The Lung-gom-pas Runners
Under the collective term of lung-gom Tibetans include a large number of practices which combine mental concentration with various breathing gymnastics and aim at different results either spiritual or physical.
If we accept the belief current among the Lamaists we ought to find the key to thaumaturgy in that curious training. Keen investigations do not, however, lead to extraordinary enthusiasm for the result obtained by those who have practiced it, seeking to acquire occult powers. Nevertheless, it would also be an error to deny that some genuine phenomena are produced by the adepts of lung-gom.
Though the effects ascribed to lung-gom training vary considerably, the term lunggom is especially used for a kind of training which is said to develop uncommon nimbleness and especially enables its adepts to take extraordinarily long tramps with amazing rapidity.
Belief in such a training and its efficacy has existed for many years in Tibet, and men who travelled with supernormal rapidity are mentioned in many traditions. We read in Milarespa’s biography that at the house of the lama who taught him black magic there lived a trapa who was fleeter than a horse. Milarespa boasts of similar powers and says that he once crossed in a few days, a distance which, before his training, had taken him more than a month. He ascribes his gift to the clever control of “internal air.”
However, it should be explained that the feat expected from the lung-gom-pa is one of wonderful endurance rather than of momentary extreme fleetness. In this case, the performance does not consist in racing at full speed over a short distance as is done in our sporting matches, but of tramping at a rapid pace and without stopping during several successive days and nights.
Beside having gathered information about the methods used in training lung-gom pas, I have been lucky enough to catch a glimpse of three adepts. In this I was extremely fortunate as, though a rather large number of monks endeavour to practice some kind of lung-gom exercises, there is no doubt that very few acquire the desired result, and in fact true lung-gom-pas must be very rare.
I met the first lung-gom-pa in the Chang thang of Northern Tibet. Towards the end of the afternoon, Yongden, our servants and I were riding leisurely across a wide tableland, when I noticed, far away in front of us, a moving black spot which my field-glasses showed to be a man. I felt astonished. Meetings are not frequent in that region, for the last ten days we had not seen a human being. Moreover, men on foot and alone do not, as a rule, wander in these immense solitudes. Who could the strange traveller be?
One of my servants suggested that he might belong to a trader’s caravan which had been attacked by robbers and disbanded. Perhaps, having fled for life at night or otherwise escaped, he was now lost in the desert. That seemed possible. If such was really the case, I would take the lone man with us to some cowherds’ encampment or wherever he might wish to go if not far out of our route.
But as I continued to observe him through the glasses, I noticed that the man pro ceeded at an unusual gait and, especially, with an extraordinary swiftness. Though, with the naked eyes, my men could hardly see anything but a black speck moving over the grassy ground, they too were not long in remarking the quickness of its advance. I handed them the glasses and one of them, having observed the traveller for a while muttered: “Lama lung-gom-pa chig da.”
These words “lama lung-gom-pa” at once awakened my interest. I had heard a great deal about the feats performed by such men and was acquainted with the theory of the training. I had, even, a certain experience of the practice, but I had never seen an adept of lung-gom actually accomplishing one of these prodigious tramps which are so much talked about in Tibet.
Was I to be lucky enough to witness such a sight? The man continued to advance towards us and his curious speed became more and more evident. What was to be done if he really was a lung-gom-pa ? I wanted to observe him at close quarters, I also wished to have a talk with him, to put him some questions, to photograph him. (…) I wanted many things. But at the very first words I said about it, the man who had recognized him as a lama lung-gom-pa exclaimed:
“Your Reverence will not stop the lama, nor speak to him. This would certainly kill him. These lamas when travelling must not break their meditation. The god who is in them escapes if they cease to repeat the ngags, and when thus leaving them before the proper time, he shakes them so hard that they die.”
Put in that way, the warning seemed to express pure superstition. Nevertheless it was not to be altogether disregarded. From what I knew of the “technique” of the phenomena, the man walked in a kind of trance. Consequently, a sudden awakening, though I doubt if it could cause death, would certainly painfully disturb the nerves of the runner. To what extent that shock would harm him I could not guess and I did not want to make the lama the object of a more or less cruel experiment.
Other reasons also forbade me to gratify my curiosity. Tibetans had accepted me as a lady-lama, they knew that I was a professed Buddhist and could not guess the difference existing between my philosophic conception of the Buddha’s doctrine and lamaist Buddhism.
Common Tibetan folk completely ignore the fact that the term Buddhism includes a number of sects and views. So, in order to enjoy the confidence, respect and intimacy which my religious garb brought me, I was compelled to behave in close accordance with Tibetan customs, especially with religious ones. This was a serious hindrance, and often deprived my observations of a great part of their scientific interest, but it was the unavoidable price I had to pay for being admitted on ground still much more jealously guarded than the material territory of Tibet. This time, again, I had to repress my desire for full investigation and remain satisfied with the sight of the uncommon traveller.
By that time he had nearly reached us; I could clearly see his perfectly calm impassive face and wide-open eyes with their gaze fixed on some invisible far-distant object situated somewhere high up in space. The man did not run. He seemed to lift himself from the ground, proceeding by leaps. It looked as if he had been endowed with the elasticity of a ball and rebounded each time his feet touched the ground. His steps had the regularity of a pendulum.
He wore the usual monastic robe and toga, both rather ragged. His left hand gripped a fold of the toga and was half hidden under the cloth. The right held a phurba (Magic dagger ). His right arm moved slightly at each step as if leaning on a stick, just as though the phurba, whose pointed extremity was far above the ground, had touched it and were actually a support.
My servants dismounted and bowed their heads to the ground as the lama passed before us, but he went his way apparently unaware of our presence. I thought I had done enough to comply with local customs by suppressing my desire to stop the traveller. I already began to vaguely regret it and thought that at any rate I would see some more of the affair. I
ordered the servants to remount their beasts at once and follow the lama. He had already covered a good distance; but without trying to overtake him, we did not let that distance increase and, with the glasses as well as with our naked eyes, my son and I looked continually at the lung-gom-pa.
It was no longer possible to distinguish his face, but we could still see the amazing regularity of his springy steps. We followed him for about two miles and then he left the track, climbed a steep slope and disappeared in the mountain range that edged the steppe. Riders could not follow that way and our observations came to an end. We could only turn back and continue our journey.
I wondered if the lama had, or had not, noticed that we were following him. Of course, though we were a good distance behind him, anyone in a normal state would have been aware of the presence of a troop of six riders. But, as I said, the traveller seemed to be in a trance and I could not therefore tell whether he was only pretending not to have seen us and climbed the hill to escape our inquisitive looks, or if he really did not know that he was being followed, and merely went in that direction because it was his way.
On the morning of the fourth day after we had met the lung-gom-pa, we reached the territory called Thebgyai, where there are a number of scattered dokpas encampments. I did not fail to relate to the herdsmen how we had approached a lama lung-gom-pa as we joined the track that led to their pasture ground. Now some of the men had seen the traveller when gathering their cattle together at sunset the day before we had met him ourselves.
From that information I made a rough reckoning. Taking into account the approximate number of hours we had actually travelled each day at the usual speed of our beasts – leaving out the time spent camping and resting – I came to the conclusion that in order to reach the place where we met him, the man, after he had passed near the dokpas, must have tramped the whole night and next day, without stopping, at about the same speed as he was going when we saw him.
