Written in the Year of the Wood Sheep.
EARLY DAYS AT HOME
“Oe. Oe. Four years old and can’t stay on a horse! You’ll never make a man! What will your noble father say?” With this, Old Tzu gave the pony—and luckless rider—a hearty thwack across the hindquarters, and
spat in the dust.
The golden roofs and domes of the Potala gleamed in the brilliant sunshine. Closer, the blue waters of the Serpent Temple lake rippled to mark the passing of the water-fowl. From farther along the stony track
came the shouts and cries of men urging on the slow-moving yaks just setting out from Lhasa. From near by came the chest-shaking “bmmn, bmmn, bmmn” of the deep bass trumpets as monk musicians practiced
in the fields away from the crowds.
But I had no time for such everyday, commonplace things. Mine was the serious task of staying on my very reluctant pony. Nakkim had other things in mind. He wanted to be free of his rider, free to graze, and roll and kick his feet in the air.
Old Tzu was a grim and forbidding taskmaster. All his life he had been stern and hard, and now as guardian and riding instructor to a small boy of four, his patience often gave way under the strain. One of the men of
Kham, he, with others, had been picked for his size and strength.
Nearly seven feet tall he was, and broad with it. Heavily padded shoulders increased his apparent breadth. In eastern Tibet there is a district where the men are unusually tall and strong. Many were over seven feet tall, and these men were picked to act as police monks in all the lamaseries. They padded their shoulders to increase their apparent size, blackened their faces to look more fierce, and carried long staves which they were prompt to use on any luckless malefactor.
Tzu had been a police monk, but now he was dry-nurse to a prince ling ! He was too badly crippled to do much walking, and so all his journeys were made on horseback. In 1904 the British, under Colonel Young husband, invaded Tibet and caused much damage. Apparently they thought the easiest method of ensuring our friendship was to shell our buildings and kill our people. Tzu had been one of the defenders, and in the action he had part of his left hip blown away.
My father was one of the leading men in the Tibetan Government. His family, and that of mother, came within the upper ten families, and so between them my parents had considerable influence in the affairs of
the country. Later I will give more details of our form of government.
Father was a large man, bulky, and nearly six feet tall. His strength was something to boast about. In his youth he could lift a pony off the ground, and he was one of the few who could wrestle with the men of
Kham and come off best.
Most Tibetans have black hair and dark brown eyes. Father was one of the exceptions, his hair was chestnut brown, and his eyes were grey. Often he would give way to sudden bursts of anger for no reason that we could see.
We did not see a great deal of father. Tibet had been having troublesome times. The British had invaded us in 1904, and the Dalai Lama had fled to Mongolia, leaving my father and others of the Cabinet to rule in his absence. In 1909 the Dalai Lama returned to Lhasa after having been to Peking. In 1910 the Chinese, encouraged by the success of the British invasion, stormed Lhasa. The Dalai Lama again retreated,
this time to India. The Chinese were driven from Lhasa in 1911 during 6 the time of the Chinese Revolution, but not before they had committed fearful crimes against our people.
In 1912 the Dalai Lama again returned to Lhasa. During the whole time he was absent, in those most difficult days, father and the others of the Cabinet, had the full responsibility of ruling Tibet. Mother used to say that father’s temper was never the same after. Certainly he had no time for us children, and we at no time had fatherly affection from him. I, in particular, seemed to arouse his ire, and I was left to the scant mercies of Tzu “to make or break”, as father said.My poor performance on a pony was taken as a personal insult by Tzu.
In Tibet small boys of the upper class are taught to ride almost before they can walk. Skill on a horse is essential in a country where there is no wheeled traffic, where all journeys have to be done on foot or on horseback. Tibetan nobles practice horsemanship hour after hour, day after day. They can stand on the narrow wooden saddle of a galloping horse, and shoot first with a rifle at a moving target, then change tobow and arrow. Sometimes skilled riders will gallop across the plains in formation, and change horses by jumping from saddle to saddle. I, at four years of age, found it difficult to stay in one saddle!
My pony, Nakkim, was shaggy, and had a long tail. His narrow head was intelligent. He knew an astonishing number of ways in which to unseat an unsure rider. A favourite trick of his was to have a short run forward, then stop dead and lower his head. As I slid helplessly forward over his neck and on to his head he would raise it with a jerk so that I turned a complete somersault before hitting the ground. Then he would stand and look at me with smug complacency.
Tibetans never ride at a trot; the ponies are small and riders look ridiculous on a trotting pony. Most times a gentle amble is fast enough, with the gallop kept for exercise.Tibet was a theocratic country. We had no desire for the “progress” of the outside world. We wanted only to be able to meditate and to overcome the limitations of the flesh. Our Wise Men had long realized that the West had coveted the riches of Tibet, and knew that when the foreigners came in, peace went out. Now the arrival of the Communists in Tibet has proved that to be correct.
