More stories of magic from Sakya Monastery
I’m a child at heart and a Buddhist believer, so when a monk tells me stories of magic and mystery in a monastery I lap up every word. Here are some stories that we were told in Sakya monastery.
Photo 1: In the first room we went into the first image I noticed was a large painting of Shakyamuni Buddha (the historical Buddha) on the back wall. After talking about some other statues and paintings along the way, we finally made our way around to this image.
Several centuries ago a devout local man returned to Sakya after a long pilgrimage journey around Tibet’s sacred sites. The first thing this man did upon returning to Sakya was to visit this chapel and make an offering here to the image of Shakyamuni. The man offered a white silk scarf to the image, which miraculously floated up out of the mans hands and wrapped itself around the Buddha’s painted shoulders! The man was awed and watched as the scarf then came down again and laid itself around his shoulders. Realising that he had just been blessed by the Buddha the man devoted the rest of his life to servicing the Sakya monastery and making offerings.
Photo 2: In the main assembly hall of Sakya are 40 tree-trunk pillars to hold up the roof. There are special stories related to four of these pillars, and one recent story to do with all of them.
The recent story: In the 1940’s Sakya monastery was undergoing preservation work, and it was noticed that the bottoms of many of the tree pillars were rotting, as they were placed directly in the ground with no protection all those years earlier. It was decided that something had to be put under the pillars, but this would be impossible without compromising the structure of the whole building, since any movement of the pillars would affect the ceiling and might cause a collapse. One night the Abbot sat alone in meditation in the assembly hall, and miraculously by morning all of the pillars had large stones that had been placed beneath their bases, and the ceiling had not been moved at all! The workers hurried to add cement to the bases to secure them, and the problem was fixed for good.
The stories of the four pillars: The four main pillars of the assembly hall each have special names and histories relating to how they came to be here in Sakya. The “Gyanag Sechen Kawa” was a gift from Kublai Khan, patron of the monastery, and was carried by hand from China. It’s the largest of the pillars at over 2m in diameter.
The “Tag Kawa” was carried here from India up and over the Himalayas on the back of a huge tiger (it would have to be a huge tiger to carry a tree this large!) who then disappeared into the tree, becoming a part of it, upon arrival in Sakya. Earlier the tiger had protected the tree from being cut down and attacked anyone who came near, but the interventions of a skilled tantric monk convinced the tiger to let them cut down the tree. The tiger then carried the trunk of its own volition all the way to Sakya.
The “Changpo Kawa” was delivered to Sakya on the horns of a large yak. While crossing the final mountain pass to get to the monastery the yak apparently began to weep and from that spot a sacred spring appeared that cleanses the bad karma of a lifetime for those who drink from it.
The final pillar, the “Nagpo Chashak Kawa” reportedly was once home to a naga - a water spirit - and when the tree was cut down it bled black blood for days until the correct ceremonies could be performed to appease the naga. To this day it is believed that cutting the tree will once more bring forth black blood that has medicinal properties to cure any illness.
A story of a statue: At the far end of the main assembly hall is a large statue of Shakyamuni that is uncharacteristically uneven. Statues and paintings are always created with the greatest of care to make them symmetrical, and any imperfection means that it must be started again. However, in this case the statue was originally perfect, but when the ceiling was being constructed over it a beam fell and knocked the statue on the shoulder, denting and lowering it on one side. The statue cried out in pain “Ah Rah!” All of the monks and workmen realised that they could not now change the statue after it had spoken like that, so it was left, and now “Ah rah” has become a phrase that is used by workers when something drops or breaks.