AT JOKHANG TEMPLE
When I went to Tibet for the first time, I took with me a kata, a Tibetan prayer scarf, to present to the Shakyamuni Buddha in the Jokhang Temple in Lhasa. This statue is the most revered Buddha in all of Tibet. The kata was a gift of Dr. Norbu, the eldest brother of the Dalai Lama. My wife and I have known Dr. Norbu for a half dozen years and love this kind and gentle man. Since he can never visit the Shakyamuni Buddha, I presented the kata for him.
When we returned to the States, I gave Dr. Norbu the photo that my wife took of the presentation. Click When I got the opportunity recently to return to Lhasa, I told my dear friend that I would again present a gold kata to the Shakyamuni Buddha. However, on the festive day of the kata presentation, I remained flat on my back in bed with a severe case of altitude sickness which necessitated a couple IV drips, additional shots, a bag of capsules, and four visits of a Tibetan doctor to my hotel room.
My near death experience threatened to stop me from presenting the kata, since the following day would be our last full day in Lhasa. Because of my schedule, I would not be able to get to Jokhang until after it closed. Like any experienced traveler, I didn't give up. I talked with someone who spoke English and told her of my dilemma. She told me about a side door that usually had a security guard present. Like any practiced traveler when you are not fluent in the local language, I gave her my business card and asked her to write out in Tibetan what I wanted on the card. I found the guard at the side door and presented the card to him. He read it, smiled, and waved me into this ancient temple with the gesture a life-long friend.
My feeling of having again demonstrated to myself the reality that I was a knowledgeable traveler quickly evaporated when I realized that I didn't recall the exact location of the statue. Well, again I sprung into action. I figured that one of the Buddhist monks assigned to Jokhang would surely know the statue's auspicious location. My quick thinking amazed even a seasoned traveler like myself.
So, I approached the first young and smiling monk. He warmly greeted me saying, "Hello." Of course, I replied as an experienced traveler in his native language, "Tashe Delek." He smiled and surely thought to himself that I must have been a seasoned traveler. I presented my card. My young friend spent a minute studying the handwritten note and jumped to attention. He would be my Virgil and lead me through the multiple levels and hundreds of dark rooms of Jokhang. We rushed off with the intent of reaching our goal in a Tibetan minute.
However, it wasn't long that this experienced traveler became concerned. That reality struck me squarely when we entered the temple's kitchen. Even though I couldn't remember where the Shakyamuni statue was at Jokhang, as an experienced traveler, I did recall that it was not in the kitchen!
Again, as this oft-mentioned seasoned traveler, I again seized the moment. Shaking my head, I indicated that this wasn't the destination of my journey that has taken me halfway around the world. I took the kata and pantomimed the presentation while my wife pretended that she was taking the picture of me offering the Shakyamuni Buddha the prayer scarf. Then the coupe de gratis was when I reached into my pocket pulled out a handful of money. With a circling movement encompassing the presentation and photo, I pretended that I would pay for the above presentation and photo opportunity.
Finally, my experience at communicating across language and culture paid off. He nodded that he understood what I was saying and trotted off to talk with a young monk in the far corner of the kitchen. They talked for sometime indicating to one as experienced as me, that neither was clear about what I wanted. As they continued their animated discussion, it was abundantly clear that allowing them to continue would be fruitless. Again, as a veteran traveler, I wouldn't allow defeat to occur. Proactively, I took action and approached the two monks with the understanding gesture that help had arrived. I went through my pantomime again. The first monk's dark brown eyes lit up like dark volcanic flow of recognition. Off Virgil trotted waving feverishly to follow him.
Up we climbed
to the balcony of the temple where nicely produced books of photos of
Jokhang were sold. I realized again that Virgil was clueless. I once
again seized the moment and motioned to have him to follow my wife and
me. I was to be my own Virgil and went back to the gate which over an
hour before we had entered. I waved to the guard, and he came over. He
asked in fairly fluent English, "Are you having trouble?" I explained
in English what I needed. He called to a friend and that friend took us
directly to the Shakyamuni Buddha, unlocked the gate projecting the
statue, cleared a path for us through a small crowd of stragglers who
were admiring the Shakyamuni Buddha from a distance, suggested a place
for my wife to stand to get the picture and then orchestrated how I
should make the offering. As any experienced traveler can tell you,
sometimes nothing beats a little dumb luck.