September 24, 2013, Day 22, Shigatse, Tibet

Tashilunpo Monastery - Shigatse, Tibet

Tashilunpo Monastery – Shigatse, Tibet

Tashilunpo Monastery - Shigatse, Tibet

Tashilunpo Monastery – Shigatse, Tibet

Pathway up the mountain from Tashilunpo Monastery; note banks of large prayer wheels - Shigatse, Tibet

Pathway up the mountain from Tashilunpo Monastery; note banks of large prayer wheels – Shigatse, Tibet

Kirsten models her new Tibetan outfit - Shigatse, Tibet

Kirsten models her new Tibetan outfit – Shigatse, Tibet

Sherry models her new Tibetan outfit - Shigatse, Tibet

Sherry models her new Tibetan outfit – Shigatse, Tibet

Ellen, Kirsten and Sherry model new Tibetan outfits - Shigatse, Tibet

Ellen, Kirsten and Sherry model new Tibetan outfits – Shigatse, Tibet

 

Today was uneventful because Russ had the flu and stayed in bed for the day. All of us relied on Russ to be our photographer. Kirsten, Mitch, Tyler and Sherry managed to take a few photos but this day was lacking our usual diary of photos because Russ was laid up.

We girls, Kirsten, Sherry and myself, went shopping in the morning where each of us bought a Tibetan outfit. Each outfit cost $700 Yan and consisted of three pieces; a silk oriental blouse, coat and apron. They were really cool and surprisingly very heavy. Our plan was to wear them when we performed our song for the next group.

After shopping in the morning we met up with Mitch and Tyler for lunch at “The Third Eye”. This was a popular restaurant with all the bus tour groups as well as the Tibetan Monks from the Monastery. Initially it was shocking for us to see the monks in a restaurant where most of them were talking on their cell phones. For some reason we thought the monks were going to be chanting or doing good deeds for their people, much like Mother Teresa. This was not what we noticed with these monks at all who were eating in their separate groups in the restaurant. After saying hello to the monks and handing out Canadian hats, we settled down and ate yak burgers with french fries and ketchup except for Sherry who ate Indian food. The Yak meat was very good, there was not a wild taste at all and it was very lean.

When lunch was complete I went back to the hotel to rest as I had a sinus infection and I wanted to check up on Russ. The two of us ended up staying in our room until the next morning.

The rest of the group went exploring Shigatse and walked around the outside of the Tashilunpo Monastery. All along the outside of this monastery was a walkway with prayer drums along one side. In some sections they were large drums and in others they were small. The custom was to turn the prayer wheels clock-wise, chanting “oom monie petma hone” (or something that sounded very close to that). When you did this you were deemed to have read all of the prayers inside the drum!

Mitch, Kirsten, Tyler and Sherry walked along this trail, which went up quite high along the mountain behind the monastery and back down again close to our hotel. The whole time they walked they also spun the prayer drums to absorb the prayers inside. In addition to the prayer drums they had help from an old lady who showed them where to rub their legs and backsides on special rocks for good luck along the way. This lady followed them along the trail and when they wanted to take a photo she charged them. Team two noticed many dogs up this mountain that slept during the day along the trail. We could hear them barking all night long so it was not surprising to us that they slept the day away! Happily, the dogs in Tibet were healthy looking as they had plenty of garbage to route through for food. I also believe that some of the shops fed the dogs. After all they believed in reincarnation and a dog may be someone they knew previously. At least that was my explanation.

An interesting tidbit we had discovered on an earlier trip but was reinforced many times here in Tibet was that the Bon religion (before Buddhism) used the swastika sign. Many temples had decorations of swastika signs because the two religions got combined in several ways over the years. The Bon swastika was drawn anti clockwise and it was used as a very lucky sign in Tibet. Hitler’s swastika was drawn clockwise so it was slightly different when you looked closely.

Tibet is a plateau region in Asia and is located north-east of the Himalayas, in the Peoples Republic of China. The Tibetan’s would like to be independent of China but China will not recognize or allow that. They control the Tibetans movements very closely. Tibetans even need a permit to have a T.V. Tibet is also the highest region on earth, with an average elevation of 4,900 metres (16,000 ft). It was also cooler in Tibet, than their neighbouring countries hence their heavy clothing and lack of bathing.

