17 December 2007

One more communicado

I have to write one more post before I forget the details of this evening's "gotaitouchi" experience. Let me explain. The Tibetans circumambulate stuff because they think it will help them accrue merit toward rebirth in a better life. I am not a believing Buddhist to this extent, but I nevertheless wanted to experience something that they experience--just to see what this sort of self-mortification is like (what recovering Catholic doesn't secretly enjoy self-mortification?). And as it is, if I don't worship gods, I certainly worship concepts, and Tibetan Buddhist seems oriented, in its less animistic varieties, toward worshipping concepts. One needn't ask favors of statues. You can simply imagine the part of your own personality that is represented by whichever Buddha or Bodhisattva or other deity you are presently contemplating. In so imagining, you let go somewhat of your own ego, identifying instead with, say, an embodiment of a general principle or virtue. I keep bringing up Avalokitesvara. You can pray to Avalokitesvara and ask for mercy (or simply phone up his Earthly manifestation, the Dalai Lama), or, more interesting to me, you can imagine yourself *as* Avalokitesvara, or other people or all people--all beings in the universe--as themselves embodiments of compassion, all this in the effort to be, simply, a more compassionate person. Avalokitesvara refuses to enter Nirvana, after all, until everyone else has first. I can relate to this sort of thing, I can even worship it, or meditate on it or even prostrate myself before it--a humbling act for the sake of a quality I wish I possessed more of and that I wish were more prevalent in this world.

Enough of justification, here's what I did. I bought a Tibetan style coat, "wool" on the inside, and down to the ankles in length. The salesman wanted 350 yuan, but I convinced him that 100 yuan was a much better price (still too high, I think, especially when it was to be used--doubtless the salesman would have been unsympathetic--for a holy purpose). I also bought cheap gloves and a cheap hat. So I was well-protected against the dirt, spit, and all else that one finds on the ground. The Japanese participants somehow found empty rice sacks for 2 yuan each and cut holes in them for their head and arms. Much more economical, but I looked way cooler. We left as a group for the Jokhang Temple a little apprehensive. We did a few practice prostrations in front with the dozens of others doing the same. And then we were off. And what a wonderful experience! It was like swimming in a river of happiness. Sure, I was face to face, as we seldom are, with all the cast off debris and detritus of human urbanity. Sure, thousands of people thronged past, in some cases leaving the smallest space open for me. But there was something just so relaxing about it. The Tibetans were all smiles (and quite pleasantly surprised), the monks, too, all thumbs up ("very good!"). Several times, I was besieged by cheerful old ladies who helped adjust my coat. Tourists (white ones, too, I heard!) snapped photos of my companions and I continuously--a healthy role-reversal, I think. "Vivienne" even recorded a brief movie with her camera. Soon, you will be able to see me live-action prostrate on (but not yet *to*) Facebook. I was somehow able to ignore most of the distractions circulating around me, though, and concentrate on my ritual. The whole time, I chanted the prayer (mantra?) recorded in previous posts: Om Mani Padme Hum. I pronounced it the Tibetan way, of course. I also tried to visualize myself, then the people swarming around me, then everyone in the universe as Avalokitesvara--and that's a heck of a lot of arms. The circuit took about two hours and its toll on my knees (zeugma?? zeugma??), less time than I expected. When I completed it, I did feel satisfaction, but it also felt good to have shared this experience with other people. I was dirty at the end of it, true, but also somehow more clean. I cannot really say much more than that right now.

1 comment:

Jhenn said...

What a great adventure!