Tibet is a corner of the planet in many ways mysterious and inaccessible. Shrouded in a considerable number of legends, separated from the rest of the world by difficult mountain passes and rather complicated long-term registration of entry documents, it is hidden from our eyes behind a veil of clouds. This is a distant and mysterious kingdom of monks, accustomed to turning their prayer wheel steadily against the backdrop of great mountains. However, the modern world is such that even on the "roof of the world" you can already feel the trend of time.
Using the services of a travel agency that picked up our tour, guide and transport, we received official permission to enter the capital of the Tibet Autonomous Region - Lhasa.
As soon as we got off the plane, we immediately plunged into the magical world of blue sky, bright sun, almost tangible ultraviolet (Lhasa is located at an altitude of 3.6 thousand meters above sea level).
During our first hours in Tibet, we did not feel any discomfort due to lack of oxygen. But after 12 hours, his symptoms became obvious and difficult to bear: headache, dizziness, incessant sneezing and tingling of the cheeks - blood vessels burst. By the way, this makes the cheeks of many Tibetans bright red, they call themselves "red-faced".
From the airport to the city, a highway runs along the mountain plateau, framed by mountain ranges. Parallel to the road is the high-altitude Brahmaputra River, which flows beyond the borders of China into Bangladesh and India and flows into the Bay of Bengal. The fields that were sometimes visible from the windows were covered with yellow ears of corn-this is barley, one of the sources of food of the local population, "strong food", according to our guide. Strong because it gives a lot of strength, or because it grows in such unfavorable conditions.
On the other side of the car, the mountains were rushing by. Mountains are close, far away, everywhere solid terracotta stone massifs, which from a distance seem sandy.
Lhasa, or Lasa in Chinese, is divided into two parts - Chinese and Tibetan. Due to the policy of resettling Han Chinese in areas where ethnic minorities live, almost half of the city's population is Chinese. They occupy the main administrative posts, develop infrastructure, build roads, roll up asphalt and concrete fields, which cause discontent among ethnic Tibetans, who find it hard to see their nature destroyed.
The difference between the two districts of Lhasa is obvious - in one everything is written in Chinese, there are many Chinese shops and chifaneks (small Chinese eateries); in the other, the inscriptions are duplicated in Tibetan, more tea establishments, Tibetans are big tea lovers. By the way, they have two types of tea - sweet and buttery. Sweet tea is brewed on the basis of black tea from India, yak milk is added to it (you can also use cow's milk if there is no yak, which also has an unusual smell for a European) and sugar. Tea tastes like Indian masala, except without spices.
Butter tea - salty. It is prepared with green Chinese tea, yak milk oil and salt. In general, according to our guide, foreigners, after trying, drink this tea with difficulty, but
I liked it. But this tea is not the only one of its kind, it is very similar to the one that the Mongols drink.
Continuing the theme of food, it is impossible to ignore tsambu , which, along with yak, is one of the gastronomic foundations of Tibetan life. This product, which looks like porridge or is formed into balls, is made from roasted barley flour mixed with dried yak milk cheese, sugar and tea. You can eat tzambu on its own or with something else, such as yak milk yogurt. Of course, this is not the most delicious dish in the world, but it is very good at satisfying hunger, it takes very little to get full and maintain strength.
THE DALAI LAMA'S RESIDENCE AND THE VEGETARIAN TIGER
Many people know Tibet primarily as a sacred place of Buddhism, an unknown land where semi-holy monks live in caves.
The main shrines of this place are the Potala Palace, the main residence of the Dalai Lama, his summer residence, the Jokang Temple and the few monasteries that survived during the "cultural revolution".
Jokang Temple stands in the central square of the city, around it are incense burners, juniper burns in them, the smoke from which covers everything around.
The square is crowded, with crowds of Tibetans in traditional colorful outfits praying. Someone turns the prayer wheel, moving clockwise around the Jokang, and someone performs a special ritual, according to which, after raising the hands to the head, the worshipper kneels, and then falls to the ground. Every day, Lhasa residents perform three types of kora: a small circle passes inside the temple, a medium circle passes around it, and a large circle passes through the surrounding area and is about 10 km long.
All traditional Tangka paintings - Tibetan icons-depict religious leaders with yellow caps, a symbol of the Lhasa Gelugpa sect. Ordinary Tibetans see the difference between "yellow" Buddhists and others in the fact that when a person opposes evil, he does not try to defeat it, but only strives to become better himself. Evil will disappear by itself if all the energy and aspirations of a person are directed to self-improvement, and love and compassion reign in the soul, like the most revered bodhisattva of these places - Avalokiteshvara. Having achieved enlightenment, but having decided to devote himself to helping other people instead of rejoining nirvana, he is depicted in temples as a multi-headed being to see all the troubles of people, and multi - armed-to help them.
