combinations into the meaning of ‘mother’ for some languages.”

  5. Tenzin

    I recently found this blog and found this piece quite interesting.

    “The word for China in Tibetan is “Gya–na” which translates into “Black Kingdom”, whereas the word for India comparably is “Gya–ga” which translates into “White Kingdom”. ”

    I was discussing this with my dad and he said that the reason behind calling India as “Gya-ga” is that back then, India was considered as a very warm region where everyone wears white dhoti and historically, traditional Chinese costumes are all black in color calling them “nak”. I don’t know if this is the fact but it throws a completely different view on it. I’m looking forward to read most of your blogs.

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