časopis pro pedagogiku v souvislostech * journal of education in contexts
Ročník: 2013Volume: 2013
Číslo: 1Issue: 1
Vyšlo: 15. července 2013Published: July 15th, 2013
Ge, Chen. Influence of Tibetan Religious Philosophies on Local Special Education. Paidagogos, [Actualized: 2013-07-15], [Cited: 2024-03-03], 2013, 1, #9. P. . Availiable at: <>


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Influence of Tibetan Religious Philosophies on Local Special Education 1

Chen Ge

Abstract: There is a close relationship between religion and education. In Sichuan province, Tibetan religious philosophies have a far-reaching influence on all aspects of Tibetan education. In this article, these influences on local special education are analyzed. Three kinds of Tibetan religions, namely Bon religion, Tibetan Buddhism, folk religion and their doctrine are summarized and introduced. And then the author discussed how these Tibetan Religious ideas affect the special education based on the present special educational problems in Sichuan Tibetan region from two aspects, one is Tibetan religious philosophies are beneficial to the living of local handicapped persons, and why do Tibetan religious ideas restrict the development of local special education.

Keywords: Tibetan, Tibetan Religious Philosophy, Special Education


China is a country of 56 diversity nationalities, the result of sixth population census shows that there are more than 113 million minority people in 2010. Han 2 , the dominant group, comprises about 92 percent of the total population (Sixth Population Census in China). There are abundant ethnic culture, religion, about 120 mother tongues in minority regions (SUN, 2004).

Tibetan, as one of largest ethnic minority groups of China, is well known because of their unique natural environment, distinctive culture and religions in the world. Government reported that there are 5.41 million ethnic Tibetans in China. The populations of ethnic Tibetans are not only small in number, but also widely scattered. We could find Tibetans in all twenty-nine provinces of China, however, most of them (about 99 percent of the total) is concentrated in the Tibet Autonomous Region 3, Qinghai, Gansu, Sichuan, and Yunnan provinces. Of course, there is a large Tibetan blood-lineage population living outside of China, including in India, Nepal, Sikkim, and Bhutan, as well as in the United States and Switzerland and so on.

Tibetans should be considered a single ethnic group, because they have shared a basic identification culture, meaning a common historical tradition, language, and religion, and so on, for over 1,000 years. There are three interrelated religions: Bon religion, Tibetan Buddhism and folk religion, they provided abundant religious ideas and philosophies to local Tibetan people, and affect all aspects of Tibetan life, of course including the local special education. On the other hand, a majority of Tibetan region locates the border area of China, the relatively backward economy also influence the development of local special education.

Tibetan region is a vast area, and its culture is rich and diverse, so in present article, the influence of Tibetan religious philosophy on the development of Tibetan special education only based on a case that is Sichuan Tibetan region.

Present special educational problems in Sichuan Tibetan region

Sichuan province is the second biggest region where Tibetan nationality lives in compact communities besides Tibet Autonomous Region, there are more than 1 million Tibetan live in two autonomous states in Sichuan province, one is Ganzi Tibetan Autonomous State (hereinafter referred to as Ganzi), and another is Aba Tibetan Autonomous State (hereinafter referred to as Aba).

Although the national and local government provide much economic or technical supports on the Tibetan education, compared with Han region, the basic educational development of Tibetan region is slower due to natural environment, traffic condition and so on, the present status of special education is worse in Tibetan region. Specifically manifested in the following aspects:

The number of local special schools needs to be increased

According to above mentioned, Sichuan province have two different Tibetan autonomous states, Ganzi is the bigger one, and Aba is the smaller one. They have an area of 240,000 square kilometers, and there are more than 1.7 million people live there.

But until 2011, there are only four special schools (or center) in these Tibetan areas. Typically, there are three special schools (or center) in Aba, namely Aba special education center, Maoxian special school and Xiaojin special school (CHEN, 2011); they provide the educational opportunity to children with hearing impairment, mental retarded and physical disabled, and there is only one special school which enrolls the child with hearing impairment or visual impairment in Ganzi Tibetan autonomous state.

It is so hard to provide enough educational opportunity to children with special needs. Meanwhile, all of these special schools are primary schools; there is not any special high school or college in Sichuan Tibetan region. When the students with special needs graduated from these schools, they are so hard to find another school and continue study.

