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It is impossible to separate out the Lhasa Apso from the Tibetan peoples strong practice of Buddhism, as this comes before anything else. As the famous Lama Thubten Yeshe said, "Tibet is not some magical Shangri-la, it is simply that Tibetans all try to practice compassion for all living beings".

It is sometimes difficult for us in the 'west' to understand that "lack of attachment" (not to be confused with a cold 'detachment') ceases unhappiness as we are taught the opposite is true. Tibetans practice lack of attachment, aversion and ignorance (or lack of awareness) all the time, which is what has brought them world acclaim since they came out of Tibet. I mention this, because their dogs are not "owned" and grasped after as "mine" as we do with our dogs. So from the very beginning we must look at the different approach to a Lhasa Apso that the Tibetans have in order to understand how they treat all living beings including their dogs.

I believe that over the hundreds of years that Lhasa Apsos have been bred and owned by Tibetans that some of their characteristics have become inherent as a result of this. They expect kindness, they do not bark unless there is a reason, they are a calm and strong dog, they are loyal and excellent watch dogs. They respect humans and expect the same in return.

Firstly, according to Tibetan belief, a "dog rebirth" is said to be brought about due to lack of awareness (ignorance) in a former life. For this reason it is not considered to be anywhere near the preciousness of a human rebirth in which we have the opportunity to be kind, loving and aware of our actions, all due to our own choice. An animal rebirth does not have this choice.
Therefore humans have the opportunity to show kindness to animals as they are dependant upon their owners, for food, shelter, love and care.

Secondly, an animal, (like a human) has various 'degrees' of a higher rebirth. As a consequence a truly loved Lhasa Apso was often given to a high Lama as an offering for its life
- not for the Lama's pleasure, in the hope that it would attain a human rebirth next life or at the very least some 'good karma' would rub off onto the dog from hearing prayers all day .   [Lamas do not own dogs as a "need" - they need nothing and many great Lamas have lived in caves in the wild forests eating old bones and thistles.]

This brief explanation might shed some light on how the Lhasa Apsos came to live in monasteries and homes of the Tibetans who would love and care for them well. The general thought is not that the dog is "theirs", but rather that they have a duty to care for it and to stop it creating negative karma
: hence, their dogs are well trained.

Painting on cabinet door of Tibetan home, approx. 15th. century

Never have Lhasa Apsos been considered "holy" in any sense of the word!  If the dog were holy, it would not be a dog, it would be a human and therefore have choice as to where to go and how best to help others.  Mind you, I have plenty of friends who firmly believe their Lhasa Apsos are "not dogs"!  Calling a Lhasa Apso a 'holy dog' is simply not true.   However, due to their high intelligence, Tibetans nuns and monks often say with a smile that these dogs
were nuns or monks in a previous life.


HISTORY OF THE LHASA APSO

There are many explanations of the name “Lhasa Apso” and I will give here the explanation given to me by a Lama...
 "There is no particular word in the Tibetan language which is 'apso' and there was never any resemblance to the Tibetan Snow Lion made by the Tibetan people – the closest translation is ‘beardy’.  The Snow Lion is a mythological creature.


 

The country of Tibet was formed millions of years ago when a shift between the land masses of India and Asia took place, bringing about the famous Himalayan Mountain chain which runs across the top of Afghanistan and India, thus closing off Tibet from its south. Due to its extreme elevation, Tibet is referred to as "The Roof of the World", as the Himalayas ring two sides of the country, with Mongolia to the north and China to the East and over this gigantic mountain range, lie India and Nepal. It is a plateau where the average elevation is 16,000 feet.

Tibet was mainly a Buddhist country with monasteries throughout the length and breadth of it, with some even perched on steep cliff faces of mountains. This changed with the shock of the Chinese invasion in 1959, which brought about genocide and environmental destruction to this peaceful country and still continues to this day.

The capital of Tibet is Lhasa where most of the population lived in and around Lhasa which is in Central Tibet, as well as in East Tibet or Kham.

According to Tibetan Lamas who have told me of the history of the Lhasa Apso, these small dogs were originally wolves, but were tamed centuries ago by the people of Tibet. Although the Chinese have slaughtered all the Lhasa Apsos in Lhasa, as well as tens of thousands of the Tibetan people, these dogs are reputed to still be in the wilds of Tibet, where no human will venture. The Tibetans often made offerings to the many Monasteries and so the prized Lhasa Apsos found their way into the Monasteries, where, like all living creatures it was treated with love and care. They were not ‘idealised’ by the nuns and monks! 

No dog or animal is ever allowed into the Gompa (Meditation/Prayer room) of a monastery as the life of an animal is not considered to be a “precious rebirth”, but compassion, love and care must be shown to all living creatures without exception.

Tibet is a country of extremely harsh climate, with temperatures that fall way below zero for most of the year and summer in Lhasa has an average temperature of just eight degrees Celsius in the day time.

The Lhasa Apsos are compact and well muscled, with a warm coat and a fringe fall over their face which protects them from the glare of the snowy surrounds and vast desert like plateaus.

Some people think that because the Lhasa Apsos are found in countries surrounding Tibet, that they did not originate in Tibet. However, according to the Tibetan, Bhutanese, Nepalese and Indian peoples they certainly did come directly from Tibet and they would not be known by the Tibetan name Lhasa (capitol of Tibet) Apso (bearded one) if they did not originate in Tibet.

 

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