Home Meetings & Statements Events & Activities China & UN Documents About China 中文
  Home > Highlights > Learn More about Tibet
1. Monastic Education


Almost all Tibetans are Buddhists, and Buddhism has had a profound influence. Before 1959, there were some 2,000 monasteries in Tibet with 110,000 monks and nuns, who made up 10 percent of total population. Tibetan historical traditions, culture and life have all been laced with a religious flavor. During the 1,000 years since the mid-8th century, when the Samye Monastery in Shannan created its Excellent Buddhist Doctrine School, Buddhism gradually established its ruling position in Tibet and all monasteries made efforts to expand monastic education by encouraging disciples to follow Buddhism and spread Buddhist scripture. In this way, a monastic education system was set up. Feudal serf owners, taking the monasteries as their stronghold, not only controlled the political and economic power, but almost all fields, including culture and art, medicine and public health, and astronomical calendar. Tibetan Buddhism ruled all thinking. "Outside the monastery, there was no school. There was no education except for Buddhist studies, and there was no teachers except lama teachers." This sums up the situation.

Students of the monastery schools, mainly monks, majored in Buddhist scriptures, but also gained some knowledge of Tibetan language, handwriting, literature and art, philosophy logic, astronomical Calendar and medicine. Children of laboring people, who wanted to study, had to be tonsured to a monastery. But not all monks had access to advanced study. Most of them were reduced into monks charged with chores in the monastery, leading a spartan life forever. This is why some 80 percent of Tibetan monks were illiterate, and only a small number of Tibetan lamas who enjoyed a better life and power had an opportunity for long-term education before entering the ruler class of the monastery, winning Buddhist academic degrees through written or oral tests, or being appointed as high- ranking officials of the governing group.

Monastic education, as a form of spreading knowledge, had all along been considered the regular education style in Tibet. In Tibet's long history, it nurtured some intellectuals, created numerous historic books, and made some achievements in architecture, sculpture, painting, astronomical calendar and medicine and public health. The monastery itself is an art treasure house, due to its valuable research role in carrying on and developing traditional Tibetan culture. Tripitaka, a Buddhist classic, is hailed as a "bright pearl in the treasure house of the world."

At the same time, it cannot be ignored that the monastic culture, aimed at training successors to the feudal serf owner class, spread beliefs concerning "reincarnation and transmigration," and preached on the entry into the "heavenly kingdom" which is "the extremely happy world after death" to solace those living in harsh conditions. The ideology convinced people they should seek to escape from suffering in the next life. This impeded the progress of Tibetan society and the development of science and technology. As a result, Tibetan lagged far behind other nationalties in China.

Suggest to a friend