Professor Robert A.F. Thurman is the President of the American Institute of Buddhist Studies at Columbia University. Tibet File No.19: An Outline of Tibetan Culture – “Introduction. Anyone who knows the Tibetan language and has firsthand experience of Tibetan people knows the utter distinctness of the Tibetan culture. But to demonstrate this fact it is helpful to think back to ground principles. What is a “national culture”? A nation is more than a state, which is more than a tribe, which is more than a clan, which is more than a family. The only common political unit larger than a nation used to be called an “empire” though now there are entities called “United States” and “Union of Republics”. The English nation’s descendants of Angles and Saxons and Celts and Normans, to name a few tribes, themselves the amalgams of clans, can usually think of themselves as members of a single nation. Scots sometimes have difficulty thinking of themselves as part of an English nation, and the Irish cannot, though both groups were part of Great Britain for centuries. A people seem to think of themselves as a single nation when they:
Have come together in a common territory through history;
Share a common language fixed on a writing system;
Live under a common system of laws;
Are imbued with a common sense of history;
Tolerate an understood range of religious beliefs; and
Intuitively feel a common sense of identity through any of these commonalities, often buttressed by a sense of racial similarity.
Tibetans claim that Tibet is a separate nation with a distinct culture, yet the Chinese claim that it is a minority member of the Chinese nation (sometimes they say, inexplicably, ‘family of nations’) with a local variation of a common culture. Taking the above six points as elements of a working definition of the term culture, we can examine the historical facts point by point.”