From Nobodies to Somebodies – Comparing Past and Present Tibetan Female Serfs

Published:2012/07/31    10:45

(By the True Heart News interviewing team in Taipei)Mr. Colin Goldner, a German psychologist and a critic, has made some critiques on Tibetan Tantric Buddhism in his book Dalai Lama - Fall eines Gottkönigs. It mentions that early Western missionaries and European explorers who traveled to the Old Tibet had described this place as "Shangri-La." Apart from the beautiful scenery of snowy mountains and magnificent Potala Palace, the city of Lhasa was in fact a place full of stench, where there was no public hygiene system, medical system, school education, or clean housing.

Ninety-eight percent of the population is serfs. They lived in slavery and had been exploited under the feudal serfdom by both lamas and nobles. They even lived with animals in utter darkness without justice; they ate lamas’ feces as "nectar" when ill, and sometimes they even acted as live targets to entertain the lamas and aristocrats. Their only goal in life was to repay usury to landlords and lamas. Their faces showed early signs of aging from the sufferings of hunger and misery; the average lifespan of the serfs were only 35 years of age. Even living under such poor conditions, they were further tyrannically treated under “The Thirteen Codes” and “The Sixteen Codes,” where cruelties such as chopping off hands, cutting off tongue, gouging eyeballs out and being frozen to death were common. Additionally, anyone who committed crimes might be flayed by lamas as execution and the flayed skin was used for ritual offerings.


Serfs carried out slavery jobs to repay usury while the destiny of female serfs was close to misery. From the historical photos, it can be seen that female serfs were dressed in ragged cloth and live in shabby tents or caves. They either held the starving babies or left the babies aside on the ground while working; they were unable to nurture the babies for the whole day and left them unattended. As recorded in the codes of law, the life of a female serf was only worth a straw rope, which was used to tie up the female serf’s corpse during transportation to the cemetery. In other words, in the eyes of landlords and lamas, the life of a female serf was worthless. If it was not for the necessity of transporting the corpse to the cemetery, that straw rope could even be spared. They were deprived of the most basic rights of living, let alone the luxury expectation of dignity for their life.

Chairman Zhang of the True Enlightenment Education Foundation points out that according to the Western documentation, under the regime of the Dalai Lamas in Old Tibet, the corpses of girl serfs were frequently found outside the lama monasteries. Lamas and nobles held possession of the serfs’ bodies, whose limbs, viscera, and skins could even serve as “ritual offerings,” not to mention their bodies and virginity. All these facts are well-documented.

In the Old Tibetan beliefs, actual physical women are indispensable for the sexual Tantric practice according to the fundamental tenet of Tibetan “Buddhism.” Tsongkhapa, the ancient patriarch of Tibetan Tantrism, taught practitioners exhaustively in many of his treatises how to select female consorts aged between 12 and 20 (during the Couple-Copulation Practice, girls at different ages serve different purposes) and to distinguish the required characteristics of the private parts of those qualified female consorts, for the lamas’ consideration during selection.

In Tibetan “Buddhism,” the so-called “Buddha-mother” or “female consort” is in actuality merely a tool for the male yogis to practice sexual union. By means of various female bodies with different sex reactions, the yogis are stimulated to enhance their powers of concentration and the skill of non-ejaculation during sex, enabling them to observe the state of emptiness without ejaculation while enjoying the excitement of sex, which they erroneously regard as, in the state of no thought arising, the conscious mind being experiencing the "emptiness-nature." (In Buddhism, the emptiness-nature refers to the eighth vijinana, the True Suchness, also known as Tathagatagarbha, but not the immaterial perceptive mind during the Dual Operations of Bliss and Emptiness.)

On the other hand, the yogis should also pay attention to the qualities in the selection of the female consorts, including the appearance, disposition, and temperament. The documentary "In the Name of Enlightenment" about the religious sex scandals in Canada clearly shows that all the Western female consorts of Sogyal Rinpoche, the renowned author of Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, exactly fit into the criteria of "consorts" taught in the Highest Yoga Tantra; they are young, sweet with big innocent eyes.