To walk for twenty-four hours consecutively cannot be considered as a record by the hillmen of Tibet who are wonderful walkers. Lama Yongden and I, during our tourney from China to Lhasa, have sometimes tramped for fully nineteen hours, without stopping or refreshing ourselves in any way. One of these marches included the crossing of the high Deo pass, knee deep in the snow. However, our slow pace could not in any way be compared to that of the leaping lung-gom-pa, who seemed as if carried on wings.
And the latter had not started from Thebgyai. Whence had he come and how far was he still going when we lost sight of him?
Both were a mystery to me. The dokpas thought that he might have come from Tsang, some monasteries of that province having a reputation as colleges for lung gom training in swiftness. Yet they had not spoken to him, and tracks coming from various directions join up on the Thebgyai territory.
Methodical investigations were impossible in these immense solitudes, or would have required several months of research without any certainty of obtaining a satisfactory result. To undertake them was out of the question. I have just mentioned that monasteries in the Tsang province are renowned for training in swiftness.
There is a legend which recounts the circumstances by which the most important of them – Shalu gompa – was led to undertake the instruction and exercise of lung-gom-pas runners. The heroes of that legend are two prominent lamas: Yungtön Dorje Pal and the historian Bu-stön. The former was famous as a powerful magician who specialized in the coercion of terrible deities.
Born about A.D. 1284 he is said to be the seventh of the successive reincarnations of Subhuti161 the line of whose reincarnations was continued, later on, by the Tashi Lamas, the present being the sixteenth reincarna tion. Yungtön Dorje Pal lived for a time at the court of the Emperor of the Mongol dynasty which then ruled in China. His guru is said to have been a mystic lama whose name was Zurwang Senge of whom nothing seems to be known except through legends and rather fantastic traditions. Yungtön Dorje Pal died at the age of 92 years.
Bu-stön was born at Tho phug in the vicinity of Shigatze in 1288. He wrote several books of history and arranged the Buddhist Scriptures, translated from Sanskrit, into the present collection called Kahgyur. Now the magician Yungtön had decided to perform a solemn dubthabs to coerce Shinjed,163 the Lord of Death. This rite had to be accomplished every twelve years, or the deity would slay a sentient being every day to satisfy his hunger. The effect of the dubthabs is to bring Shinjed under the control of the Lama magician and to extort from him a promise, on his oath, to give up the slaughter of human beings for the twelve years.
Some offerings are presented to him during the rite, and daily worship is instituted as a substitute for the lives which he has sworn to spare. Bu-stön heard of Yungtön’s intention and wishing to ascertain if his friend really possessed the power of coercing the terrible deity, he proceeded to the latter’s temple accompanied by three other learned lamas. There he found that Shinjed had already answered Yungtön’s summons. His fearful form was “as large as the sky,” says the story.
The magician told the lamas that they had just come in time to prove the extent of their love and compassion, He had, he said, coerced the god for the sake of humanity, now it was necessary to feed him so that he might be propitiated, and he suggested that one of the lamas should offer himself as victim. The three companions of Bu-stön declined the invitation under various pretexts and took hasty leave. Bustön remained alone with Yungtön and declared that if the success of the rite really required the sacrifice of a human life which would prevent the daily slaughter of a being for twelve years, he was ready to walk into the wide-open mouth of Shinjed.
To this generous proposal the magician replied that he could manage to secure the purpose of the dubthabs without his friend sacrificing his life. But he would entrust to him and his lineal successors, the charge of performing the prescribed rite every twelve years. Bu-stön having accepted the responsibility, Yungtön, by his magic power, created countless phantom doves and threw them into Shinied’s mouth. Since then, the successive incarnations of Lama Bu-stön who ruled over Shalu gompa, have kept up the celebration of the propitiating ceremony. It seems that, as time went on, Shinjed acquired some companions, for the Shalu lamas now speak of many demons who are evoked upon that occasion.
A runner is required to gather these demons from various parts. This runner is called Maheketang. The name “mahe” is taken from the buffalo on which Shinjed rides. This animal is said to be fearless and consequently dares to call the evil spirits. At least, such is the explanation given at Shalu. The elected runner is alternatively a monk from Nyang töd kyid phug or one from Samding. Those who aspire to play the part of Maheketang undertake a preliminary training in either of the above-mentioned monasteries. The training consists in breathing exercises practiced during a strict seclusion in complete darkness, which lasts three years and three months.
Amongst these exercises the following one enjoys the greatest favour amongst those many Tibetan ascetics who are not of an especially intellectual type. The student sits cross-legged on a large and thick cushion. He inhales slowly and for a long time, just as if he wanted to fill his body with air. Then, holding his breath, he jumps up with legs crossed, without using his hands and falls back on his cushion, still remaining in the same position. He repeats that exercise a number of times during each period of practice. Some lamas succeed in jumping very high in that way. Some women train them selves in the same manner.
As one can easily believe the object of this exercise is not acrobatic jumping. According to Tibetans, the body of those who drill themselves for years, by that method, become exceedingly light; nearly without weight. These men, they say, are able to sit on an ear, of barley without bending its stalk or to stand on the top of a heap of grain without displacing any of it. In fact the aim is levitation. A curious test has been devised, and the student who passes it with success is believed capable of performing the feats here above mentioned or, at least, of approaching proficiency.
A pit is dug in the ground, its depth being equal to the height of the candidate. Over the pit is built a kind of cupola whose height from the ground level to its highest point again equals that of the candidate. A small aperture is left at the top of the cupola. Now between the man seated cross-legged at the bottom of the pit and that opening, the distance is twice the height of his body. For instance, if the man’s height is 5 feet 5 inches, the top hole will be at 10 feet 10 inches from the pit’s bottom. The test consists in jumping cross-legged, as during the training exercises which I have described, and coming out through the small opening at the top of the cupola. I have heard Khampas declare that this feat has been performed in their country, but I have not myself witnessed anything like it.
According to information which I have gathered on the spot, the final test that consecrates the success of candidate “Calling buffalos” is accomplished somewhat differently. After their seclusion in darkness for three years, those monks who deem themselves capable of going successfully through the test, proceed to Shalu where they are immured in one of the grave-like huts which I have already described. But, at Shalu, the opening is in the side of the cell. The candidate does not have to leap through the roof. A stool is left him, so that he can climb out of the pit where he has remained for seven days. He must crawl out through the square hole in the side of the cell. The size of this hole is calculated in proportion to the span between the second finger and thumb of the candidate’s hand. He who succeeds is qualified to become Maheke-tang.
It is difficult to understand that a training which compels a man to remain motionless for years can result in the acquisition of peculiar swiftness. However, this is the special training of Shalu, and in other places we meet with different and apparently more rational methods, including the actual practice of marching. Moreover, it must be understood that the lung-gom method does not aim at training the disciple by strengthening his muscles, but by developing in him psychic states that make these extraordinary marches possible.
The Maheketang starts on the eleventh day of the tenth month of the Tibetan year; after visiting Lhasa, Samye, and several other places, he is back at Shalu on the 25th of the same month. He immediately sets out again, goes to Shigatze, makes an extended tour in the highlands of Tsang (Tsang töd) and returns to Shalu after one month’s time. Then the lineal successor of Bu-stön performs the propitiation rites, as Maheketang’s invitations to the demons are, apparently, always accepted without demur.
