It was my last day in Tibet. I would leave tomorrow. A lama that I met on my second day in Tibet asked me to visit his monastery so I came.
Drepung Monastery wasn’t as grand as Potala Palace but it had that ‘monastic’ taste – very simple, but it was huge. There were many temples, large and small, inside this monastery. It took around 20 minutes to get there on a bus from Lhasa city centre. After that, I still needed to take a long walk on a steep path to reach the entrance of the monastery. Alternatively, I could take another scheduled bus to the monastery and that only cost RMB1 yuan.
I chose to walk at first because I wanted to know what it was like for the lamas to walk up that hill to their monastery. But it didn’t last long. A mini bus carrying some pilgrims stopped right beside me. The driver waved to me and said, ‘jump in’. So, I jumped in.
I sat next to the driver. As I turned around, I saw a few pilgrims in the back seat. They smiled to me kindly. The driver said it was a very long and steep road and it would be very difficult for me to walk up. That’s why he stopped.
The mini bus stopped at the entrance of the monastery. When I was about to pay the driver, he rejected my offer. He pointed at the entrance of the monastery signalling that I should buy my entrance ticket there.
I felt very grateful to him. I didn’t know what else to say other than ‘thank you’. It’d be a very long walk. It took around 5 minutes or longer to get up to the monastery on a mini bus. So, you can imagine, it would take ages to get up there, taking the altitude and the thin air into account.
My advice: if you go there, take the bus. It’s only RMB1 yuan.
When I first saw the lamas, because of their plain and simple clothes, I thought they would wear very plain canvas shoes like those ones in the Chinese kung fu movies. But I was wrong. They wore sneakers. They were also quite modern. I saw one lama using a mobile phone at the airport when I left Tibet.
The lamas in this monastery were very kind and friendly.
The monastery used solar energy too. I walked past a place where the lamas lived and saw the solar panels (‘dishes’ were more appropriate actually).
As I said, the site was huge but there were signs. All the while, I followed them and I entered into almost all of the temples but I didn’t take photos inside. It was allowed but you needed to pay. I didn’t pay so I didn’t take any. That day, I didn’t see many tourists there maybe because the temples were all scattered around.
I walked up the stairs to some small temples. I usually found one lama station in the temple. Sometimes I talked to them. For some, I couldn’t understand them at all.
I arrived at one little temple. There was a row of prayer wheels again. I saw a lama turning them. He saw me so I greeted him by putting my hands together in front of my nose, like what you do when you pray. He waved to me as if he was inviting me to follow him. So, I did. When I reached the corner of the little temple, that lama was gone. Then I walked into the temple but there was no one inside. So, I looked around. All of a sudden, another lama walked into this temple and appeared behind me. I turned around, greeted him using the same gesture. He then started telling me the names of the gods that we saw inside the temple.
He sat down on a cushion on the floor inside the temple. I guessed he must be the one who looked after this temple. He started saying something to me but I didn’t understand. I thought he asked me to take off my cap, so I took it off. (you have to take off your hat / cap when you enter into a temple to show respect.) Then, he said something again, it sounded as if he asked me to kneel down. I didn’t really know what was going on, but I did it anyway. After that, he pointed at one of the gods at the altar and then pointed at an iron bar and then said something again and put his hands on his neck. I gathered that he said he would hit me with that bar on my neck. I was shocked. What?! Then he hit me slightly with the bar on my shoulders, left and then right. It was like a blessing in a church or a ‘dubbing’ ceremony for a knight. But I didn’t think he was doing either of them. It’s an entirely different religion after all. I asked him what that meant but he said something that I didn’t understand and then pointed at the same god again. Probably what he wanted to convey was that god would protect me during my trip. Something good anyway, I believe.
It was indeed a very special experience.
After leaving that temple, I followed the signs again and entered into another one. I was already very tired, so I walked up the stairs with heavy steps and that startled the lama inside the temple. He was sitting on a cushion on the floor facing the entrance of the temple, having his late lunch. He saw me, shocked. But when I greeted him, he smiled back. When you walk inside a temple, you need to walk in the clockwise direction. I forgot about it and I took the anti-clockwise direction. So, that lama reminded me. I apologized but he said, ‘there is no need to apologize.’ Then he reminded me to take off my cap.
After that, we started a conversation.
He taught me quite a lot of things, told me about his life before he became a lama and what lamas did in the monastery.
