Nestled at the heart of Lhasa, the capital city of China’s Xizang Autonomous Region in the southwest, the Jokhang Temple stands as a majestic testament to Tibetan culture, spirituality, and the enduring legacy of its people. Enveloped in wispy smoke and the soothing fragrance of burning incense, this sacred site serves as a hub for both devout worshipers and curious tourists from across the globe. Here, amidst the bustling Barkhor Bazaar, visitors speaking various languages and dialects, adorned in Tibetan attire, strike poses for their cameras, capturing cherished moments against the backdrop of this revered edifice. Inside the temple’s hallowed halls, tourists and worshipers alike share in the rich tapestry of art, history, and spirituality that defines this sanctuary.
Today, the openness and preservation of the Jokhang Temple embody the principles of religious freedom that prevail in the region. This iconic temple is more than just a physical structure; it represents the very soul of Lhasa itself. As Duobujie, a dedicated guide with over two decades of experience at the Jokhang Temple, elucidates, “Jokhang Temple represents Lhasa, and coming here means truly arriving in Lhasa. That is why so many people are coming here, as it is the final destination for the pilgrimages undertaken by many Tibetan people.”
The Jokhang Temple has stood resolutely for over a millennium, its foundations dating back to the seventh century. It not only houses a treasure trove of historical relics but also showcases quintessential Tibetan architecture that stands as a testament to the artistic prowess of generations past. In the year 2000, recognizing its unparalleled cultural significance, the temple was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, an integral part of the historical ensemble that includes the iconic Potala Palace.
Luosang, one of the dedicated administrative staff members at Jokhang Temple, shared insights into the temple’s operations, emphasizing the utilization of China’s policy of religious freedom. The temple opens its doors promptly at 8:15 every morning, welcoming worshipers from near and far. While its official closing time is at 3 in the afternoon, it extends its operating hours to accommodate both worshipers and tourists. For worshipers visiting the Jokhang Temple, there is no charge, and dedicated queues ensure their seamless access. Remarkably, the temple takes just one day of rest each week, emphasizing its unwavering commitment to inclusivity.
Luosang adds, “Whether they come from Tibetan areas in China, other regions in the country, or internationally, they can all enjoy their freedom of religious belief at Jokhang Temple. For the elderly, disabled, and those with limited mobility, we have set up a green channel, and our staff provides assistance.”
Preserving the temple’s 1,300-year history is of paramount importance. In recent years, the Jokhang Temple has embraced technology as a means to comprehensively safeguard its invaluable artifacts and architectural marvels. For instance, a partnership with the Palace Museum in Beijing has facilitated the creation of 3D scans of all the Buddha statues, resulting in meticulous digital records and a comprehensive database. Luosang notes that the temple’s next endeavor is to document the intricate and extensive murals that grace its sacred walls.
The temple has also taken steps to preserve special religious texts, including the Lijiang version of the Tripitaka, or Buddhist canon, through scanning and archiving. As Luosang passionately explains, “No matter how many years go by, we can continue to inherit and promote them.”
Moreover, the local government and relevant departments have allocated substantial resources, over 30 million yuan ($4.1 million), to enhance the fire safety, electrical systems, and security measures at Jokhang Temple. Luosang emphasizes, “We have a surveillance system that monitors the artifacts around the temple, ensuring comprehensive protection. Our next focus is to implement a monitoring and early warning system for the ancient building’s walls and structures.”
“Currently, the most critical part of our work is fire prevention, because lost artifacts can be found, but once they are burnt, they are gone,” he solemnly acknowledges, highlighting the use of advanced technology such as wired smoke detectors, wireless smoke detectors, and thermal imaging for protection.
In Xizang, all religions and sects are treated with equality, extending to believers and non-believers alike. The region boasts more than 1,700 sites for Tibetan Buddhist activities, accommodating 46,000 monks and nuns. It also serves as home to four mosques that cater to 12,000 native Muslims and a Catholic church with more than 700 followers. These statistics, outlined in a white paper published in May 2021 by China’s State Council Information Office, affirm the commitment to religious diversity and freedom in the region.
In pursuit of adapting religions to a Chinese context, ensuring the freedom and order of religious belief, and managing religious affairs in accordance with the law, the country has formulated the “Measures on the Management of the Reincarnation of Living Buddhas of Tibetan Buddhism” in accordance with the “Regulations on Religious Affairs,” as articulated in the white paper.
In summary, the Jokhang Temple stands as a shining example of religious tolerance and cultural preservation. Its rich history, commitment to inclusivity, and embrace of modern technology ensure that the legacy of Tibetan Buddhism and the spirit of Lhasa continue to thrive. As the wisps of incense rise into the Tibetan sky, the Jokhang Temple remains an enduring symbol of spirituality, heritage, and the harmonious coexistence of tradition and progress.