Nangsa Obum

29 January 2010 - 2:16am Comments Off

The story of Nangsa is set in the 12th century in central Tibet, at place called Gyantse. It has been enjoyed by generations of Tibetans around smoky hearths on winter nights and undergoing countless variations and embellishments in the telling. Our version is a tale of a time, long ago, when a pretty dakini called Nangsa, was born as a human. So now, pay attention and I’ll begin.

In a village called Zhangpei Kurnangpa near Gyantse there once lived an old man named Kunsang Dechen and his wife Nyangtsa Seldon. They were simple country people, who had only one sorrow, which was that they had no children. Day and night they prayed to the Goddess Tara for a child and, at last, after completing the recitation of 100,000 prayers, Nyangtsa Seldon had a wonderful dream. A beam of light came from the letter at the goddess Tara’s heart and passed through her crown into her own heart. Then a lotus grew within her body and dakinis appeared and made offerings to it. From every directioin, bees came to enjoy the nectar of the lotus. On hearing of his wife’s dream, Kunsang Dechen knew that it foretold the birth of a baby girl and they made offerings and gave alms to the poor in gratitude. In the course of time a girl child was born, who at once made an offering of her mother’s milk to the goddess Tara and prayed that she would be able to use her life to benefit all sentient beings. She was an extraordinary child possessing all qualities: strength and health, sweetness and gentleness, intelligence and beauty. More like a dakini than a human being, she became the apple of everybody’s eye. As she grew up, not only was she conscientious and devout, but she also mastered the practical arts of farming, weaving, cooking and so on. Through her industry the family prospered and by the time she had reached the age of fifteen she was famous throughout central Tibet. Many rich and handsome men came to win her hand in marriage, but Nangsa had no interest in choosing a husband, preferring to lead a religious life.

At this time there was a powerful lord of the region named Dagchen, whose noble lady had died leaving two children, a daughter and a son. His son, Dakpa Samdup, had just reached the age of eighteen, and now, considering it time to find a pretty girl of good lineage as a bride for him, Dagchen, his family and retinue dressed in their finest clothes and set off for the annual Nenying Sungtuk festival which was about to take place. Everyone, young and old, rich and poor, ordained and lay people were going to attend the festival. And so Nangsa too, though she had never been to the summer festival before, thought to go and take part in the activities. Willingly, her parents allowed her to dress in her most elegant clothes and she set out with Zompa Kyi, her maid servant carrying a basket of delicious food.

Nangsa joined the sea of people paying homage at the holy places and receiving blessings from the lamas, and then she watched the dancing. In the crowd she shone like the moon amongst the stars, and so attracted the attention of the lord Dagchen. Once her had set eyes on her he could no longer enjoy the dancing, but, captivated by her grace and beauty, watched her every movement and, at last, sent his squire to bring her to him. Poor Nangsa was caught as a kite catches a sparrow and was brought before the mighty lord. He, seized with fear that this unearthly creature might suddenly elude him, grasped hold of the hem of her cloak with his left hand and, offering her his beer with the other said,

‘Oh, lovely lady, endowed with the five qualities of a perfect maid, beauty, fragrance, sweetness, softness and melody. I cannot tell if you are the daughter of a human being or a goddess. Whatever you are, tell me frankly: what is your name and where is your family and birthplace? I am Dagchen, the renowned lord of Rinang. My son Dakpa Samdup, the jewel of my house, has reached six times three years. Would you not consider taking him as your husband?’

Nangsa was dismayed for she had not taken human form in order to become engaged in worldly activities. Therefore she replied to the lord with candour and humility,

‘I prostrate to mother Tara, look on me, a humble girl.

Heed me lord Dagchen, lend me your ears.

My home is in Gyantse, my house in Zhangpekur.

My father is Kunsang Dechen and my mother Nyangsta Seldon.

I am but the child of a simple family.

Though the flower of a poisonous plant is beautiful,

You cannot make offerings with it.

Though a green stone is bright,

It cannot compare with the real turquoise.

So, Nangsa may be pretty,

But how can she be a noble lady?

Kindly leave me to follow the Dharma’.

