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Observations placeholder

Tibetan Buddhism - The art of warming oneself in the snow



Type of Spiritual Experience


A description of the experience

Alexandra David-Neel – With Mystics and Magicians in Tibet
The Art of Warming Oneself Without Fire up in the Snows

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 moonlight 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 daybreak. 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 allowance 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 understand that with Indians, nakedness is a symbol and not a display of extraordinary physical endurance.

One of the super respas who had trained himself in tumo rear Kang Tise, while journeying over-the Plains of India with another respa and a layservant, from Nepal to Gaya, happened to see a pretentious looking sadhu lying naked and sunbaked 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.

 Besides 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

The source of the experience

Tibetan Buddhism

Concepts, symbols and science items


Science Items

Activities and commonsteps