Sherpas Through Their Rituals ORTNER, Sherry B.

The Sherpas of the Himalayas practice Tibetan Buddhism, a variety of Mahayana Buddhism that has never before been studied in its social setting by an anthropologist. This book is at once a general interpretation of Sherpa culture, an examination of the relationship between the Sherpas' Buddhism and other aspects of their society, and a theoretical contribution to the study of ritual and religious symbolism. In analyzing the symbols of Sherpa rituals, professor Ortner leads us toward the discovery of conflict, contradiction, and stress in the wider social and cultural world. Following a general ethnographic sketch, each chapter opens with a brief description of a ritual. The ritual is then dissected, and its symbolic elements are used as guides in the exploration of problematic structures, relationships, and ideas of the culture. The author uses these rituals to illuminate the interconnections between religious ideology on the one hand, and social structure and experience on the other. A key factor is the dimension of Buddhism that emphasizes the ideal of individual autonomy and social withdrawal. This is reinforced by the Sherpa society's tendency toward individualism, an inclination rooted partly in the private property structure. Professor Ortner's analysis of the rituals reveals both the Buddhist pull toward exaggerating the isolation of individuals, and the secular pull that attempts to overcome isolation and to reproduce the conditions for social community.

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