A Lesson from Tibet
One of the hardest
ideas for people to accept is that the universe is in divine order –
that everything is exactly as it should be and there are no accidents.
Theoretically, it's quite understandable, but to actually accept this
principle is difficult. When things go wrong, it is almost human nature
to look for someone or something to blame, especially when there is
evidence to support your accusations. Yet, when this principle is
embraced, and an effort is made to uncover the hidden lesson, your life
may be enriched.
My girlfriend, Christine, and I just came back from a 12-day tour of
Tibet, that provided us and our fellow travelers with several
opportunities to internalize this lesson. We joined a tour group from
Taiwan comprised of Buddhist pilgrims, including two monks, who were
seeking to visit many of the famous monasteries in Tibet, as well as
experience the region's natural beauty. Only a few spoke English; the
tour was conducted in Mandarin, with Christine translating for me.
Our tour operator, Chang, worked very hard to obtain all required
permits and to keep things running smoothly. He told me that my
application was particularly troublesome. It had been accepted, rejected
and accepted on three successive days and my permit to enter the Potala
Palace was not granted until the day before we were scheduled to visit.
Despite his proven diligence, on three occasions he had me questioning
On the first occasion Chang decided to take a shortcut to the desert
monastery, Samye, to save 3 ½ hours of driving time. The shortcut
required we conduct a 50-minute crossing of the Yarlung Tsangpo River in
a flat bottomed boat, followed by a 30-minute drive in the back of a
modified pickup truck on a dirt road that resembled the surface of the
The 13,000-foot altitude and the reflection of the sun off the water
made the Tibetan sun extremely intense. Even more challenging was the
truck ride, where dust and rocks buffeted us while we bounced over
potholes the size of small school buses. One local who shared our ride
almost got bounced out of the truck.
It would have been a simple task for Chang to tell everyone what to
expect, but it didn't occur to this otherwise diligent operator. He
apologized profusely, but several people were very upset.
The second occasion was the opening of the Shoton Festival, where over
300,000 celebrants from all over the world had gathered in Lhasa. At
sunrise, monks unveil a huge thangka or scroll-painting of Shakyamuni (Guatama
Buddha) on the side of the mountain. The brightly colored thangka only
remains visible for a few hours before it is taken down and placed back
in the monastery until the following year.
We boarded our tour bus at 5 AM, anticipating that we would be driven to
the festival. Unexpectedly, the bus dropped us off two miles away; we
had to walk up the mountain, at 12,000 feet altitude, to get to where
we'd be able to see the unveiling. Part of the uphill journey was on
paved roads, but the last portion was on dirt paths.
Again, it would have been a simple task for Chang to tell people what to
expect and to wear proper footwear, but it didn't occur to him. Several
people were forced to walk in flip-flops and casual shoes that were
completely inappropriate for the terrain.
The third incident was our visit to Zhongshan Castle, overseeing the
Palco Monastery. To get to this fortress, we had to climb up a winding
road and several steel ladders to reach the top of the fortress, where
we had a spectacular view of the nearby town and countryside. Again,
Chang neglected to tell people what to expect.
I was puzzled. On the one hand, Chang had been extremely diligent in
obtaining our permits and planning the most minute details of our
activities, and yet, he had neglected to advise us of the obvious
challenges we'd have to face.
Starting from the premise that everything is in perfect order, I tried
to reconcile this inconsistency.
I realized that the people who were most inconvenienced were the ones
that were most fearful of undertaking such activities. One woman
admitted that after the boat and truck adventure she had unsuccessfully
tried to call her husband hoping he'd be able to arrange an immediate
flight back to Taiwan. She said that had she known what to expect, she
would never have come.
But she did come. And both she and her friend discovered they had far
greater reserves of strength and courage than they had ever imagined.
They came away with an appreciation for their own physical strength,
which had never before been tested. As she said after scaling the
mountain to Zhongshan Castle, “I have the pictures to show my family.
Otherwise, they'd never believe it.”
It was not in Chang's nature to have shrewdly planned this outcome. He
had revealed just enough information to attract the right people to the
tour and yet been almost negligent in withholding key information to
make the journey more manageable. He was no Machiavelli. Rather, he had
acted as a channel for the universe to allow some people to experience
and develop their own potential to a far greater degree than they ever
would have. Those of us not physically challenged were not
In hindsight, several people would not have gone on the tour had they
known what to expect. And they would have lost out on, not only some
spectacular scenery and historic sites, but rather, one of life's most
precious gifts: a greater knowledge of themselves and their
There are no accidents.
For more pictures of
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