The study of the Tibetan religious institution, usually regarded as the province of Orientalists, Sanskritists, and students of comparative religion, has much of value to offer the social scientist. The institution represents a striking demonstration of a cultural force that has defied the dominant cultural patterns of China and India, under whose political authority a major portion of the religion's followers live. Simultaneously, the institution has united in a distinctively Tibetan cultural pattern many disparate groups, such as the Lepcha of Sikkim and to an extent even the revitalized Buddhist Newars of Nepal, whose original cultures resembled that of either their tribal or Hindu neighbors. Into this institution are woven nomadic pastoralists and urban craftsmen, slash-and-burn agriculturalists and people engaged in international trade, world-travellers and serfs bound to the land, brigands and saintly mystics. Rather than Tibet and its monasteries being an isolated geographic and cultural “refuge” area, the study of this key institution reveals a far more dynamic picture.