The Cultural Revolution was 1966 to 1976 and nearly all Tibet’s monasteries were ransacked and destroyed by the Red Guards. The Red Guards were Mao’s army and he used them to destroy anything or anyone in his way while spreading communism throughout China. During this revolution the Chinese ruined many Buddhist Temples in Tibet, some say more than 6,000 Monasteries were destroyed. The 10th Panchen Lama was put in jail in Beijing for 14 years during this time. When he got out of prison he built the present temple located here at the Tashilhunpo Monastery for the 5th to the 9th Panchen Lamas. New Stupa’s were rebuilt to house the remains of these Panchen Lamas. When it was completed in 1989 they had a big festival and on the last day of the festival this 10th Panchen Lama ironically passed away.

Richard Gere and Brad Pitt’s movies were banned from China and Tibet because Richard practised Buddhism and was a friend of the Dali Lama and because Brad Pitt starred in the movie 7 years in Tibet. This restriction was lifted just a couple of years ago by the Chinese Government. But the control placed on the Tibetans by the Chinese Government was very noticeable while travelling through their country.

September 23, 2013, Day 21, Shigatse (Xigaze), Tibet

Mitch and Kirsten enjoy toast and jam for breakfast (note use of chopsticks; no knife) - Shigatse, Tibet

Mitch & Kirsten enjoy toast and jam (note use of chopsticks)

Entrance to Tashilunpo Monastery - Shigatse, Tibet

Entrance to Tashilunpo Monastery – Shigatse, Tibet

Entrance to Tashilunpo Monastery - Shigatse, Tibet

Entrance to Tashilunpo Monastery – Shigatse, Tibet

Looks very familiar from our days in Mongolia; Tashilunpo Monastery - Shigatse, Tibet

Looks very familiar from our days in Mongolia

Prayer wheel; Tashilunpo Monastery - Shigatse, Tibet

Prayer wheel; Tashilunpo Monastery – Shigatse, Tibet

Tashilunpo Monastery - Shigatse, Tibet

Tashilunpo Monastery – Shigatse, Tibet

Tashilunpo Monastery - Shigatse, Tibet

Tashilunpo Monastery – Shigatse, Tibet

Tashilunpo Monastery - Shigatse, Tibet

Tashilunpo Monastery – Shigatse, Tibet

Tashilunpo Monastery - Shigatse, Tibet

Tashilunpo Monastery – Shigatse, Tibet

Tashilunpo Monastery - Shigatse, Tibet

Tashilunpo Monastery

Tashilunpo Monastery - Shigatse, Tibet

Tashilunpo Monastery – Shigatse, Tibet

Kirsten; Tashilunpo Monastery - Shigatse, Tibet

Kirsten; Tashilunpo Monastery

Monks; Tashilunpo Monastery - Shigatse, Tibet

Monks; Tashilunpo Monastery – Shigatse, Tibet

Tashilunpo Monastery - Shigatse, Tibet

Tashilunpo Monastery – Shigatse, Tibet

Tashilunpo Monastery - Shigatse, Tibet

Tashilunpo Monastery

Offerings of money and pens from students; hoping for blessings for higher exam marks; Tashilunpo Monastery - Shigatse, Tibet

Offerings of money/pens from students; hoping for blessings for higher exam marks

Tashilunpo Monastery - Shigatse, Tibet

Tashilunpo Monastery – Shigatse, Tibet

Photo of Chinese appointed Panchen Lama; Tashilunpo Monastery - Shigatse, Tibet

Photo of Chinese appointed Panchen Lama; Tashilunpo Monastery – Shigatse, Tibet

Ellen and Kirsten enjoying Tashilunpo Monastery - Shigatse, Tibet

Ellen and Kirsten enjoying Tashilunpo Monastery

Stupa (grave); Tashilunpo Monastery - Shigatse, Tibet

Stupa (grave); Tashilunpo Monastery – Shigatse, Tibet

Eleven headed Buddha Goddess of compassion; Tashilunpo Monastery - Shigatse, Tibet

Eleven headed Buddha Goddess of compassion

Tashilunpo Monastery - Shigatse, Tibet

Tashilunpo Monastery

Ellen rings bell for luck; Tashilunpo Monastery - Shigatse, Tibet

Ellen rings bell for luck

Photos of former and current Panchen Lamas; Tashilunpo Monastery - Shigatse, Tibet

Photos of former and current Panchen Lamas; Tashilunpo Monastery – Shigatse, Tibet