At this the squire quietly advised the lord to quickly seal the engagement by placing the turquoise and the five coloured flag on her head, for she would surely never agree to the proposal willingly. The lord did accordingly and addressed Nangsa saying,

‘Are you a lhamo that you have bewitched my eyes?

Listen carefully to me lovely girl,

Like the name of the dragon, Lord Dagchen resounds,

For I am more powerful than any on earth.

If you choose not to heed your lord’s command,

Though you seem wise, you would be foolish.

You shall not turn away and follow the Dharma,

Nor shall I let you remain at your home.

The sun rides high in the sky,

The lotus sits low on the ground.

Despite the great distance between them,

Through actions they may be united.

The ocean is endlessly vast,

And the silver scaled fishes so small.

Despite their great difference in size,

Through actions they may be united

The powerful lord Dakpa Samdup,

And the simple farmer’s daughter, Nangsa,

Despite their difference in possessions and power,

Through actions they may be united.’

He then announced to the crowd that Nangsa was engaged to his son Dakpa Samdup,

‘From this time on the powerful cannot take her by force, the weak cannot kidnap her and those who are neither may not woo her.’ So, it was publicly declared that Nangsa was to be the noble lady in the lord’s house. Sadly, Nangsa and Zompa Kyi hid the five colour flag and the turquoise and returned home and said nothing to her parents about what had happened.

A few days later, Nyangtsa Seldon’s attention was attracted to the window and when she saw the great lord and squire knocking at their gate, she ran to her husband in alarm. He was reluctant to let them in fearful of why they had come and sent his wife to say that he was not at home and to try and find out their purpose. When she returned with the news that the lord had come to claim their daughter’s hand in marriage, the father’s fears turned to joy and he threw open his gates and entertained the guest with home made beer. The lord explained how he had been entranced by Nangsa at the festival and that she had submitted to his proposal. He declared,

‘Henceforth this lady is my son’s bride and nothing can prevent it. No one can say she has flown away into the sky or hidden under ground. No one can say she has been taken away by force. Even you, her parents may not stop her and she herself cannot refuse. Five hundred horsemen will come in three days to receive the bride, so prepare to send her to my house without delay.’ With that, the lord asked Nangsa to bring the five colour flag and the turquoise, which he had put on her head at the festival and he again placed them upon her head. Greatly distressed, Nangsa appealed to her parents not let her be married, for worldly pleasures are impermanent and her only desire was to follow the everlasting Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. Frightened, her parents begged her to submit for if she did not, they would surely all be killed. Such a powerful lord would not be thwarted. At last, realizing the hopelessness of her position and the harm she might bring upon her parents, Nangsa was compelled to agree to their request and sadly began to prepare for her wedding day.

The bridegroom’s party came to fetch Nangsa at the appointed time and were properly entertained by her parents. They gave their beloved daughter a valuable dowry and in their parting advice they instructed her,

‘Respect the lord and his son;

Devote yourself to your husband and love him;

Show no partiality to any of the servants and direct them compassionately;

Do not sleep late and go to bed early,

Above all, pray that we may often meet again.’

Then Nangsa and her maid servant Zompa Kyi set off with the groom’s party to face a new life.

The bride was received at the lord’s house with a great display of singing and dancing and the wedding ceremony was a grand affair. Seven years sped by, and then their house was blessed by the birth of a baby boy. He was named Lhawo Tarpo and an elaborate birth celebration was held for him. Everybody at the lord’s house praised Nangsa virtues and she was so cherished by both the lord and the son that it seemed that they could not bear to part with her even for a minute. On this occasion they decided to take back the keys of the storerooms from Ani Nyimo, the lord’s daughter and give them to Nangsa to keep.

Now, Nangsa did her best to respect Ani Nyimo in the same way that she respected the lord and her husband, but her sister-in-law was jealous of her and always tried to find fault with her in front of the servants, making trouble whenever there was a chance. She was very resentful of losing her position as mistress of the house and did not give all the keys to Nangsa. She kept the good food and the warm clothes separately for herself, leaving only the spoiled food and worn clothes for Nangsa.

