Pilgrimage in Tibet

Katia Buffetrille

in Buddhism

ISBN: 9780195393521
Published online March 2013 | | DOI:
Pilgrimage in Tibet

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The title “Pilgrimage in Tibet” requires first of all a territorial delineation of what the term “Tibet” refers to. The Tibet considered here is a geographical and ethnographical unity that corresponds to the Tibetan plateau and is sometimes called “Ethnographic Tibet.” It covers the three provinces of Tibet (bod chol kha gsum), namely Utsang (Dbus Gtsang), Kham (Khams), and Amdo (A mdo), an administrative division that was introduced during the 13th-century Mongol protectorate. This is to be distinguished from the much smaller region sometimes called “Political Tibet,” which covers only the Tibet Autonomous Region (founded in 1965). Although there are some early studies of Tibetan pilgrimage, the real beginning of anthropological research in this area dates to the late 1980s and the early 1990s, when Tibet first became open to foreigners. Since then, research on the subject has expanded greatly. However, it is important to appreciate the context of these modern studies: they observe Tibetan pilgrimage practices taking place after a period of twenty years in which all religious practices were banned. Pilgrimage has long been central to Tibetan life, and, since the liberalization of the 1980s, its revival has been intense. It would be difficult to find an adult Tibetan, whether he or she be a monastic, tantric specialist, or layperson, who has not undertaken at least one pilgrimage. There is no textual evidence of any ritual similar to pilgrimage before the introduction of Indian Buddhism to Tibet. For pilgrimage, Tibetans generally use the terms “nékor” (gnas skor), “going around a né (gnas),” or “néjel” (gnas mjal), “meeting a né (gnas),” the né being a holy site or a holy person. The pilgrim is known as a nékorwa (gnas skor ba), “one who circles a sacred place/person”—thus defining him by the rite he performs at the end of his journey. Tibetan pilgrimage is much more than the mere act of traveling to a sacred place. It is associated with a great many ritual activities and religious teachings, and it has sociological, cultural, economic, and literary dimensions. Pilgrimage places in Tibet are of three kinds: natural sites (mountains, lake, and caves), man-made sites (city, monasteries, and temples), and “hidden lands,” or béyul (sbas yul). A fourth type of pilgrimage must also be mentioned: pilgrimage to pay respects to a holy person, the holy person in such instances being considered a né. Tibetans also go on pilgrimage outside the Land of Snow—a common Tibetan designation for the Tibetan plateau that refers to the many snowy mountains—particularly to Nepal and India. These different kinds of sites attract both Buddhists and Bonpos (the adepts of the religion that coexists with Buddhism).

Article.  8916 words. 

Subjects: Buddhism ; Tibetan Buddhism ; Zen Buddhism

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