where do i even begin to explain the complexity of this multi-faceted faith? (then again, maybe it just seems complex because its new to me.) first, im attempting to summarize in one post a subject that would take many to explain. i also wrestled with whether or not to just try to report the facts, or to include my personal thoughts on what ive seen here. of course, if i give my thoughts, they would not be objective. everything i see and witness that is buddhist is filtered through a christian lens, in light of what the bible says. maybe some of you would like to hear them, but i think i may be in danger of being misunderstood, and we cant have that. in matters of religion, how can one not be bias? religion determines ones world-view, which governs ones every-day decisions. if you disagree, then come to lhasa and watch buddhist pilgrims gain merit in hopes of achieving enlightenment. no, i think i will take sallys advice and let you draw your own conclusions. i will just write a bit about what ive read and seen buddhism to be. (hmm...seems that no matter what i write, its still my perspective.)
a good place to start, i think, would be the afterlife. they believe life to be a cycle of birth and re-birth. after death, one is reborn into another life of lesser or higher status based on their karma, or good works, or merit. when one has finally transcended the cycle of life, its then that they have achieved enlightenment and rid themselves of all desire. there are many ways to gain merit to ensure (i use this word lightly, i do not know if they can have any assurance of their place in the afterlife or not) a better place in the next life. we have witnessed many of these. pilgrims, or followers of buddha who have often traveled very far, embark on great journeys to destinations thought to be holy to perform certain tasks. there are many such places here in lhasa, the potala and the jokhang to name a couple of the major ones. they circumambulate these places, the circuits are called koras. there are koras around sacred lakes (Nam-Tso) and even mountains (Mt. Kailash, the holiest mountain in the world for buddhists). they also hang prayer flags, or pieces of colored cloth with prayers written on them. when the flags flutter in the wind, they release the prayers to the heavens so as to purify the air and pacify the gods. while walking the koras, they also carry handheld versions of prayer wheels. prayer wheels range in size from small to enormous and are spun to gain merit. while on a kora, or walking circuit around a holy place, its common to see prostrating pilgrims. they bow and pray while facing the building, mountain, lake or other holy site.
there are many, many more aspects of buddhism. the above paragraph is what i have seen firsthand. ive learned enough about it to be thoroughly confused by all that it entails. even reading about it has left me puzzled, with alot of questions. even the authors seem befuddled and mystified at what they are writing. but if i can gleen anything from the buddhism i have seen and read about, it is this: a thankfulness to the God of the Bible for making "enlightenment", or the end result, attainable not by the accumulation of merit or doing good deeds, but solely by belief in His Son. i said i would try to leave my opinion on their beliefs out of this post, but i would like to say that i truly feel sadness for them and their efforts. and to see their faces while they walk the barkor kora around the jokhang temple, i might go so far as to say that youd feel the same way if you were here, whether youre a christian or not.