The Mosuo people living around Lugu Lake in Yongning in Yunnan Province, and in Muli and Yanyuan in Sichuan Province, lived together with the Tibetans as early as Tang Dynasty (618-907). They were highly influenced by the Tibetan culture. Historical records showed the residence of the Mosuo around Lugu Lake (the Yongning of Yunnan Province and Yanyuan and Zuosuo of Sichuan Province) were considered residential district of Tubo, a Tibetan Kingdom in ancient China.
Tibetan Buddhism was introduced to the settlements of the Mosuo and Pumi ethnic groups in Yongning, Langqu, Muli and Yanyuan during the late Song Dynasty and early Yuan Dynasty through Batang and Litang of Sichuan Province. The Sakya Sect and Kagyu Sect were the earliest to enter the region. During the Yuan and Ming dynasties, the Sakya Sect dominated the Mosuo and Pumi ethnic groups. The earliest established monastery was Zhebo Sakya Monastery in Yongning. The Sakya Sect, also known as the multiple-colored sect, was founded by Konchog Gyalpo in the 11th century. The walls of the sect’s monasteries were painted in red, white and grey. During the late Yuan and early Qing dynasties, the Gelugpa sector (Yellow Sect) was preached in Yongning. The Gelugpa Sect rose in the early 15th century, on the basis of reforms led by Tsongkhapa. It was referred to as the Yellow Sect because monks wore yellow hats.
After the Yellow Sect was introduced to Yongning, the Zhamei Monastery was constructed in 1216. The Yellow Sect was worshipped by all local residents. There was an upsurge in the number of people wanting to become monks during the late Ming and early Qing dynasties. Midway through the Qing Dynasty, there were 1,300 Mosuo monks in Yongning, including more than 400 monks who traveled to Tibet for further education. More than 100 won the Gexi diplomas.
The introduction of Tibetan Buddhism was closely related to the hereditary headmen of Yongning. It showed features of unification of the state and monastery, and yet it did not follow the system strictly as in Tibet. Religious activities of the Mosuo and the monasteries in Yongning were administered by the headmen. But chief monks of the monasteries could not have a hand in ruling over the headmen. They could not hold official posts. The State and monastery were considered separate. However, the monasteries were administered by lineal relatives of the headmen, normally by younger brothers of the headmen, and in hereditary succession. This enabled the ruling feudal headman to integrate their village with Tibetan Buddhism.
Tibetan Buddhism had a far-reaching effect on the matriarchal culture, politics, economy, religion, art, habits and customs of the Mosuo around Lugu Lake. It endowed the Mosuo matriarchal culture with rich flavors of Tibetan Buddhism. The primitive Daba religion absorbed the clothing, instruments and Five Buddha Crown of Tibetan Buddhism. The folk myths and legends, folk tales and poetry of the Mosuo were infused with Tibetan Buddhism elements. The Mosuo invited Lamas to practice rituals for child birth, curing diseases, festivals, marriages and funerals. The Mosuo would also invite lamas to name babies, with names featuring rich Tibetan culture.
Tibetan Buddhism was introduced and integrated with the Yongning matriarchal culture, to make big matriarchal families friendlier and allow the people of Lugu Lake to live in peace and harmony.