I dreamt I was in Lhasa. It was the glorious Tang dynasty (618-907), and I was an honored guest of the King of Tibet. A short dream, it was extremely vivid. Dressed in dark colored velvety robes, I wore elaborate headgear and dangling earrings. My triangular shaped hat was the same velvety color as my robes and was adorned with a big red coral bead on the top. There were long chains of red coral and turquoise beads that tinkkled in my ears when I walked. While it resembled the headgear worn by the ancient empresses and other royal ladies of Tang China, the coral and turquoise chains were in the great tradition of Tibet.
In the dream, I was standing in a large room. It was very airy and yet also very warm. Huge windows of handmade glass allowed a tremendous of amount of brilliant sunlight into the simple room. The room was in a multi-story building located on a mountainside overlooking the old city of Lhasa. It was the view out the window which dominated. The city seemed to go on and on endlessly-- well, that is until one's eyes reached the mountains. The mountains. On that day, they were mostly covered in clouds.
Below us spread the valley of Lhasa. White-washed houses were piled practically one atop another. Prayer flags waived in the breeze and the city was surprisingly green from the many, many willow trees. It looked very frigid outside. There was no snow, but the moment I stepped away from the warm stove (located in the center of the room) I felt the frozen air of the mountains coming through the glass. The floor was covered in a felt carpet the color of the sky.
I was aware of two things. One was how beautiful my headgear was. Every time I moved, the coral and turquoise beads tinkled in my ears in the most charming way. My velvety hat also had a pleasing heaviness.
The other was that it was the 8th century, and I had traveled back in time. A time traveler, I noticed every detail. I thought, "how comfortable it is here." And, that coming from a girl who does not like to "rough it." I also thought, "It must be different out there." Life in the palace, though, was warm comfortable and very refined. "Not bad for the 8th century," I thought to myself.
Although I was calm and feeling extremely agreeable about my surroundings, there was much going on around me. The great Gialbo had rushed in. Everyone bowed to the King of Tibet.
During the Tang dynasty, the Empire of Tibet had reached its zenith. A thousand years before the infamous Great Game between the British and Russians who vied for colonial power in that part of the world, the 8th century was also a time when great powers clashed. These earlier super powers (Arabs, Turks, Chinese and Tibetans) had contended for control of the region. With the great Abassid empire to the west (under the greatest Caliph of all, the magnificent Harun al-Rashid), and the Chinese to the East (under the Tang), the Tibetans somehow reigned supreme.
After bowing to the King, tea was poured. The royal ladies retreated to the area by the window where I was standing and we all listened as the generals briefed the King: They were sending most of the army north to meet the Chinese head on. Jumping to his feet the Great Gialbo said forcibly, "Prepare my horse, for I will ride with the army." Marching toward the door, he turned and with great kindness looked at me and said, "You will be safer inside the Palace. Please wait here till my return."
As the King exited, a great gust of cold air blew into the room. We all shivered. I thought to myself, "It would be the perfect time to leave." I didn't think "escape" but I suppose, I was thinking it was time to return to my own time. And yet, the room was so warm and comfortable....
Thinking this, I then woke up.
It is rare that waking from a dream, I actually feel that I want to go back. Usually, I try to shake off the dream and immediately turn to the tasks of the morning. This time, however, so pleasant and so warm was this dream-- well, I have to admit, I was a little disappointed waking up. My headgear had been, afterall, incredibly beautiful. Women of modern Heisei times, have so few chances to wear accessories like that!!
It could have been any of the Kings of the Empire of Tibet. However, if the King in my dream was the Great Trisong Detsen (who I think it was)-- well, that battle would go well for him. Even more than his skills in the battlefield, however, Trisong is best known as the great promoter of Buddhism in the region. Having invited many famous philosophers of India and monks of China to come and teach in Tibet, his court was a place of great scholarship and intellectual excitement. He arranged the famed Two-Year Debate (the "Council of Lhasa" as it is also known) between the Chan (Zen) monk, Moheyan (the "Mahayana Monk") and the Indian Buddhist philosopher, Kamalashila.
The Debate was on the topic of methods of enlightenment. The Zen faction argued (as it still does) that enlightenment was possible in an instant. The Indian philosopher, however, disagreed. While the actual moment may happen suddenly, enlightenment must, argued Kamalashila, be preceded by years of study and training that prepared the mind. Moral and mental training is essential in other words. Our King eventually sided with Kamalashila -- thereby introducing Indian-style Buddhism into Tibet. Trisong, incidentally, is also traditionally associated with the construction of the legendary stupa of Bodnath in Kathmandu.
In my dream, perhaps the Great Gialbo had just learned of the Chinese troops amassing on his northern frontier. 200,000 Tibetans rode to meet the Chinese head-on, and there, they literally wiped the Chinese into the dusts of the desert. Victorious, they rode on to the Tang capital of Chang'an. It was the greatest city on earth. Arriving just in time to fill in the great power vacuum that had ocurred as a result of the An Lushan rebellion, the only way the Chinese could get rid of them was to grant them all the lands of the much vied-over Kokonor (where today the Chinese governmnt tests its nukes and dumps its toxic waste).
As if gaining victory over the Chinese hadn't been enough, Trison was to spend the remainder of his days with his eyes turned West. He got as far as the Oxus River, and it was probably only the Arabs' hastily agreed-upon alliance with the Chinese that stopped him from going all the way to Baghdad. It was one of the most glorious periods of Tibetan civilization.
My man in the mountains suggests that the Tibetans of the 8th century probably got their coral from the Bay of Bengal. I like to imagine, however, it originating in the Mediterrean, where-- like amber-- the beads were carried on the backs of donkeys and camels traveling East from Constantinople where it was traded for silks, brocades and other commodies. Located pretty much as far as one could get from the Sea, I wonder what the ancient Tibetans thought these corals were. Like torquoise (which they also valued highly), perhaps, they thought it too was mined in the mountains of Persia and Turkey. Never having seen the sea, what else could they have imagined?