The following is intended to suggest a selection of books that
will introduce the reader to the issues surrounding Tibet. These books
were chosen to give the general reader an overview of Tibetan history,
religion and culture and presume no prior knowledge of the conflict that
has drawn the world's attention to "the roof of the world". Teachers preparing
lessons and materials to familiarize students with The Dalai Lama and his
nation prior to his visit will also find this list helpful. Additions will
be made to this list as November draws closer and suggestions are welcomed.
Several books are listed under each heading, with the best in each category first. The divisions are history, travel guides, travel narratives, Tibetan Buddhism and The Dalai Lama.
A note about availability: while many of these books are readily
available at local bookstores and libraries, a few will be hard to find.
Snow Lion, a combination newsletter and catalogue offers many hard to find
books on Tibet and Buddhism. It is available free of charge, by contacting
Snow Lion Publications in Ithaca, New York.
Email : email@example.com
Wisdom Publications also offers a good selection of books on Tibet, The Dalai Lama, and Buddhism.
In Exile from the Land of Snows. John F. Avedon. Harper Perennial,
Based on more than one hundred interviews of Tibetan refugees in India and the United States, Avedon's book offers a detailed account of life in post-1950 Tibet. In addition to an explanation of the Dalai Lama's flight to India, Avedon includes chapters describing the experience of Tibetans in Chinese prisons, the CIA supported resistance movement and the return of exiles (including the Dalai Lama's sister) on fact finding missions to Tibet in 1979. Especially helpful is Avedon's research into the role of the State Oracle (depicted in the movie Kundun), a chronology of major historical events and background on the period immediately preceding 1950. Highly recommended. " What Alexander Solzhenitsyn did for the Soviet Union, John F. Avedon does for Tibet." - Los Angles Times
Sky Burial. Blake Kerr. The Noble Press, 1993.
An eyewitness account of the 1987 uprising against Chinese police control in Lhasa and the subsequent crackdown on dissent. Two young Americans, visiting Tibet to do some trekking, find themselves in the midst of pro-independence demonstrations greater than anything witnessed by foreigners since China occupied Tibet in 1950. As a recent medical school graduate, Kerr offered his services to wounded Tibetans and documented his observations for eventual presentation to the Dalai Lama. His traveling companion, John Ackerly, captured the demonstrations and shootings on film. Both men later returned to Tibet to document what they could of human rights violations. Particularly shocking is the chapter that relates stories of forced sterilization and abortion. Beginning as an adventure story of an expedition to Mt. Everest, Kerr's book shifts effortlessly to events in Lhasa. Although it is not as "scholarly" as Avedon's book, Kerr's account is a great introduction to Tibet for those who have little background on the situation there. Written in an informal (sometimes irreverent) style. The Washington Post calls Sky Burial ". . . .the best account of the 1987 Tibetan uprising against police control in Lhasa . . . Kerr captures the beauty, terror, and tragedy of Tibet."
Seven Years in Tibet. Heinrich Harrer. Viking Penguin, 1985.
Made popular by the recent movie starring Brad Pitt, Harrer's book is particularly valuable for his account of Tibetan life during the final years of independence. Two chapters are devoted to daily life in Lhasa, providing a rare glimpse of a nearly vanished culture. Harrer includes descriptions of celebrations, daily amusements and eyewitness accounts of rituals such as consultation with the State Oracle. His role as tutor to the young Dalai Lama enabled him to relate a first hand impression of His Holiness as a young man
Return to Tibet. Heinrich Harrer. Penguin, 1986.
Harrer's 1982 return to Tibet provides an important sequel to Seven Years in Tibet. With authority few can claim, Harrer describes the devastation of Tibet at the hands of the Chinese.
Lost Lhasa. Heinrich Harrer. Harry N. Abrams, 1992.
This volume of black and white photos presents a unique record of Lhasa before 1950. In addition to the photos, Harrer provides descriptions of the ceremonies and everyday life depicted. In his epilogue, Harrer describes his 1982 return to Lhasa and documents the changes as a result of deliberate destruction of monasteries and other religious sites. An excellent historical document and companion to Harrer's two other books. Great for classroom use.
In the Himalayas. Jeremy Bernstein. Touchstone, 1989.
Bernstein presents a unique blend of Himalayan travelogue, adventure story and history lesson. His two chapters devoted to Tibet are detailed and scholarly, covering everything from religious practice to early explorations.
Tibet: A Political History. Tsepon W.D. Shakapa. Potala Publications, 1984.
A History of Modern Tibet, 1913-1951. Melvyn C. Goldstein. University of California Press, 1989.
The Snow Lion and the Dragon. Melvyn C. Goldstein.
A Cultural History of Tibet. David Snellgrove and Hugh Richardson. Shambhala, 1986.
A Season to Purge: Religious Repression in Tibet. A Report by the International Campaign for Tibet.
A Strange Liberation: Tibetan Lives in Chinese Hands. David Patt.
Warriors of Tibet: The Story of Aten and the Khampa's Fight for the Freedom of Their Country. Jamyang Norbu.
Travel guidebooks provide a great source of direct, concise information on Tibet. Most guidebooks provide background on Tibet's history and geography as well as an introduction to Tibetan Buddhism.
The Tibet Guide. Stephen Batchelor. Wisdom Publications, 1998.
This new edition of Batchelor's classic guidebook offers a wealth of background information. Particularly good is the chapter on Tibetan Buddhism, which includes sections on religious practice, religious art, sky burial, and the differences between the Yellow Hat and Red Hat orders and their role in Tibet's history. Most helpful for the classroom is the extensive glossary of terms and the excellent iconographical guide. Wonderful photographs enhance this edition.
Tibet Handbook. Victor Chan. Moon Publications, 1994.
Chan's work runs over one thousand pages and is designed to provide a detailed guide for pilgrimage. This comprehensive volume is the result of five years of travel and field research. In addition to many excellent maps, Chan has included a useful glossary, a calendar of Tibetan festivals and an inconographical guide.
Tibet. Elizabeth B. Booz. Passport Books, 1986.
Excellent photographs are the strength of this volume. Although Booz sidesteps the recent political history of Tibet, she offers some very good sections on mandalas and thangkas, monasteries and monks, Britain's invasion, and a basic iconography. With its maps and a chronology of events in Tibet's history, this guide provides the best overall introduction to Tibet of all the guides. Junior high students can easily manage the reading and all ages can appreciate the photos.
Tibet: Travel Survival Kit. Chris Taylor. Lonely Planet Publications, 1995.
Aimed at the independent traveler, Taylor's book provides an easy to read, informative chapter entitled " Facts about Tibet" that outlines Tibet's history and culture. The section on Tibetan Buddhism gives a simple overview of both teaching and practice, with explanations of the concepts of rebirth, karma, merit and the Four Holy Truths. This section includes a basic iconography and sidebars devoted to the Eight Auspicious Symbols, sky burial, the mandala and the distinction between the Red Hat and Yellow Hat orders. A few maps and photos add to the usefulness of this guide.
Insight Pocket Guide: Tibet. Steve Van Beek. Insight Pocket Guides, 1994.
This slim volume provides a chapter on the basic history and culture of Tibet, a chronology of historical events and one hundred pages of excellent (if sometimes small) photographs. A basic glossary, bibliography and calendar of special events round out this guide.
Often a story, especially an adventure story, is the best way to capture a student's initial interest in a subject. The following is a selection of travel narratives that provide personal observations on the situation in Tibet.
Himalayan Passage. Jeremy Scmidt. The Mountaineers, 1991.
Beginning in Lhasa, two young married couples set out to circumnavigate the Himalaya - by bike, foot, or whatever means necessary. Scmidt explains Tibetan history and religious practice while describing the adventure that takes the group across Tibet to the holy mountain of Kailas. Great photos by Patrick Morrow.
