Spirituality in Tibet

-Sihle Isipho Nontshokweni 

Tibet leaves a lasting impression on its visitors. I’m almost sure this has to do with its captivating atmosphere. An atmosphere that can only accurately be described as spiritual. The atmosphere in Tibet wields you in, demands that you be present and engages you. Fully evoking your senses.

An atmosphere of prayerfulness floats across the city through the day. Men and women walk in serene quietness. In habitual meditation.

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Walking towards Potala palace, you’re immediately confronted by men and women who are in a mode of worshipful prayer. One here, a group there falling prostrate on the ground. Chanting  mantras, in unabashed worship.

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It is difficult to describe or to decipher the unique sound of the mantras. It’s a chanting. An inner sound of the deepest essence. Expressing a depth that transcends words.

The real attraction in Tibet lies in the people. The ease with which you can find yourself staring into their eyes. The eyes of men and women whom you do not know.

In what would ordinarily be an awkward moment you continue to stare, trying to comprehend the unashamed conviction and faith that they possess. Wondering if you would hold the same Buddhist beliefs (as intensely) If you had been raised among them?

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Seeing the  deep devotion expressed by the people of Tibet sparked my interest in the human and her degrees of spirituality.

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The visibility and extremity of their faith (comparatively) made me review religion and what it means to truly cultivate a spiritual life.

Men and women walk with these prayer wheels in hand. On the wheel, a scroll is printed with a mantra. According to Tibetan Buddhist belief, the wheel is said to be as effective as reciting the scriptures. This is because of the sound that can be heard in the turning of the hollow metal cylinder. The power of the sound in cultivating the mind is embedded in Buddhist belief.

Some Buddhist see the basic structure of the wheel as a symbol of “three trainings.” The hub representing discipline, stabilizing the mind. The spokes representing wisdom applied to defeat ignorance and the rim which holds the wheel together representing concentration.

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“The wheel’s motion is also a metaphor for the rapid spiritual change engendered by the teachings of the Buddha”.

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As you strut through the streets of Tibet, the buildings lined on the busy roads grip your gaze. You look and see little girl’s and boys with round auburn cheeks.

You continue moving and enthralled eyes hone in on the texture of your hair and the hue color of your skin followed by gleeful smiles.

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Closer to markets, vendors sample their beads and trinkets and when you do not buy they resort to apprehensive eager pleas for a picture. These are just a few examples of the encounters one can expect as a tourist in Tibet. You quickly move on.

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I was invited into the inner circle for tea.

You watch older women coed on stools seated in a circle. Among themselves, they pass flasks of tea to each other followed by an abundance of gleeful smiles and a little laughter.

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In those moments, drinking sweet tea, it would seem they were in fellowship. Sifting through life lessons with each sip. Sharing pearls of wisdom that can only be gained through many years of living.

In the streets of Tibet, old men and women with bent and straight backs use their thumbs to rub their prayer beads or malas, one bead after another. Counting the 108 beads. As they rub the prayer beads, they count the different prayer mantras, meditatively. Repetitively in prayer.

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Her counting is distracted by an image she has not set sight on before. She glances over her shoulder, turns her head to look at you (African in China) and continues on her way. Meditating. Counting. Like her, I capture an image and swiftly escape that moment.

Looking left I am quietly captivated by the seriousness of the young man in the image below. Focussed on his artwork, painting an intricate image of Buddha.

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Before I can fully engross myself, the next image on the side street magnetically pulls me in. Tibet beams with colors, crimsons, yellow, greens. The beauty of the place is like no other I have ever encountered.

Thinking back, the colorful prayer flags left an indelible mark on me regarding Spirituality in Tibet. They were the first symbol I encountered as I entered Tibet. A much needed beauty after the awfully disconcerting feeling of being on a train for 20+ hours at an average elevation of 4,500 meters.

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Flags fluttering over crystal Lake Yamdrok

When entering Tibet, one is immediately captured by  the flags that dance slowly to the gentle beat of the wind. Other times they rage, furiously fluttering.

The word for prayer flags in Tibetan is Dar Cho. “Dar” means to grow in life, in health and in good fortune. “Cho” means all sentient beings, beings that are able to perceive and feel all things. They date back to thousands of years, Bon tradition of preBuddhist Tibet. Shamanistic Bonpo priests used primary colored plain cloth flags in healing ceremonies. Each color corresponded to a different primary element – earth, water, fire, air and space. A representation of harmony.

It is common to see prayer flags around people’s homes and/or businesses. The presence of the flags adds to the spiritual atmosphere. Bringing to mind enlightenment teachings. When the prayer flags are outdoors, the mantras imprinted on the flags are said to activate good wishes, ultimately bringing peace and harmony in a space.

Another breathtaking (spiritual) moment was getting to see the open debates that take place among monks on Buddhist doctrines.

Debating Monks at Sera Monastery in Lhasa (photo by Cibele Reschke)
Debating Monks at Sera Monastery in Lhasa (photo by Cibele Reschke)

We got to watch the debate at Sera Monastery in Lhasa. This is one of three famous monasteries in the city of Lhasa along with the Drepung Monastery and the Ganden Monastery. Sera means wild rose in Tibetan. It was named Sera because when the Monastery was being built, the hill behind the Monastery was covered with blooming wild roses. In the halls of this monastery you find scriptures written in gold powder, distinct statues, fine murals and scent cloth.

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There is no disputing that Tibet is a deep hubbub of culture and spirituality. This is a place that provokes one to atleast think about the place of religion in the heart of a man. Yet it is incredibly difficult to adequately  describe the experiences in words.

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The simple and mundane still feel spiritual in Tibet. The large and glorious too: the fantastic landscapes of central Tibet to the crystal Lake Yamdrok, the snow-mountains and glaciers, the grand Potala Palace, the real life of local people. Tibet is embossed with spirituality, a kind I have never encountered.

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6 thoughts on “Spirituality in Tibet

  1. Thanks for your trip sharing and glad that you enjoyed your journey. It just reminds me my trip to Tibet half a year ago. Even up to now, I am still impressed by its spirituality and tranquility of the atmosphere that I would probably like to revisit it in the future!

    Liked by 1 person

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