Old Tibet

Land of the Lamas The Butter Festival
Finding the god-King The Chortens
How was the Potala Built? Dress
New Years Festival Journey to the Summer Palace
The Lingkhor Bad Omens
Blessing the Dalai Lama Flight of the Dalai Lama

Land of the Lamas
Tibets an ancient country
with very ancient ways,
yet they are more civilized
than westerners today.

It is a land of Buddhists
of the Lamaist form
and religion permeates
his land right to the core.

The robes of monks and lamas
in yellow and in red
accentuate the landscape
quiet at its best.

Tibet is over 2 miles high,
on a huge plateau
but still the mountains all around
another mile go.

Lhasa is the capitol
of theocratic rule
and lamas run the government
with rigid codes imbued

The gigantic building
which dominates the scene
is the hug Potala
which everywhere is seen.

It is the seat of government
as well as of religion.
The Dalai Lama is the ruler
of state and Lamaism.

Tho it is not pretty
it is impressive too
for it is very massive
and dominates the view.

Sitting on a mountain
it rises very high
and mountains yet behind it
underline the sky.

Below it lies a valley
f the river Kyi,
full of poplars, willows
in a scene of peace.

The Dalai Lama lives here
and lamas of high rank
as well as monks and servants
from 1st to 5th in rank.

The Dalai Lama’s life
is quite secluded there
and he spends much time
in meditation, prayer.

Finding the god-King
Reincarnation is the thought
of people of Tibet.
If the Dalai Lama dies
he will be born again.

Chenrezi was their patron god
that they were looking for,
reincarnated in a child
to rule them once more.

How do they find the god-King
after he’s reborn.
how do they find the child
according to their lore.

The 13th Dalai Lama died
in 1935,
giving only vaguest hints
of where his soul could find.

After death of his body
quietly sat in state
but one day they noticed
eastward turned his face.

The Regent sought a holy lake
whose reflections tell
something of the future
that they wanted well.

In its surface just like glass
he saw another lake.
Beside it was a lamasery
the Regent did relate.

It had golden roofs
and beside it stood
a humble peasants house
reflecting as it should.

In 1937
they started then to search
for the incarnation,
a Buddhist god from birth.

In a Chinese province
they saw a peasant’s house
by a golden lamasery
and thought that they had found.

A little boy ran up to them
and happy as could be - - -
Sera lama, Sera lama
he cried excitedly.
Indeed the priest disguised
from Sera Lamasery.

They held before the lad
old objects mixed with new.
He chose the drum and walking cane
tho he was only 2.
They were the Great 13’s
Favorites he did choose.

In the year of ‘39
then they started back.
The people did rejoice because
Esteemed King they did have.

Also in his family
were other incarnations - - -
his eldest brother and the last
both gained recognition.

All the family traveled back
winning great renown.
The mother was Great Mother
that they too had found.
How was the Potala built?
This enormous building
according to a legend
was built just by the gods
Overnight they said.

However it was started
in 1641.
Each Tibetan had to bring
a stone yes one by one,
from a distant quarry
and it was begun.

When the Dalai Lama died,
after 40 years,
the Regent kept it secret
for that he did fear
the people would not carry stones
and the end was near.
9 more years of labor - - -
50 years in all - - -
and it was completed,
standing very tall,
built upon a mountain
constructed wall by wall.

New Years Festival
The New Year’s Festival in March,
the greatest celebrations
of all Tibetan people
in the lama nation.

20,000 red-robed monks
streamed into town
and Lhasa was besieged
with noise that did resound.

Prayers and drums and cymbols
echoed day and night
and nowhere could be found
any peace and quiet.

All work stopped and offices
also then were closed
and people wore
their newest hats and robes

The Lingkhor
Crowds shuffled on the Lingkhor,
a hold walk around
the enormous Potola
and the little town.

The Lingkhor is 5 miles
and is a pilgrim’s road.
Some on their hands and knees
inching sidewards go.

Always facing the Potola
they may merit gain
thru this humble act
whose interest never wanes.

It takes about 3 weeks,
all the way around.
Some do leave at night
but others camp on ground.

