January 9 – 10 Lhasa, Tibet
I have wanted to visit Tibet since college, where I roomed with Lobsang Samden, one of the Dali Lama’s brothers.
I once asked Lobsang if he thought his brother would correspond with me. I did write a letter to the Dali Lama, and his letter in response follows.
This is the Potola Palace as it looked on January 9, 2012. I was excited to climb to the top to see the Dali Lama’s private apartment, which we did. The experience was intensified by the large numbers of pilgrims pushing by us to worship various points of religious interest along our route. The old palace, built in the 700s AD house the tombs of several Dali Lamas, one of which had ruled for 35 years and was honored with a tomb made from 3700 Kg of gold. Quite a sight. The altitude was a factor, too. At about 13,000 feet, we climbed much more slowly than the pilgrims, even the elderly. The Diamox caused unpleasant paresthesias of hands, cheeks, feet.
Some pilgrims wore masks. This man took off his jacket. I had to keep mine on due to temps in the 40’s.
This is the square in front of the Johang Temple, one of the most sacred sites to Tibetan Buddhism. Pilgrims circumambulated clockwise around the outside of the square, around the Johang Temple, around Lhasa itself, and around the Potala Palace, often many trips a day.
An earlier form of Tibetan Buddhism, Bon, a form of shamanism, has been absorbed into contempory Tibetan Buddhism and is visible in the practice of prostration multiple times a day. We say pilgrims prostrating miles from Lhasa along the road, accompanied by a cart with supplies for their pilgrimage.
This lady seemed to be in a trance during her prostrations.
Mothers bring their young children with them to this most sacred of Tibetan Buddhist temples. Some worshipers had a cell phone on their mats; we observed them consulting the phones on each cycle of prostration. Interesting, no?