Is Dalai Lama’s school same as Zen? (2): Tibetan Buddhism (2)

Where is Tibet?

It may not have been coincidence that Tantra Buddhism flourished in Tibet. It is the highest region on Earth, with an average elevation of 5,000 m (16,000 ft). Naturally, the living conditions could be harsh – cold, dry or windy. I’ve never been to Tibet, but it must be as if you live in the thick of raw nature.

Natural landscape in Tibet is immense, raw and forceful: high rise mountain ranges, vast and arid plateaus that look so close to the sky.
mage by Jack L via Flickr [CC BY 2.0]

Against such backdrops, people often built temples and monasteries in elevated, sunny sites facing the south after a lengthy process to find a perfect location that was “celebrated” by nature. They look to be trying to reach the sky in the middle of immense nature.  

The Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet. The 5th Dalai Lama started its construction in 1652 after one of his spiritual advisers pointed out that the site was ideal as a seat of government. It was the winter palace of the Dalai Lamas from 1649 to 1959.

Image by Xiquinho via Wikimedia Commons [CC BY-SA 3.0]

Training to connect to the religious truth was conducted in a solitary temple in the middle of vast, forceful nature. It must be a special environment.  Japanese scholar Shinichi Nakazawa describes his trip to Tibetan temples to join the training:

People who visit Tibetan temples often say that it feels like being in a womb. Rooms are dimly lit by a countless number of butter lamps, which emit special scents and warmth to overwhelm your senses which are almost numbed after traveling across deadly dry, barren field for days. It is a mesmerizing feeling to be exposed to the sea of colorful divine paintings on the walls lit by dark orange lamps…and the tranquility that reigns within the space…They altogether stimulate/arouse every sense in your body and make you feel as if you have arrived at a deeply intimate place that you have known since before you were born.

But this is just the beginning. In Tibetan Tantric Buddhism, which searches to find the “truly natural state of mind,” there was a profound reason why the interior of a temple had to feel like a mother’s womb… It was designed so that you could transcend your mind to reach a rudimentary emptiness – what Tantric Buddhism call “sems-nyid” (nature of mind) – by reversing/undoing your cognitive experience way before/beyond your birth.  

Shinichi Nakazawa. Ethics of architecture. 1983.