In Tibetan Buddhism, all lives deserve equal respect. I've noticed that Lamaism differs from Chinese, Japanese, Nepalese, and Vietnamese Buddhism. Religious practice is so deeply rooted in Tibetan lives that prayer is as continuous as breath.
Tibetans go to temples all the time, burning incense and adding butter in lamps, with the knives hanging from their belts. I have visited hundreds of temples around China, but what I call "the Tibetan experience" is something that cannot be said in words. The day of the "great tangka exhibition," 40,000 pilgrims, solemn and meditating, walk toward the mountain well before sunrise, throwing scented herbs on heaps of mani (flat stones). Once a favourable spot for observing is found, each one sits, silent. More than 100 monks transport on their shoulders the tangka, which goes out only once a year. Another hundred pairs of arms are needed to pull up, with cables, the immense tapestry with an effigy of the Buddha. It doesn't last long. At 8:30, all is over.
In the greatest calm, some go to touch the sacred image with their forehead; others return home, happy and peaceful. Never before have I felt such deep communion with humankind. That day, I found myself in front of a woman around my age. We spontaneously took each other's hands, and I pronounced the only Tibetan expression I knew, "Trashidele" (greeting/blessing). We smiled and departed, each one deeply moved.
And I thought how good it was, that somewhere in the world, people were happy and desire-free. Some visitors just pass through. Others never go to Tibet and just report the general current of prejudice. What a strange world!
Then I could understand what a friend of mine, a Han artist who studied and lived in Lhasa, did. He was granted six months in Germany with a fully equipped studio, but one month later, he abandoned everything and came back to China: he missed Tibet!
The author is a Beijing-based Canadian writer