Wednesday, April 8, 2009

More views of Tibet - Lhasa

As I travel and see more parts of China, while there are some similarities, there are many differences. This is definitely true in Tibet. Have gotten opportunity to wander thru the markets and watch the people as they go about their daily lives. There is significant focus on Tibetan Buddhists religion.

Life in Tibet would be difficult. Lhasa seems very secluded from the rest of the world. There are instances where you see glimpses of change. Monks and Pilgrims talking on cell phones for example. In many places, I’ve seen high usage of cell phones and I imagine that this technology has done much to change communication. The infrastructure required for cell phone usage is much less than would be required for traditional phones or even water systems.

As you wander the streets of Tibet, you can’t miss the parade of locals, pilgrims, nomads and even monks make their “kora” or clockwise circuits of the city as the pray. You see many traditionally clad people walking with their prayer beads and prayer wheels. I tried to capture some of the character of the people – but needed to be careful for 2 reasons. One – some of these folks believe having their picture taken will shorten their lives. But often they are eager to have their picture taken. The other reason is that the streets are heavily guarded. We have been told not to take pictures of the military. If they believe you have taken their picture, you may have a close encounter with these armed guards as they view your pictures and may request that you delete a picture. So far, I have avoided this experience, but several in my group of 14 have learned. We are regularly reminded that we are very far from home.

Our local guide in Tibet spent 12 years as Monk at the Jokhang Temple. We visited the temple with him as our guide. The temple was very crowded with people waiting in long line to enter the temple to pay their respect to the Buddha. We were allowed to go in another entrance, but were shoulder to shoulder with the locals as we walked thru the temple. We got some insight to the hard life of a young monk – receiving yak butter offerings, cleaning the temple, and carry water from well to third floor, However, at the same time, our guide was able to get an education that he wouldn’t otherwise have been possible, It was obvious he still had friends at the temple as he was greeted throughout the temple. He was free to leave the order and pursue other opportunities, but if still very connected / devoted to his Buddhist faith. He is also now a husband and a very proud father of a 7month old son – something that wouldn’t have been possible as a monk.

We also visited the Sera Monastery. The Monastery was founded in 1419 and at one time had 6000 monks in residence. Today, following the ‘Lhasa incident’, there are less than xx monks here. The monastery’s main purpose is education and it houses 3 universities for study. Some buildings in the complex are crumbling and are being rebuilt. There was also visible activity to restore some parts of this historic structure.
The Sera Monastery is visited by many parents with young infants. They bring the children here to be blessed and received protection. This is done by getting a black streak down their nose. We saw many infants and young children with black noses. As we were going thru the chapel, we were also blessed with the black mark. From our guide we learned that adults often visit if they are having trouble sleeping as well. As we continued our visit, our group of big black noses were a source of amusement for the locals. It added to our memories of the visit as well. One of our party has ended up on crutches due to flare up of knee injury. He received an extra healing blessing and was bestowed with a white scarf for even further protection and healing. I think Dick would like this to be fruitful!

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