My home was in Lhasa, in the fashionable district of Lingkhor, at the side of the ring road which goes all round Lhasa, and in the shadow of the Peak. There are three circles of roads, and the outer road, Lingkhor, is much used by pilgrims. Like all houses in Lhasa, at the time I was born ours was two stories high at the side facing the road. No one must look down on the Dalai Lama, so the limit is two stories. As the height ban really applies only to one procession a year, many houses have an easily dismantled wooden structure on their flat roofs for eleven months or so.
Our house was of stone and had been built for many years. It was in the form of a hollow square, with a large internal courtyard. Our animals used to live on the ground floor, and we lived upstairs. We were fortunate in having a flight of stone steps leading from the ground; most Tibetan houses have a ladder or, in the peasants’ cottages, a notched pole which one uses at dire risk to one’s shins. These notched poles became very slippery indeed with use, hands covered with yak butter transferred it to the pole and the peasant who forgot, made a rapid descent to the floor below.
In I910, during the Chinese invasion, our house had been partly wrecked and the inner wall of the building was demolished. Father had it rebuilt four stories high. It did not overlook the Ring, and we could not look over the head of the Dalai Lama when in procession, so there were no complaints. The gate which gave entrance to our central courtyard was heavy and black with age. The Chinese invaders has not been able to force its solid wooden beams, so they had broken down a wall instead. Just above this entrance was the office of the steward. He could see all who entered or left. He engaged—and dismissed—staff and saw that the household was run efficiently. Here, at his window, as the sunset trumpets blared from the monasteries, came the beggars of Lhasa to receive a meal to sustain them through the darkness of the night. All the leading nobles made provision for the poor of their district. Often chained convicts would come, for there are few prisons in Tibet, and the convicted wandered the streets and begged for their food.
In Tibet convicts are not scorned or looked upon as pariahs. We realized that most of us would be convicts—if we were found out—so those who were unfortunate were treated reasonably. Two monks lived in rooms to the right of the steward; these were the household priests who prayed daily for divine approval of our activities.
The lesser nobles had one priest, but our position demanded two. Before any event of note, these priests were consulted and asked to offer prayers for the favour of the gods. Every three years the priests returned to the lamaseries and were replaced by others.In each wing of our house there was a chapel. Always the butter lamps were kept burning before the carved wooden altar. The seven bowls of holy water were cleaned and replenished several times a day.
They had to be clean, as the gods might want to come and drink from them. The priests were well fed, eating the same food as the family, so that they could pray better and tell the gods that our food was good. To the left of the steward lived the legal expert, whose job it was to see that the household was conducted in a proper and legal manner. Tibetans are very law-abiding, and father had to be an outstanding example in observing the law.
We children, brother Paljör, sister Yasodhara, and I, lived in the new block, at the side of the square remote from the road. To our left we had a chapel, to the right was the schoolroom which the children of the servants also attended. Our lessons were long and varied. Paljör did not inhabit the body long. He was weakly and unfit for the hard life to which we both were subjected. Before he was seven he left us and returned to the Land of Many Temples. Yaso was six when he passed over, and I was four. I still remember when they came for him as he lay, an empty husk, and how the Men of the Death carried him away to be broken up and fed to the scavenger birds according to custom. Now Heir to the Family, my training was intensified. I was four years of age and a very indifferent horseman. Father was indeed a strict man and as a Prince of the Church he saw to it that his son had stern discipline, and was an example of how others should be brought up.
In my country, the higher the rank of a boy, the more severe his training. Some of the nobles were beginning to think that boys should have an easier time, but not father. His attitude was : a poor boy had no hope of comfort later, so give him kindness and consideration while he was young. The higher-class boy had all riches and comforts to expect in later years, so be quite brutal with him during boyhood and youth, so that he should experience hardship and show consideration for others.
This also was the official attitude of the country. Under this system weaklings did not survive, but those who did could survive almost anything.
Lobsangrampa.org : The Third Eye (1956)
Chapter one Page 5-8
Lobsang Rampa : Cyril Henry Hoskin (1910 – 1981), more popularly known as Tuesday Lobsang Rampa, was a writer who claimed to have been a lama in Tibet before spending the second part of his life in the body of a British man.
Photo: The Potala Palace, winter palace of the Dalai Lama since the 7th century, symbolizes Tibetan Buddhism and its central role in the traditional administration of Tibet. The complex, comprising the White and Red Palaces with their ancillary buildings, is built on Red Mountain in the centre of Lhasa Valley, at an altitude of 3,700m. Also founded in the 7th century, the Jokhang Temple Monastery is an exceptional Buddhist religious complex. Norbulingka, the Dalai Lama’s former summer palace, constructed in the 18th century, is a masterpiece of Tibetan art. The beauty and originality of the architecture of these three sites, their rich ornamentation and harmonious integration in a striking landscape, add to their historic and religious interest.