I, by chance, caught a glimpse of another lung-gom-pa in the region inhabited by some independent tribes of Tibetan origin in the Szetchuanese Far West. But this time I had not the opportunity of watching him tramp. We were travelling in a forest, Yongden and I walking ahead of our servants and beasts, when at the turning of the path, we came upon a naked man with iron chains rolled all round his body.
He was seated on a rock and seemed so deeply buried in thoughts that he had not heard us coming. We stopped, astonished, but he must have suddenly become aware of our presence, for after gazing at us a moment, he jumped up and threw himself into the thickets more quickly than a deer. For a while we heard the noise of the chains jingling on his body growing rapidly fainted and fainter, then all was silence again. “That man is a lung-gom-pa,” said Yongden to me. “I have already seen one like him. They wear these chains to make themselves heavy, for through the practice of lung-gom, their bodies have become so light that they are always in danger of floating in the air.”
My third meeting with a lung-gom-pa happened in Ga, a region of Kham, in Eastern Tibet. I was again travelling with my small caravan. The man appeared under the familiar and commonplace figure of an arjopa, that is to say a poor pilgrim carrying his luggage on his back. Thousands of such fellows may be seen on all the tracks of Tibet, so we did not pay much attention to a member of such a large tribe. These needy, solitary pedestrians have the habit of attaching themselves to any trader’s caravan or to any rich traveller whom they happen to meet on their way and following them.
They walk beside the pack animals, or if these are few and lightly loaded, so that they trot together with the riders, the beggars who, of course, fall behind, tramp on till they join the party at the evening camping. This is not generally difficult, for during long journeys Tibetans start at daybreak and stop at about mid day in order that their beasts may rest and graze during the whole afternoon. The trouble that the arjopa gives himself to hurry after the horsemen, or any odd help he is always ready to give the servants, are rewarded by a daily evening meal and occasional buttered tea and tsampa from the travellers themselves.
According to this custom, the man whom we had met attached himself to our party. We learnt from him that he had been staying at the Pabong monastery in Kham, and was going to the Tsang province. A pretty long journey which, done on foot and begging on the way, would take three or four months. However, such tramps are under taken by thousands of Tibetan pilgrims.
Our companion had already spent a few days with us when, in consequence of a slight break-down, it was nearly noon before we started. Thinking that the pack mules would be late in crossing a ridge that lay ahead of us, I rode on with my son and a servant, to look for water and a grassy place where we could camp before dusk.
When the master travels ahead, the man who accompanies him always carries a vessel to make tea and some provisions, so that the gentleman or the lama may have a meal while waiting for the arrival of the luggage and tents. My servant had not failed to comply with this habit, and it was this point so trivial in itself which caused the display of the lung-gom-pa’s abilities. The way to the pass was longer than I had suspected, and I soon realized that the pack-mules would not reach the top of the ridge before nightfall.
It was out of the question to let them attempt going down the other side of the range in the dark, so having reached a grassy spot near a brooklet, I stopped there. We had already drank tea and were collecting dry cow-dung to feed the fire when I saw the arjopa climbing the slope at some distance below us, progressing with extraordinary rapidity. As he came nearer, I could see that he was walking with the same peculiar nimble springing gait which I had noticed in the lama lung-gom-pa of Thebgyai.
When he reached us, the man stood quite still for a while staring straight before him. He was not at all out of breath, but appeared only half conscious and incapable of speaking or moving. However, the trance gradually subsided and the arjopa came back to his normal state. Answering my questions, he told me that he had begun the lung-gom training for acquiring fleetness with a gomchen who lived near the Pabong monastery. His master having left the country, he intended to go to Shalu gompa in Tsang.
He did not tell me any more and looked sad the whole evening. On the morrow, he confessed to Yongden that the trance had come on him involuntarily and had been produced by a most vulgar thought. As he was walking along with the servants who led my mules, he had begun to feel impatient. They were going so slowly, he thought, and during that time we were, no doubt, grilling on the fire the meat he had seen my servant carry with him.
When the three other servants and he himself would have overtaken us they would have to pitch the tents, to look after the beasts, and so there would only be time to drink tea and eat tsampa before retiring to sleep. He visualized our little party. He saw the fire, the meat on the red embers, and sunk in contemplation gradually became unconscious of his surroundings. Then, prompted by the desire of sharing our meal, he accelerated his pace and in so doing mechanically fell into the special gait which he was learning.
The habitual association of that peculiar gait with the mystic words his master had taught him, caused the mental recitation of the proper formula. The latter led to the regulation of the breath in the prescribed rhythm, and the trance followed. Nevertheless, the concentration of his thoughts on the grilled meat dominated everything. The novice regarded himself as a sinner. The mixture of gluttony, holy mystic words and lung-gom exercises seemed to him sacrilegious.
My lama-son did not fail to report the confidences he had received. I felt interested and put different questions to the novice. He was most unwilling to answer, but I managed to obtain some information which confirmed what I knew already. He had been told that sunset and clear nights were favourable conditions for the walker. He had also been advised to train himself by looking fixedly at the starry sky. I suppose that, like most Tibetan mystics, he had taken an oath not to divulge the teaching imparted by his master and that my questions troubled him.
The third day after his racing performance, when we awoke, at daybreak, he was no longer in the tents. He had fled at night, perhaps using his power of lung-gom and, this time, for a more worthy purpose than that of sharing a “bonne bouche.” The information which I obtained from different sources regarding the peculiar practice of lung-gom may be summarized as follows:
The first step before undertaking the training is, as usual, to acquire power by the angkur rite. One must then, under the guidance of an experienced teacher, drill oneself for several years in various kinds of breathing exercises. It is only when the disciple has acquired a sufficient degree of proficiency that he is permitted to attempt the racing performance itself.
A new angkur is conferred at this stage and a mystic formula imparted by the master to the novice. The latter is advised to concentrate his thoughts on the cadenced mental recitation of that formula with which, during his walk, the in and out breathing must be in rhythm, the steps keeping time with the breath and the syllables of the formula. The walker must neither speak, nor look from side to side. He must keep his eyes fixed on a single distant object and never allow his attention to be attracted by anything else.
When the trance has been reached, though normal consciousness is for the greater part suppressed, it remains sufficiently alive to keep the man aware of the obstacles in his way, and mindful of his direction and goal. Wide desert spaces, flat ground, and especially evening twilight are said to be favourable conditions. Even if one has already made a long tramp during the day and feels tired, the trance is often easily attained at sunset. Fatigue is then no longer felt and the traveller can continue walking for miles.
The first hours of the day are also favourable, but in a lesser degree. Noon and early afternoon, narrow valleys, woodlands uneven ground are considered unfavourable conditions and only adepts in lung-gom are deemed capable of overcoming the adverse influences which emanate from them. These explanations seem to imply that uniformity in the landscape and absence of near-by conspicuous objects are helpful in attaining the trance. It is certain that a wide, desert plain offers fewer occasions of distracting attention from the formula and the movement of the breath, than a ravine half obstructed with rocks and bushes, noisy mountain streams, etc.
As for the regularity of the pace it cannot be easily kept up on a rough uneven path. From my own superficial experience of the practice, though desert tablelands are choice ground, I feel convinced that a forest of tall straight trees, devoid of under growth and crossed by tolerably even paths, may be quite favourable to the trance, perhaps also on account of the uniformity of the landscape. However, this is my own idea and is based on a single personal observation which I made in the primeval forests of Poyul.
