| Cycle

100 • Cycles

Volume 10, Issue 01
February 23, 2024

The concept of cyclicity, often viewed for its repetitiveness in contrast to the preferred straight
lines and linear progress of contemporary thinking—which symbolizes efficiency and, in some
cultures, integrity—was profoundly appreciated during our trip to the Zoige Grassland in Sichuan
for the Zhaqiong Cang Ecological Center Renovation Project. This journey, undertaken at the
end of last year, revealed the deep significance of cyclicity in Tibetan communities, highlighting
its influence on natural, living, and ceremonial spaces and underscoring a holistic understanding
of the universe, space, and time. Through this exploration, cyclicity emerged as a key principle,
reflecting the intertwined cultural and environmental interactions in Tibetan life.

Upon the completion of this renovation project, there will be an exhibition space showcasing a
series of Thangkas and Mandala artworks focused on the protection of water sources and
grassland ecology. After our preliminary research, we chose to integrate the concept of circular
motion from Tibetan Buddhism into the space’s main flow. This decision was inspired by
practices such as walking at least three times around the exterior of a temple before entering
and moving in a clockwise direction through the inner hallways, reflecting the clockwise turning
of Tibetan prayer wheels.

At the heart of Buddhism is the cycle of rebirth, and observing devotees performing prostrations
and circumambulations around the stupa outside Langmu Temple, with their devotion to the
eternal cycle, was both astonishing and moving. As the prayer wheels spun in their hands,
creating endless cycles, people moved in continuous rounds. The fundamental idea of cyclicity
is, in essence, a system of coexistence, emphasizing communal living and a nonlinear
perception of time due to the belief in the cohabitation of all living beings.
Near the entrance of Langmu Temple, benches covered with yak wool cushions, placed by
villagers, offer a space for rest. Farther away, a Tibetan woman meticulously cleans each prayer
wheel, a voluntary act of temple maintenance viewed as a spiritual discipline.

The lifestyle embodies the principle of cyclical patterns. The black tent, chosen by nomads for its
minimal environmental impact, addresses the challenges of living within the grassland’s
ecosystem and its seasonal dynamics. This dwelling transcends modern concepts of ownership
and property, creating a “community” on the grasslands that unites all forms of life. The black
tent itself is cyclical, made from panels of yak wool felt that are partially replaced annually,
ensuring its renewal every twelve years. This sustainable material decomposes, nourishing the
grass, which in turn feeds the yaks.

The cycle of life, including sky burials where both humans and animals are returned to nature for
scavengers like vultures to consume, highlights a long chain of existence. This practice has
allowed vulture populations, which are at risk of decline elsewhere, to thrive in areas that
practice sky burials.

This sustainable mode of living benefits not only the current inhabitants but also future
generations and other beings within the ecosystem. Faced with the extreme climate of the
Tibetan Plateau and its fragile ecosystem, known as the World’s Third Pole, nomads use yak
dung as fuel, prioritizing the land’s health over personal comfort. Despite their capability to
construct permanent buildings from wood, mud, and stone, Tibetans opt for black tents to
maintain the grassland’s pristine condition.

Tibetan nomads, who have separate pastures for summer and winter, migrate seasonally in a
cycle that allows the grasslands to recuperate and regrow. Nomads, leaving no trace when
relocating their tent, face challenges from stationary grazing policies promoted by experts.
These policies, intended to protect ecosystems, inadvertently harm the grasslands and disrupt
ancient practices.

These cyclical practices in lifestyle, worldview, and faith demonstrate a profound respect for a
larger system, embodying a responsible and sustainable philosophy. For Tibetans, the concept
of sustainability is inherent, extending respect to all beings, souls, and even inanimate objects.
The idea of sustainability, which has become optional with its formal introduction, is for Tibetans
a natural expression of the interconnectedness of all existence.

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