I came to this book hoping to have more of a grounding to what Tibetan Buddhism is. While I've been attracted to their religious practices, I've been reluctant to learn more. Observing why I think it's to do with being unaware of the meanings to the rich symbology in Tibetan culture. It seems like too much for an outsider to learn, so why begin?
In any case this book provides a gentle overview of Tibetan culture. And I found this book very satisfying to the part of me I just described.
The Tibetans did not originate Buddhism, but the rise of Buddhism in Tibet greatly influenced Buddhism overall. Buddhism largely supplanted the indigenous "Bon" culture and religion in Tibet, but in doing so there was a melding of the two.
This is what has intrigued me about Buddhism, in that my fiancee adheres to Zen. Zen Buddhism is very stripped down, and her teacher makes it even more simple than do most. The Zen practice appears to be more of an exploration of the psychology of dualism, that is the psychological processes that go into creating conflict (hence duality).
On the flip side, Tibetan Buddhism has these grand vistas full of dieties, symbols, gadgets, rituals and more.
I suppose an analogy in western culture might be between Catholocism with it's grandeur and, say, the Franciscan order with the simple garments and simple living.
This book gives a wide ranging overview of Tibetan culture, and the origin of the symbology. It explains how Bon culture was integrated with Buddhism to create the unique blend that is Tibetan Buddhism. Many of the figures revered in Tibetan Buddhism come from that Bon culture