The quality of special education needs to be improved

In Ganzi and Aba, these two Tibetan autonomous states, not only the number of special schools is small, but also the quality of special education is poor, the concrete situation as following:

Firstly, these special schools lack experience in teaching because it is only a short time since such schools were founded. Three special schools (center) were reconstructed based on local regular schools respectively in 2005 and 2007 in Aba. In Ganzi, the only one special school is a new school, it was built in 2008, and begin to enroll children with special needs in Sep. 2011. All of special schools lack the professional experiences to manage schools, to meet the needs of handicapped children because they haven’t enough time to gain such experiences.

Secondly, teaching attachments are not modern in these schools. These special schools grew out of the regular schools besides the Ganzi special school. The teaching building and classrooms are old and shabby, meanwhile, they haven’t enough professional teaching attachment, such as computers, multimedia, healing equipments and so on.

Thirdly, on the one hand, the number of teacher is very small, for instance, there are only 43 special education teachers in Aba, but 245 disabled students here in 2009 4 , in Xiaojin special school, there are only five teachers, such few teachers can’t teach and look after the handicapped children well. On the other hand, these teachers who work in local special schools and centers are devoid of professional knowledge. Almost all teachers graduated from normal colleges or universities, they haven’t accepted special education, and even some of them haven’t received any professional training.

The enrollment rate of children with special needs should be advanced

In present study, the enrollment rate of children with special needs refers to such children enroll both special schools and regular schools. There are several reasons of lower enrollment ratio, such as the departments for disabled children is lacking, the quality of attending regular schools is low and so on (MENG, 2007).

Most of these students with special needs study in the regular classes because of lacking special schools. Ganzi, as the biggest Tibetan agglomerated region, has more than 4.5 thousand children with special needs, but the ratio of enrollment for them is only 11.3% (CHEN, 2011), and all of them study in the regular classes. This situation is more serious for girl with special needs (XIAO, 2007), the enrollment rate of handicapped students for girls is lower.

In addition, the number of students with special needs who study in the special schools or special center is also small. For example, Ganzi special school, as the newest and most modern special school in Sichuan Tibetan region, only has 40 handicapped students who with hearing impairment and visual impairment (CHEN, 2011); Only seven families would like to send their handicapped children to Aba special school when it was opened in 2005 (CHEN, 2011).


There can be not double that above problems were caused by many facets in special education of Sichuan Tibetan region.

Firstly, local government can’t provide enough support for the special education because of serious funds shortage (HUANG, 2007). The investigation to 135 headmasters of special education schools in China reveals that one of the prominent problems is lack of expenditure and resource (WANG, 2006), and such problem is more serious in minority region. Because of this reason, these special schools which located in Sichuan Tibetan region can’t attract excellent teachers whom had accepted professional and long-term special educational training, and government can’t provide modern teaching building, developed teaching attachments, even students’ dormitory to the local special schools.

Secondly, Sichuan Tibetan region, namely Ganzi and Aba, in the southwest of Sichuan province, almost of the area are mountains and plateau, a lot of parents who have children with special needs wouldn’t like to send their children to special schools because of the poor transport facilities and the long distance between school and family.

Thirdly, the third reason is considered the most important one in this article, that is the ideas of Tibetan government or parents affect their decisions. According to my long-time field investigation and literature research, I found that notions of Tibetan are influenced by their own religions.

So, Tibetan religions and the religious philosophies, especially the influence of such philosophies for the development of special education will be analyzed deeply as following.

Tibetan Religions

When Tibetan religion was mentioned by persons, unfortunately most of people only know Tibetan Buddhism, but in fact there are three kinds of religion in Sichuan Tibetan region, which is Bon religion, Buddhism and folk religion. The philosophy and spirituality of Tibetan religions impact on all aspects of Tibetan’s lives and social development.

Bon Religion

The Bon religion of Tibet is sometimes referred to as a form of heterodox Buddhism, or as the “fifth sect” of Tibetan Buddhism. As an institutionalized religious sect, it has its origins in the tenth and eleventh centuries (BRANDON DOTSON, 2008). It was the indigenous religion in Tibet, and its doctrine had been abroad spread in whole Tibetan region and Tibetan society before Buddhism had been introduced to Tibet. According to the Tibetan documents, Bon religion comes into being in the south of Ali region in Tibet, namely called Zhang Zhung 5 region (PER KVAERNE, 1972), and had been disseminated from west to east, then to the whole Tibetan region along the Brahmaputra. In terms of its content, Bon religion is indigenous religion that accepts the doctrine of animism, one who belief such religion worship objects include sky, earth, sun, moon, mountains, rivers and even all the life-forms.

