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Observations placeholder

Tibetan Buddhism - The Towos of Tibet



Type of Spiritual Experience


This is actually a rebirth gone horribly wrong, but it was intended  to be a rebirth.

As we don't know whether the lama in his dream saw the dead monk or the monk being killed, I have had to put the two types of communication.  My guess would be that he saw the monk being killed, and the very high emotion it provoked from the victim caused there to be a connection between the two.

A description of the experience

With Mystics and Magicians in Tibet – Alexandra David-Neel

 A young man of my acquaintance was sent by his master - a lama from Amdo to a solitary gloomy ravine which was supposed to be haunted by evil non-human beings. There he was told to tie himself to a tree or to a rock and at night, calling on the ferocious Towos, which Tibetan  painters show eating the brains of men, he was to challenge them.

However terrified he might feel, he was commanded to resist the temptation of untying himself and running away. He must remain, bound to his post, until sunrise.

This is nearly a classic practice. It is enjoined on many Tibetan novices as a first step on the mystic path.

Sometimes the disciples must remain bound for three days and three nights, or for even a longer period, fasting, sleepless, experiencing the conditions of utter weariness and starvation that so easily bring hallucinations.

Such exercises naturally at times have tragic consequences. Yongden was told a story that illustrates this by an old lama of Tsarong, when I was travelling incognito to Lhasa. Seated in a corner of the room, the "insignificant mamma" whom I personified at that time did not miss one word of the story.

In their youth, this lama and his younger brother, called Lodo, had left their monastery to follow a wandering ascetic of another region who had established himself for a time as hermit on a hill  called Phagri a well known place of pilgrimage situated not far from Dayul.

The anchorite commanded the young brother to tie himself by the neck to a tree, in a woody place which was said to be haunted by Thags yang, a demon who generally appears under the shape of a tiger, to whom the ferocious instincts of that animal are ascribed.

Once bound as a victim to the sacrificial post, the man was to imagine that he was a cow which had been led there as a propitiating offering to Thags yang. Keeping his thoughts concentrated on that idea and lowing now and then to identify himself more completely with the beast, he would - if the concentration was strong  enough - reach a state of trance in which, having entirely lost the consciousness of his own personality, he would experience the anguish of a cow in danger of being devoured.

The exercise was to last for three consecutive days and nights. Four days went by and the novice did not return to his master. On the morning of the fifth day, the latter said to the eldest of his disciples: "I had a strange dream last night. Go and fetch your brother."  The monk obeyed.

An appalling sight awaited him in the forest. The corpse of Lodo, torn and half devoured, remained partly fastened to a tree, while bloody pieces lay scattered among the surrounding bushes.  The terrified man collected the ghastly remains in his monastic toga and hastened back to his guru.

When he reached the hut in which the latter lived with his two disciples, he found it empty. The lama had left,  taking with him all his belongings, two religious books, a few ritualistic implements and his travelling stick with a trident at the top.

"I felt that I was becoming mad” said the old Tibetan. "That sudden departure frightened me even more than the discovery of my brother’s mangled body."

"What had our teacher dreamt? Did he know the awful fate of his disciple? Why had he gone?”

Without actually knowing any better than the afflicted monk what reasons had led the lama to run away, I nevertheless thought that when he saw that his disciple had not returned, he might have feared some accident had befallen the young man in the forest haunted by wild beasts. Perhaps he had really received some kind of mysterious information in a dream about the tragic event, and thought it prudent to escape the anger and revenge of the victim’s family.

As for the novice's death, it could be explained quite naturally. Panthers are frequently found in that region, some leopards roam also in the woods. I had met two myself a few days before hearing the story.  One of these animals, which the monk himself had perhaps attracted by his lowing, might have killed him before he had time to break his bonds and defend himself.

The source of the experience

Tibetan Buddhism

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Science Items

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