Perhaps the most significant mantra* of Tibetan Buddhism is Om mani padme hum, literally translated from Tibetan - " Oh, the jewel hidden in the Lotus!" Its true meaning has an endless variety of interpretations.
One of the main things is the purity of the Buddha's body, speech, and mind. It is also a mantra of love and compassion, dedicated to the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara-a being who decided to leave the circle of rebirth and become a Buddha.
This mantra is chanted 108 times, according to the number of beads in the Buddhist rosary, with a certain constant intonation.
The question arises, why exactly this number of times and in this way it is necessary to pronounce it? According to Buddhist concepts, not only the content of the phrase matters, but also the form. There is a connection between a person and the world through language, and by correctly voicing the innermost words, you can influence the universe around us. This idea is present in many religions, and here in Tibet, it is especially believed in.
A bright spot against the background of brown mountains and blue sky are chains of colored flags-prayers are written on them in Sanskrit, and the wind that flutters flags in the sun, according to local residents, transmits them to the Buddha.
We walked slowly through the summer residence of the Dalai Lama XIV, abandoned by him, but still revered and visited by pilgrims. Among the many items that belonged to the spiritual leader of Lamaism and remained after his forced stay in exile in India since 1959, most of them are gifts from India. They include a radio, furniture, mirrors, paintings, and even a fully furnished, comfortable bathroom-conditions that are downright luxurious for Tibet half a century ago.
While taking a tour of the garden of the summer residence, our guide ras-
* Mantra (Sanskrit - the instrument of performing a psychic act) - a sacred hymn in Hinduism and Buddhism, has a Vedic Hindu origin. It is often compared to prayers and incantations (editor's note).
He talked about the Dalai Lama XIII's zoo, about the elephants that were brought to him from India. Standing in front of a stuffed Bengal tiger, the guide said it was a favorite of His Holiness: "The tiger was the Dalai Lama's best friend. I was very loyal to him. He didn't even eat meat. After the death of His Holiness, the tiger lived only three days." In response to my surprise, the Tibetan confirmed, "Yes, he didn't eat meat," and added thoughtfully: "Maybe that's why he died."
MONASTIC DEBATES AND THE WHEEL OF LIFE
The land of monks-that's what Tibet used to be called. Now in the largest monasteries, instead of tens of thousands of pupils in burgundy cassocks, the authorities are allowed to keep 10 times less.
In the old days, the only way to get an education was to go to a monastery, and since every family wanted an educated person, someone had to take vows. Now everything has changed: the number of monks is strictly regulated by the authorities.
Little of the ancient remains in modern Tibet, and the most interesting tradition observed by novices and teachers for centuries remains the debate. The debates that I have been able to observe are just exercises, preparation for the real ones, which take place according to the schedule, during which the winner is determined.
The monks gather in the courtyard of the monastery and divide into small groups. Some are sitting - they answer questions, others are standing - they ask. They do not speak in Tibetan or Sanskrit, but in a language that the average Tibetan cannot understand. According to local residents, various Buddhist issues are discussed at the debate.
Every day, such debates are held at Sera Monastery, one of the largest monasteries in Tibet, and anyone can attend them. Teachers - their older brothers, who may have already taken part in real debates-walk sedately among the students who are heated by the argument.
Sometimes monks get so carried away that they start behaving aggressively, pushing each other away, wanting to ask a question.
Each utterance is accompanied by a characteristic gesture - the monk claps his hands and stamps his foot. This is body language, which means that, firstly, all people breathe the same air and are equal to each other, and secondly, everyone stands on this earth, has passed a long series of reincarnations, has earned it with their righteousness, and should continue to move along this bright path.
Reincarnation, that is, the rebirth of the soul , is a fundamental concept in Buddhism, which largely determines the behavior and traditions of Tibetans. Whatever they do, they pray to the Buddha and hope for a successful reincarnation in the next life.
Tibetans say that life can be imagined as a wheel of light and darkness. A person can move in one of them, depending on the actions that he performs during his life. After leaving the Wheel of Existence, i.e., the wheel of rebirth, one becomes enlightened and reunites with the Buddha or enters nirvana.
Fitting in with the Tibetan concept of the life cycle, death is perceived only as the soul's transition from one place to another. The human body is not considered valuable after death, but only an outdated, unnecessary shell. This, of course, applies only to ordinary Tibetans - as opposed to dedicated monks, who approach this issue somewhat differently.
The funerary traditions of this region may cause some shock, but they fit perfectly into the local system of values and customs.
