This is outside the Jokhang. (You aren’t allowed to take pictures inside.) As you’ll see, there are people prostrating, and making mandala offerings, while tourists take their picture. These two worlds uneasily but peacefully coexist, both outside and inside the temple.
I was moved to floods of tears the first time I went inside the Jokhang. In this sacred place, founded in the 7th century, I had a deep sense of coming home. I wasn’t thinking ‘Oh I must have been a Tibetan in a previous life’. Vessantara means ‘universe within’ and, of all the places I have seen in my 56 years, the Jokhang is the one that gives the fullest outer expression to my inner world.
I was deeply moved by the Jowo, the ancient and revered statue of Shakyamuni that sits at the heart of the mandala of the Jokhang, blessing all who come to it.
I was moved by the profusion of other images, in side-chapels all around the two lower storeys of the building. All the figures that I have come to know and love in Tibetan Buddhism as expressions of the qualities of Enlightenment were there. Love, compassion, wisdom, peace, energy and freedom, all embodied in hundreds of figures in statues and murals. Here was the great thousand-armed form of Avalokiteshvara, reaching out in compassion to all living beings. Here were the eight spiritually-potent forms of Padmasambhava. Here was an image of Je Tsongkhapa that he had praised as being a good likeness of himself. Here was a transfixing image of Pel Lhamo, the female protector of the teaching. And more and yet more images, as we followed the Tibetan devotees from one dimly-lit room to the next.
Witnessing the intense devotion of the Tibetans was also very affecting. Their openhearted faith and devotion was all the more impressive considering the terrible obstacles that have been placed in their way over recent decades. But you cannot halt the momentum created by almost fifteen hundred years of heartfelt Dharma practice in a generation or two. Still it carries on, day after day. I saw pilgrims arriving with metal pads on their hands, having prostrated the long road to Lhasa from other parts of Tibet. They seemed overwhelmed to have arrived at their goal, to be in the presence of the Jowo. Tibetans believe that sincere wishes made in front of the Jowo will come true. (May it be so, and may my wishes for Dagyab Rinpoche’s good health, long life, and the success of TibetHaus and all his Dharma work be fulfilled!)
The atmosphere gave me a sense of what it must have been like in a European cathedral in the Middle Ages. But somehow the Jokhang seemed timeless, the archetype of all places of worship. Its old stone stairs were slippery with butter from endless offerings; its great wooden pillars seemed to have put down roots into the earth. And for me the deep, rhythmic drums from the protectors’ chapel were the sound of the still-beating heart of Tibetan Buddhism.
This picture was taken in the toilets of the Jokhang. What’s that above the washbasins? Well, they’re two western ‘thangkas’ that have somehow infiltrated this sacred place. On the right is a poster of Real Madrid FC, and the one to the left is David Beckham, the English footballer. Football spans the world these days and someone has introduced these ‘western icons’ into the mandala of the Jokhang. But they are only in the toilets, and after being used as a pigsty during the Cultural Revolution, for the Jokhang to have a few footballers in its washroom must seem a very minor indignity.
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