Bon religion was originated due to abominable natural environment. Refer to Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau as “the roof of the world,” most of it stands over 4,000 meters above sea level, where with much land and few people, the weather changes very quickly, Tibetan who lives here just like the wild animals are suddenly attacked and injured by the terrible climate at any moment. Tibetan lives seem to be caught between the horns of a dilemma due to natural environment. On the one hand, the natural environment such as mountains, rivers and pasture offer the basic food and water to Tibetan. On the other hand, they are suffered great disasters such as mud-rock flow, floodwater, snowslide and etc. because of abominable natural environment. In fact, Tibetan fear and respect the natural environment, so they consider mountains, rivers, sky and such natural objects as gods, they leave the realistic and complex mind with gods and get spiritual comfort and hope via pray to such gods. Bon religion as a kind of primitive religion which sky, mountains and water were its gods had been come into being in the process of Tibetan know, understand, or struggle to the nature.

At different times in history when Buddhism was introduced in Tibetan in the 7th century, the relationship between Bon and Buddhism was rather unfriendly. Adherents of Bon were periodically persecuted and often had to convert to Buddhism. Bon received some theories and doctrine from Buddhism for itself survival. Today Bon forms a structured doctrine. Otherwise, Bonpo 6 have migrated to remote Tibetan region.

Tibetan Buddhism (Lamaism)

The Tibetan people practice another religion known as Lamaism, and we call it Tibetan Buddhism. LOBSANG GELEK summarizes the sects of Tibetan Buddhism, including the Sa-skya-pa school, the Bka-brgud-pa school, the Rnying-ma-pa and the Geluk-pa (LOBSANG GELEK, 2002). It is actually one branch of the school of Mahayana Buddhism which was introduced from India was the root of Tibetan Buddhism.

Tibet had a great development from 5th century AD to 7th century AD, Song-btsan 7 had conquered Zhang Zhung and other small nations, and then accomplished the great cause of unification of Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau. So there were two aspects of social needs leaded Buddhism was introduced to Tibet in 7th century AD. One was inner social need that unitive Tibetan Empire would deal with some difficult problems such as the rebellious and ire of liege subjects. The other was outer social need that Tibetan Empire would deal with the diversiform political or martial conflict with the neighbouring countries which embraces Buddhism (FU, 2002). In this case, however, Bon religion as a kind of primitive religion can’t satisfy the social development of the day. They needed a more suitable religion to dominate liege subjects, to overcome the neighbouring countries. So it was an historical fact that Buddhism would be introduced to Tibet.

Moreover, there were some other reasons can develop Buddhism in Tibet, firstly, Buddhism absorb a great deal of the Bon gods (JIN, 2009), secondly, the marriage of Song-btsan and Princess Wen Cheng who come from Tang, thirdly, the marriage of Song-btsan and Princess Chi Zun who come from Nepal, many Buddhism doctrine were brought from Chinese mainland and Nepal, that is more beneficial to the development of Buddhism in Tibet.

Toward the end of the ninth century, Buddhism generally developed into Tibetan Buddhism.

Folk religion

Relative to Bon Religion and Tibetan Buddhism, there is another religion, namely folk religion in Sichuan Tibetan region. Both Bon Religion and Buddhism have special religious doctrine, gods and some external manifestation such as temples and stupas.

Folk religion, however, is different. Specifically, it is spiritual belief in broad Sichuan Tibetan region. This kind of religion hasn’t special lection and gods. Believers worship or pray to all the gods, temples or stupas which exist in their lives. It is obvious that religious differences exist among peoples living in various parts and environments of Tibet, for instance, Tibetan who live in the place for nomads, they worship yak or arrow; Tibetan who live in the mountains, they worship jokul. In total, there are a lot of different adoration, including animal’s adoration, plant’s adoration, psychic adoration and so on. In the long history river, the folk religion becomes custom and mores in Tibetan’s lives, for example, ceremonies, fables, music, food and buildings.

In the development of Tibetan Buddhism and Bon Religion, they absorb many faith and content, even custom from folk religion. And of course, the folk religion was also affected by the notions of Tibetan Buddhism and Bon Religion.

The aspects of Tibetan Religious Philosophy

So far, the religious philosophies influence the notion and life of people in the entire world.