Chairman Zhang Gongpu of The True Enlightenment Education Foundation explains, the Old Tibet was indeed a society ruled by lamas and nobles; lamas and landlords only accounted for two percent of the total population but they had full authority over the life and death of the serfs that made up ninety-eight percent of the population. The lamas and landlords utilized the "codes of law” to exploit the serfs by usury and labor work, making their debts of “grain coupons” and “food coupons” grow like rolling snowballs from one generation to the next, which could never be paid back. Ninety-eight percent of the Old Tibetans were all descendents of those serfs whose destiny were already set at birth; they were all destined to be serfs all their life. Meanwhile, through religious brainwashing by lamas, serfs were taught to believe that everything is destiny and karma.

In their life as serfs, they could only yearn for a re-birth in the Pure Land through tremendous offerings to lamas. Hierocracy was a perfect system set up to keep Tibet as the "Kingdom of Lamas" over one thousand years. The majority of serfs suffered from this type of unfair hierarchical system, which did not change until 1959 after the Chinese army entered Tibet. Due to the loss of their benefit, the lamas’ and landlords’ indignation for losing power and money has never stopped till today since they were exiled overseas.

Chairman Zhang indicates, what the Dalai Lama has claimed to the world about the "good old days in Tibet," was in fact the lifestyle of the lamas and landlords (two percent of the population); they could go for an outing, fly the kite and play mahjong in early spring. Lamas lived a carefree life; while acting as the representatives of divinity and accepting money offerings from devotees, they were busy dealing with usury. At the same time, the serfs (ninety-eight percent of the population) could not throw off the yoke of slavery, in ragged clothes, and worked as slaves in the hope of being saved by lamas in their next lives. From the historical photos, it can also be seen that those serfs were treated as live stocks with endless chores and hard labors, which depicted the miserable life of serfdom.


The serfs’ lifestyle has dramatically changed after the serfdom was abolished. By looking into the transition of the female serfs’ social status, it is not hard to get a glimpse of the strata change and development in Tibet. In the past, the female serfs were in the lowest stratum of society, and their life was only worthy of a straw rope as stated in the codes of Old Tibetan government; but today, the social status of Tibetan women is in great contrast to the past, with thirty-four percent female civil servants working in the new Tibetan government. In the past, the rights to literacy were only accessible to those who were in the lamaseries; as for today, Tibetan adult female literacy rate has gone over eighty-two percent. In November, 2011, a new policy of “2011-2015 Development Plans for Women in Tibet Autonomous Region” was enacted; we can foresee that Tibetan women will have significant improvement in the field of employment, education, economics and social position in the years to come. In contrast, women in Old Tibet were ill-informed serfs exploited and abused by lamas as they wished anytime without any pay.

Chairman Zhang remarks that Tibetan women, whose life used to worth only a straw rope, have been contributing greatly to the economy and society of Tibet today. This is the result of abolishing the serfdom in old theocratic Tibet as well as breaking away from the lamas’ ruling. The Old Tibet was enclosed by the Himalayas; Tibetan Tantric lamas and landlords made up the theocratic Tibet; by false religious beliefs, the serfs were fooled to work fiercely for a better re-birth in the next life. Politically and socially, the codes of law and usury were set up to control the serfs, who made up ninety-eight percent of the total population and worked for the lamas (the remaining two percent of the total population). Today, the Himalayas remain intact, but the majority of Tibetans can have a free choice of careers; this is totally incomparable to the miserable past of the serfs. At the same time, as the global villages become ever more closely linked and the internet world is further developed, Tibetan females and citizens will definitely contribute more, with greater productivity, to the development of humanities, society and economy in future Tibet. (Reported by the Interviewing Team)

Editor's Note:

This article is an English version of the Chinese edition published on

April 21, 2012.