But Nangsa did not complained, for she thought that it would only cause trouble in the household to tell tales about Ani Nyimo’s cruel behaviour, and that to cause friction between father and the daughter would not be right. All she could do was to shed tears when she was alone with her baby in her room. Cradling the child in her lap she lamented that he had ever been born, for if he had not she could have retreated to a hermitage.

One day, Nangsa took the baby into the garden to play and Dakpa Samdup, her husband, joined her there after washing his hair. As he lay next to her with his head on her lap, the sight of the autumn leaves and the bees buzzing among the last flowers of the year made Nangsa recalled her home and her dear parents. Tears of sadness filled her eyes and one drop fell into her husband’s ear and woke him up. Astonished he begged her to tell him honestly why, since she was the mistress and possessed everything anyone could want, she was shedding tears?

Caught off her guard, Nangsa thought that perhaps there was no harm in telling her husband a little about Ani Nyimo’s unkind behaviour and that it might help in the future. So she related some of the incidents that had occurred between them and also confessed that she was feeling homesick. Realising that she had indeed not seen her parents for years, Dakpa Samdup sympathized and suggested that she should visit her home after the harvest had been taken in and stored.

As for Ani Nyimo’s bad attitude, he would investigate and if it were true, he would advise her to treat Nangsa better. Three days later the harvesting began so Nangsa and her sister-in-law went to the fields to direct the labourers. While they were hard at work, two yogis arrived and begged Nangsa for alms. They gave teachings on the impermanence of all conditioned things and exhorted her to use her human life to do something meaningful. But of course Nangsa had nothing to give them and asked them to go to Ani Nyimo. When they approached her, she angrily scolded them saying,

In the summertime you want white alms (dairy products)

In the wintertime you want sour (chang)

When you’re in the mountain you don’t practice

When you’re in town you don’t work.

All you’re waiting for is the chance to thieve.

You yogis are leading a meaningless life,

Continually lying and being dishonest.

If you want alms, go over there.

See there, the lady as pretty as a peacock,

As melodious as a song bird, as radiant as a rainbow,

She with the power to move mountains,

There is Nangsa, the mistress of the lord’s house.

I am just her servant.

You go and beg alms from her!

The yogis returned to Nangsa who had, by this time, set aside seven bundles of the harvested barley which she gave them with the request that they pray that she might be able to spend the latter part of her life in retreat. The yogis thanked her and told her how they had come from Mount Kailash and were disciples of the great yogi Milarepa . They were going to central Tibet in order to find patrons which would be a source of great merit for both parties. By giving them offerings with such a noble wish, Nangsa had certainly created a cause practice to the Dharma in the latter part of her life. When she heard this, her heart was filled with joy and she prostrated before the yogis offering them three more bundles of the harvested barley. They gave her their blessings and left content.

Seeing that Nangsa had shown great kindness towards the yogis, Ani Nyimo fell into a rage and furiously attacked her saying,

‘So many so-called yogis wander this land; do you intend to beggar our household by handing out gifts to all of them?’ But Nangsa gently replied,

‘It is for the sake of the reputation of our noble lord that I give, for yogis travel far and wide and will tell of the treatment they receive. Moreover, logic dictates that the more offerings we make, the more we shall receive, therefore why should you not rejoice in giving? Those yogis were disciples of the great yogi Milarepa, therefore we should fear to call them beggars and thieves.’

‘At this Ani Nyimo’s anger was doubled and she accused Nangsa of not giving the alms with a good motive, but because she found the yogis attractive.

‘Just because you are a mother you feel that you can do as you please, disregarding the rest of the household. But you are only a member of this family by marriage, whereas I have the true blood of the lord. So far I have not punished you, but now the time has come.’

Forthwith she beat poor Nangsa with a stick most cruelly. As she grew tired, she began to worry about what explanation she should give to her brother. She therefore pulled out some of Nangsa’s hair and putting in her pocket went crying to Dakpa Samdup. Showing him the hair, she told him that Nangsa had pulled it out because she had discovered her about to be unfaithful to him.