Any clear night is deemed good for the training of beginners, but strong starlight is especially favourable. One is often advised to keep the eyes fixed on a particular star. This appears connected with hypnotic effects, and I have been told that among novices who train themselves in that way, some stop walking when “their” star sinks below the skyline or rises above their head. Others, on the contrary, do not notice its disappearance because, by the time that the star has passed out of sight, they have formed a subjective image of it which remains fixed before them.
Some initiates in the secret lore also assert that, as a result of long years of practice, after he has travelled over a certain distance, the feet of the lung-gom-pa no longer touch the ground and that he glides on the air with an extreme celerity. Setting aside exaggeration, I am convinced from my limited experiences and what I have heard from trustworthy lamas, that one reaches a condition in which one does not feel the weight of one’s body.
A kind of anaesthesia deadens the sensations that would be produced by knocking against the stones or other obstacles on the way, and one walks for hours at an unaccustomed speed, enjoying that kind of light agreeable dizziness well known to motorists at high speed. Tibetans distinguish between the regular prolonged tramps accomplished by the lung-gom-pas and those of the pawos possessed mediums, who go into trances involuntarily and walk with no definite goal in view.
Intellectual lamas do not deny the reality of the phenomena brought about, in the long run, by lung-gom practices, but they care little for them. Their attitude reminds us of that ascribed to the Buddha, in an old story.
It is said that the Buddha was once journeying with some of his disciples and met an emaciated Yogin, all alone in a hut in the middle of a forest. The Master stopped and inquired how long the man had been living there, practising austerities. “Twenty-five years,” answered the Yogin. “And what power have you acquired by such long and arduous exertion?” asked the Buddha. “I am able to cross a river by walking on the water,” proudly replied the anchorite. “My poor fellow!” said the Buddha with commiseration. “Have you really wasted so many years for such trifling result? Why, the ferry man will take you to the opposite bank for a small coin.”
The Art of Warming Oneself without Fire up in the Snows To spend the winter in a cave amidst the snows, at an altitude that varies between 11,000 and 18,000 feet, clad in a thin garment or even naked, and escape freezing, is a somewhat difficult achievement. Yet numbers of Tibetan hermits go safely each year through this ordeal. Their endurance is ascribed to the power which they have acquired to generate tumo. The word tumo signifies heat, warmth, but is not used in Tibetan language to express ordinary heat or warmth. It is a technical term of mystic terminology, and the effects of that mysterious heat are not confined to warming the anchorites who can produce it.
Tibetan adepts of the secret lore distinguish various kinds of tumo: exoteric tumo, which arises spontaneously in the course of peculiar raptures and, gradually, folds the mystic in the “soft, warm mantle of the gods”; esoteric tumo, that keeps the hermits comfortable on the snowy hills; mystic tumo, which can only claim a distant and quite figurative connection with the term “warmth,” for it is the experience of “paradisiac bliss” in this world. In the secret teaching, tumo is also the subtle fire which warms the generative fluid and drives the energy in it, till it runs all over the body along the tiny channels of the tsas.
Superstition and odd physiological ideas have contributed to give birth to many extraordinary stories on this subject, one of which I will venture to briefly relate. The famous ascetic, Reschungpa, anxious to become an erudite, left his master Milarespa, against the latter’s advice, to study the philosophic literature at Lhasa. Lacking his spiritual father’s blessing, things turned badly for him – at least from a religious point of view.
A rich man became quite enthusiastic about the young lama’s learning and mastery of occult lore and, in order to attach him to his house, he gave him his only child as wife. This happened before the reform of Tsong Khapa at a time when all lamas were allowed to marry. The girl did not in the least share her father’s admiration for Reschungpa, but she was obliged to obey him, and in revenge made life rather hard for her poor husband, who might well regret having yielded to the attraction of wealth.
His meekness in bearing ill-treatment did not soften his wife’s heart. She went so far as to stab him with a knife. And lo! instead of blood, generative fluid ran out of the wound. By the practice of tumo – so said the lama who told me the story with absolute conviction – the body of Reschungpa had been filled with the seed of life. To do justice to Tibetans, I must add that another lama scoffed at the tale and thus explained it. Truly, through tumo practices one may fill one’s body with generative force which allows psychic creations, but this is subtle, invisible energy and not gross material substance.
However, only a few, even in mystic circles, are thoroughly acquainted with these several kinds of tumo, while the wonderful effects of the tumo that warms and keeps alive the hermits in the snowy wilds are known to every Tibetan. It does not follow that the process by which that mysterious heat is produced is equally familiar to all of them. On the contrary. It is kept secret by the lamas who teach it, and they do not fail to declare that information gathered by hearsay or by reading is without any practical result if one has not been personally taught and trained by a master who is himself an adept.
Moreover, only those who are qualified to undertake the training may hope to enjoy its fruit. The most important qualifications required are: • to be already skilled in the various practices connected with breathing; • to be capable of a perfect concentration of mind, going as far as the trance in which thoughts become visualized; • and to have received the proper angkur from a lama possessed with the power of conferring it. (“empowerment,” angkur: the rite by which a peculiar power is communicated )
Tumo initiation is preceded by a long period of probation. Among other objects, I think probation aims at testing the robustness of the candidates. As great as may be my confidence in the tumo method, I still doubt whether it could be safely practiced by people of weak constitution. It is probable, however, that tumo’s teachers, wisely, endeavour to avoid failures that might prove harmful to presumptuous disciples and lower their own repute.
I do not know whether, when yielding to my pressing requests and shortening my time of probation, the venerable lama who “empowered” me only wanted to get rid of me or not. He simply told me to go to a lonely spot, to bathe there in an icy mountain stream, and then, without drying my body or putting on my clothes, to spend the night motionless in meditation.
Winter had not yet begun, but the level of the place, about 10,000 feet high, made the night rather chilly, and I felt very proud of not catching cold. Later on I took another bath of the same kind, this time involuntarily, when I lost footing as I was fording the Mekong River, near Rakshi in Northern Tibet. When I reached the shore, in a few minutes my clothes froze on me. (…) I had no spare ones.
One may easily understand that Tibetans, who are frequently exposed to accidents caused by a hard climate, hold a method that protects them against the cold in high esteem. Once initiated, one must renounce all fur or woollen clothing and never approach the fire to warm oneself. After a short period, during which he exerts himself under the close supervision of his master, the novice must retire to a very remote, absolutely solitary place situated high up on the hills. In Tibet “high up” means generally an altitude well above 10,000 feet.
According to tumo teachers and adepts, one must never practice the training exercises inside a house, or near inhabited places. They believe that foul air produced by smoke and smells, together with various occult causes, impede the success of the student and may even harm him. Once conveniently settled, the disciple must see nobody besides his lama, who may visit him occasionally, or to whose hermitage he may repair at long intervals.
The novice must begin his training each day before dawn and finish the special exercise relating to tumo before sunrise, because as a rule he has to perform one or another meditation at that time. The practice must be done in the open, and one must be either naked or clothed in a single cotton garment. Beginners may sit on a straw mat, if they own one, or on a piece of hard sackcloth or a wooden stool. More advanced disciples sit on the bare ground, and at a still higher degree of proficiency, on the snow or the ice of a frozen pond or stream.
They must not breakfast or even drink anything, especially any hot drink, before practicing. Two postures are allowed. Either the usual meditation posture cross-legged or seated in Western fashion, each hand placed on the corresponding knee, the thumb, the forefinger and the little finger being extended, and the middle and fourth fingers bent under the palm. Various breathing drills are first performed which aim at clearing the passage of the air in the nostrils.
