Tibet is an extraordinary travel destination in the world; it is a land of spectacular landscapes, sacred relics, religious monasteries and people with hospitality. Lhasa is the capital city of Tibet and the location of Potala Palace and several prominent temples/monasteries. Foreign tourists and local pilgrims are trekking their way to this unique city.
The attribute that I associate Tibetan pilgrims with is “devoted“. Now, for the first time I could see with my own eyes what that means. For Tibetans, pilgrimage refers to the journey from ignorance to enlightenment, from self-centeredness and materialistic preoccupations to a deep sense of the relativity and interconnectedness of all life. The Tibetan word for pilgrimage, neykhor, means “to circle around a sacred place,” for the goal of pilgrimage is less to reach a particular destination than to transcend through inspired travel the attachments and habits of inattention that restrict awareness of a larger reality........ By traveling to sacred sites, Tibetans are brought into living contact with the icons and energies of Tantric Buddhism.
Originally constructed in the 7th Century, the Potala has undergone numerous remodeling, reconstructions and additions. The palace took on the current appearance in the early 1900’s. Potala was the religious and political center of old Tibet. It is more than 117 meters (384 feet) in height and 360 (1180 feet) in width. The Potala consists of the White Palace and the Red Palace. The former is a secular building while the Red Palace is sacred. The ornaments, statues, stupas, paintings, religious artifacts, etc. of the Potala are second to none. Too bad, no picture taking was allowed inside the palace.
The Jokhang is the most celebrated temple in Tibet. Because the temple is not controlled by a particular sect of Tibetan Buddhism it attracts adherents of all the sects as well as followers of Bon-Po, Tibet's indigenous religion. The sacred image of Jowo Shakyamuni is the most venerated and beautiful image in all Tibet. Located in the Jowo Lhakhang shrine, the statue is 1.5 meters tall, cast from precious metals, and decorated with glittering jewels. Again, no picture taking is allowed inside the temple.
Three pilgrimage “routes” exist in Lhasa, each directing pilgrims to the Jowo Shakyamuni statue: the Lingkhor, which encircles the city’s sacred district; the Barkhor, which encloses the Jokhang temple; and the Nangkhor, a ritual corridor inside the Jokhang. Every day throughout the year hundreds of pilgrims circle each of these three circuits. Some pilgrims will cover the entire distance by prostrating every few feet, and others will walk slowly, chanting sacred mantras and spinning hand-held prayer wheels.
Unlike inside the Potala, many Tibetans wander the market in the square and stroll along the Barkhor pilgrims' route that encircles the Jokhang. When we were there, quite a bit of pilgrims of various ages were prostrating outside the front entrance, under a golden eight-spoked chakra or "Dharma Wheel," flanked by two deers. The spokes of the wheel represent the Noble Eight-fold Path and the deers are a reminder that Gautama Buddha, upon his Enlightenment, gave his first sermon in a deer park.
Drepung Monastery, the largest and richest monastery in Tibet, was founded in 1416 by a disciple of Tsong Khapa. Drepung means "rice heap" in Tibetan. The monastery covers a floor space of more than 200 thousand square meters. At its peak, it had a registration of more than 10,000 thousand monks. Many high and learned lamas had studied here. For small donations, picture taking is allowed inside the monastery.
Sera Monastery is as prestigious as Drepung. In Tibetan, it means "Wild Rose Garden" since opulent wild rose woods once grew there. The Sera monastery was completed in 1419. In the early afternoon, young monks discuss religious topics in the courtyard to the delight of visitors. Most of them did that with quite a bit of body language.
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