From Heaven Lake. Vikram Seth. Vintage Books, 1987.
After two years of studying in China, Seth decided to take a short cut home to New Delhi through Tibet. His fluent Chinese enabled him to understand what he observed much better than the average traveler, making this a keen observation of Tibet in the early years of independent travel. Winner of the Thomas Cook Travel Award.
Riding the Iron Rooster. Paul Theroux. Ballentine Books, 1988.
In the last chapter of veteran traveler Theroux's narrative of train travel through China, he abandons the rails for a landcruiser to Lhasa. His visit is best described in the last lines of the book. "When I left Tibet some days later I lifted my eyes to the mountains and clasped my hands and invented a clumsy prayer that went : Please let me come back."
Across China. Peter Jenkins. Ballentine books, 1986.
Although Jenkins' journey eventually takes him across China and through Mongolia, the first half of the book is devoted to his months in Tibet with an American mountaineering team preparing to climb Mt. Everest. Jenkins' personal touch, combined with the relatively open atmosphere before 1987, enabled him to get average Tibetans to relate stories about their lives under Chinese rule. A portrait of the kindness and humor of the Tibetan people emerges.
THE DALAI LAMA
The following biography and autobiographies offer essential background for The Dalai Lama's visit.
Freedom in Exile. The Dalai Lama. Harper Perennial, 1991.
The most recent autobiography of Tenzin Gyatso, beginning with his recognition as the Fourteeth Dalai Lama. In his own words His Holiness tells of his boyhood, China's invasion in 1950, his reluctant flight to India and his subsequent life in exile. Throughout his recollections he describes his initiatives for a peaceful solution to the Tibetan problem and stresses the importance of applying Buddhist principles to negotiations with China. Highly recommended.
My Land and My People. The Dalai Lama.
Available in several editions, this autobiography was written by His Holiness as a young man, soon after his exile from Tibet. What is most striking about this early autobiography is the description of the evolving political leader as events in Tibet demanded that he make difficult decisions effecting the future of all Tibetans. A touching portrait of the world leader who still refers to himself as " a simple Buddhist monk".
Great Ocean. Robert Hicks and Ngakpa Chogyam. Penguin Books, 1984.
This biography traces the life and rule of the Fourteenth Dalai Lama. Beginning with a history of his predecessors, this authorized biography offers a cultural, political and religious context for understanding the situation in Tibet. Easy reading.
My Tibet. The Dalai Lama and Galen Rowell.
With stunning photographs by one of the world's finest photographers and text by the Dalai Lama, this volume takes the reader on a tour of a vanishing Tibet. Rowell's fascination with Tibet shines through each of his photographs and the Dalai Lama relates his personal memories and thoughts about the people and places pictured.
These books offer an introduction to the complex study of Tibetan Buddhism.
Essential Tibetan Buddhism. Robert A.F.Thurman. Castle Books,1997.
Written by the first American to become a Tibetan Buddhist monk, this comprehensive volume provides a solid introduction to the complex study of Tibetan Buddhism. Beginning with a description of the spread of Buddhism across Asia, Thurman explains the evolution of different schools of Buddhist thought. While addressing issues of teachings and practice, he clarifies the distinguishing characteristics of the Tibetan form of Buddhism. For those seeking a deeper understanding, new translations of several essential texts, including selections from The Tibetan Books of the Dead, are included. Anyone willing to invest a bit of time to understand Tibetan Buddhism will appreciate Thurman's work.
Buddhism. Bernard Faure. Konecky & Konecky,1998.
In this lavishly illustrated volume, one of Europe's leading authorities on the history of Asian religions presents, in straightforward terms, the history of Buddhism. This volume is most helpful to place Tibetan Buddhism in the context of the practice of Buddhism throughout Asia. Beautiful photographs illustrate chapters on ritual objects, Buddhist practice, and the varied images of the Buddha. Highly recommended for classroom use.