Then pride, anger, hatred, covetousness, sloth, stupidity are mentally rejected with the rhythmic breathing out. All blessings from saintly beings, the Buddha’s spirit, the five wisdoms, all that is good and lofty in the world are attracted and assimilated while drawing in the breath.
Now, composing oneself for a while one dismisses all cares and cogitations. Having become perfectly calm, one imagines that a golden lotus exists in one’s body, on a level with the navel. In this lotus, shining like the sun, stands the syllable Ram. Above Ram is the syllable ma. From Ma Dorjee Naljorma ( A feminine deity) issues. These mystic syllables, which are called “seed,” must not be regarded as mere written characters, or symbolic representations of things, but as living beings standing erect and endowed with motive power.
For instance ram is not the mystic name of the fire, it is the seed of fire. Hindus attach great importance to the right pronunciation of these “seed formulas.” ( bija mantes) They think that their power resides in the sound which they believe to be creative. Certain Tibetan mystics agree that ram correctly pronounced, may produce fire, yet these mystic syllables are not generally used in Tibet as sound, but rather as representations of elements, deities, etc. Tibetans identifying ram with the fire, think that he who knows how to make mental use of the subjective image of that word, can set anything ablaze or even produce flames with out apparent fuel.
As soon as one has imagined Dorjee Naljorma springing from the syllable ma, one must identify oneself with her. When one has “become” the deity, one imagines the letter “A” placed in the navel and the letter Ha at the top of one’s head. (Ha: A letter of the Tibetan alphabet.)
Slow, deep inspirations act as bellows and wake up a smouldering fire, the size and shape of a minute ball (“the size and shape of goat dung.”)
This fire exists in A. Each inspiration produces the sensation of a breath of wind penetrating the abdomen at the height of the navel and increasing the force of the flames (In other tumo exercises, drops of oil must be imagined as oozing from Ha and falling into the fire situated in A, to feed it. )
Then, each deep inspiration is followed by a retention of the breath. Gradually the time spent holding in the breath is increased more and more. One’s thoughts continue to follow the waking up of fire which ascends along the uma vein arising in the middle of the body. Tibetans have borrowed from India the three mystic nadi ( Arteries, veins) which play an important part in the various yoga psychic trainings. In Tibetan, nadis are called tsas and respectively named roma, kyangma and uma.
These so-called “arteries” are not supposed to be true arteries containing blood, but exceedingly thin nerves that distribute currents of psychic energy. The three tsas just mentioned are the most important, but there exist countless others. However, enlightened mystics consider the tsa system as devoid of any physical reality. According to their opinion it is but symbolical imagery.
The exercise goes on, through ten stages, but one must understand that there exists no pause between them. The different subjective visions, as well as the sensations which accompany them, succeed each other in a series of gradual modifications. Inhalations, retentions of the breath and expirations continue rhythmically, and a mystic formula is continually repeated. The mind must remain perfectly concentrated and “one pointed” on the vision of the fire and the sensation of warmth which ensues.
The ten stages may be briefly described as follows:
1. The central artery uma is imagined – and subjectively seen – as thin as the thinnest thread or as a hair, yet filled with the ascending flame and crossed by the current of air produced by the breath. 2. The artery has increased in size and become as large as the little finger. 3. It continues to increase and appears to be the size of an arm. 4. The artery fills the whole body, or rather the body has become the tsa itself, a kind of tube filled with blazing fire and air. 5. The bodily form ceases to be perceived. Enlarged beyond all measure, the artery engulfs the whole world and the naljorpa feels himself to be a storm beaten flame among the glowing waves of an ocean of fire.
Beginners whose mind has not yet acquired the habit of very protracted meditation go more quickly through these five stages than more advanced disciples, who progress slowly from one to another, sunk in deep contemplation. Yet, even the quickest ones take about an hour to reach the fifth stage.
Now the subjective visions repeat themselves in reverse order.
6. The stormy wind abates, the fiery waves sink lower and are less agitated, the blazing ocean narrows and is absorbed in the body. 7. The artery, which is reduced to the size of an arm, is seen again with the fire enclosed in it. 8. The artery decreases to the size of the little finger. 9. It becomes as thin as a hair. 10. It entirely disappears: the fire ceases utterly to be perceived, as well as all forms, all representations whatsoever. All ideas of any kind of objects vanish likewise. The mind sinks into the great “Emptiness” where the duality knower and the object perceived does not exist any longer.
It is a trance which, according to the spiritual and psychic development of the nal jorpa, is more or less deep and more or less prolonged. The exercise, either with or without the five last stages, may be repeated during the day or whenever one is suffering from cold. But the training, properly speaking, is done during the early practice before dawn.
It is probable that Milarespa resorted to it when he happened to be unexpectedly surrounded by the snow in a cave of the Lachi Kang (near the mount Everest) and found himself compelled to stay there ’till the next spring. He made his adventure the subject of a poem part of which is freely translated below.
Disgusted with the worldly life
Sought solitude on the slopes of Lachi Kang.
Heavens and earth having held a council,
Sent me the tempest as their messenger
The airy and watery elements
Associated with the Southern dark clouds.
They imprisoned the sun and the moon,
Blew the small stars away from the sky
And shrouded the large ones in the mist.
Then, it snowed continually for nine days and nights,
The biggest flakes were as big as the fleece of wool,
They came down flying like birds.
The small ones were the size of peas and mustard seeds,
They came down rolling and whirling.
The greatness of the snowfall was beyond all expression,
High up it covered the crest of the glacier ranges,
Low down it buried, up to their tops, the trees of the forest.
The black hills appeared to be whitewashed.
The frost flattened the billowy lakes
And the blue running streams were hidden under the ice.
The mountains and the valleys were levelled and looked like a plain.
Men were prisoners in the villages,
Domestic animals suffered from famine,
Birds and wild beasts fasted,
Mice and rats were sealed under ground like a treasure
During that time of calamity.
The snow, the wintry blast and my thin cotton garment
Fought against each other on the white mountain.
The snow as it fell on me, melted into a stream,
The roaring blast was broken against the thin
Cotton robe which enclosed fiery warmth,
The life and death struggle of the fighter could there be seen
And I, having won the victory, left a landmark for the hermits
Demonstrating the great virtue of tumo.
Milarespa describes his impressions as a poet, but excepting the fact that he was shut up unexpectedly in the snows, without sufficient provisions and a proper shelter, there is nothing exceptional in his experience. Many Tibetan hermits spend the winter in surroundings resembling those that he depicts.
I am not so presumptuous as to compare my wintry “villegiatures” on the Tibetan hills with the exertions of anchorites of Milarespa ilk, yet scenery like that of which he tells is familiar to me. I, too, have lived in caves and huts on high altitudes. Though I did not lack provisions, and had fuel enough to light a fire whenever I wished it, I yet know the hard ships of that life. But I also remember the perfect silence, the delightful aloofness and the wonderful peace in which my hermitage was bathed, and I do not think that those who spend their days in such wise need to be pitied. I would rather say they are to be envied.
Beside the exercises which I have outlined, there exist a few others aiming at producing tumo. However, they are all more or less alike. The process always combines prolonged retention of the breath and visualization of fire. This, in fact, amounts to auto-suggestion. One of the six occult doctrines taught by Narota (About Narota, See “Disciples of Yore and their Contemporary Emulators” ) is said to have included tumo.
