Saturday, October 04, 2008

Temple Experience - Ta er si (Kumbum Monastery)

The second day of our trip on October 2, 2008, was our ritual visits to a Buddhist temple. It's a bit like traveling in India visiting temples everywhere we go. We set of at 8:00 in the morning and rode to one of the most famous Buddhist monasteries in China called "Ta'er Si" or Kumbum Monastery. It was about 25 km southeast from the capital city Xining.

Former home of the exiled Dalai Lama, the monastery is famous, for it was the birth place of the Tsong Khapa, founder of the Gelukpa Sect (Yellow hat). The Panchen Lama also lives in this monastery. It’s recognized as one of the most important monastery by the Budhhist community in China along with the Ganden, Sera and Drepung Monasteries in Lhasa, the Tashilhunpo in Shigatse and the Labrang Monastery in Xiahe.

The first temple open to the public was the Dharma Protector Temple. Photography was not allowed unless we sneak. The ornate on the roof was said to be made of a 40 kilo pure gold. On the second floor of the temple veranda were stuffed animals arranged in sequence. It is said that the Budhhist monks collected the animals that die of natural death and they would remove the inside organs then stuff them with leaves. The stuffed animals were said to be more than 200 years old. In the temple courtyard instead of burning the popular incense they burn the pine leaves which is said to be a special ritual of this temple.

The second temple that I visited was called Longevity Temple. People came to pay respect to the statues of the Budhha and they would stick money in every possible place with the hope that Budhha will give them long lives. I found the temple a bit spooky and unhealthy looking.

The third and the last one that we’ve visited was called Yak Butter Scripture temple. I went in alone and found the temple smells yakky so I decided to come out as soon as possible. I met my colleagues outside and thought I might have a second look. But at the entrance the electronic ticket machine would not accept my ticket for the second time so I had to give up the idea.

The Temple Facet

Photography not allowed: Inside the temple photography was not allowed and some of us tried taking our chances. One of our colleagues not realising that it was not allowed even outside the temple made a mistake of taking a shot. She was slapped by the monk who just happened to stand close by. Our tour guide and the monk confronted with each other because he was the one who was supposedly meant to be taking care of the foreigners and to see that they break no rules!! Apparently the monk confisticated our tour guide’s license and he had to spend sometime trying to convince them to give back his license.

We were a bit upset with the incident. You would think that a monk who was meant to be teaching and practicing non- violence and be an example to other people would do such a thing! Perhaps it spoils their business as most of these settings are cash-cows for the community’s economy. I felt so let down in a way with what I heard from my friend about this incident.

Yak Butter dough

Yak is the life giving animal for the Tibetans. They used the yak dung for firewood; eat yak meat, blood, butter and cheese. They used the yak skin for clothing and even shelter. Yak butter serves as oil for the lamps that’s lit inside the temple 24/7. The monks knead the yak butter dough for use in their daily activities.

The pilgrims

We met a few Tibetan pilgrims who came to this temple to pray in order to gain personal benefits in order to reincarnate as good human beings and to honour Buddha. They were praying very hard lying on top of a cushion made for this purpose and a hand cushion that will help them when they kowtow or lie prostrate for a hundreth times. They had their beads in front and at each round of prayer they counted the beads.

Vegetarians or not

There is a common believe that most Buddhist don’t eat meat. While were were outside standing at the temple compound, a black Ford V6 car came carrying a person who seemed to be a distinguished figure in the lamasery. He was followed by a group of monks carrying things that I have no clue of their uses. The last man was carrying the carcass of a headless lamb joining the queue of the other monks who went after the Panchen Lama (I think he is the one). One of our vegetarian colleagues was quite upset seeing them carrying the carcass.

The sad thing about this experience is that it’s the reality of life. We are all hypocrites by nature which is manifested in our lives even in the most religious places

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