There are three kinds of religions in Sichuan Tibetan region, nearly every Tibetan is believer. So such Tibetan religious philosophies affect all aspects of Tibetan life, culture and society. Tibetan religions have a long tradition in studying issues related to life quality (BJORN GRINDE, 2010). In the following statement, some common religious philosophies will be discussed.

Human perspective is above worldly considerations

The culture of Tibetan religion is not involved in the material world, it attaches importance to self-cultivation, and lead to self-improvement. Tibetan disciples believe that the aim of every activity in the lives is in order to the afterlife. They thought that the terminal value of life is the “future world” and “Buddhism kingdom” (LU, 2010) and they want to illustrate that every person’s life must transmigrate, death is the beginning of rebirth, and this life is only continuance of the preexistence when they discusses the basic and important human problems such as birth and death. This thinking which is above worldly considerations and the karma about preexistence, this life and rebirth are different with the ancestor worship, the clan concept which value lineage and consanguinity.

The ideal of Tibetan religions is basically similar to the ideals of other religions, it is Fantasyland. But in the view of social function of Tibetan religions, it offers a road which leads to spiritual and ideal world to Tibetan believers. Specifically, a magic lamp that leads to the divine bank is hung and a default value about “afterlife” and “Buddhist” in the heart of Tibetan disciples. They think and do everything based on whether benefit to their afterlife, to be Buddha. Tibetan disciples try their best to pour out all their painstaking care to the spiritual home at which they will arrive finally, and they desert materialistic pleasure and utilitarian matters. This open realm of spirituality enriches the life.

The moral outlook is altruism

In the view of Tibetan religious notions, beings who live in the world are all own parents. Because beings can’t get rid of transmigration, they will have their parents when they reincarnate, and they will have a lot of parents in the transmigration from birth to dead, and from dead to rebirth. Every being are our parents, and they are suffering all kinds of pains and misery. So in the view of Tibetan religion, everybody must “gratitude” and “rescue”, namely Tibetan should gratitude to all the beings and should rescue the others from the suffering.

It is a basic moral principle that everyone should do good things rather than do evil sins in the view of Tibetan religion. “Kindness” and “Doing kind things” are best moral rule in Tibetan society(LIU, 2005). The “Kindness” means that Tibetan disciples should comply with Rules of Ten Goods 8 , do more good things, and then can beg to a nice afterlife. The contents of “Kindness” which based on altruism are rich such as helping others, filial piety, praying to beings and so on.

View of life is “being is equal”

Buddhism is developed due to fighting with Brahmanism in India, Brahmanism advocates caste, divide people into different levels. Buddhism respects the equality, although it can’t fundamentally deny exploitation, namely every being is equality when they face to karma reincarnation, and accept the assistance from Buddha.

It is an absolute moral rule that every being must be treated equally because beings are equal (QUE, 2005). Tibetan believers’ views of life are equal ones that means everybody, including relatives, friends, non-relatives, poor and rich persons, respectable and non-respectable people, must be treated equality, and it is important that every being must be treated as own parents.

Tibetan religious philosophies influence local special education

Tibetan have own philosophies due to their special religions, according to long-time field investigation, I found that these philosophies affect strongly Tibetan ideas to local special education.

Of course, these influences are beneficial to the living of local people with special needs to some extent, but to a large extent, such Tibetan religious philosophies restrict the development of local special education.

Tibetan religion is beneficial to the living of people with special needs

Whether Bon religion or Tibetan Buddhism, their doctrine give the same view of life, which is “being is equal” to local Tibetan people. In the eyes of Sichuan Tibetan who practice animism, as long as beings, they are equal. Tibetan respects all the beings due to the influence of their religious belief.

Although people with special needs who have some physical or mental defects, they are human. So they must obtain the equal status, respect, love and so on. The handicapped people live peaceful and happy because there is few biases and discrimination around them in Sichuan Tibetan region. In their daily life, they gain the basic respect and assistance what is supposed to do.

In my other narrative research, one of the Tibetan participants with special needs stated that “Although I can’t hear and speak, I am actually not different from others, we are the same person. We drink beer together and we are so happy.” And when I investigate the attitude of villagers towards disabled people, a villager told me a story of a mental retarded young man, and said “we can’t laugh at him, the child is very pitiful, why would we laugh at him?” (GE, 2011)

But on the other hand, it is a pity that the people with special needs don’t obtain the basic equal right in Sichuan Tibetan region, such as right to education. It is also because of the Tibetan religious philosophies.