Here is an abridged account of Narota’s method. One must bear in mind that – as it has already been stated – such exercises were devised for the use of disciples who had already thoroughly drilled themselves for years in preparatory breathing and other gymnastics.
The posture of the body is described as follows:
Squatting with the legs crossed, the hands passing under the thighs and then clasped together. In that posture, one must
1. turn the stomach from right to left thrice, and from left to right thrice;
2. churn the stomach as hard as possible;
3. shake the body in the way “a restive horse shakes himself,” and perform a short leap while keeping the legs in the same crossed position. These three exercises must be repeated thrice successively and concluded with a leap, jumping as high as possible.
It does not seem to me very wonderful that a man should feel warm after performing this feat. The exercise is borrowed from Indian hatha yoga practices, but in hatha yoga treatises it is not connected with the kind of tumo known to Tibetans. The process continues by holding in the breath, until the abdomen becomes “the shape of a pot.”
Next comes the visualization of Dorjee Naljorma as in the exercise previously described. Then a sun is imagined in the palm of each hand, on the sole of each foot and below the navel. By rubbing together the suns placed in the hands and in the feet, fire flares up and strikes the sun below the navel, which flares up in its turn and fills the whole body with fire. With each expiration of the breath, the world is visualized as being filled with fire. The exercise ends by twenty-one big leaps.
Though there are certain resemblances in the images visualized in these two methods the difference between them is nevertheless considerable, for while the second includes leaps and gesticulations, the former requires complete immobility. It is not impossible that here, as in many other cases, certain elements of the training have been borrowed from the autochthonous Bönpos occultists. One of the latter once told me that it is the visualization of the fire, rather than the motion of the breath, which produces warmth during the trance. As I did not agree, he added: “A man may be killed by suggestion, he may kill himself by auto-suggestion (“killed by the power of mind”; kill himself “by his own imagination.”).
If death can be produced in that way, so much more easily may heat be generated.” Inhalations, retentions and expirations of the breath are accomplished mechanically, in the prescribed order, by those who are already well trained in the tumo practice. They do not break the concentration of the mind on the mirage of the fire, nor the repetition of the mystic formula which must accompany the contemplation.
These advanced students do not need to make any effort of imagination to see the growing intensity of the fire. In their case, the process goes on by itself as a result of habit which they have acquired, and a pleasant feeling of warmth spreads gradually all over the body, which is the aim of the practice.
Sometimes, a kind of examination concludes the training of the tumo students. Upon a frosty winter night, those who think themselves capable of victoriously enduring the test are led to the shore of a river or a lake. If all the streams are frozen in the region, a hole is made in the ice. A moon-light night, with a hard wind blowing, is chosen. Such nights are not rare in Tibet during the winter months.
The neophytes sit on the ground, cross-legged and naked. Sheets are dipped in the icy water, each man wraps himself in one of them and must dry it on his body. As soon as the sheet has become dry, it is again dipped in the water and placed on the novice’s body to be dried as before. The operation goes on in that way until day break. Then he who has dried the largest number of sheets is acknowledged the winner of the competition.
It is said that some dry as many as forty sheets in one night. One should perhaps make large allowances for exaggeration, or perhaps for the size of the sheets which in some cases may have become so small as to be almost symbolical. Yet I have seen some respas dry a number of pieces of cloth the size of a large shawl. According to the old rule, one must have dried at least three sheets to be a true respa entitled to wear the white cotton skirt, insignia of proficiency in tumo. But I doubt if the rule is strictly observed nowadays.
Respa means one who wears but a single cotton garment in all seasons and at any height. Yet respas who slip warm clothes on under their cotton robes are not lacking in Tibet. They are either complete frauds or monks who have really gone through tumo training, but have not pursued it long enough to obtain its full benefits. Nevertheless, though there are frauds and mediocrities, some tumo adepts go beyond the respa and, rejecting even their cotton garment, live entirely naked in the recesses of the high mountain ranges for long periods, sometimes it is said even for life.
Tibetans feel rather proud of such feats and do not fail to scoff at the naked Indian yogins whom they meet when going on a pilgrimage to India. They do not under stand that, with Indians, nakedness is the symbol of absolute renunciation and not a display of extraordinary physical endurance.
One of these super-respas who had trained himself in tumo near Kang Tise, while journeying over the plains of India with another respa and a lay servant, from Nepal to Gaya, happened to see a pretentious-looking sadhu lying naked and sun baked on a mat. “Old chap, you should go naked like that and lie on tso Mophang’s shore, then you will surely pull another face” said the Tibetan anchorite mockingly to the Indian who, of course, did not understand his language, nor why the three travellers irreverently burst out laughing at him.
This was related to me by the hermit himself who, in his old age, still enjoyed this little joke of his younger days. In fact, when one begins the training, the phenomenon of increasing heat, or perhaps in some cases, the subjective sensation of warmth, only lasts while practicing the exercise. When the concentration of mind and the breathing gymnastics cease, cold is again gradually felt. On the contrary, it is said that, with those students who have persevered in the training practice for many years, the production of heat becomes a natural function of the organism, which works all by itself, as soon as the weather grows cold.
Beside drying wet sheets on one’s body, there exist various other tests to ascertain the degree of heat which the neophyte is able to radiate. One of these tests consists in sitting in the snow. The quantity of snow melted under the man and the distance at which it melts around him are taken as measures of his ability.
It is difficult for us to get a perfectly correct idea about the extent of the results obtained through tumo training, but some of these feats are genuine. Hermits really do, live naked, or wearing one single thin garment during the whole winter in the high regions I have mentioned. I am not the only one who has seen some of them. It has been said that some members of the Mount Everest expedition had an occasional glimpse of one of these naked anchorites. In conclusion I may say that I have myself obtained remarkable results from my small experience of tumo.
Messages Sent “On the Wind”
Tibetan mystics are not talkative; those of them who accept disciples teach them according to methods in which discourses have but little place. The disciples of the contemplative hermits seldom see their master and only at intervals determined by the spiritual attainment and needs of the novice. A few months or a few years may elapse between these meetings. But in spite of their seeming aloofness, master and disciples – especially advanced disciples – do not lack means of communication when they deem it necessary.
Telepathy is a branch of the Tibetan secret lore and seems, in the “Land of Snows,” to play the part that wireless telegraphy has recently taken in the West. Yet, while apparatus for wireless transmissions are, in Occidental countries, at the public’s disposal, the subtler ways of sending messages “on the wind” remain the privilege of a small minority of adepts in that art in Tibet.
Telepathy is not altogether a novelty to Westerners, psychic research societies have, more than once, called attention to telepathic phenomena. These, however, usually seem to have occurred by chance. The author of the phenomenon was not aware of his part in it. Under such peculiar circumstances, he had sent forth the mysterious waves that had reached, at a greater or lesser distance, a human receiver, but he had not done this knowingly and on purpose. On the other hand, the experiments made to transmit volitional telepathic messages have given doubtful results, for they could not be repeated successfully as often as desired.
Things are different among Tibetans. They assert that telepathy is a science, which can be learnt like any other science, by those who have proper teaching and are fit instruments to put the theory into practice. Various ways are mentioned for the acquisition of telepathic power, though Tibetan adepts of secret lore are unanimous in ascribing the cause of the phenomena to an intense concentration of thought.
