One Gruesome Tale of Compassion and Thousands of Prayer Flags
Over my left shoulder, I saw a crowd of people dangerously sitting on the deck of a very old bus. The bus squeezed through between our taxi and a high wall of rocks, surpassing us quickly and noisily. Michele sat beside me at the back of the shaky car. Through his window, we saw a steep precipice by the edge of the narrow road. He smiled nervously and talked to comfort me, but his voice was muffled by the hard-rock music that the driver enjoyed at maximum volume. This uneasy drive couldn’t have been more contrasting with the tranquillity we were about to encounter at our destination.
Arriving at Namo Buddha Resort after a 2 hours drive, we were greeted by the buzzing of bees, clean air, and freshly roasted coffee. Peace at last. As I sat down at the resort’s garden, I realised that I was staring at the Himalayan mountain range. A long line of snow-peaked mountains signalled where the border between Nepal and Tibet lies. As tempting as it was to stay in this nest of comfort, we prepared to hike and headed towards the Thrangu Tashi Yangtse Tibetan Buddhist Monastery.
Surrounded by tall pine woods and beautiful views from the top of the hill, we felt that we were indeed at a sacred place. Countless prayer flags surrounded us and increased in volume as we walked forwards, as if giving us directions. As we arrived at the Monastery, we saw young monks strolling, meditating, reading, playing, and at lunchtime, calmly climbing up the steep stairs in an organized line towards the cafeteria.
Khyabje Thrangu Rinpoche established the site in the 1970’s as a small retreat centre. Nowadays, the immense Monastery is a college of Tibetan Buddhist philosophy and meditation techniques for monks and monks-to-be of all ages. Filled with temple rooms, each for the worship of a specific Buddha, the Monastery is completely embellished with statues, wall paintings and carefully displayed offerings. Some areas are restricted to the access of the monks who live, study and work there; while others welcomed groups of tourists who spoke softly, respecting the calm aura of the place.
The next morning, we set pace through the familiar footpath surrounded by pine trees and prayer flags, this time taking a slightly different route in order to reach the ancient stupa of Namo Buddha. As we walked clockwise around the Stupa, a friendly peregrine told us about a particular tale that has been attracting Buddhists to that site for thousands of years:
The story goes that one day, “many eons ago”, a prince called Great Being and his two older brothers found a cave in this region in which laid a tigress and her cubs, all starving to death. The tigress was so weak that she did not even have the strength to react to Great Being’s brothers as they menacingly pointed their arrows at her cubs. Deeply touched with sadness in sight of the dying tigers, Great Being asked his brothers what do tigers eat, hoping to feed the tiger family and end their suffering. Upon hearing that tigers only eat freshly killed meat, Great Being came up with a solution to save the animals without having to kill or inflict harm upon another. “This time I must be truly generous”, he though. Having convinced his brothers to walk ahead of him back to the palace, Great Being walked towards the cave of the starving tigers determined to offer his own body as food. “What real use is this body if not for the Dharma?” With that thought, he cut pieces of his own flesh and allowed the tigress to lick his warm blood. Already that was enough for the tigress to start recovering her energy. Soon enough, she had devoured the prince entirely. With this act of courage, generosity and compassion, Great Being was reborn into the celestial realm of Tushita as Nyingtob Chenpo, or ‘Great Courage’. He is thus a Bodhisattva, the Sanskrit term for ‘one who attains Buddhahood through a great act of compassion’.
While listening to this rather gruesome and interesting tale, we followed the peregrine through a fifteen minutes walk upwards, distancing ourselves from the ancient stupa where the royal family had buried Great Being’s bones. At the top of the hill there were endless prayer flags and a view to the Monastery that we had visited the day before. The peregrine headed straight to a corner where a cave-like altar was cramped with the traditional offering of butter lamps. This cave, it is said, was the place where Great Being had offered his own body to the tigers, and therefore worshippers came to pay their respects to the Buddha of Compassion here.
After the rumours about a tigress devouring a prince spread throughout this mountain, the local people became scared of the wild life around them and chanted ‘Namo Buddhaya’, meaning ‘I take refuge in the Buddha’, to dissipate their anxiety while walking through those woods. It is from this practice, passed on from generation to generation since Great Being’s time, that Namo Buddha inherited its name. Later that day, we started our journey back to Kathmandu. As we left the serene atmosphere of Namo Buddha behind and entered the hectic traffic again, I mentally chanted ‘Namo Buddhaya’ myself, seeking refuge in the tranquillity that Namo Buddha had imbued in me after just two days.