Subsisting on a rugged, untamed land for thousands of years, the Tibetan people embody the qualities of strength and endurance. Archeologists have discovered evidence of early Tibetan farming villages dating back to 3,500 B.C.E. Around 3,000 B.C.E., bands of hunters in steppe regions unsuited to agriculture developed a mobile, pastoral culture, centered around the seasonal migration patterns of animal herds. Since that time, Tibetan laypeople have primarily consisted of farmers and nomads. In the middle of the eighth century, King Khri-sronglde-btsan invited famous masters from other regions to transmit Buddhist teachings to Tibetans. Soon, the first monks and nuns were ordained, and the king established special laws that provided for their support. As Western civilizations explored and mastered the external world, Tibetan Buddhists investigated their internal landscapes—the dormant faculties of deeper consciousness. Secluded from the rest of the world, Tibet produced remarkable scholars in philosophy, psychology, art, science, medicine, logic, and history.
Nestled among the clouds, the Tibetan plateau is the highest inhabited land on earth, with an average elevation of 12,000 feet. Due to its vast size, Tibet varies widely in its geography, with areas of desert, a semi-tropical area to the southeast, and high mountains on three sides, including the Himalayas. Since most regions lie above the timberline, much of the terrain is rocky and barren, but hidden below the mist are lush valleys and swift-flowing rivers.
Tibetan architecture blends the natural world and man-made elements in a richly artistic and organic style. Round, square, lotus, and pagoda-style buildings blend seamlessly into the beautiful and jagged landscape. Designs involve a strong practicality to conserve warmth and protect against earthquakes, but beautiful artistry also reflects the rich cultural and religious heritage of Tibet. Colorful paintings made from semi-precious stones, roots, berries, and minerals adorn many buildings. Complex carvings and fluttering prayer flags reflect the religious symbolism that is inextricable from the everyday lives of Tibetans.
A focus on mastering the internal landscape through religious study and practice is apparent in the artwork and details adorning temple interiors. Works of art were usually commissioned, either by monasteries or lay patrons, and their execution generally adhered to guidelines regarding proportions, symbols, and colors. Artistic creations are usually anonymous, which corresponds with the goal of transcending the individual ego. Completed pieces possess the inherent power to help each practitioner along the spiritual journey—small bronze images portray meditation deities, and prayer wheels release compassionate energy with each rotation.