Sunday, April 06, 2008

Note on Tibet

“Historically speaking, the attribute ‘traditional’ when applied to modes of contemplation and action (or to arts, science or anything else) reflects a situation where a given human society is regulated both in spirit and in respect of its formal expressions by a divinely inspired message originally received through prophetic or avataric mediacy, one which will continue communicating itself subsequently across time and space while also being adapted of necessity to the needs of a changing human scene. Reminders of that message will be written into every institution of the human collectivity concerned: a society so ordered, as long as that tradition is kept alive, will remain a quasi-unanimous society as regards essentials. This is why one is justified in describing the Middle Ages in Europe as characteristically Christian, even though things were often done then in the name of Christianity (or despite it) which plainly belied those Gospel teachings which everybody acknowledged in principle.

“The same can be said of Tibet as late as the year 1950: an unmistakably Buddhist flavour sufficed human ideas and activities at every social level, as I was able to observe at close quarters when visiting that country in 1947. A medieval Europe minus the chronic warfare and the extreme cruelties associated with the criminal law fitly describes the Tibet I remember, with the additional difference that the contemplative element was clearly in the ascendant in every sphere of life, a fact reflected among other things by the attitude of the Tibetans towards their non-human neighbours, animals of the countryside as well as domesticated ones; in this respect the compassionate influence of Buddhist tradition made, of Tibet, something like a distant replica of the terrestrial paradise prior to the Fall.”

-Marco Pallis, London, 10 December, 1976.

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