‘While we were in the field this morning two yogis came. Nangsa stopped her work to speak to them and was obviously attracted by them for they were handsome and had sweet voices. But for my intervention she would have been a fallen woman. Yet in her shameless anger she attacked me and pulled my hair and beat me.’ She begged her brother to be fair and punish his wife. Dakpa Samdup thought that his sister would not have come to him without reason and accepted the hair as proof of her story. Thinking that if he was not strict with his wife she would continue to behave badly, he set off to find Nangsa. He discovered her crying in the corner of the courtyard and, grabbing her by the hair, dragged her about, kicking her and beating her with the flat of his sword. When roughly questioned by her husband, though Nangsa wanted to tell the truth she realized the trouble it would create between brother and sister and kept quiet. Taking her silence as an admission of guilt, her husband beat her even more severely until her body was a mass of blood and three of her ribs were broken. Only there did she cry out loud and the servants persuaded her husband to stop.

Now at this time there lived a lama in Yalung monastery, called Shakya Gyeltsen who, through clairvoyance, knew what was to come of Nangsa and that she would become of great benefit to all sentient beings. In order to provide the circumstances for her to turn towards the Dharma he now transformed himself into a handsome young beggar with a monkey and stood beneath her window. There he sang a song about the uselessness of wasting one’s precious human life in worldly activities and begged her for alms.

Nangsa was delighted to hear him but, although she wanted to give to him, she didn’t dare ask Ani Nyimo’s consent to take something from the store. All she had that was her own was a piece of jewellery which she had been given by her parents. Intent on giving him this and hoping that he might be able to tell her the whereabouts of a lama, she called him secretly into her room. He told her how he had traveled the length and breadth of Tibet and found every monastery good and filled with excellent lamas, but, of all of them, Sera Yalung monastery where lived lama Shakya Gyeltsen was the nearest. The moment she heard his name, from deep within her welled and ardent faith in the lama and tears streamed down her cheeks.

Now, the sound of the conversation between Nangsa and the young beggar was overhead by the lord who, realizing that the man’s voice was not his son’s peeped in through a crack in the door and saw Nangsa giving her jewellery to a beggar. Convinced that his daughter Ani Nyimo had been proved right and Nangsa was indeed shameless, he flung the door open and rushed into the room as the young beggar disappeared through the window. Furious, the lord grabbed Nangsa and beat her unrestrainedly, though the wounds of her previous beating had not yet healed. That night, separated from her son, Nangsa suffered a heart attack and died. All night long the poor child was wakeful, crying for his mother but when, the next morning, Zompa Kyi secretly took him to her she found her lady dead. Immediately there was uproar in the house; the lord and his son rushed to her room and tried to revive but her body was cold and they were filled with sorrow and remorse.

According to custom, offerings were made and an astrologer consulted about the cremation. He told them to put the body on the eastern mountain and not to move it for seven days. Then he would see whether they should cremate it, throw it into the river, or give it to the vultures. So it was that they wrapped Nangsa’s dead body in a white shroud and laid it in a cave on the eastern mountain, stationing some servants there to guard it.

While all this was going on Nangsa came before the Lord of Death and saw him sending those who had accumulated merit during their lifetimes to the place where bliss prevails, and those who had amassed non virtue to the 18th different stages of hell. In the hot hells living beings were being tortured in molten iron and in the cold hells they were tormented by freezing cold. Seeing the unbearable sufferings in hell, Nangsa was frightened and she knelt before the Lord of Death saying,

‘Oh lord, when I was in the world I had no opportunity to follow religious practice, but I did try to be kind to others. Realizing that death is at the end of our life I was not attached to my beautiful body, realizing that all accumulated possessions are temporary, I made offerings; realizing the worthlessness of hatred I never hated those who were unkind to me’. The Lord of Death looked in his mirror and judged her to be pure and blameless and seeing that she came from the lineage of a good dakini, told her to return to the world and practice the Dharma. Delighted, she prostrated before him and her consciousness returned to her body, and she came to life once more.

Nangsa found herself sitting wrapped in a white shroud in the cave on the mountainside. As she prayed to the Buddhas and to the assembly of dakinis it began to rain and a magnificent rainbow appeared in the sky. The servants, hearing a voice came to see what was happening and when they saw Nangsa sitting up in her shroud they were afraid. Some said the apparition was not Nangsa but a zombie and would not go near it, others determined to stone her. But then she spoke, telling them not to be frightened for she was no zombie but Nangsa resurrected and they were filled with wonder and joy. A messenger was hastily sent to report to the lord.