Ornate bowls (always in groups of seven) holding holy water; Tashilunpo Monastery - Shigatse, Tibet

Ornate bowls (always in groups of seven) holding holy water

Sherry, Ellen and Kirsten; Tashilunpo Monastery - Shigatse, Tibet

Sherry, Ellen and Kirsten; Tashilunpo Monastery

Posing at bronze statue display - Shigatse, Tibet

Posing at bronze statue display – Shigatse, Tibet

Monks fromTashilunpo Monastery - Shigatse, Tibet

Monks fromTashilunpo Monastery – Shigatse, Tibet

Mitch enjoys ketchup and yak burger for lunch - Shigatse, Tibet

Mitch enjoys ketchup and yak burger for lunch

Really cute Tibetan girl - Shigatse, Tibet

Really cute Tibetan girl – Shigatse, Tibet

Let's drink to hot water shower - Shigatse, Tibet

Let’s drink to hot water shower – Shigatse, Tibet

Cribbage tournament - Shigatse, Tibet

Cribbage tournament – Shigatse, Tibet

We bid adieu to Elena (MIR manager) - Shigatse, Tibet

We bid adieu to Elena (MIR manager) – Shigatse, Tibet

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Manasarovar hotel we stayed at in Shigaste was in the perfect location directly beside the Tashilunpo Monastery. This hotel was at one time a beautiful building built in the traditional Tibetan style but unfortunately it had not been kept up. Paint was peeling off the outside of the building and the decking in front was all broken up. It was too bad really because someone had gone to a lot of effort building this hotel with detailed woodwork and exquisite painting in different colours. The rooms thankfully were nice and clean. They were also very roomy and inviting plus there was a big bonus of hot water. In short we loved our rooms and the location.

Our guide told us that because the Panchen Lama, (who was in Shigaste at this very moment) was appointed by the Chinese Government, the local Tibetan Buddhists did not want to recognize this Lama and refused to go to the Buddhist Temple to pray. (The locals only recognized the Panchen Lama appointed by the Dali Lama who has disappeared). The Chinese government retaliated by ordering that one member from every Tibetan family had to go to this Monastery to pray every day that the Panchen Lama was in Shigaste or they would be fined. Apparently this Panchen Lama came to Shigaste and stayed in the Palace for one month each year. The residents did not like this situation either, because the Palace would be closed to tourists for the month that the Panchen Lama stayed there and tourism was a big industry for this city.

According to our guide, there were 800 monks living in the Tashilunpo Monastery today compared to several thousand monks living there when the monastery was first built in 1447 by the first Dali Lama. At this time the monks were having political problems because half of the monks practiced Buddhism under the old traditional ways while the other half were paid a salary by the Chinese Government and followed the Government appointed Panchen Lama. Many Tibetans felt that the paid monks were working for the Chinese Government and not their Dali Lama. The Dali Lama escaped from Tibet in 1959 and has been refused access to Tibet ever since. It was against the law in Tibet to even have a photo of the Dali Lama! The monks were monitored very closely by the Chinese Government and their travels throughout Tibet was restricted by the Government as well.

Tibetan Buddhism called Mahayana Buddhism and was first introduced to the Tibetan people through King Songtsen Gampo (born in 617 A.D.). King Songtsen Gampo had three Tibetan wives then he married Princess Tritsun from Nepal who brought Buddha images from Nepal to Tibet with her. At the Red Palace of the Potala King Songtsen Gampo welcomed his new wife/princess from Nepal. Princess Tritsun requested that she be allowed to build a new palace and the King agreed. On the red hill she built 999 towers, three layers of walls with 4 beautiful gateways and a new Buddhist Temple to house the Buddhist statues brought by her from Nepal.

This King also married a fifth woman from China, Princess Wencheng from the Tang Dynasty. She too promoted Buddhism and brought the statue of Shakyamuni (the present Buddha) from China to Tibet. Princess Wencheng was in charge of the construction for the famous Jokhang Temple in Lhasa, the capital of Tibet .
Although the 7th Century Potala Palace in Lhasa was constructed during King Songtsen Gampo’s reign, it was almost totally destroyed by a fire and during the rule of the 5th Dali Lama in the 17th Century the Potala Palace was rebuilt. Major reconstruction has been on going at this famous Potala Palace ever since.

