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Lost Treasures of Tibet

Ideas from Teachers

(Gr. 3)
Having recently made the trek to Mustang, I decided to start a cultural awareness campaign among my students about their counterparts in the Land of Lo.

Students will first learn about the non-mechanized lifestyle these children experience and what that would mean to us here in the United States (lack of electricity, no cars or bicycles, etc.). The children will draw pictures of things they would be without (video games, etc.).

Then, students will watch parts of the NOVA "Lost Treasures of Tibet" program to learn about the great monastaries being restored and how this restoration is leading to a renewal in art, civic pride, religion, and family. Students will explore projects here in the United States that have given us the same kinds of feelings (i.e., the revitalization of urban downtowns in Philadelphia or Los Angeles; the rebuilding of structures destroyed by fire or earthquake; or even the simple repair of a child's favorite toy, blanket, or stuffed animal).

Each day of the week will be dedicated to discussing a custom, legend, tradition, muscial instrument, or food.

At the culmination of this unit, each child will write a short fictional story using the ideas, customs, foods, animals, religion, or images as their inspiration. Students will provide an illustration to serve as a book cover or inside drawing to accompany their story.

Sent in by
Debra Lucero Austin
Marigold Elementary School
Chico, CA

(Gr. 9)
To provide students with guided questions for viewing the video.


  • NOVA's "Lost Treasures of Tibet" program
  • student handout with questions


  • What was the purpose of the sand art? What does it signify?

  • Most of the people in Mustang are of what ethnicity? But what country do they belong to?

  • On the road to Lo Manthang, what do the following represent?

    1. Rocks in the wall?
    2. The colors used in the stripes?
    3. The stripes themselves?
  • How many Buddhists are there in the world today?

  • In the old days, how did Tibetan families contribute to the monasteries?

  • Why did many leave Tibet in the 1950s?

  • Why is Mustang such an important place for Buddhists?

  • Why do Buddhists take a pilgrimage to the cave on the road to Lo Manthang?

  • How do Buddhists use flags?

  • What do the colors of the prayer flags mean?

  • How was Lo Manthang wealthy in its era, 500 years ago?

  • What do monasteries do for society?

  • How are the wall paintings in the old monastery, Thubchen, viewed by Buddhists?

  • What reaction did the locals of Lo Manthang have on the renovation of the temple?

  • What ancient ingredients did the renovators use to reconstruct the temple?

  • What three skills were the Newar masters at?

  • Why wouldn't the renovators use modern machines and ingredients that would obviously make it easier and faster to fix the temple?

  • What did the infrared video reveal about the wall paintings?

  • What materials were the paints made out of and how were they transformed?

  • Why was it not the custom for the painters to sign their names to their works in Tibetan culture?

  • What do the images in the temple depict about the Buddha and his teachings?

  • Why does the King of Mustang think it is important for the conservationists to fill in the cracks and holes?

  • How does this conflict with the beliefs of the conservationists?

  • What does a mandela represent?

  • How is the transportation of Lo Manthang being transformed?

  • How will this affect the ancient paintings and structures in the town?

  • How has the renovation led to a revival of the Thubchen temple?

  • If the belief of Buddhist thinking is impermanence, why do you think the King and people of Mustang pushed for the renovation of the temple? What other belief is held by the Buddhists to support the rebuilding?

Sent in by
Anna Amsler
Emerson Junior High School
Davis, CA

(Gr. 9-12)
To get students to think critically and challenge common assumptions about Tibet and Tibetan Buddhism.

To challenge stereotypes about cultures unfamiliar to us.

To expand awareness of the range of factors that help constitute a cultural identity; to research, organize, and present information about everyday life in an unfamiliar culture.

To create an imaginative firsthand account of life in an unfamiliar culture.


  • Video: NOVA's "The Lost Treasures of Tibet"
  • Excerpts from "The Struggle for Modern Tibet—Autobiography of Tashi Tsering" by Goldstein, Siebenschuh and Tsering
  • Student's Journals
In the Nova video, we find that Mustang is actually in current-day Nepal, at least by political boundaries. Though it is a part of Nepal, Mustang falls within the ethnic realm of Tibet. While Nepal is not in the People's Republic of China, it is sandwiched between India and China.

Begin by asking students questions about their impressions of Tibet and what it means to them. Ask other questions, such as:

  • "Have you ever seen a bumper sticker that says, 'Free Tibet'? What does that mean to you?"

  • "Have you heard of the Dalai Lama? Who is he? What does he represent?"

After having a brief discussion on their ideas, view the NOVA episode, "Lost Treasures of Tibet." Following the program, discuss the following ideas with students:

  • "What are the main differences between the way the Western artists who worked on the art restoration view their job, and that of the local people?"

  • "Who were the original artisans?" (They were likely Newaris from the Kathmandu area of Nepal.)

  • "How does the lama from Dharamsala fit into to this equation? Why did they have no local Lama? What is the role of the local king (raja) in the situation?"

  • We know that in Tibet, many of the monasteries were destroyed on purpose, and the monks and lamas were forced into a secular life, particularly during the Cultural Revolution. However, here in Mustang there was no similar external force to destroy the monastery. "Why are there no monks or Lamas to maintain this monastery?"

  • In Tibet, prior to the arrival of the People's Liberation Army of China, the lamas, monks, and about 200 aristocratic families controlled Tibet's wealth and power. Villagers paid taxes and gave tribute to support them, and gave yaks, butter and other gifts for blessings or "merit." There were no public schools, and only the aristocracy, monks, and lamas could ever hope to learn to read and write their own language. Today even common Tibetans can go to school. "When you see 'Free Tibet' as a bumper sticker, do you think the people are aware of the inequalities that existed in traditional Tibet? How has the Tibetan Buddhism been viewed by the West?"

Have students read "The Struggle for Modern Tibet: The Autobiography of Tashi Tsering." Note: This book has a few passages that may not be suitable for 9th and 10th graders, it may be more appropriate for 11th and 12th grade students. The book is one man's journey from a poor village to being a dancer for the Dalai Lama to being a student to being a political prisoner and more. This will give students a more concrete reality of the issues surrounding Tibet. Note: The Tibetan footage in the NOVA video comes from a heavily biased film called "Compassion in Exile," directed by Mickey Lemle, and gives students/viewers no context for the violent scenes. As reprehensible as they are, this does not help viewers apply critical thinking skills. [Editor's note: Liesl Clark, the producer of the NOVA program, responds: "We felt that the context -- the Chinese cultural revolution -- was so broad that it included specific events like those shown in the film, the beating of the monks and nuns by Chinese police and footage of destroyed monasteries by the Chinese. These are well known clips that have been distributed by the International Campaign for Tibet for use in documentaries like ours that only begin to touch on the atrocities."]


  • Argument
  • Comparison of primary and secondary sources
  • Research

Classroom Tips
This may be used for Social Studies or Literature/critical thinking lessons.

Sent in by
Rex Michael Dillon
Silver Creek High School
San Jose, CA

Teacher's Guide
Lost Treasures of Tibet

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