As they go along
they recite their beads
and spin a wheel of prayer
that their prayers release.

They pass Buddhist carvings
on the limestone cliffs,
reminding them to pray
with their hand uplift.

Beggars paint the gods again
in yellow, saffron, blue,
keeping colors fresh
and looking almost new.

Blessing the Dalai Lama
All Tibetans may receive
the Dalai Lama’s blessing
in the Potola
in this festive setting.

A heavy silken tapestry
is hung in front this day,
so heavy 50 monks
are needed there to raise.

Images of Buddhas
are on this tapestry
in gold and silver thread,
shown but only briefly.

Going on the inside
a maze of passageways.
A lama with a butter lamp
guides and leads the way.

This labyrinth is dark,
confusing to the mind
and smells of rancid butter
everywhere to find.

Here and there are cells
off the passageway
where some lama’s meditate
and where they also pray.

After this are ladders
several stories high
reaching to a roof
nearer to the sky.

The Dalai Lama sat cross-legged
on brocaded throne,
blessing all the pilgrims
who had made it home.

Some had come from many miles
inching on their knees
to gain special merit
if the gods did please.

Each passed with head that bowed,
and their tongue outstretched
and he waved a scarf
at their deep respect.

Below the throne were heaped
rolls of silk and money
and a scribe wrote down
the costliest among them.

When the ceremony ended
a monk to them did give
a note, a 100-sang
as  parting gift.

The Butter Festival
During 3-week Great Prayer
held at New Year’s time,
they held a Butter Festival
on the streets at night.

The butter from the yaks
on towers 30 feet
carved and decorated
all along the street.

They were mostly caricatures
of the gods themselves,
and deeply pigmented 
with dyes that didn’t melt.

Each lamasery’s artists
carved on them for months,
with intricate designs
placed there by the monks.

When the towers were in place
there were trumpet sounds
and many drums did rumble
as the King came out.

He had no expression - - -
he was 11 then - - -
and every head was bowed
in deepest reverence.
He was a living God
to the people there
and butter lamps lit up the scene
till he did repair.

Then all the people very wild,
a weeping, laughing throng
in a religious frenzy 
which lasted all night long.

The butter sculptures disappeared
and were melted down
for butter for the butter lamps
here of great renown.

The Chortens
A chorten is the tomb
of a blessed saint,
also known as stupas
in the Buddhist way.

It represents the elements
of 5 the ancients taught - - -
the base is square for earth
and the dome is water.

The golden spire is for fire
and crescent moon for air.
The circle on the top
is for ether there.

Deep inside of the Potola
are 7 sacred tombs
of former Dalai Lama’s
who as saints entombed.

One is for the great 13th
Dalai Lama’s tomb,
prophesied to be the last
in a system doomed.

These stupas rise 4 stories high
until they reach the top.
Each has a golden roof
is summer sun so hot.

Each tile is made of hammered gold
sloping to the ridge
and here atop are golden spires
that the ancients did.

They represent a basket
of Buddhist scriptures old
and tiny tinkling bells
broadcast and scriptures told.

Jewels encrust the golden tiles - - -
rubies, diamonds, pearls.
Also turquoise, coral
and sapphires are unfurled.

Dragons on each corner
are spouting rain
to her it’s very little
on wintery terrain.

Deep inside a monk
stands in front each tomb
chanting prayers and scripture
amid the dark and gloom.

Tibetans were most formal
in their winter dress.
Fur-lined robes required of lamas
and of government.

Each official rank
had different colors, hats - - -
red and yellow mixed
dominant for that.

You could tell the status
of people overmore
by their style of dress
and the clothes they wore.

Yellow hats and red hats
were 2 different sects
of religion here,
the lamas of Tibet.

Altho the winter’s very cold,
the summer’s very hot
and people changed to silks
which they wore a lot.

Dust storms came in spring
with dark, gigantic clouds
rolling up the mountain,
headed for their town.

People rushed for home
when the clouds did come
and Potala disappeared
as well as did the sun.

In Lhasa everything is done
on a certain date
by a lunar calendar
which changes day by day.

Officials changed their winter clothes
on a certain date
and put on summer silks
in the prescribed way.

