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Posted By Luminous Jewel, Blake Walton
Tibetan Autonomous Region (May 26 – June 9, 2007)

Arriving in Lhasa, the capital of Tibet, was breathtaking not only because the rarefied atmosphere at 12,000 feet above sea level kept us gasping for oxygen, but also because the vast 360-degree views were stunning: hilltop monasteries glittering in the brilliant sun; brightly hued prayer flags radiating mantras of peace with every breeze; mountains rising in the distance deep purple and snow capped; and threading through it all, the azure beauty of a tributary of the mighty and legendary Tsangpo River.

 

Potola Palace


Lhasa literally means “place of the gods” though, sadly, under Chinese occupation it looks and feels more like a tourist attraction. Ethnic Chinese now outnumber Tibetans in the capital city and the Chinese government has relegated Tibetan merchants to one market near a temple surrounded by hotels for tourists. Even the magnificent and massive former residence of the Dalai Lama, the Potola Palace, which mercifully was spared the destruction meted out to 90% of the Tibetan monasteries during the Cultural Revolution, felt like a mummified museum housing the artifacts of a once vibrant and flourishing culture. One Tibetan teacher we met told us, shaking his head, that he was not sure Buddhism would be able to survive in Tibet. Indeed throughout our Tibetan journey we visited monasteries that were in disrepair and rarely used, and met young men who had given up being monks because of political and economic harassment. 

 

 

Lhasa Temple


Despite this, I sensed as I gazed at the snow-encrusted splendor of the Himalayas against the vast blue luminosity of the sky, that my true pilgrimage was just beginning. Here was the landscape of my childhood dreams, my longed-for Shangri-La where the sacred geography of physical and spiritual worlds overlap. “I’m definitely not in Kansas anymore,” I thought with a strange mixture of fear and curiosity at what lay ahead.

Pilgrimage, according to the Dalai Lama, is an outer journey reflecting an inner process that moves from “materialistic preoccupations to a deep internal sense of the interconnectedness of all life”.  It is not an escape an escape from the world but rather a way to enter the world more deeply. And it is said in Tibet that the more remote and inaccessible the bayul (metaphorical “hidden-lands” that are the destination for the pilgrim), the more luminous the paradise on earth it contains. I was soon to experience the truth of these sayings.

Tsangpo


 
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