Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Tibetan Traditional Astronomy Rivals West in Lunar Forecasts

Shanghai Daily -- April 6, 2006.

WHAT is Mercury's rotating speed this year and how it will affect the climate of Earth with its given position in the zodiac?

These are the questions facing Ceyang, a 21-year-old Tibetan woman, and her 39 Tibetan classmates at the training school of traditional Tibetan astronomy.

According to traditional Tibetan astronomy, a unit of time is based on breathing of an adult, so one day is a cycle of 60 hours, instead of the universally recognized 24 hours. And both the universe and the human body are composed of five elements - water, wood, gold, fire and earth - and changes of these elements exert varying influences on human health.

Pu Qung, head of the teaching office with the three-year training school of traditional Tibetan astronomy affiliated to the Tibetan Medical College, said traditional astronomy is a branch of Tibetan medical science.

"I believe Tibetan medicine emphasizes clinical treatment, while traditional Tibetan astronomy lays the stress on preventive medicine, and on harmony between nature and mankind," he said.

Traditional Tibetan astronomers, whose number is declining, are still highly regarded. Many farmers and herdsmen turn to them for advice on marriages, funerals, planting, herding, and ailments.

Tibet has colleges of higher learning that are dedicated to mass training of Tibetan medicine professionals. But for traditional Tibetan astronomy, education was restricted to apprenticeship, which is not conducive to keeping Tibetan culture alive, he said.

The Tibetan Medical College is the only modern academy of higher learning for Tibetan medicine, and only students in their fourth year at the college can take courses in traditional Tibetan astronomy.

Last summer, the college inaugurated the training school as the only legal establishment to offer academic diplomas in traditional Tibetan astronomy.

Norbu Toinzhub, in charge of the training school, is proud that aided by a wooden "sand" table and a short piece of wire, traditional Tibetan astronomers can calculate the timing for cosmic phenomena such as solar or lunar eclipses in roughly same time period as scientists with modern technology.

A prediction according to the Tibetan calendar, compiled by the Tibetan Medical College, says a lunar eclipse will take place at 2:05am, Beijing time, on September 8 and will end at 3:37am that day. The forecast for the end of the eclipse is just one minute off, compared with calculations made with telescopes and computers, said Chinese astronomers.