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Thursday, October 14, 2010

Lhasa: The Jokhang and the Stele

The Jokhang from the Barkhor square

Well here we are in Lhasa for almost a week. The first day here, Christine began to develop angina pains over her heart and breathlessness that left her looking white and shaken. Too much shaking in the land cruiser, too little oxygen, too many fried eggs. She had already endured dry horrors at night, sore ears and headaches and disorientation like swimming in air when we get up to go over the 16,000 foot passes. However the first day here we had a good walk through the old city and the Jokhang ("House of the Lord") temple [Refs 1,2] for starters and then had to climb the Potala steps to the very top palace rooms full of gold shrines and tombs, so by the end of the day, Christine began to feel better.

The Jokhang is a unique phenomenon. It is the central temple in Lhasa to which folk from all over Tibet make a journey of pilgrimage to make sometimes endless prostrations, and to circumambulate both the inner temple, turning the prayer wheels, and the entire block of the old city in which it stands, filled with a multitude of satellite shrines and temples. It stands in a counterpoint to the monasteries which house monks and nuns in seclusion and in contrast to the intellectual face of Tibetan Buddhism in the West, centered more like Catholicism on simple faith and devotion and a sense of national identity in the face of Chinese occupation.

There is also an ancient pillar in front of the Jokhang which says China and Tibet should respect one another's borders, which I have documented in detail towards the end, to make it clear Tibet has existed as an independent country throughout enough of its history that the current Chinese occupation is an unethical anomaly.

So this chapter is a look at the Jokhang and the pilgrims at its doors, and circuiting around its interior, often several times over. We will look at more of the pilgrims in the old city later.

Incense burners at the entrance

100,000 prostrations

Entering the inner courtyard

Buddhist figures in the entrance way

Coming into the courtyard

Inner courtyard

Waiting in line to be allowed one by one into the central shrine

As photography was prohibited here are a few internet images of the altar

The roof top views

The Barkhor square with the Potala in the distance (panorama retouched lower right)

Video of pilgrims at the Jokhang

A series of images of the pilgrims circumambulating the interior

Outside the Jokhang is a stone pillar erected in 821 AD written in both Tibetan and Mandarin characters, as a formal agreement that neither nation would invade the lad of the other , the Sino-Tibetan Treaty of 821/823 AD, singularly violated by the current Chinese occupation. After the photographs is an MTV video of a song I made during the riots in Lhasa with a commentary on the stone pillar.

Wikipedia's entry on foreign relations of Tibet records it thus:

A stone monument dating to 823 and setting out the terms of peace and borders between Tibet and China arrived at in 821 can still be seen in front of the Jokhang temple in Barkhor Square in Lhasa. The monument, a treaty of friendship, is written in both Tibetan and Chinese. The inscribed pillar was erected by the Chinese in 1793 during a smallpox epidemic. It records the Sino-Tibetan treaty of 822 concluded by King Ralpacan and includes the following inscription: "Tibet and China shall abide by the frontiers of which they are now in occupation. All to the east is the country of Great China; and all to the west is, without question, the country of Great Tibet. Henceforth on neither side shall there be waging of war nor seizing of territory.

Mutual non-interference pillar Tibetan script

Mutual non-interference pillar Chinese script

Video - Tibet Tibet

There's an ancient stone pillar in the Jokhang square
In the centre of Lhasa if you've ever been there.
It's written in Tibetan and Mandarin too
and it spells out a message to me and to you.

It says each will respect the land of the other
and never encroach on the other nations border.
This treaty was struck in 821 AD!
Tibet, Tibet when will you be free?

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