KUNZANG CHODEN (Bhutan)
Kunzang Choden was born in 1952 in central Bhutan. She had her education in India, and later in U.S.A. Worked as a teacher and development for some years before she started to write in the early 1990s. Her first book was published in 1994, Folktales of Bhutan, which set her on a brilliant creative career. Her novel The Circle of Karma, has been translated into French, utch and Turkish. She writes about women and social issues in Bhutan, and is currently working on illustrated children’s books. Actively engaged in voluntary and civil society activities, she was our first Delegate from the Royal Government of Bhutan, in 2000.
The Man Who Was Saved by a Dragon
Many Bhutanese traders and pilgrims have, since time immemorial, braved the perilous journey across the mountains every year into Tibet. Traders would load their mules and yaks with rice, chillies, dey shag, the famous Bhutanese handmade paper, and various other goods for barter and journey across the mountains for many days until they reached the Tibetan settlements of their choice. They went in groups of at least three to four men. They carried enough rations and other stocks and once they reached the Tibetan settlements, it was with confidence that they would go directly to their nyda to rest and to have their animals fed. With the same assurance they could trade their goods in the markets and proudly load their mules and return home.
But the pilgrims were another sort of travellers. Many of them had only a vague knowledge of Tibet and even less about the perils of the long journey there. Many pilgrims are known to have perished during the journeys and yet faith and devotion drew them to the chae gi densa, the centers of religion. Armed with his kesang khurshing, two strong V-shaped cane sticks that act like a light basket for holding provisions, and his T-shaped stick, which served as both a walking stick and a stool to rest his load on, a pilgrim from Tang valley in the Bumthang district headed for the 5,316 metre (17,442 feet) high Monla Karchung Pass one spring day many years ago.
This pilgrim was a disgruntled farmer who felt that he had to seek a tsawa lama, a root teacher, and follow the path of dharma. When he announced his intention, his family members were shocked but none would try to stand in the way of someone who had decided to seek religion. His brothers ungrudgingly and quietly assumed the tasks that he had abandoned to prepare for the long journey to Tibet.
So one spring morning the family tearfully bade farewell to this departing member of their family. They stood near the bridge and watched him as he confidently walked on. The women members waved their scarves and sang, ‘AIo’, the melancholic farewell melody, while the men shouted, ‘Aoo Aoo’. After a while they could only see the heavy kesang khurshing, in which he had packed all he needed. All of them wished that he had some travelling companion. But this potential pilgrim had always retorted quoting the famous Tibetan saying, ‘Where can there be salvation without suffering?’
As the days passed he came closer to the famous Monla Karchung. The majestic white giant stood before his eyes and it seemed to beckon him towards it. This young and healthy farmer, who was used to hard work and carrying heavy loads, did not suffer having to climb the steadily ascending mountain path as the altitude increased rapidly. The white snow glistened in the bright sun and the glare hurt his eyes. Every thing looked white and icicles hung from the rocks. The dwarf azalea shrubs, which had been quite abundant lower down, now disappeared and everywhere he looked there was snow that sparkled and glittered in the sun. It was so quiet and peaceful that he was naturally reminded of the purpose of his journey. He took out his prayer beads, which an old uncle who was a gomchen had given him, and began to chant the sacred syllables of Om Mani Padme Hung. As he recited, he tried to visualise the image of Chenrezi as his uncle the gomchen had taught him to do. Whenever he tried to visualise Chenrezi, his mind wandered and he saw his parents and his brothers and sisters and he began to wonder what they were doing. At once he would correct himself and try to concentrate. This went on for a while.
Now he was close to the labza, the pass credited to be the saddle of the Monla Karchung, where the track crossing into Tibet is located. He decided that he would rest for a while at the labza and eat the lazi, the specially prepared food to be eaten at the labza which his mother had so lovingly packed. He was only a few paces away from the pile of rocks that marked the labza when there was suddenly a tremendous thunderous cracking, crashing, and roaring noise. Everything around seemed to rumble and tremble uncontrollably. Before the pilgrim realised what was happening, he felt as if a mat was being pulled away from under his feet. Then he felt himself falling, falling into a deep hole. Remarkably, he landed on something soft. It was pitch dark and he could see nothing. He could not even begin to guess where he was. He sat there petrified that something even more terrible would happen to him. In his mind he could hear a voice saying, ‘Pray, visualise Chenrezi,’ but his untrained mind wandered and intense fear gripped him. He began to tremble and shake so violently that he had to hold onto something lest he fall off the object he was sitting on. Frantically, he groped around with his hands until he caught hold of something shaggy that felt like the mane of a horse. But of course that was not possible, so he assumed it must have been some dried moss. He held on to it and chanted the syllables Om Mani Padme Hung loudly while his mind raced wildly and he could hardly follow the trend of his own thoughts.