For the average Tibetan, four types of funerary rites are generally practiced: "sky", water, tree and earth rites. The first two are as similar as the last two. Despite the fact that the types of burial vary depending on the area, the main idea is the same. For adults-to return the body to nature, allowing the soul to safely ascend to heaven, for children-to preserve the body as the receptacle of the soul.
The most commonly used rite is a "heavenly" burial held in the mountains. A team of gravediggers carries the deceased to a specially designated site in the mountains at dawn. The body, bound and wrapped in cloth, is released and incisions are made. Instantly smelling
the smell of flesh, the vultures that live in these places flock. After nothing remains of the deceased except the skull and bones, the monks chop everything into small pieces so that the birds can complete the work they have begun. Soon, nothing remains at the burial site. It is believed that if the birds completely absorbed the remains of the deceased, he led a sinless life. By giving the deceased to the vultures, Tibetans believe that they are returning the deceased to nature, which facilitates the rebirth of the soul and, moreover, birds flying high in the sky, bring the deceased closer to the Buddha.
The second custom - water burial - differs from the first, but is used less often. After a person dies, the flesh is separated from the bones and the whole thing is crushed together. The resulting mixture is mixed with tsamba, roasted barley flour, and fed to fish swimming in the surrounding reservoirs. In view of the above-mentioned funerary rites, Tibetans do not eat either poultry or fish: they carry a part of the deceased, and only monsters eat their own kind.
Children under the age of 14 are buried in the ground, as it is believed that they have an unenlightened soul, which will be afraid if left without a receptacle during the transition of the body to nature.
Tree burial applies to stillborn children. The body is soaked in saline solution and, enclosed in a cage, hung from a tree in the hope that no other child of this family will suffer such a disaster.
The authorities are pursuing a policy of eliminating such rites and replacing them with traditional Chinese cremation. In overpopulated areas of China, ordinary cemeteries are disappearing, and multi-storey buildings are being built in their place to store cremated urns.
RITUAL CIRCLE ACCOMPANIED BY SUBMACHINE GUNNERS
Hello there! Hello there! I could hear it everywhere in the Jokang Temple market. In response, we smiled happily and waved to the Tibetans. To be honest, we were surprised by the friendly nature of the locals, but only until the guide explained to us that hello means "foreigner"in Tibetan.
Who are Tibetans?
It's hard to say. In such a short period of time, only some external features can be seen. Almost the entire adult and elderly population is dressed in traditional costumes. On the street, most often you can see that they are either praying, selling souvenirs to foreigners, or begging. The latter, unfortunately, has taken on a threatening scale.
Of course, as in any other place, the main value of Tibet is its people, cultural carriers, and nature. And there is an impression that the intervention of the authorities causes considerable damage to both of them. This is not just about monasteries that have been reduced to ruins and the actual imprisonment of monks in surviving monasteries.
One of the main problems faced by Tibetans is the de facto ban on leaving Tibet abroad. The authorities do not issue passports to citizens. Applications are accepted, all forms and forms are filled out, and then the Tibetan is asked to wait until the documents go through all the authorities and permission to issue a passport is issued. However, no matter how long you have to wait, no one gets passports.
Our guide Amdo, a local native who speaks English, was once illegally transported to India to get an education. Unlike many of his Tibetan fellow students, after living for 9 years in India and 5 years in Nepal, Amdo did not emigrate to the United States, as many did. He still had his mother at home, with no one to take care of her, and if he hadn't returned to Tibet by the same illegal route, he would never have seen her again...
Both day and night, armed Chinese soldiers can be seen in the main square of Lhasa around the Jokang Temple. Placed on the roofs of neighboring buildings, they observe the situation. When it gets dark, Tibetan pilgrims making kora around the temple are escorted by soldiers ' detachments, about 12 of them with automatic weapons at the ready.
The official version says that Tibet is an unsafe place, especially for foreigners, so the authorities have to take appropriate measures. By the way, apparently for "security" reasons, foreign citizens are now forbidden to climb high ground in the Lhasa region and take photos.
Portraits or photographs of the Dalai Lama XIV, the possession of which is punishable, also pose a "threat". Despite this ban, clothes belonging to the Dalai Lama before his exile are laid out in his former residences. People come to worship them. They bring money and oil lamps. This is really important for Tibetans, and the Dalai Lama appointed by the authorities is simply not recognized here.
In general, it is not safe for local residents to discuss with foreigners even in rather stingy terms everything that concerns the imposed rules and problems with human rights in Tibet. Nevertheless, dissatisfaction is felt. A significant Chinese military contingent is stationed in Tibet. As we left the area, the last thing we saw from the airport building was two fighter jets speeding past against the backdrop of the beautiful Himalayas ...
The situation on the "roof of the world" truly provides rich food for thought - and not only about the Wheel of Being.
Lhasa - Saint Petersburg
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