One may remark that as far as telepathy has been observed and studied in Western countries, its cause has seemed identical with that discovered by Tibetans. Mystic teachers declare that mastery in telepathy requires a perfect command over the mind, in order to produce, at will, the powerful “one-pointedness of thought” on which the phenomenon depends. The part of conscious “receiver,” always ready to vibrate at the subtle shock of the telepathic waves, is considered almost as difficult as that of the sender. To begin with, the intended receiver must have been “tuned” with him from whom he especially expects messages.
Now, volitional perfect concentration of mind on one single object, until every other object vanishes from the field of consciousness, is the basis of the lamaist spiritual training, and this training also includes psychic exercises that aim at developing the power of detecting the various “currents of energy” that are crossing each other in every direction.
So some affirm that telepathy, as well as tumo and other kindred accomplishments, is a natural by-product of the spiritual training and, consequently, need not be studied separately. This also explains the power with which all great gomchens and dubchens ( one who is possessed with supernormal powers) are credited, of communicating with their disciples, whatever may be the distance that separates them. However, some see the matter in another light.
Though they agree that proficiency in the spiritual training brings in its train proficiency in minor accomplishments, such as telepathy, they think that those who are not able to reach the high stages of the mystic path may rightly cultivate telepathy or other by-products separately. Mystic masters agree to this to a certain extent and, in fact, a number of them train their disciples in telepathy.
A number of Tibetan anchorites have become able, without having undergone any special training, to catch the telepathic messages of their guru. This is commonly considered as proof of their great devotion to him. A few have spontaneously acquired the power to emit messages. As for those who cultivate telepathy, the main lines of the training may be sketched as follows.
First, it is necessary to go through all the practices devised to produce the trance of “one-pointedness,” the concentration of thought on one single object and complete oblivion of all other things.
The complementary practice which consists in “emptying” the mind from all cogitations, establishing in it complete silence and blankness, must also be mastered. Then comes the analysis and discrimination of the various influences which cause sudden, apparently inexplicable, psychic or even physical sensations or moods of the mind, such as abrupt feelings of joy, of melancholy, of fear, and also sudden memories of persons, things or events apparently unconnected with anything going on around one.
When the pupil has exercised alone for a time, he may sit in meditation with his master in a silent and darkened room, the thoughts of both being concentrated on the same object. At the end of a given period, the student tells his teacher the phases of his meditation and these are compared with those of the master; concordances and discrepancies are noted.
Now, stopping, as far as he can, the activity of his mind, emptying it of all ideas, reflections and mental representations, the novice watches the thoughts which arise involuntarily and unexpectedly in him without being apparently linked with any of his present pre-occupations or feelings. He notes the subjective images which appear. And, again, at the end of the meditation, thoughts and images are made known to the lama teacher who sees whether or not they correspond to those he mentally suggested to his disciple.
Then, the master sends mental orders to his disciple, while the latter is at a short distance from him. If these are duly received and the student answers by acting accordingly, the exercise continues, the distance between master and disciple being gradually increased.
It is believed in Tibet that dubchens are capable of reading the thoughts of others at will. The master being credited with such a power, it would be absurd to train any one to send him telepathic messages. The very intention of sending them would be detected by him before the messages had actually been sent. Whether this power is real or not, the master is compelled to act as if he possessed it. Consequently, his disciples practice the exchange of telepathic messages among themselves. Two novices or a number of them associate for that purpose under their teacher’s super visions and the training is very much like that described above.
Novices test their progress in dispatching unexpected telepathic messages to one another at a time when the person designated is likely to be busy and not thinking about receiving communications. They also try to convey messages to people with whom they have never been connected through training in common, and who know nothing about telepathy. Some make experiments with animals.
Years are devoted to these practices. It is impossible to guess how many of the students who pursue this study really obtain results from it. Whatever may be the fruits they reap, the most worshipful among mystic teachers do not encourage this kind of exertion. The efforts made to acquire supernormal powers are considered by these masters as uninteresting childish sports. It seems proved that great contemplative anchorites are able to communicate by telepathy with their disciples, and some even say, with any sentient being, but that power – as already stated – is considered as a mere byproduct of deep insight into psychic laws, and of spiritual perfection.
It is said that, when on account of the enlightenment acquired through various contemplative meditations one has ceased to consider “one’s self” and “others” as entirely distinct entities, devoid of points of contact, then telepathy is easily practiced. The discovery – during prolonged introspections – of these “points of contact” leads to a sphere in which delimited beings vanish and only continual exchanges are perceived.
These are psychic and mystic experiences which words cannot describe. Whatever may be the share of truth or fancy in such theories, I prefer to avoid discussing them. One thing I may say, however, is that communications from mystic masters to their disciples through gross material means, such as letters falling from the ceiling or epistles one finds under one’s pillow, are unknown in lamaist mystic circles. When questions regarding such facts are put to contemplative hermits, erudite lamas or high lamaist dignitaries, they can hardly believe that the inquirer is in earnest and not an irreverent joker.
I remember the amusing reflection of a lama from Tashilhunpo when I told him that some “Philings” ( foreigner) believed in such ways of communicating with departed ones or even with Tibetan mystic teachers: “And these are the men who have conquered India!” he exclaimed, utterly amazed at such simplicity in these otherwise redoubtable Englishmen.
Relying on observations which extend over a large number of years, I shall venture to say that Tibet seems to offer peculiarly favourable conditions for telepathy – as well as for psychic phenomena in general. What are exactly, these “conditions”? It would be presumptuous to attempt defining them while the very nature of psychic phenomena is still so mysterious.
Maybe the very high level of the country is helpful. Perhaps we may, also, take into account the great silence in which the country is bathed, that extraordinary silence of which – if I dared to use so strange an expression – I would say that it is heard above the loudest voices of the most furiously roaring torrents.
Again, solitude might be reckoned with: the absence of big crowds whose mental activity creates many whirlpools of psychic energy which trouble the ether. And perhaps the placidity of Tibetans whose minds are not filled, like ours, with cares and cogitations is another of these favourable conditions.
Whatever may be the causes at work, telepathic transmissions, either conscious or unconscious, seem to occur rather frequently in Tibet. Regarding my own experience, I am certain that I did receive on several occasions telepathic messages from lamas under whom I had practiced mental or psychic training. It may even be that the number of these messages has been larger than I suspect. However, I have only retained a few cases in which the lama afterwards inquired if I had understood what he meant to tell at a given time.
Beside communications regarding spiritual matters, which may not be entirely due to telepathy, but to a certain identity in the trend of thoughts between a master and his pupil, I may relate two incidents of an entirely different kind. One of them happened in the Dainshin River valley, during my journey to Lhasa.
The lama, who produced what seemed to me a characteristic telepathic transmission, belonged to the monastery of Chösdzong. Yongden and I had spent the night in the open, sleeping in a ditch dug by the waters during successive rainy seasons, but for the moment dry and hardened by the frost. The lack of fuel had compelled us to start our daily tramp without drinking our usual hot buttered tea.
So, hungry and thirsty, we walked till about noon when we saw, seated on his saddle carpet, near the road, a lama of respectable appearance who was finishing his midday meal. With him were three young trapas of distinguished mien, who looked more like disciples accompanying their master than common servants. Four fettered horses were trying to graze on some dry grass near the group.