Then they drank yak butter tea
with butter from the yaks.
The tea was made from barley
with salt and soda added.

Journey to the Summer Palace
Then the Dalai Lama
journeyed to his home
in the summer palace,
just 2 miles to go.

Trumpet blasts did sound
on this suspicious day
from Potola roof
several miles away.

Lamaseries in the valley
gave an echoing blast,
announcing that his journey
would start as in the past.

These trumpets are for mountains
and may be very long,
to sound from mountains to the valleys
with a tone that’s strong.

Jewel Park was only
just 2 mile away
but the King was carried
in this cavalcade.

Throngs of people lined the way
to catch a glimpse of him,
in his yellow robes
carried by palanquin.

The government officials
followed close behind
in order of their rank
in never-ending line.

Most of them rode horses
with saddles made of gold
in this ceremony
that was very old.

All the time were drummers
and musicians too
riding thru the incense
and dust they ever knew.

People lined the streets
thickly on both sides
for they loved a festival - - -
delight they could not hide.

Bad Omens
About this time the Chinese
surges across Cathay.
tibet did fear invasion
of their ancient ways.

At the large cathedral
water somehow dripped
from a gargoyle there - - -
the explanation fit.

It was interpreted
as a god’s great tears
for the fate Tibetans
were starting now to fear.

Then there was an earthquake
which rumbled 40 times - -
titanic in its scope
Assam’s heart did find.

Also east Tibet
a victim of the quake,
gigantic in its scope
that devastation made.

This increased the terror
of the people there,
sure that a disaster
would soon hit everywhere.

They said the gods were quite upset 
and made these dire events.
Disasters were interpreted
as messages that sent.

On top of this they said
the oracle of state
was going thru his trances - - -
disaster did relate.
They armed themselves with guns
and also amulets
and cried the Dalai Lama
with power to invest.

Flight of the Dalai Lama (1950)
The Dalai Lama was 15
when the Chinese came.
He had not reached 18
when he would be of age.
A Regent had been ruling
till he was of age.

Should they make him King
now instead of then?
The oracles advised - - -
make him King, they said.

After violent trances
the Oracle of State
threw him down on the ground - - -
make him King, he stated.

The oracle did counsel
that the King should flee
and by night they left
on their arduous journey.

40 nobles went with him
and soldiers armed with guns.
1,500 beasts with packs
and servants that did come.

The people lined the road,
all 200 miles,
with double rows of rocks
to ward off demon’s wiles.

Clouds of dust and incense
scattered on the way
to hide the King’s sedan
from enemies that prey.
Monks came out of lamaseries
waving flags of prayer
and all the people gathered
for a blessing there.

At one lamasery
1,000 weeping monks
covered all the roadway
and begged him not to run.

At the Sikkim border
they did halt and stay.
There was no border custom
or office in the way.

Altho the Dalai Lama
went back one time more,
then he left his country
returning nevermore.

Today he flies around the world
trying with his might
to get help for Tibet
in her present plight.
All the lovely customs
and land he loved so well
have faded in the background
that only time can tell.

His efforts are heroic
and with the Lama’s prayers
may ever help console him
without a country there.

And will their God have mercy
on Chinese plagued Tibet
or will his tears fall endlessly
on those that followed yet.

For Tibetans innocent
of harming the Chinese
but they wanted land
in thirst that never ceased.

Buddhists don’t believe
in harming any life,
even very small,
growing toward the light.
Will their faith be shaken
as more and more are killed,
to resist not evil
in a country ill.
Will all their culture die
as they are overcome
by  a greater force
now 50 years are done.

Will Chenrezi, God of Mercy
have mercy on Tibet,
with millions of the people
without their god-King yet?

Will they lose faith in gods
as millions of them die
and lose their old religion,
ruled Chinese style?

The 13th Dalai Lama
was prophesied the last,
and this did come true
for that time is past.

May many prayers be raised
for lovely Old Tibet,
stricken by a force
that is greater yet.

Our hearts go to Tibet
With very ancient ways
Allowing them to live
In peace all of their days.

My Life in Forbidden Lhasa, Nat’l Geographic, July, 1995, Heinrich Harrer

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