Is Happiness in the Snowland Found in Odd Numbers?

High Peaks Pure Earth has translated a post that was written by a Tibetan WeChat user and published and circulated most recently on May 6, 2017 by the WeChat channel “My Authentic Snowland Life”. 

The post is a light-hearted anecdotal piece about how odd numbers (such as 3, 9 and 13) are considered auspicious by Tibetans. 

If any readers have any memories or thoughts associated with odd numbers or beliefs, please feel free to share in the comments section or on our social media!

Is Happiness in the Snowland Found in Odd Numbers?

Text: Yuanren (Prehistoric man), Photos: Yuanren, Dawa Dakpa

One day, a good friend Lama Chopa took a temporary vacation and stayed at Dawa Dakpa’s home as a guest.

 

After dinner, he suddenly untied the cloth belt of his robe and formed it into a plait. Then he used his fingertips to count “Kyikey”, “Dugkey”, “Kyikey”, “Dugkey”… until he got to the very last “Kyikey”.

He said: “Yes! Today I am very happy!”

“Kyikey”

“Dugkey”

“Kyikey”

I was surprised and asked: “Isn’t that like the flower game: loves me, loves me not, loves me, loves me not?”

An online photo

Lama Chopa replied: “Yes! A bit similar, but Tibetan customs are a little different, the plait I formed represents a flight of stairs. Over half of Tibetan stairs are of odd not even numbers! If you don’t believe me, go and count the stairs of Dawa Dakpa’s house!”

I was astonished: “Really? That’s impossible!”
And then I counted the stairs, and they really were odd numbers!

Lama Chopa continued: “Yes, no matter what kind of stairs it is, whether a wooden staircase or stairs at home, most of the times they have an odd number of stairs and when it happens that a flight of stairs finishes on an even number, then they would add a little section to make it an odd number.”

I asked Dawa Dakpa: “Is it only a custom of his hometown? Do we have this here in Menshor as well? Or in other Tibetan areas?

Dawa Dakpa said: “Yes! We learn this from a young age, ladders and stairs can only be of odd numbers.”

Please count

Lama Chopa: “Especially when you climb up a flight of stairs, you usually start with your right foot and then your final step will also be with your right foot, which is why they chose odd numbers, it represents that things always have a start and always have a finish, it’s smooth! The fortune telling I just did with my belt, many people actually do with their shoelaces.”

Thinking of it in this way seems quite scientific actually, when climbing stairs you only feel comfortable when starting and finishing with your right foot.

When we climb stairs, we soliloquize in Tibetan:
སྐྱིད་སྐས། Happy step
སྡུག་སྐས། Painful step
སྐྱིད་སྐས། Happy step

Please count

The front stairs to the Prayer Hall of Dzongsar Monastery

Dawa Dakpa added: “we also use our fingers to measure the length of chopsticks.”

He took a pair of chopsticks and placed both of his thumbs and forefingers at the end and moved them upwards step by step, loudly saying:

Happy step,
Painful step,
Happy step…

Whatever the last step represents when you get to the end of the chopstick will be your destiny.

After that we started to talk, drink coffee and have a cheerful conversation.

In fact, this way of fortune-telling is similar to Tibetan people’s tendency to find joy in sorrows that I raised in my essay “have you gone through trouble?”. When others ask you if you are tired, you will most certainly reply: “No!” It’s really a kind of hypnosis to comfort and energise yourself.

But don’t disregard the psychological impacts of this; Lama Chopa said: “Some elderly Tibetans would sometimes violate certain Tibetan taboos, for instance by passing underneath other people’s drying clothes or by walking up the stairs when someone is coming down and then they would feel bad and get sick. But other people for whom this is not a taboo would be fine. So saying good things to oneself, thinking positively will inevitably have an energising function!”

Counting stairs or measuring chopsticks have the same effects, just that Tibetans are quite smart in only designing stairs of odd numbers, so when people go to work, do physical labour or come home from work, they see a flight of stairs and happily start to count: “happy, not happy, happy, not happy, happy…” because stairs have an odd number, the last step will always be “happy”, and so whether it’s the expectations at the beginning of the day or the expectations for the next day at sunset, they are always nice and beautiful expectations.

The kind-hearted and innocent Tibetans of the Snowland don’t want to drink that bitter water and let it get to their stomachs, they always immediately “Let it be” and refuse to bring their worries to the next day.

If you work in the city and feel depressed, try to act like little children, relax and just play some games! Sometimes the simplest of all methods is the best one.

An online photo

This post is also available in: Chinese (Simplified)