The Tibet system of analyzing the nature and quality of an environment views the sky as the father of the environment, the ground as the mother, and the atmosphere as the child. The near and far mountains are the father’s brothers. The heroes are the big rocks and outcroppings, the cowards are the trees and bushes. The waters are the wise and learned, the pathways are the swift. The flat boulders are the tortoises, the rugged outcroppings are the lions. The soil is the flesh, the waters are the blood. The wind is the breath of the environment. The bodily hairs are the plants—the grasses, flowers and trees. The head of the sky is in the east. The head of the land is in the north. The head of the roads is in the east. The head of the waters is in the west. The head of the plant life is in the south.

Tibetan Analysis of the Environment

It is important to determine the proper placement of houses and gardens in relation to their surroundings. For example, the front of a house built next to a cliff or high mountain should be facing away from the mountain, not toward it. The ground is like an eight-petal lotus, the sky like an eight-spoke wheel. The atmosphere is like the full roundness of the moon. The surrounding area is like the eight auspicious signs, whereas the center is like a high mountain with its three ornaments: glacial snows at the top, rocky inclines in the middle, and forested slopes further down. At the bottom are the fields of rocks and white boulders, followed by the meadows and valleys filled with every type of grass and plant life. The central mountain is then like a great king seated on his royal throne. The surrounding hills are like his retinue of faithful courtiers. In front are the springs and waterfalls like water offerings arranged on an altar. In back are the endless ranks of mountain ranges, each one higher than the one before. Each of the mountains in each of the ranges is ornamented by its cliffs and crags, and adorned by its alpine forests. On the right side of the mountains, the slopes are like lions ready to leap. On the left side, the slopes are like roaring tigresses. From the right and the left come springs and steams, joining as they descend into mighty torrents in the center. At the base of the lofty mountains the land levels off into broad valleys and wide plains. The foothills gently descending from the majestic mountains to the luxuriant plains are like colorful and glorious tents of the finest silk brocade, and pavilions made of the most beautiful tapestry. When one gazes at such a landscape, from early morning when the sun first rises, until the last rays at sunset, one mind is filled with delight, ones mood is elevated, and ones spirits soar. This type of wondrous and captivating vista is the foremost among landscapes, the most excellent of environments.


The landscape may be analyzed according to the fourfold division of peace, increase, power and wrath. Landscapes associated with the accomplishment of the activities of peace are characterized by a gentleness and softness in the form and features of the land; white and very pale colors predominate; gentle and fragrant plants like rhododendron grow everywhere; and the sky has a round appearance as it is full and open in all directions. Landscapes associated with the accomplishment of the activities of increase are characterized by jewel-like mountains and gem-like rocky outcroppings; proliferations of forests and flowers where yellows and golds predominate; and the vistas of the land and sky seem more square than round. Landscapes associated with the accomplishment of the activities of power are characterized by a tendency for the mountains, rocks and other features to be reddish; juniper and related trees and low, flat bushes proliferate; the vistas of the mountains and plains are more in the shape of a half-moon rather than round or square; and the streams and rivers tend to flow from the west. Finally, landscapes associated with the accomplishment of the activities of wrath are characterized by reddish, black and dark colored rocks and cliffs where thorny plants proliferate; three valleys come together and join their gorges and rivers in one great and forceful confluence; and the sky and landscape have an angular appearance.

Tibetan environmental philosophy is the product of thousands of years of individuals building and working with nature and utilizing sustainable traditions. Spiritual metaphors are used to analyze and describe the surrounding environment, seeking to maximize the balance between our daily lives and the natural elements around us. A brief summary of this philosophy follows that may help guide and supplement the layout of your own outdoor living space.