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Spiritual Connection

November 20, 2011 1 comment

Prompt #19: SPIRIT – my seventh post in the 30 Days of Indie Travel series.

Some places have the power to make even the most die-hard agnostic reconsider their position. Have you ever been in a place where you felt more alive or more connected to nature, the universe, or a higher power than anywhere else?

Mecca Photo Courtesy of Flickr User AlJazeerahEnglish CC License

Travel allows us to get outside of our comfort zone, to experience and reflect on our place in the world.  There have been a few places that I have travelled through that seem especially spiritual.  Mountains tend to do it for me, making me appreciate the grandeur of nature and fresh air.  Man made structures such as the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, Notre Dame in Paris and even Stonehenge impress in a different way.  These religious structures make you appreciate what man can accomplish, especially when trying to honor their beliefs.  While I will probably never experience it, I am always awed by aerial photos of Mecca at the time of the Hajj.  The number of pilgrims that descend on Mecca at this time is a testament to their belief that this pilgrimage is a necessary part of their religion.  This sacrifice is impressive, regardless of your own beliefs.  Of the places I have traveled to, there is only one place where the natural environment, the man-made structures and examples of human devotion have come together to connect me with the spiritual world, Tibet.

Tibet is a place that you expect to be spiritual.  It holds such an aura of separateness, of intrigue that is tied into its history as a secluded Buddhist mountain kingdom where outsiders were prohibited.  Today, many Tibetans are clinging to this religious past, trying to keep a sense of their history and their religion as China is making a larger and larger push to assimilate Tibet into China.  China is winning the battle between history and progress and at least at some level, the people of Tibet appreciate this push to modernity.  That said, Tibet is still a place that holds a spiritual connection.  Whether or not you hold Buddhist beliefs, you cannot help but be impressed by the devotion that many Tibetan people have to their religion.

One of the single most impressive building I have ever been to is the Potala Palace in Lhasa.  Once the home of the Dali Lama, today it is open to the public as a museum.  The Potala Palace dominates Lhasa, sitting far above any other building in the city.  Going from room to room makes you consider the lives of the people that have spent their time here, their devotion over the centuries to their religion.  Outside the Palace, circling in a clockwise direction, Lhasa is filled with pilgrims that have often made their way on their hands and knees to the city.  Once they arrive in Lhasa, pilgrims can be seen circumabulating the Barkhor.

Whether struggling for breath in the high altitude climbing the steps to the Palace or wandering the city gazing out at the mountains, you are constantly reminded of where you are, high up in a remote corner of the world.  Somehow this realization make you feel closer to God. The fresh mountain air of Lhasa, combined with the temples and devotees make Tibet one of the most spiritual places I have ever visited.  The feeling of connection, of calm, permeated my time in Tibet, making it impossible not to consider my place in the world and my connection to God.

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Wat?

September 18, 2011 1 comment

Inevitably, wherever you travel it seems that you wind up in religious buildings. In Europe you see one massive Cathedrals after another and in Asia you see Buddhist, Taoist and Hindu Temples. Religious buildings are usually some of the best preserved buildings as offering a look at what is important to the local population. With more travel you are able to tell the subtle differences between locations and beliefs and also likely to get tired of seeing similar buildings repeatedly. In Bangkok there are Wat’s scattered all over the city. These range from the grand to the more basic. There are a number where tout’s promise you good luck and fortune with a visit, but most are calm, filled with contemplation. This trip we kept our visits limited, seeing just two. This left us wanting to visit more and promised some additional sights on a return trip to Bangkok. The most magnificent that we visited was part of the Grand Palace, the sometimes home of Thai Kings, including the current ruler, King Rama IX. As befitting Royal grounds, the collection of temples and monasteries were incredibly ornate. The most important religious site in the complex is the Royal Monastery of the Emerald Buddha, featuring a giant carved jade buddha. The other buildings featured gold leaf, intricate carvings, numerous religious artifacts and a wide variety of gems. Like cathedrals in Europe, the Wats in Thailand were designed to honor Buddha without sparing expense. The other Wat that we visited was right next to the Grand Palace, Wat Phra Chetuphon, that featured a massive reclining Buddha. Far less crowded with tourists than the Grand Palace, this had more of the feeling of a working religious building, rather than a tourist attraction. The lower visitor numbers allowed for a calm, reflective pace as we walked through, sharing the space with practicing Monks.

The Wat’s in Thailand differed enough from Tibetan and Chinese Monastaries to really feel unique. The fact that we only saw these two also ensured that we did not have Temple overload. What they did not do, however, was give that close of a view into the life of a Thai Monk. When I plan my return to Thailand I would really like to see this aspect of Buddhism in Thailand. Have you been to Thailand? If so, where is the best place to observe this?

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