No visit to Lhasa could be considered complete without a stop at one of the holiest sites in all of Tibet – the Jokhang Temple.
And so one morning, we headed out on a pilgrimage to the heart of Tibetan Buddhism. As we approached the square housing the temple, we passed by many rows of shops that sold everything from prayer wheels and incense to mandala paintings and little statues. This was so similar to the scene you encounter en route to a Hindu temple, with one slight difference that made us smile. We saw Buddhist monks shopping for textiles and instead of walking on, we stood there just gawking at this trio, pretending to shop so we appeared discreet.
As we got closer we saw people throwing juniper leaves into huge clay burners, leading to the air smelling of juniper incense. The smell was evocative of the scent of incense sticks at Hindu temples. And what we saw next was identical to a scene I have experienced at many a temple since my childhood. We saw adults, children, the elderly all prostrating repeatedly in front of the temple. Some were doing it a few times, many several hundred or thousand times and a few for several days too. This was indeed the best visual depiction of devotion.
After circumambulating the temple a few times, we walked in and encountered swarms of people smiling with warmth and genuineness towards us. The children were enthralled by Sathya, since she was petite and they kept looking in her direction and smiling. The Gods could not have extended a warmer welcome to us.
The temple was dimly lit with yak butter lamps and in this dimly lit space we saw many of the jewels. The many paintings, the holy statue of Sakyamuni, statues of King Songtsem Gampo, Princess Wen Cheng and Princess Bhrikuti and of course the Dharma Wheel. There was one other realization that dawned on us as we observed the swarm of faces dimly lit by the lamps…there was a look of genuine contentment painted across the spectrum, and any hardships or troubles that existed seemed lifetimes away within this place of worship.
We proceeded to the top from where we got some beautiful views of Barkhor Square and the throng of worshippers lining to come inside.
As we walked away from the temple towards another line of shops beyond the square, we were awakened into reality with a poster of Aishwarya Rai, the Indian movie actress. And in the distance we heard hindi music playing. But my spiritual journey was not yet complete. It was completed when I saw and got a silver Tibetan Ganesha, the only one of its kind sitting at a table among the many Buddha statues.
To learn more about visiting the Jokhang Temple, click here: