To Tibet, return to the breath

Many people say you must have a predestined relationship to visit Tibet, a sacred land of Buddhism with 14 Dalai Lama incarnations and many precious Buddha statues from more than 2,500 years ago.



A harsh, sacred Tibet

At an altitude ranging from 3,800m to more than 5,000m above sea level, this land remains cold and arid all year round. The mountain is full of rocks and sand. With only some small bushes, this land is mostly featured by thousands of rock mountains with folding of layers. From far away, our eyes are full with long-haired yaks, cows and sheep grazing on dry grass, just like bushes on a vast hillside.

In 2019, due to climate change, Tibet experienced a summer weather after 30 years, featured by unbelievably hot afternoon and harsh dry air. After 7pm, the sun was still shining. But only a few hours after sunset, the cold air poured in. The weather here is extremely harsh. At the world roof height, characterized by thin air and low oxygen, visitors are advised to take some medicines in advance for better health such as anti-shock, active brain care medicines, etc. In addition, visitors are always advised to keep quiet (go lightly, speak softly, smile gracefully). At first, everyone thinks this is because they’re in the land of Buddhism. But the real reason is you must be gentle to maintain your oxygen. Here, oxygen cylinders are always brought just in case visitors become too tired. I wanted to test my body’s adaptation by avoiding taking medicines. But I was not familiar with the height and thin air, I became so tired with terrible headache. So the only thing I wanted to do was just lying down. The tiredness due to lack of oxygen is very strange. After taking just more than a dozen steps, you will become so tired and breathless, or even nearly fainted. But as soon as you stop and take a few deep breaths, you will recover. So always remember to breathe if you want to be healthy enough to continue your trip.

Tibet architecture features the desert where the temples are built from soil, stone, wood and decorated with cloth, yak wool... Tibetan houses have flat roof like a box with square windows and doors. This is the land of cows, sheep, goats, and barley - the type of rice grown in the dry area. The people here really values agricultural products, and they come to the temple with a barrel of milk, a bag of barley or a pitcher of oil and butter. Butter is used to clean floors and columns in temples, poured into lightings, or used for candles...

I was surprised visiting Jokhang temple, Potala palace where the Buddha statues from more than 2,500 years are still preserved. The stupas preserve the relics or the body and flesh of the Dalai Lamas or Panthion Lamas from the 7th century. Thousands of organs are packed and carefully stored in each drawer. Never before can I feel clearly the continuous lineage of Buddha from more than 2,500 years ago.

Tibetans - live for the afterlife      

Many local people regularly visit temples and pagodas. In winter, when they cannot do farming, they spend whole day at the temple for prostrating. Special way of prostrations at temple: limbs and forehead, chin, chest touch the ground, a loose rope ties to the kneel, kneel down, hands touch the ground and then crawl until the whole body is facing down to the ground, almost like Sun Salutation posture in Yoga. Every day they can do hundreds of prostrations like that to pray for... their afterlife. Walking on the street, they chant and hum their prayers while moving their fingers on prayer beads. Tibet is the land of Tantra, mantra. Here we can see on the roofs or on the hills colorful flags full of sutras, mantras, wishing the wind would bring these good words to everyone in their country.

Out of Lhasa, we can easily find countless ladder images on the cliffs, which is “ladder to heaven”. Dead people in this land cannot be buried because the soil is full of rocks. Water burial is impossible for risk of pollution. Cremation will cost lots of firewood. So sky burial is selected. The deceased is carried up to the mountain and the vultures could take care of the rest. Some people in the lowlands faint witnessing this scene, but Tibetans do not. For them, death is a natural thing and they have been preparing for life after death for a long time. Die to have a better body in the next life, so we just need to make it most convenient and easiest.

The Tibet land is arid with limited source of water, but they are very careful in water exploitation. Tibet has no sea, but they have four sacred lakes, which are located at an altitude of nearly 5,000 meters above sea level, featured by blue color and beautiful scene. Water in the lakes is crystal clear and people only use water to wash their face and their hands without doing anything else to stain the sacred lake. The sacred lake is also the place where the Panthion Lama came to find the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama, so the Tibetans must preserve its purity. The stories of 14 Dalai Lama incarnations always bring both doubtful and admirable feelings to the whole world. The 14th Dalai Lama in exile is also the grief of the Tibetans. They pray longingly for the day of his return, but we never know when this day comes.

Leaving Tibet with the feeling of sadness. Tibetan Mastiff, the most aggressive dogs with a thick mane like a lion, once roamed across and extended the realm of Tibet, now sit quietly for tourists to take pictures. The Tibetans are very kind. They do not eat aquatic nor sky animals. With the sunburnt skin, they quietly pray, move their beads, pour a little butter for lighting the lamp of the Three Jewels, diligently prostrate to pray for their next life. Their faces shine brightly talking about humming and soaring songs written by His Holiness the Sixth Dalai Lama, who lived a few hundred years ago. The melodies and lyrics, though not fully understood, are bringing a sense of serenity, lightness, and peace. Life is as airy as a breath.

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