At home the little prince had not eaten or slept since his mother’s death. He asked Zompa Kyi to take him onto the roof of the house and show him where his mother’s body was, for he wanted to pray to be reunited with his mother in the pure land of dakinis. The maid servant pitied the child and with tears in her eyes she pointed out the mountain far in the east. Shielding his eyes with his hand he gazed in that direction lamenting,

‘My father ended my dear mother’s life.

Like an abandoned little bird I was left behind.

What joy would be mine if my dear mother could hear me

Look there, Zomkyi!

No vultures or crows fly over that mountain,

See the bright rainbow!

Please take me to the eastern mountain,

Where my mother’s body lies’.

Just then the messenger arrived and broke the news that Nangsa, the mistress of the house was alive again.

The lord and his retinue hastened to the mountain and seeing Nangsa in her shroud begged her forgiveness for their cruel treatment. They requested her to return with them and resume her position as mistress of the house. But Nangsa, resolved not to become involved in worldly activities, refused singing,

‘Lord of Rinang listen to me.

When I was alive, I lived in comfortable chambers

When death overcame me, I was left in a cave on this mountain.

So I reject worldly abodes.

When I was alive, my family and retinue surrounded me

When death overcame me I was left alone.

So I reject my family and worldly companions.

When I was alive, I wore beautiful ornaments

When death overcame me, I was left naked,

So I reject earthly ornaments.

When I was alive, I ate sumptuous food

When death overcame me, there was no place for food

and possessions, even my body was left behind.

So I reject worldly possessions.

When I was alive, you lords took others’ words as the truth

When death overcame me, you pretended remorse,

So I reject men.

When I was alive my husband treated me harshly

When death overcame me, he merely made offerings for me,

So I reject my husband.

When I was alive, I worked hard to care for my little prince,

When death overcame me, he became a string binding me to the world

So I reject even him.

Therefore, great Lords find other beautiful brides to take my place,

For I am going to a hermitage.’

The lord and his son realizing the truth in Nangsa’s words and regretting that they had been unfair to her could not reply but wept silently. At that moment the little prince rushed to his mother and seating himself of her lap sang a song of request to her,

‘Dear mother, good dakini,

You passed away once and came back to life.

How can I know if it is real or a dream?

Oh, how sad if it is a dream, but how glad I shall be if it is true.

If you are a zombie then kill me, if you are real than sustain me.

Though he practices the Dharma, it is hard to achieve Buddhahood.

A mother and son should not be parted.

Without you mother, I am like a bird with clipped wings,

Trying to soar high, it plummets to the ground.

A mother and son should not be parted.

Without you mother, I am like a barren desert stripped of water and grass,

Like a leper, I am shunned by everyone,

Oh Mother, you must come home’.

Nangsa felt pity for her son, but she knew that to return home as he wished would do no good, but would only an obstacle to her practice. Therefore she replied,

‘Do not fear, I am no zombie but really have come back to life.

This is no dream but the truth, so you may be happy.

But not everybody comes back to life once they have died.

And I do not know when death will take me if I do not follow the Dharma, therefore:

Do not cling to me as the green mane snow lion does to the snow mountain,

Like the snow, I will be melted by the sun.

Better you rely on Mount Kailash.

Do not cling to me as the skilful eagle does to the high ledge of a rocky mountain

Like the mountain ledge, I will be destroyed by thunder.

Better you rely on Mount Sumeru.

Do not cling to me as the antlered deer does to the wide grassland,

Like the grass, I will be destroyed by frost.

Better you rely on richer pastures.

Do not cling to me as the swift fish does to a lake,

Like the lake I will dry up in the drought.

Better you rely on the ocean.

Do not cling to me as the song bird does to the willow garden,

Like the willows I will fall in the autumn.

Better you rely on the spacious park.

Do not cling to me as the silver winged bee does to a holly-hock,

Like the holly-hock I will be destroyed by the hail.

Better you rely on the lotus.