The point of the explanation about King Songtsen Gambo was that he used Buddhism to unite the tribes in Tibet, which allowed him to build his Tubo Kingdom. He sent ministers to India to learn how to scribe and he gave awards to the scholars to invent the Tibetan alphabet and writing system. This King also made a governmental system and laws for the Tubo society in his kingdom. Today there were statues of this King and his wives in the temples and the Tibetan people were still worshiping them.

Mahayana Buddhism has 4 different sects: red hat, black hat, yellow and red hat and yellow hat. The Tashilunpo Monastery Monks were from the yellow hat sect. (The red hat sect monks practiced the Tantra philosophy).

Dali was a Mongolian word, which meant ocean and it represented knowledge as big as the ocean. Lama was a Tibetan word, which meant religious master. This next information was a little sketchy I hope I have it correct. Apparently, the first 4 Dali Lama’s were not called Dali Lama’s until the Emperor from the Qing Dynasty in China during the 17th Century named them Dali Lama’s, after the fact because they had all passed away by this time. The name Dali Lama was given to these men 200 years after they were alive. (The first Lama built The Tashilunpo Monastery in the 15th Century). The 5th Dali Lama was alive during the 17th Century and the Emperor gave this Dali Lama the right to be the Emperor of Tibet. This Dali Lama then appointed the first Panchen Lama. So today, the Dali Lama was 78 years old he was the 14th Dali Lama; whereas the Panchen Lama’s were appointed by the Dali Lama and the current one was the 11th one (not counting the Panchen Lama’s appointed by the Chinese Government). The Dali Lama’s ruled Tibet from the mid 1600’s until 1959 when the current Dali Lama had to flee Tibet because the Chinese Government was going to arrest him.

There was a holy lake in Tibet (the highest salt water lake in the world) that belonged to the Dali Lamas. When a Dali Lama passed away his ashes and personal belongings were thrown into the lake. The high ministers prayed and meditated beside the lake waiting for a sign from the Dali Lama’s ashes and belongings. A sign would be shown to them in the lake as to where the next Dali Lama would be. They then went to where the signs showed them to seek out the new Dali Lama. The Panchen Lama would not replace the Dali Lama. A young boy of 2 or 3 years of age would be selected as the new Dali Lama by these ministers. It was believed that the Dali Lama had been reincarnated as a representative of God and was reincarnated from the Bodhisattvas of Compassion. The Panchen Lama’s were believed to have the wisdom of God and they helped the Dali Lama’s rule Tibet.

My understanding which was very unclear was that currently there have been 29 Buddha’s, (27 have been the past, 1 present and 1 future Buddha). The fourth Buddha was said to be Dipankara and was suppose to have lived on earth 100,000 years. The statue of this past Buddha holds a pot of holy water (tea pot or bowl) in both hands and was sometimes portrayed as much darker than the other two Buddha’s. The present Buddha called Shakyamuni (or Gautama) was from 563 – 483 B.C. He holds a bowl of holy water or fruit in his left hand. All of these 28 Buddha’s were supposed to be real people who have reached nirvana and were then given the honour of the title of Buddha. Buddha is a state or level of enlightenment; not a person. The future Buddha who has not yet arrived on earth was called Maitreya Buddha and he holds a pot of holy water in his left hand and has a wheel in the palm of his right hand. (or sometimes the wheel and pot were presented on his shoulders). In addition to these 29 Buddha’s there were several Bodhisattvas, such as the four golden kings (sometimes called protectors because they protected the gateway to heaven or Shangri-La and sometimes called North (with a sword), South(plays music), East (wealth with rat) and West (with a pagoda in his left hand) Gods), the four Tara’s, etc. To add to my confusion many of these statues have different manifestations and/or meanings.

One of my favourite statues was one of the four golden kings, the eastern protector so he looks mean but he was also the God of wealth. In his left hand was a large mouse or rat that was spitting out round stones that look like eggs representing jewels. In his right hand was a sword. Another favourite of mine was the statue of the Bodhisattvas “Compassion”. She has eleven heads, one thousand arms and one thousand eyes in the palms of her hands. Her eyes see all the sadness in the world and her arms help those who are sad. Some of the statues and paintings were very scary or gross (lots of slaying of the bad guys) so the monks put cloths over their faces so they did not scare the children.