The travellers had carried a bundle of wood with them and kindled a fire, a teapot was still steaming on the embers. As befitted our assumed condition of beggarly pilgrims, we respectfully saluted the lama. Most likely the desire that the sight of the teapot awakened in us could be read in our faces. The lama muttered: “ñingje!” (“How sad!”) and, aloud, told us to sit down and bring out our bowls for tea and tsampa.
A trapa poured the remaining tea in our bowls, placed a bag of tsampa near us and went to help his companions who had begun to saddle the beasts and make ready to start. Then, one of the horses suddenly took fright and ran away. This is a common occurrence, and a man went after the animal with a rope.
The lama was not talkative, he looked at the horse that ran in the direction of a hamlet and said nothing. We continued to eat silently. Then, I noticed an empty wooden pot besmeared with curd and guessed that the lama had got the curd from a farm which I could see at some distance away from the road.
The diet of daily tsampa without any vegetables proved rather trying for the stomach and I availed myself of all opportunities to get milk food. I whispered in Yongden’s ear: “When the Lama is gone, you shall go to the farm and ask for a little curd.” Though I had spoken very low and we were not seated very near to the lama, he appeared to have heard my words. He cast a searching glance at me and again uttered sotto voce: “ñingjed!”
Then he turned his head in the direction where the horse had run away. The animal had not gone far, but was apparently in a playful mood and did not permit the trapa to capture it easily. At last it let him throw the rope round its neck and followed him quietly.
The lama remained motionless, gazing fixedly at the man who advanced toward us. Suddenly, the latter stopped, looked around and went to a boulder near by, where he tied his horse. Then he retraced his steps a little way and leaving the road, walked to the farm. After a while I saw him come back to his horse carrying some thing.
When he reached us the “something” turned out to be a wooden pot full of curd. He did not give it to the lama, but held it in his hand, looking interrogatively at his master as if saying “Was that what you wanted? What am I to do with this curd?” To his unspoken question the lama answered by an affirmative nod, and told the trapa to give me the curd. The second incident which I will relate did not occur in Tibet itself, but on the borderland territory that has been annexed to the Chinese provinces of Szetchuan and Kansu.
At the skirt of the immense primeval forest that extends from Tagan to the Kunka pass, six travellers had joined my small party. The region is known as being haunted by daring Tibetan robbers, and those who must cross it look for opportunities of forming as large and as well armed a company as possible. Five of my new companions were Chinese traders, the sixth was a Bön-po ngagspa, a tall man whose long hair, wrapped in a piece of red material, formed a voluminous turban.
Anxious to glean anything that I could, regarding the religion of the country, I invited the man to share our meals in order to find an opportunity of chatting with him. I learned that he was going to join his master, a Bönpo magician, who was performing a great dubthab on a neighbouring hill. The object of this rite was to coerce a malignant demon who habitually harmed one of the small tribes which live in that region.
After diplomatic preambles I expressed my desire of paying a visit to the magician, but his disciple declared the thing utterly impossible. His master must not be disturbed during the full lunar month necessary to perform the rite. I understood that it was useless to argue with him, but I planned to follow him when he parted with us, after crossing the pass.
If I succeeded in coming unexpectedly upon the magician, I might perhaps have a glimpse at him and at his magic circle. Consequently, I ordered my servants to keep good watch on the ngagspa so that he could not leave us unnoticed. Probably they spoke too loudly among themselves about the matter. The ngagspa saw through the trick I intended playing upon his guru and told me that it was no use attempting it.
I replied that I did not harbour any evil intention against his master and only wanted to have a talk with him for the sake of enlightenment. I also commanded my servants to keep a still closer watch on our companion. The ngagspa could not but be aware that he had become a prisoner. But as he also understood that no harm would be done to him and that he was well fed – a thing to which Tibetans are keenly alive – he took his adventure good humouredly.
“Do not fear that I shall run away,” he said to me. “You may bind me with ropes if it please you. I need not go ahead to inform my master of your coming. He already knows all about it. Ngais lung gi teng la len tang tsar” (I have sent a message on the wind). Ngagspas are in the habit of boasting of so many and such various miraculous powers that I did not pay any more attention to his words than to those of his colleagues in the black art. This time, I was wrong.
When we had crossed the pass, we entered a region of pasture land. Robbers were not much to be feared on these wide tablelands. The Chinese traders, who had clung to us day and night while in the forest, recovered their assurance and took leave. I still intended to follow the ngagspa, when a troupe numbering half a dozen riders emerged from an undulation of the ground. They rode at full speed toward me, then dismounted, saluted, offered “kha-tag” ( complimentary scarves) and a present of butter.
After the polite demonstrations were ended, an elderly man told me that the great Bönpo ngagspa had sent them and begged me to renounce my intention of visiting him, for no one but an initiated disciple ought to approach the place where he had built his secret magic kyilkhor. I had to give up my plan. The ngagspa, it seemed, had really informed his master by “sending a message on the wind.” To persist would have been useless.
Even if, in spite of the proof of his strange ability the disciple had given me, I still doubted that the master’s occult power was strong enough to prevent my progress, I could not ignore the sturdy armed hillmen that surrounded me. They were most respectful and certainly meant to be as pleasant as they could be, but their attitude might change if my obstinacy should jeopardize the success of a rite that interested a whole tribe. So, I gave a complimentary scarf and some silver to the ngagspa to be presented to his master. I congratulated the Tibetans on their good luck in having secured the service of a first-rate magician and we parted on friendly terms.
Visual telepathy seems also to be known in Tibet. If we could rely on the stories told about famous lamas by Tibetans, we should find in them many examples of such phenomena. But truth and fiction mingle freely in these tales, and one feels inclined rather to doubt than give credence to any specially unusual event. However, there exist men to-day who affirm they have beheld visions transmitted to them by a kind of telepathic process. These are quite different from the images seen in dreams. Sometimes the vision appears during the period of meditation, but at other times it is seen while the observer is busy about his ordinary affairs.
A lama tsipa ( Astrologer) told me that once when taking his meal he saw a gyud lama, ( A fellow of a college of magic ritual) a friend of his whom he had not met for several years. The gyud lama stood at the door of his house side by side with a young trapa, who carried a small load on his back, as if ready to start on a journey. The traveller bowed his farewell at the feet of the lama and then the latter smilingly spoke a few words and pointed with his hand towards the north. The trapa turned in that direction and bowed down again thrice. As he got up, he arranged his monastic toga more tidily and the tsipa noticed that it was badly torn at one end. After this, the vision vanished.
A few weeks later, the same young man whom he had seen, arrived from the gynd lama, who wished him to be taught some astrological calculations. The trapa related that, when taking leave of his former teacher, after he bowed to him, the latter said “As you are now going to your new master you had better bow down to him also.” And he had pointed towards the north, the tsipa’s dwelling being situated in that direction. The lama also noticed the large rent in his pupil’s toga, which he had already seen in his vision.
I inquired if the gyud lama had meant to convey to his friend the news that he was sending him the young trapa. No answer could be given to my question, because the event was recent, and since it happened, the tsipa had had no opportunities of despatching a message to the gyud lama.
I may add that the average Tibetans are much less eager than we are to investigate psychic phenomena. They take them as certainly uncommon, but not altogether extraordinary occurrences. They have no fixed ideas about the laws of Nature or what is possible and impossible, to be disturbed by such phenomena. Educated or ignorant, all implicitly admit that everything is possible to him who knows the way of doing it, and consequently supernormal feats do not, as a rule, awaken any special emotion beyond admiration for the competent wonder worker.