Do not cling to me, your resurrected mother,

For death will soon overcome me.

Better you rely on these great lords.’

But the little prince was not satisfied and again pleaded with her,

‘How could I have become the string to bind you to the world unless you my parents had sown the seed?

If I don’t depend on the snow mountain, the blizzard cannot harm me,

But the lion will never grow strong.

I beg the mountain to remain until the lion is old enough.

Then let us, the mountain and lion follow the Dharma together.

We can call upon the evening shade if the snow mountain is melted by the sun.

If I don’t depend on the high ledge of a rocky mountain, the thunder cannot harm me,

But the eagle’s wing will never stretch.

I beg the high ledge to remain until the eagle learns its skills.

Then let us, the high ledge and eagle follow the Dharma together.

We can call upon sorcerers if the high ledge is threatened by thunder.

If I don’t depend on the wide grassland, the hunter cannot harm me,

But the deer’s graceful antlers will never grow.

I beg the wide grassland to remain until the deer follow the Dharma together.

We call upon the south wind if the grassland is threatened by frost.

If I don’t depend on the willow garden, the kite cannot harm me,

But the little bird will never learn how to sing.

I beg the willow garden to remain until the birds’ singing is sweet.

Then let the song bird and willow garden follow the Dharma together.

We can call upon the spring if the willow is threatened by the seasons.

If I don’t depend on the lake, the hook cannot harm me,

But the fish will never learn to swim swiftly.

I beg the lake to remain until the fish become agile.

Then let the fish and lake follow the Dharma together.

We call upon the rain if the lake is threatened by drought.

If I don’t depend on the holly-hock, the birds cannot harm me,

But the bee’s silver wings will never shine.

I beg the holly-hock to remain until the bee has gathered enough nectar.

Then the holly-hock and the little bee follow the Dharma together,

We can call upon the hail for protection if the holly-hock is threatened by it.

If I don’t depend on you, your death cannot harm me,

But I shall never grow into a man.

I beg you, mother, to remain until I am old enough, then let us follow the Dharma together.

We can call upon the lama to give us long life initiation if you are threatened by death.’

Everybody there wholeheartedly joined the prince in his plea; even Ani Nyimo came forward and sincerely apologized to Nangsa for her past behaviour. Persuaded by the youth of her son and thinking that she might have a beneficial effect on the minds of the family and the servants of the household, Nangsa finally agreed to return for a while. She put on pretty clothes and jewellery once more, but applied herself to giving teachings on the difficulty of obtaining human life, the logic of the law of cause and the effect, the sufferings of the world, and the benefits of nirvana. Her advice, however, failed to touch the hearts and minds of her family, so she felt dejected and unhappy.

When asked the cause of her unhappiness, she said:

‘I am not unhappy because I lack good food, pretty clothes or fame in this life. I am not troubled by some illness or disturbance. It is not only that you do not follow the Dharma, but that you do not let me do so either. For this reason I am dejected. Beautiful chambers, no matter how heavenly cannot please me, good food even if it taste like nectar cannot satisfy me. Neither could my family delight me even were they divine children. Therefore, allow me to follow the Dharma, and if you will not, then at least let me return to my parents house’.

Although the lords had no wish to lose her they could see no other way of pleasing her, and hoping that perhaps her parents might influence her to return to their house, they finally agreed to let Nangsa go. As she journeyed home, accompanied by Zompa Kyi and the little prince she gave teachings at all the villages on the way. When they reached her birth place Zhangpei Kurnangpa they were greeted by her parents who offered them scarves and sang a song of greeting,

‘How fares the snow lion?

A long time has passed since we have seen you.

We are grateful for the lion’s return

Before the snow mountain is melted by the Sun.

How fares the eagle?

A long time has passed since we have seen you.

We are grateful for the eagle’s return

Before the rock is destroyed by the thunder.

How fares the deer?

A long time has passed since we have seen you.

We are grateful for the deer’s return

Before the pasture is destroyed by the frost.

How fares the fish?

A long time has passed since we have seen you.

We are grateful for the fish’s return

Before the lake is dried in the drought.

How fares the song bird?

A long time has passed since we have seen you.