Buddhists believed humans came from monkeys and that there was a heaven called Shangri-La. The explanation of the human origin as descendants of monkeys was written down in the 17th Century. The Buddhist legend was that humans came from the offspring of the macaque monkey, a small monkey that lived in the dense forest and ate fruit and the rakshasi, a great ape that lived in caves and ate flesh and blood of other animals; whereas, Darwin’s theory was recorded in the 19th Century, 200 years later. Buddhists also believed that only special people who reached nirvana, like monks and lamas, could go to heaven otherwise they would be reincarnated. If you had bad karma you could be reincarnated as an animal or even an insect. If you had good karma you would be reincarnated as a person. Any person could be a Bodhisattvas, they were reincarnated to come back to earth to share their knowledge. Both men and women could be monks but they worshiped in separate monasteries. The women’s monastery was called a nunnery. Boys and girls entered into the monasteries around the age of nine to 14 years of age and it was a commitment for life in Tibet, according to our guide. The parents gave their child to the church for many different reasons. They may have had too many sons or they may have felt it was an honour or they just couldn’t afford to feed their child.

The monk population has been declining each year due to the birth control rules of the Chinese Government and because monks were monitored very closely by the Government. The monks could not travel freely, they were restricted to where they could go because the Chinese Government did not want the spread of Buddhism. Monasteries housed the monks and had colleges to educate the monks as well as temples for the monks to chant and worship in. Monks were educated in religion and other subjects as well such as medical school. Many people came to this Monastery to get treated by the monks for various medical problems.

As we toured the Monastery, which was huge, there were temples, teaching and meeting areas, burial Stupas areas, plus personal living quarters for 800 monks. We noticed that the monks had really cute living quarters. The windowsills and frames were painted black, and then each window and door had a wooden or cement awning above them with a little skirt of red, blue and white pleated fabric hanging from the awning, blowing in the wind. It was apartment style living with flower boxes outside their windows and some monks even had small courtyards. They were very tidy and clean.

Previous Panchen Lamas were buried here in this Monastery. The Dali Lama’s were buried in the Palace. They were buried in a Stupas (tomb) covered in gold and gems. Apparently, the difference between a Stupas and a Pagoda was that Stupas housed the remains of someone important and Pagodas had no bodies buried in them. The largest Stupas had a Dali Lama buried in it and had over 3,000 kilos of gold on the outside of it. The largest Stupas in this monastery was the tomb of the 10th Panchen Lama and it had 547 kg. of gold decorating it. On the walls surrounding this Stupas were 3,000 paintings of Buddha’s, 1,000 each of the past, present and future Buddha’s. Kirsten noticed the paintings and asked our guide if they were the 10th Panchen Lama’s wives and girlfriends? I think all of us girls were thinking the same thing. Anyway our guide said in his 15 years of guiding he had never been asked that question and no they were all Buddha’s, which by the way were men not women on the walls. Oops.

90% of Tibetans have a sky burial. The family and friends mourn the death by having a wake for 3 days then the burial master takes the body up to a very high mountain peak (there were two such peaks here behind the Monastery). The burial masters chop up the body into very small pieces and mix it with barley or some kind of grain. They then blow on horns, which were signals to the vultures. The body parts were then thrown out for the birds to eat. Buddhists felt that the soul had already left the body and would be reincarnated. The body or shell housing the soul was best returned to nature. If someone committed suicide or was poisoned then these people would be cremated. Suicide was a big sin and Tibetan’s believed that these people would not be reincarnated for at least 500 cycles as punishment.

We next visited a huge statue of the Maitreya Buddha that was 24 – 30 meters high. Our guide said that the nose holes were so large that a six-year-old child could crawl inside! 6,000 kilos of copper and more than 500 kilos of gold was used to make this statue. In front of the statues inside the temples were 7 bowls of water. (or 14, 21, 28 any number divisible by 7). The monks would fill up the bowls each morning for the Buddha to drink and then later in the afternoon they would pour out the water. People came here to get this holy water to make tea or soup from it because they believed it was blessed water.

In one temple there was a picture of a Panchen Lama holding a Pekinese dog. Our guide said that this type of dog was very special because they believed it was reincarnated from a vulture. We also noticed lots of pens stuck in columns with money. Our guide said those were from students who came here to pray for good marks.

Our travel manager Elena, flew home today. She had to leave a little before schedule because she was ill and did not get along with Tsedor our travel guide. And to top the day off, Russ suddenly got ill with the flue and a bad cold.

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