Labrang Tibetan Monastery

We are in Xiehe, China, visiting the Labrang Monastery at the end of the Monlam (Great Prayer Festival).

Huge crowds flow through the monastery, following a pilgrimage route. The route is lined with people begging and the prilgrims pass out small bills. To my mind, this seems to be the Super Bowl of begging — these beggars are doing very well. I can see how this redistribution of wealth creates social cohesiveness and coherence.

On our first evening, we waited before the main prayer hall but decided to show non-attachment and left before the butter sculptures were brought out — also, it was too cold and we grew tired of waiting.

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Our room in the hotel was not adequately heated and the plumbing for hot water was broken. We suffered greatly but, the next day, we were moved to another room and the plumbing system was repaired.

We walk through town. Some Tibetans wear distinctive clothing with long sleeves.

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We ate yak meat dumplings, yak noodles, yak yogurt. The Tibetans eat few vegetables. The city is too cold and too high in elevation for vegetables to grow (9000 feet above sea level).

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We buy bus tickets for the next day so that we can return to Lanzhou. People don’t wait in lines in China unless controlled by barricades. The idea is to get your hand with the money inside the window.

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I walk the 3 kilometer pilgrimage through the monastery, following the Tibetan pilgrims. The photo shows prayer wheels which, when turned, send prayers. The prayer wheel is considered to be equivalent to saying a mantra — a form of meditation.

I will chant the mantra “Om mani padme hum” as I walk — it has deep spiritual significance and includes the idea of the Buddha as the “jewel in the lotus.”

Labrang Monastery was founded in 1709 by E’angzongze, the first-generation Living Buddha (Tibetan Buddhists have ways of determining past life lineage).

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I pass a monastery building. The pilgrimage route includes rows of prayer wheels, interspaced with chambers with prayer wheels, decorated with Buddhist murals.

At its peak, the monastery had almost 4000 monks, but their ranks were decimated during China’s Cultural Revolution (1966-1976). These days, there are over 1000 monks. I watch a man in the distance prostrate himself, part of his pilgrimage ritual.

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The lion has his paw on the ball. We saw this image in Portugal — I assume the Portuguese colonists brought it back from China. They saw themselves as the lion, rulers of the earth.

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We look at the house of the second highest living Buddha.

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I asked a Tibetan man who spoke English about the significance of the lion with its paw on the ball, in front of the golden pagoda.

“The lion playing with the ball brings good fortune,” he said. “He can see into the future.”

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Here is the entrance of a chamber of prayer wheels.

I walk within, turning the wheels.

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There are many murals inside — here is the Buddha and his followers.

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Here is a painting of animals: an elephant, monkey, rabbit, and bird. Later, I asked the Tibetan man to explain this to me.

“They are in harmony – they respect each other – the bird, rabbit, monkey, elephant. The bird is the oldest and they respect the oldest.”

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I see people prostrate themselves. They get down on their bellies on the ground with their arms before them — paying homage.

The pilgrimage route runs beside the monastery and I look over the roof tops of the monastery buildings –temple halls, Living Buddha residences, monk living quarters, and buildings connected to the colleges or institutes within the monastery complex.

Turning the prayer wheels.

We encounter the final complex of prayer wheels.

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I look at religious souvenirs.

I walk through the town beside the monastery.

If you have been following these blogs for many months, you will notice common elements within Christian, Muslim, and Buddhist pilgrimage. Prayer, chanting, meditation entail focusing the mind. Austerity involves humbling the self, giving up the self. There is also a form of supplication; the pilgrimage is thought to affect both the spiritual realm as well as mundane existence. The pilgrim changes spiritually and psychologically — but there are also magical forces.

I dedicate this pilgrimage to you. May you find your inner way and achieve peace and happiness.

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