We are grateful for the bird’s return

Before the green leaves begin to fall in the square willow garden.

How fares our daughter?

A long time has passed since we have seen you.

We are grateful for your return

Before death comes over your parents.’

Nangsa sang in rely

‘The snow lion is well,

Though a little hurt by the rain, snow and wind.

The lion delights to see the snow mountain again.

The eagle is well,

Though a little hurt by the arrow.

It flew high in the sky to escape,

And delights to see the rock again.

The deer is well,

Though a little hurt by the hunting dogs.

It defended itself with its horns,

And delights to see the spreading pasture again.

The fish is well,

Though a little hurt by the hook.

Saved by its swift movement,

It delights to swim in the lake again.

The song bird is well,

Though a little hurt by the kite.

Helped by its sweet voice,

It delights to be in the willow garden again.

I, your daughter Nangsa, who died, but came back to life again

Am overjoyed to see my parents again’.

Then they entered the house and talked at length of all that had happened: about Nangsa’s life at the lord’s house and her sister-in-law’s jealousy, of her untimely death and how the Lord of Death had sent her back into the world. Sometimes during the tale her parents felt the urge to laugh and sometimes to cry.

Time passed until, one day, she saw the unfinished weaving she had started before her marriage. Thinking to complete it she sat down to the work. As she wove some of her childhood friends came to her with gifts. The girls sat together talking of their likes and dislikes and of their husbands. But Nangsa told them of her desire to follow the Dharma which made them laugh and gently tease her, not believing that she was serious. In order to convince them that this was her chosen way of life she sang a song,

‘Human life is very difficult to find’

If we do not follow the Dharma at once,

It will be over, like a flash of lightning.

Our lives are like dew drops; they disappear with the slightest misfortune.

Even without you, my childhood friends, I will go to a hermitage.

Our lives are like rainbows, they quickly fade

Even without you, my childhood friends, I will go to a hermitage.

Our lives like animals in the hands of the slaughterer soon die.

Even without you, my childhood friends, I will go to a hermitage.

Our lives are like rays of the setting sun, soon sinking

beyond the western mountain

Even without you, my childhood friends, I will go to a hermitage.

Our lives are like festivals, they are soon over.

Even without you, my childhood friends, I will go to a hermitage.

Our lives are like the beauty of young girls, not remaining forever.

Even without you, my childhood friends, I will go to a hermitage.

Overhearing this, Nangsa’s mother was worried and begged her daughter not to follow the Dharma. When she paid no heed to her words she became annoyed and thought that because Nangsa was the chief lady of a noble house she had been treated too gently and become willful. Feeling it was now time to use harsh words to make her change her mind she sang,

‘If you will not listen to me, who cared for you as a babe,

What use is there in having a daughter?

Like the sprouts in the field, well nourished and watered, you grew,

Will you have no regret when frost and hail destroy you?

If you are sick yet consult not the doctor nor take medicine,

Do not grieve when you leave the world forever

Nangsa, my pretty child,

If you will not be the lord’s lady or an obedient daughter

Do not grieve when you are neither a householder nor a nun’.

She rushed at Nangsa throwing ashes in her face and beating her with the stick. The other girls at once came between them, but her mother drove her out into the night and she was obliged to beg a room from a friend.

That night she saw the opportunity she had been waiting for to cast off worldly concerns to follow the Dharma. At midnight she secretly left the village and set out for Sera Yalung. As she was passing over the Tsetchen bridge the full moon rose over the eastern mountain. This she saw as an auspicious sign and made an offering with the water from the Nyiangchu river. In the morning, as the first brilliant rays of sun rose over the mountain she arrived at Sera Yalung and rejoicing made her way straight to Lama Shakya Gyeltsen’s door.

His attendant demanded to know who she was and why such a pretty girl had come. Nangsa replied,

‘I have come from Nyiangto Rinang, but I am going nowhere. I am the daughter of a simple village family. My husband is the lord’s son, but I have nothing. Rejecting worldly life I came here in order to follow the Dharma. Please permit me to meet the lama’.