Tibetan religions restrict the development of local special school

When Tibetan religious philosophies maintain the quality of life for local handicapped person, these religious notions also restrict the right to education of Tibetan children with special needs due to several diverse aspects.

Specially, Local government provide insufficient support on special education because of their religious human perspective, the parents who have children with special needs keep negative attitude towards to the education of their children due to their terminal value, and certain philosophies of folk religion also restrict the development of special education.

Insufficient government support on special education

Local government doesn’t pay enough attention to special education due to certain Tibetan beliefs. Tibetan believers have a different human perspective from Han people, their human perspective above worldly considerations. Tibetan religious emphasizes ultimate value (HU, CAI, 2009), both Bonpo and people who believes in Buddhism belief “everyone has the afterlife”, “the afterlife is more important than now” (HIROSHI ISHII, 2000) and so on, these ideas influence Tibetan’s attitude which towards to society, to life, even to education. Most Tibetan believes that their lives have decided by preexistence, so in their opinion, the result is same whether they accept education or not, whether they own knowledge or not. Tibetan schooling has a lower educational invest and attention than normal modern schooling due to such philosophies in Tibetan, which doesn’t satisfy the modern social needs.

For the local special education, the situation is more serious, the development of Tibetan special education is slower than regular schooling. Local government thinks that the special education is not important for Tibetan handicapped persons because their afterlife is more important than their present living, and they are bound to get a better living in their next life. So, nowadays, the number of special school is very small and the development of special education is very slow in Sichuan Tibetan region.

Indifferent parents’ attitude to their children’s education

I must emphasize that the key word “parents” means the parents who have the handicapped children in this title. The attitude of these parents towards the education of their children is negative.

Firstly, the same to local government, they think it is not necessary to set up special schools for handicapped children.

Secondly, even though there are special school in Sichuan Tibetan region, local parents wouldn’t like to send their handicapped children to schools. On the one hand, Tibetan parents who have children with special needs wouldn’t like to send their children to schools because of some same Tibetan religious ideas which are mentioned in above part of article. The same to the local government, Tibetan parents think that their child suffer in this present life, he or she will has a happy and better afterlife. On the other hand, Tibetan parents wouldn’t like to send their children to school because the traffic is so terrible in Sichuan Tibetan region, and there is a long distance between their families and schools. Some parents think that their children with special needs have a wonderful afterlife whether they accept education or not. So it is not necessary to go a far and difficult way to school every day.

So, compared to Han region, Tibetan children who study in regular schools and special schools, both have a lower enrollment and a higher dropout, and otherwise, they and their parents have a lower educational expectation (BADENG NIMA, 1994).

Negative influence of certain folk religious ideas on special education

The development of local special education is restricted by certain folk religious ideas. There are a lot of folk religious notions besides Bon and Buddhism doctrine in Sichuan Tibetan region. They also affect strongly Tibetan education and society.

One special folk religious idea which is handicapped children will bring misfortune to their families exists in certain Sichuan Tibetan region (CHEN, 2011). In such region, handicapped persons are discriminated, their rights and benefit are not received enough protection.

Such idea restricts strongly the development of special education, although it only exists in few regions in Sichuan province, only few Tibetan believe this idea.


There is a close relationship between religious philosophies and education. In Sichuan Tibetan region, the relationship between Tibetan religious philosophies and special education is complicated. The influence of Tibetan religious ideas on special education is various.

On the one hand, Tibetan persons with special needs obtain better and more peace lives because of certain Tibetan religious ideas. On the other hand, however, the development of local special education is restricted by such philosophies. Because of the influence of Tibetan religious ideas, the attitude of both local government and Tibetan parents who have handicapped child toward Tibetan special education are negative.


1. And this research (DYWH1205) is supported by Sichuan Multicultural Center.

2. Han is the largest minority in China, and Han culture is the mainstream culture.

3. TAR; “Xizang” in Mandarin, “U-Tsang” in Tibetan, and “Tibet” in English, where have often been visited by most aboard tourists.

4. The data from Statistical Yearbook about Special Education in Sichuan Province (2009).

5. It is the famous parlance that about the original produce of Bon religion.

6. Bonpo means the persons who practice Bon Religion.

7. Song-bstan (617-650) is a famous king in Tibetan.

8. It is Tibetan religious rule, including ten kinds of kindnesses.


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Informace o autorech

Doc. Chen Ge

Faculty of Education Science, Sichuan Normal University

NO. 1819 Chenglong Avenue Longquanyi District

610101 Chengdu city

Sichuan province, P.R. China

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