National Geographic : 2000 Jan
alloons and a holiday spirit ascend the steep slopes of Bumpari, high above the Lhasa Valley. At the summit, dressed in their finest clothes, Khampa clansmen from eastern Tibet will greet the New Year by stringingprayer flags and burningfragrant herbs in carefully tended fires. Underlying this ritual-as well as all other aspects of Losar-arethe Buddhist ideals of wisdom and compassion, which are personified by the colossal figure of Maitreya, Buddha of Loving Kindness, at the Tashi Lhunpo monastery in Xigaze. Gilded with 615 pounds of gold, the 85-foot-high bronze statuepoints toward an enlightenedfuture, symbol ized by the Wheel ofDharma, or sacred teaching,imprinted on the Buddha's palm. The statue is a central icon at Tashi Lhunpo, where monks light lamps in the monastery's main chanting hall. The monks pray for the welfare of all sentient beings but particularlyfor the Panchen Lama, a young boy believed to be the 11th reincarnationof the monastery's abbot. After the Dalai Lama, the Panchen Lama is revered as Tibet's most importantspiritualleader.