Lhasa Apso and Tibetan Culture
|DR. PEMA GYALPO
Professor of International Relations Tokyo, Japan
Dr. Pema Gyalpo is Tibetan, and the son of Gyari Nima Gyaltsen, Chieftain of Nyarong-Ram-Tibet. 1975, Dr. Gyalpo was appointed as Liaison Officer of H.H. the Dalai Lama for Japan, and from 1980 until 1990 he was the representative for the Asian Pacific Region.
He also appears on major television stations including NHK and MX-TV, and writes columns for major newspapers and magazines, including Asahi, Yomiuri, Sankei and Tobo Shinbun.
Now he is a Professor at Toin Yokohama University (undergraduate and graduate students) and a Director of The Tibet Culture Centre in Japan.
Igarashi I have been looking forward to seeing you today and I would love to know more about Lhasa Apsos. First, would you explain to me what the name means? Is it also called Lhasa Apso in Tibet?
Dr. Gyalpo It is called Apso in Tibet, which means hairy in Tibetan.
Igarashi Please tell me about your Apso named Senge. Did he come from Tibet?
Igarashi Please tell me about the origin of the name Senge.
Dr. Gyalpo Senge means a lion which is a popular name for a dog in Tibet. Apso looks like a lion and lions are a symbol of happiness in Tibetan culture. (There are snow lions and valley lions, and the snow lions are called Kan-Shin and the valley lions are called Tam-Shin in Tibet.)
Igarashi A Mastiff is also a famous Tibetan dog, isn’t it?
Dr. Gyalpo Tibetan Mastiffs are kept as watchdogs. This kind of breed has a special bark which is loud, imposing and beautiful. Westerners prefer Tibetan Mastiffs without any patterns, while Tibetans prefer the ones with circular patterns around the eyes. Each country dog represents its distinct culture. Lhasa Apso and Tibetan Mastiff are the symbols of Tibetan history and culture. By the way, from where did you take your dog?
Igarashi My dog is born in Japan but its pedigree is from England. It’s a female dog named Tonton.
Dr. Gyalpo I thought she was from England. It is a typical Apso. Senge’s mother looked just like her. Your Apso is a really nice one with a small and blackish face. Tibetan Apsos seem to be sooty because Tibetans don’t groom them well, but Apsos are naturally blackish.
Igarashi According to the history, Shih Tzu is a mixed breed of Apso and Pekinese. However, the other day a breeder said Apso is the oldest breed and later the Pekinese and Shi Tzu derived from it. In the Forbidden City, there were more than 300 eunuchs to take care of indoor dogs such as Pekinese. Actually, the beautifully embroidered dog gowns were found there. And allegedly, the well-dressed dogs were carried in the deep sleeves of court dresses while moving inside the court.
Dr. Gyalpo That story sounds true. At the time of the Chinese court, males were strictly prohibited to enter. According to one explanation, these indoor dogs were very helpful to console the women living there. As those women made the dogs to lick excessively, Apsos’ noses were deformed into an abnormal or flat shape like the Pekinese or Shih Tzu. This was the story I heard when I was a child.
Igarashi That is interesting. By the way it is said that Apsos were kept only at the temples like Potala Palace, and only by the royalties or upper class.
Dr. Gyalpo That story was probably made up to earn a high reputation for Apso. In reality Apso was loved by every hierarchy from His Holiness The Dalai Lama to beggars, and from pilgrims to nomads. When nomads migrated, Apsos were often carried in a basket, on a horse’s saddle or in a nomad’s arm because it was hard for such small dogs to endure a severe journey, while watchdogs were made to walk on their own. Beggars accompanied themselves with dogs so that they would get a few more handouts.
Igarashi There seemed to be many dogs inhabiting the temples. When the Red Guards attacked the Tibetan temples, they killed the dogs first.
Dr. Gyalpo It is not surprising that there were many dogs as well as beggars at the Tibetan temples because they invoked divine aids. Tibetan Buddhism respects all beings therefore no one was turned away. When I went back to Tibet about ten years ago, all dogs had disappeared. I couldn’t find any dogs at all. Then, I said to the Chinese bureaucrats, “You have not only destroyed our temples and culture but are also responsible for the killing of all Tibetan dogs!!”
Igarashi How is it now?
Dr. Gyalpo Only for the last few years, I have seen an increase in the number of dogs there.
Igarashi How long ago did you come to Japan?
Dr. Gyalpo 33 years ago.
Igarashi Did you come to Japan with your dog?
Dr. Gyalpo No. I had a dog at the time but I couldn’t take it with me. Our family was in the group following just behind the group with His Holiness the Dalai Lama. My father decided not to take our dog in fear of causing any danger to His Holiness the Dalai Lama. During his escape from Tibet, on the way from Tezpur to Mussoorie, he held an Apso in his arms. The photo with His Holiness the Dalai Lama was shown around the world, and this way the legend of Apso, which is a noble dog preferred by H.H. the Dalai Lama was established.
Igarashi Are there any dogs at the current Dalai Lama’s palace in Dharamsala?
Dr. Gyalpo I think there are. The Dalai Lama cherishes all dogs, so there shouldn’t be only Apsos but also other breeds of dogs. Come to think of it my uncle escaped to India without possessions apart from an Apso in his sleeves. A dog is more important than any other possessions. A dog has a soul and is an important member of the family. Animated things are the most important in Tibet.
Dr. Gyalpo That’s interesting. There are many dogs at temples, and the spiritual masters such as Rinpoche or Lama often have dogs as pets in their rooms. Sometimes many dogs happen to hop out of the Rinpoche’s upper gowns. The young monks cannot keep their own dogs as they live in a group. They are not allowed to enter the main building of the temple, but there are many dogs around there. It is also said that one of the reasons why high-ranked monks kept their own dogs was for the purpose of food tasting.
Igarashi The former Dalai Lama passed away after being poisoned, wasn’t he?
Dr. Gyalpo Yes, he was. Dogs never eat poisoned food or rotten food because of their fine sense of smell. Senge won’t kiss me until I brush my teeth in the morning. He is very honest and I trust him.
Igarashi I’ve heard that Apso is called “A Talisman dog” in Tibet.
Dr. Gyalpo I’ve never heard of it.
Igarashi I’ve read a book explaining about the reason for that name. It said when a dog owner dies, the soul reinhabits the dog.
Dr. Gyalpo The story is the other way around. A human being will be reincarnated as a dog. At the base of Tibetan Buddhism is Samsara. In Buddhism, the highest goal to achieve is to enter a state of Nirvana (the afterworld), but there are only a few who can obtain this goal. Tibetans’ hope is to achieve it some day. For this reason Tibetans pray and perform the ascetic practices to pursue the realization of a place in their Nirvana.
If one cannot achieve Nirvana, rather be reincarnated as a human again. If a soul wasn’t enough to be a human, it would be reincarnated as a dog. There are many tales about it.
Igarashi Please tell me about one of them.
Dr. Gyalpo At one time, a man adoring only his child maltreated a dog, but unfortunately the child was an absolute stranger and the dog was his reincarnated mother. This story is about a departed mother who has reincarnated as a dog to be loved by her own son. My dog might be the reincarnation of one of my ancestors. For this reason, dogs are members of the family in Tibet.
16, June 2004, at the Tibet Culture Center
『All life is recurring in the cycle of death and rebirth infinitely. There are six reams to fall in: God, Demigod, Human, Animal, Human ghost and Hell depending on former incarnation. The ultimate goal and the end of existence is realization of Nirvana.』