prayer wheel circuit from above
on a higher level, an unusual cut in the floor allows a fascinating vantage of the many below, spinning, spinning prayer wheels.
Along with being one of the most sacred places in Tibet, Lhasa is also one of the most expensive. Food is cheap, dorm beds can be had at about twice the price of beds in China, but the temples and cultural places is where one is really gouged.
Arguably, it is still worth the money, since the temples and important grounds are usually fairly stunning (or can be snuck into, which is defendable when one considers where the ticket money is not going).
Jokhang temple, one of the oldest, built from 641-647AD. Apparently the site was chosen by one of one of the great T king's wives (not a typo there), Mz Wencheng from Tang dynasty. But the actual building was ordered to blossom by one of the other wives of one of the great T kings, a madame Bhrkuti from Nepal. Thus, the building is a fun mixture of architectural styles (so they say, like i'd know the difference) from Nepal, Tibet, and China.
Anyway, probably the most impressive elements to the wide-eyed (architecturally un-versed) travellers would be:
1) the amazing amount of pilgrims and local devouts, prostrating (fully bowing, like riding
carpet, arms out in front) repeatedly for hours in front of one of the most holy
sites in Tibet
2) the antiquity of the building, seen in murals rubbed bare from repeated forehead-
touching or finger kissings, also seen in the old wooden beams, discoloured and
weathered, and in the smell of the place
3) ornamentation. But i suppose almost any important site is well-ornamented. Beasts
and deities, in statues (bronze, wood, butter) and murals and thangkas (hanging murals);
carved wooden pillars; golden rooftops...candles, peoples faces....peoples costumes...
4) there is a large, golden statue of Shakyamuni Buddha in the centre of this very square
temple (its squareness struck me; many are longer and more rectangular. Also, the
smallish size of the monks actual sitting and praying area ---rows of cushions---surprised
me, considering the importance of the place), said to have been brought by that
Wencheng wife as a
kind of dowry.
5) in front of the actual temple, there is a small, slightly underground building filled with
rows of flaming candles. The heat of the room hits you as you descend, as does the utter
beauty of so much candlelight.
And there are many other impressive aspects.
So, you join the long line, allow more devout people to butt ahead and take the opportunity to study their fascinating clothing and hairstyles, and move ever so slowly clockwise around the sombre temple. Sombre in lighting, alive in fervour. As i waited, i entertained myself by listening to the drone of murmurings, watching handheld wheels spin incessantly, and discovering that the flasks i had assumed were more tea actually contained yak butter, offerings for different candles of choice. People who knew what they were doing and who they were worshipping would choose a statue or alter and bow their foreheads to it respectfully.
I could not take photos in this temple (and agreeably, some things are better left sacred) so i took my pen instead: Wood. Thick beams smoothed by centuries of touch; golden patterns smeared to
invisibility through adoration.
The rooftop of Jokhang temple prooved to be a discreet vantage point to observe the many pilgrims below, prostrating again and again for hours.
A chapel with a central statue encased and enthroned by wood and jewels. A walkway
around it reveals more statues and offers specified places to prostrate--quickly, for one is
herded through to make room for the masses waiting.
Wooden vats of solidified butter, locked like trunks, provide the melted offerings doled out
by monks and flaskless at each statue of importance. A monk moving a bucket of the hot
grease is wearing a surgical mask, so much smoke from so much exposure to so many
Chapels are jailed off by linked metal doors, money stuffed through the circular links.
The prize statue is fairly scary: bulging eyes stare vacantly at nothing in particular. Manic.
Finally, a trip up to the golden roof, a roof with large golden ornamentation, also gave a superb view of surrounding Lhasa. The temple is surrounded by the Barkor circuit, originally a pilgrim circuit, later a pilgrim and trading circuit, now a pilgrim and tourist sales circuit. It is interesting to watch vendors in action, marvel at the new antiques for sale, and see a variety of dresses and shirts, scarves, incense, Buddhist specialities... From
the roof the Potala palace is also visible, riding its low hill majestically.
A unique feature of the Jokhang roof was a strip carved into the floor, circling around the roof's edges, and overlooking the prayer wheel circuit below. I've never seen this style and it was very interesting to look down on people spinning and circuiting. I always feel like a monkey if i stare too closely or obviously, so this was a nice discreet way to observe.
Another day, i rented a bike and headed north a few kilometers to Sera monastery, another biggee in its day. Another of the Gelukpa sect, it used to have something like 5, 500 monks, but nowadays has about 5 or 600 (depending on who i asked). Like Drepung, it has taken some beatings and many of the buidings were shells or overgrown or seemingly burnt-out. But, the intact ones are splendid, usually bright whitewashed stone walls complemented by dark maroons or black bordering windows. Many potted plants on window sills, many fluffy flower gardens.
A highlight for most travellers is arriving between 3 and 5pm, when the monks daily debate. Debate. I had pictured small groups of introspective
monks. I approached the courtyard to an orchestra chattering and slapping. Someone was getting a beating. The debate procedure, as it turns out, is to take a text or philosophy (or, as my night students later explained, a simple concept like "yaks have horns. Those without horns are not yaks." I don't know how exactly one defends or destroys that statement, but then i'm no philosopher.) and spout it out in a rapid stream of sounds, emphatically punctuated with a slap of the right hand into the left. Before the slap and during the babble, the debater winds up like a baseball pitcher, one knee bent and leg high up until he marks his point by stepping forward and slapping (again, the hand).
I watched for a while and eventually fell into conversation with a monk happy to revive his English skills. He told me that following an upcoming festival, all of the monks would have exams, in philosophy, buddhist texts, and some other subjects he wasn't able to convey. This debate practise is not exclusive to the one monastery, but apparently the monastery is famous for it.
Biking around Lhasa perimeter the next day, I found Drapchi
Every day, save Sunday, hundreds of monks gather in a courtyard of Sera monastery (and other monasteries) to debate. The subjects range from philosophy to memorized Buddhist texts.
prison, where a number of now high-profile Ts have been jailed for things like freedom songs, or lesser sins of community action and development. I had hoped for a tour. I was met by a policeman in a car, who inquired what i was looking for. "Sera monastery????" I suspect he suspected me. "Do you know what this place is?" "I'm looking for Sera monastery???" in my best Canadian rising-toned statement. He sceptically gave me (incorrect) directions to the monastery and I wheeled away, disappointed at not getting in. However, I at least saw how close it is to town---embedded, actually, in the outskirts.
Today was my last day of teaching the junior high and high schoolers. We've had our ups and downs. Last week, near the end, we connected. It was nice. They laughed, they studied, they talked about T. This week, yesterday and today, they were inexplicably boring and bored, talkative but in the wrong language. Great frustration at failing them, failing to find their on buttons. My night class, however, is a different story. They are in their twenties and try very hard. Tonight will be our last night, which is a shame as I enjoyed
The movements, when not comical in their rapid fire babblings, are graceful. Flowing robes, poised legs, emphatic slaps (their own hands, not each other. That wouldn't really be debating, would it?)
Yet, more of T awaits, so it will be nice to set off and try to get some more of an idea about current T.
Tot: 0.056s; Tpl: 0.02s; cc: 9; qc: 19; dbt: 0.0076s; 1; m:saturn w:www (18.104.22.168); sld: 1;
; mem: 1.2mb