Doubtful of her intentions the attendant tried to persuade Nangsa to go home, but eventually, unable to move her he spoke to the lama and she prayed,

‘I pray to the lama who has realized the natural state of emptiness to let me meet him, for I reject every aspect of the world. In this tranquil place, Sera Yalung, you are the only lama on whom I can depend. Do not cast me out like dust, but hold me fast by the hook of your compassion.’

Then the lama replied,

‘A mere girl cannot practice unless se is an emanation of Tara. Though you may think you want to practice now, in time you’ll change your mind and when your parents see you without your ornaments they will come and make trouble for me. It is better therefore, if you go back home’.

In desperation Nangsa vowed that if she could not become his disciple she would kill herself and proceeded to unsheathe her knife. Finally, accepting her sincerity the lama allowed her to be his disciple. A small room was built for her next to the lama’s and he initiated her into Tantric path and gave her detailed instructions on meditation. After three months of concentrated practice she gained some realization.

When Kunsang Dechen and Nyangtsa Seldon had searched and failed to find Nangsa they reported her disappearance to the Rinang lords. They too looked everywhere and months later they come to know that Nangsa was living at Sera Yalung monastery. Immediately they gathered an army and set out at its head with the intention of destroying the monastery, killing the lama and bringing Nangsa home. When they arrived and surrounded the buildings some of the monks came out and fought to defend their monastery. A great battle ensued in which many monks were killed. The soldiers captured the lama and brought him before the lords. Seeing all the killing and destruction Nangsa emerged from meditation and approached the lords begging them not to harm the lama and to leave her alone in her practice. The sight of Nangsa without her ornaments and wearing a plain yogi’s robe filled them with fury and they said,

‘How dare you, Lama Shakya Gyeltsen ravish our lady, dressing her in that yogi’s cloth and stealing her jewels? You have gone too far! Though there are countless stars in the sky none can compete with the sun and the moon. Though there are many lords in Central Tibet nobody can stand against Rinang lords. We should have put an end to you before now!’

The lord aimed his arrow and his son raised his sword, but suddenly, the lama rose from the ground and moved the eastern mountains to the west and the western mountains to the east. Through his power, the wounded monks were healed and the dead ones came back to life. He addressed the lords saying,

‘The mind’s of beasts in the bodies of men are the lords,

As, in eclipse, the sun and moon compete.

So I, opposing the great lords, took Nangsa away.

Listen and you shall hear why it was so:

How useless not to adorn the altar with the lotus while it is blooming,

What shame when it decays in the foul mud without being used.

How useless not to gallop the horse on the wide plain when

it can race with the wind,

What shame when it grows old in the stable without being ridden.

How useless not to allow Nangsa to practice when she was human.

What shame if she remains in the house of the unholy lords

without following the Dharma.

I meant not to show you my magic power, but to subdue the enemies of

Dharma I have revealed it’.

Then he invited Nangsa to reveal her own powers, which she did, singing,

‘The lords presumed to keep a snow lion at home like a dog.

But it will not stay, even if you tie it up.

The lion sports its green mane among the mountains.

The lords presumed to keep a wild yak as a domestic animal.

But it will not stay, even if you put a ring in its nose.

The wild yak flaunts its horns on the high plateau.

The lord presumed to clasp a rainbow.

But how could they catch it?

The lords presumed to use the white clouds as cloaks.

But how can it be?

The lord presumed to have Nangsa as their mistress all their lives.

But how could I stay?

High in the sky, I will demonstrate my feats’.

Overawed by the unique power of the lama and amazed at the results of Nangsa’s three months’ practice, the lord and his men laid down their weapons and prostrated to the lama and his disciple. They sincerely regretted their misguided behaviour and many, including the lord and Ani Nyimo remained to follow the Dharma under the guidance of these excellent spiritual teachers. The young lord, Dakpa Samdup returned home until his little son was fifteen years old and could take charge of the family house and lands. Then he too followed the Dharma.

The whole region buzzed with the news of change that had come over the Rinang lords. When Nangsa’s parents heard about it, they too became practitioners and for the rest of their lives the little prince supplied them all with the necessities of life.

Translated by Dorjey Tseten with Dominic Wynniatt-Husey, edited by Philippa Russell, drawings by Gangzey Tashi Gyaltsen.

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