First of all, the ornaments that the pilgrims wore. Each ornament carried a meaning. Then the Tibetan prayer flags. They were very colourful but each colour actually symbolised something too. Blue symbolised the sky, green was the ocean, lakes, rivers, etc., white was the wind, red was fire which was also used to get rid of the evil (sounded like the Turkish blue eye), yellow was the earth. According to the lama, both red and yellow were unpopular colours, so Buddha deliberately chose these two colours and wore them. And now, when people saw these two colours together, they would associate them with monks.
He also told me when he was young, he wanted to be a lama but he needed to take care of the elderly in his family so he couldn’t. After they passed away, the thought of becoming a lama returned. He travelled to Tibet from his own place and learnt to be one. In the monastery, they all had chores to do other than studying. They also had debates among the lamas. The debates were around the scriptures. I remembered seeing some lamas talking to each other clapping their hands. He said that was what they did when they were debating. We also talked about me. I told him what the lama in the other temple did to me and asked him what it signified. I tried to repeat the sound of the words that the other lama uttered but I must have done a bad job so he didn’t know even after thinking hard for a few minutes.
Back in 2005 and around that time, I was going through a bad time in my life. But that was not the reason why I went to Tibet. I don’t understand why anyone would come up with that question at all. It’s like saying or implying that if you are suffering in life, go to Tibet. No. Tibet is very enjoyable. It allows you to ponder about your life and helps you to sort yourself out because you need to take things slow there. You don’t have to have troubles in life to go to Tibet. There is no prerequisite.
I decided to go to Tibet because in 2004, my ex-colleague asked me if I was interested. We even attended a seminar about Tibet. That aroused my interest. I was choosing between Tibet and the Silk Road but in the end, somehow, I chose Tibet (or was it the other way round?). I also chose to go there by myself. I wanted to challenge myself.
As I said in my first blog about Tibet, I didn’t actually expect anything before I went there. I did a lot of research but I didn’t really make any plans as I said because I didn’t know how I would react to the altitude. Everything depended on my physical conditions and my fate or destiny.
I was surprised by how good I reacted to the high altitude (except that one of my teeth had a gum issue because of the change of the level of oxygen or the pressure, whatever. I had a root canal treatment after I went back home. It may sound illogical but I still believe it was because of this trip). I thought I would only be able to stay in Lhasa. When I realised that I could handle more, I changed my plan. Because of this change, I got to meet a lot of different people and I learnt a lot from them. For some, we are still in touch.
The lama asked me to pour some liquid inside a bowl in front of a god inside that temple. He said, by doing so, that god would protect me during my journey. He also gave me his blessing and gave me the white silk scarf, ‘Hada’. As I mentioned in my previous blog, if a lama blesses you and gives you this scarf, it’s an honour for you. I was surprised and accepted it humbly. I am still keeping it in a ‘vacuum bag’. The scent of the temple and the candles still lingers on that scarf inside that bag. When I open it now, I can smell Drepung Monastery. It takes me back to Tibet.
The lama then invited me to sit down. He told me that the bench where I was sitting on was for the monks and that was where the monks gained wisdom and so one day, if my heart believed that Buddha lived in me, I would also gain wisdom. He later offered me some of his bread. I declined at first but he insisted. Then we started talking again.
As we talked, I saw a rat running in the temple. I froze and told him about it. He asked me if I was afraid of them. ‘No, not really but they are dirty.’ ‘What’s dirty?’ he asked. ‘Are we clean?’ he asked again. Even though he lived in the monastery, it didn’t mean he wasn’t aware of what was going on in the world. He knew that there was pollution in the world even though he got to enjoy the clean Tibetan air every day. He also knew people produced food using chemicals which were bad for people, and of course, he knew humans destroyed our planet. Lamas love nature (I love nature too). They don’t want to see it being destroyed. ‘All the buildings you can see in Lhasa were built by human beings. Nature is not built by us. We don’t want to see it being destroyed. We want to protect it. Those who destroy it will need to bear the consequences.’ He said. Look at our world today in 2020. We are all suffering from what we had done to our Mother Earth. That’s bad karma.
Within this half hour conversation, we talked a lot on different topics. I gained a lot, spiritually.
My trip in Tibet ended with a nice coda in this monastery.
I was a brand new me when I left this monastery.
I didn’t conquer the base camp of Mt. Everest.
I didn’t conquer the high altitude.
Nor did I conquer mountain sickness.
I was conquered.
15 October 2005