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Observations placeholder

David-Neel, Alexandra - Phurba and the lama, the



Type of Spiritual Experience


A description of the experience

With Mystics and Magicians in Tibet – Alexandra David-Neel

One day a windfall …. came my way so strangely that the story is worth telling. During a journey in Northern Tibet I met a small caravan of lamas, and talking with them according to the custom along these trails where travellers are scarce, I learned that they were transporting a phurba which had become a source of calamity.

This ritualistic implement had belonged to a lama, their master, who had recently died. The dagger had started to work harm in the monastery itself. Two of the three monks who had touched it, had died, and the other one broke his leg by falling from a horse.  Then the pole that held the banner of benediction, which was planted in the courtyard of the monastery, broke, and this is considered a very bad omen.

Frightened, yet not daring to destroy the phurba for fear of greater misfortunes, the monks had closed it up in a box. ….  The phurba was a fine piece of ancient Tibetan art and I was seized with a desire to possess it, but I knew that the trapas would not sell it for anything in the world.

"Camp with us for the night," I said to them, "and leave the phurba with me. I will think it over."

My words promised nothing, but the bait of a good supper and of chatting with my men decided the travellers to accept.  At nightfall, I went some distance from the camp ostensibly carrying the dagger which, freed from its box, would have terrified the credulous Tibetans had I left it with them.  When I thought I was far enough away, I stuck the enchanted weapon into the ground and sat down on a blanket to think out a way of persuading the monks to let me have it.

I had been there for several hours when I seemed to see the form of a lama appearing near the spot where I had planted the phurba. He moved forward, bending cautiously. From beneath the toga in which his rather indistinct body was wrapped, a hand came out slowly and advanced to seize the magic dagger.  Jumping up, I grabbed it before the thief had been able to touch it.

So, I have not been the only one tempted. This man, less superstitious than his companions, had recognized the value of the phurba and very likely hoped to sell it secretly. He thought that I was asleep and should notice nothing. The next day, the disappearance of the enchanted dagger would be attributed to some new occult intervention and one more story of magic would be circulated among the faithful. Too bad that such a clever scheme had not succeeded, but I kept the enchanted weapon; I even grasped it so tightly that my nerves, excited by the adventure or by the pressure of the bronze carved handle on my flesh, gave me the impression that the dagger was feebly moving in my hand.  And now for the thief !

All around me the barren plain was empty. He must have made off when I was stooping down to pull the dagger out of the ground.   I ran to the camp. The man who had just returned or who came back after me must be the culprit.  I found every one sitting up and reciting religious texts for protection against the evil powers. I called Yongden into my tent.

" Which of the monks has been missing? " I asked him.  "No one," he answered. "They are half dead with fright. They did not even dare to go far enough away from the tents to perform the necessities of nature,  I had to scold them."

Good! I must have been " seeing things" ; but perhaps this would stand me in good stead.   "Listen," I said to the trapas, "this is what has happened." And I told them quite frankly about my ilIusion and the doubts I had conceived of their honesty.  "Surely that was our Grand Lama!" they exclaimed, " He wanted to take back his phurba and perhaps he would have killed you if he had succeeded. Oh ! Jetsunma, you are a true gomchenma, …... Keep it now, keep it and it will no longer do harm to anyone." 

The source of the experience

David-Neel, Alexandra

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