Tuesday, June 13, 2017

The Drowned Village of Lake Phoksumdo

      A Himalayan Legend Retold
           by  Manny Panta


I
n the Dolpo region of Nepal, where the bharal and the wolves coexist in uneasy harmony, there is a lake of such depth and deep blue turquoise hue as to be beyond belief. No manner of creature lives in this lake, so the lake is extremely pure. The name of the lake is Phoksumdo Tal. Geologists and men of science will tell you that this lake was originally a valley that had been inundated by the rising waters of a river that in turn had been dammed by a landslide. An earthquake caused this landslide, the scientists say. But to the local Buddhist people, this was not so. In the depths of this lake, they say, lies a village, submerged by the wrath of a demoness.
     In the ancient days, Guru Rimpoche, one of the most eminent disciples of the Lord Buddha himself, resolved to convert the people of the Tibetan highlands to the Way of the Enlightenment. In those days the people of Nepal adhered to the old shamanistic ways of the B’on. The shamans were demons and demonesses who resented guru Rimpoche’s efforts and made life difficult for him. But guru Rimpoche, aided by the grace and power of the Supreme Buddha, the Lotus-born, prevailed, and he sent the demons and demonesses fleeing from Dolpo.      A demoness escaping from the guru passed through a village. This village was nestled beside a river at the bottom of a deep valley. Tired and exhausted, she sought shelter in the chief’s hut. The chief, recognizing her to be a demoness, called a meeting of his fellow villagers. He did not feel it was up to him to be hospitable to such a being.
     When the villagers had assembled, the chief announced:
     “My fellow villagers! This demoness is seeking passage through our village and requests shelter for the night. Furthermore, she also asks us that we not reveal her passage to guru Rimpoche, the One True disciple of the Buddha, the Lotus-born. What say you?”
     The crowd murmured and argued among themselves.
     A scruffy man with his front teeth missing declared: “The time of the demons and demonesses of the old religion is over. I say, cast her out!”
     An older man, still adhering to the ways of the B’on, retorted: “No. We are a hospitable people, even to demonesses. I say, let her stay and rest.”
     The demoness, who was in actuality a shaman, one of the priestesses of the old religion, stood up and pleaded:
     “I will leave at early light tomorrow,” she said. “In exchange for your hospitality and your silence, I will leave you a gift.”
She took off her necklace. Dangling from the necklace was a most brilliant turquoise stone. She held it up so the people could see how beautiful and costly it was. She then placed it over the chief’s head.
     “A token, a gift for all of you good people of this village.”
The villagers gawked at the necklace. The turquoise hung against the breast of the chief. The chief, seduced by the beauty of the turquoise, was beaming with pride.  To the villagers’ eyes the necklace and the stone must have cost a fortune.
      “I say, let her rest with us tonight,” the chief declared. “Though I may wear this necklace, this jewel belongs to all of you!”
     “Once again I beg you: let there be no word of my passage,” cautioned the demoness.
     The villagers murmured their agreement.
     The demoness rested that night in the hut of the chief, and before dawn had broken she fled up the pass on her way to Tibet. Shortly thereafter, guru Rimpoche arrived and immediately realized that something was amiss. He went to the village chief and asked:
     “Has a demoness passed through here in the night? “
     “No,” lied the chief. “No one has passed through our village.”
     The guru stared at the necklace worn by the chief, for the chief had not taken it off in his pride and vanity.
     “Where did you get that necklace?” he asked.
     “From nobody,” said the chief. “It has been with our family for generations.”
     Guru Rimpoche stared at him.
     “You lie,” he said. “Call the villagers to an assembly. I have something important to tell them.”
     The village chief called the villagers to a gathering outside his hut.
     “Good people of this village,” Guru Rimpoche said. “I come bearing the truth about the Way of the Enlightenment of the Lord Buddha. He showed us the way to peace and happiness and must not refuse Him. The old ways are the ways of the demons and demonesses. You must not give them shelter, both in your homes and in your hearts. Their time on earth is over. So tell me, did a demoness pass by here last night?”
     “No!” cried the villagers as one. “No demoness passed by here!”
     “Then,” asked the guru, “what is this necklace that your chief is wearing? I have seen a demoness wear the same necklace before. Do you deny that it belonged to her?”
     “Yes, we do!” insisted the villagers.
     “Then by the powers of the Buddha, the Enlightened and Lotus-born,” declared guru Rimpoche, “behold your turquoise necklace. It is nothing but dung, for you have been tricked!”
The chief looked down at the necklace. Sure enough, the stone that had looked so blue and precious was now nothing but a piece of dried-up turd. He angrily took off the necklace and threw it down to the ground in disgust.
     “We have been tricked!” he cried.
     The guru raised his staff in triumph.
     One of the villagers picked up the necklace, raising it up for all to see. Before the eyes of the villagers, the blackened material that used to be a precious turquoise crumbled into dust.
     “We have been tricked!” cried the villagers.
     “Yes,” admitted the chief. “A demoness passed by here last night. She fled before dawn and went up the pass to the north. She said she was on her way to Tibet!”
     “Then I shall pursue her,” said the guru Rimpoche. “I must not allow her to continue propagating the ways of the old. Farewell my friends, and remember, the Way of the Buddha is the Way to Enlightenment. You must reject the ways of the old, for this is the only Way that leads to True Happiness.”
     Guru Rimpoche left in pursuit of the demoness. He caught up with her near Mustang and imprisoned her in one of the ancient caves that dotted the cliffs there. The demoness, embittered by the betrayal of the villagers of that deep valley in the Dolpo, uttered a curse:              “May your valley tremble and fall down on you, miserable and treacherous people of the village, and may the waters of your river rise till nothing is left to show that you existed, save for the color of the turquoise that I gave to you.”
     As soon as she uttered these words, a fearsome earthquake caused the cliffs surrounding the village to collapse. At one end of the pass through which the river drained, great boulders rained down, blocking the passage of the waters. The waters of the river, unable to drain away, rose to the very top of the cliffs, submerging the village and drowning its inhabitants.
     To this day, if you go to the Dolpo region in Nepal, you will still see this lake created by the curse of the demoness. They call it Phoksumdo Tal. Everyone who has seen it remarks on its brilliant turquoise color. No living thing exists in it. By local edict and custom, it is forbidden to swim in its waters.

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