Today, we had a spectacular day visiting the Potala Palace and the Jokhang Temple in Lhasa, Tibet.
Tibet used to be it’s own country, but China took control of it in the 1950s. There have been many uprisings from the Tibetan people so there are a ton of security cameras, cops with guns and military officers patrolling areas. When Tibet was it’s own country, the Dalai Lamas were the political and religious leaders of the country. The Dalai Lamas are said to be reincarnates of Avalokitesvara who is the Bodhisattva of compassion. When there is a new Dalai Lama, a child born around the death of the old one will go to a room and select certain items that they like, and if they select the ones that the old Dalai Lama liked, it is said that the child who selects the right ones will be the reincarnate of the old one.
When China invaded and took over, the present Dalai Lama who was only 15 at the time had to flee during the night into India and has lived there up to this day and has never been back to Tibet. When China first came into Tibet, the leader of China, Mao Tsetung wanted to destroy everything religious and from the past. China would shell Tibetan monasteries with Monks inside and the temple would collapse and kill everyone inside. They also set fire to temples, statues and monasteries. During the Chinese Cultural Revolution, a few Tibetans hid a statue blessed by Buddha himself behind a wall, and then quickly drew paintings on the wall so the Chinese military wouldn’t find it. The temple that it was hidden in and is now shown, is the Jokhang Temple. Now, all of the statues in temples and monasteries are all clay that is painted gold, except for the one statue that was hidden behind the wall. If you want to read more about Tibetan history, view Brandy’s blog on it.
The Potala Palace was built on a site where King Songsten Gampo had first built. King Songsten Gampo was the person who brought Buddhism to Tibet and he was the first King who unified Tibet. Potala Palace was first built by the fifth Dalai Lama in the seventeenth Century. The fifth Dalai Lama never got to live there because it was finished just after he died. Although, the fifth Dalai Lama has the biggest tomb in Potala Palace. When we got to the Potala Palace, we were all shocked by the massive size of it. The palace was huge! When I looked at the top, I was so outraged, there was a Chinese flag on top of the palace. Its like sticking a Russian flag on top of the White House. After we walked through the security check, we saw hundreds of people walking around the Potala Palace. In the morning, people will circle the Potala Palace going clockwise. They can only circle it an odd number of times like 1, 3 or 5 times. After watching the people circling the palace, we went through yet another security check to get inside. From inside the walls of the palace, we had an amazing view, better than any photograph I had ever seen. The sun was shining on the red and white palace making it sparkle. We walked up the many stairs made with uneven smooth stones. When we got to the top, we were all panting from the lack of oxygen. From the top of the stairs, we could see for tens of miles out over the city of Lhasa. We climbed another set of stairs, and were finally inside of the Potala Palace! The first thing we noticed, was all the security cameras. China is so afraid that their government will be overthrown that they have so many cops, soldiers and security cameras. After walking up many cramped stairways, we came to a small room where there were many books, and there were monks reading them and praying. We learned that the books weren’t bounded together and that the ink inside of them was gold! We walked further on through the Potala Palace until we came to the room of the Dalai Lama. There was a large throne overlooking the whole room, where even his own parents would come to worship him. The sad thing we learned about being the Dalai Lama, is that when you are chosen you are taken away from your family and cannot live with them for the rest of your life. After walking through the Dalai Lama’s room, we came to a room where the tenth, eleventh and fifth Dalai Lamas were buried. Also, there were many Bodhisattvas in the room. In the next room there was a statue of Guru Rinpoche who is a legend in Bhutan culture. He is said to of flown from east to west Bhutan on a flying tiger to kill a demon. The spot where he landed is one of the most holy places in Bhutan. After we viewed that room, we looked at the seventh, eighth and ninth Dalai Lama’s tombs and then headed out of the magnificent palace. Every room we went by had so many bright colors and statues that were so beautiful. Only one word could describe the Potala Palace. Indescribable.
If we visited every single room in the Palace, we could’ve spent hours, even days looking at all the statues, rooms and colors. Before we finally said goodbye, we took a loop around the palace spinning every prayer wheel that circled it. After taking our outdoor scenic view of the Palace, we all said our goodbyes to the Palace and drove off the get lunch near the Jokhang Temple.
The Jokhang Temple was built by King Songsten Gampo as a Buddhist Monastery. Before we walked in, we peeked inside a small partially underground room that was full of butter lamps.
After looking at the butter lamps, we saw a ton of people praying to Buddha for many things. I learned that some of the people had traveled for hundreds, even thousands, of miles just to pray at that one spot. Right before I was about to do one, the military walked by. I was so scared, they had riot shields, riot staffs and they had loaded assault rifles. I just stood stock still until they passed by. I have to admit it is pretty scary seeing people patrolling an area, willing to shoot anyone who does something wrong. Then, I went and did the prostration prayer, where you stand, then kneel, then lay on your belly, then touch your forehead to the stones, then lift your hands in a prayer over your head, then stand. I did the prayer method five times because you can only do it an odd number of times and five is my lucky number.
I prayed for compassion from Buddha. After praying, we walked around the side and entered the temple. The first thing we saw was a small open courtyard with a large pot of water and plants in the middle. The interior of the Temple had brightly colored clay walls and smooth stones from all the people that had prayed on the stones. In the morning only the Tibetan people can pray and they can also go inside the temple unlike foreigners who have to pray outside. Inside the Jokhang, we got to see the room where the Dalai Lama would live and his throne inside the Jokhang. Although, the present Dalai Lama never got to go to the Jokhang because he had to flee from China. In the next room, there was a relatively large statue of the tenth Panchen Lama and the Bodhisattva of compassion behind him. The Panchen Lama is the rank down from the Dalai Lama, kind of like President and Vice President. Sadly, all the bright statues and jewels were all painted clay because China destroyed them all. They all used to be made out of gold and turquoise and emeralds, but they were all burnt. We walked by a few more statues until we came to the one that was blessed by Buddha. This statue was by far more beautiful than the others and it had so much detail added onto it. If you forgot, this one was hidden so it is still golden and it has all the jewels still on it. We walked on just a bit further until we came to a small cave-like hole in the side of the building. Before we entered, we noticed a sign on top of it and it said that this was the spot where they hid the statue. Right now, there were only a few statues inside of it, but long ago it probably never existed. Then, we climbed many sets of stairs, and we were on top of the Jokhang Temple! We could see all the way to the Potala Palace. It was a really beautiful sight looking at the Potala Palace. We took a bunch of pictures and then headed down and outside of the Jokhang Temple. When we got outside, we took a loop of the Jokhang. Right before we left, we found a huge market that had a ton of Tibetan Prayer Beads. We all really wanted them before we left Tibet, so we all got some!
We had an amazing and exciting day viewing the Potala Palace and the Jokhang Temple.