The Ancient Story of Namo Buddha
A long time in the past, many immeasurable eons ago, our teacher the perfect Buddha was practicing on the path of learning. Below is the story of how he was overcome with compassion when he saw a tigress tormented by starvation and offered his body to her without a moment’s hesitation.
In the distant past, there lived in this world a king named Great Charioteer (Shingta Chenpo) who ruled over a small kingdom of some five thousand subjects. Due to the king’s accumulation of merit, all his subjects enjoyed happiness and well being; rains came at the right time while crops and livestock flourished. The king had three sons: the oldest was named Great Sound (Dra Chenpo), the middle Great Deity (Lha Chenpo), and the youngest Great Being (Semchen Chenpo). Powerful in the martial arts and radiating confidence, the two elder sons always helped the king in governing the kingdom. From his earliest years, the youngest son, Great Being, was very bright and endowed with spontaneous kindness and compassion. He gave freely and generously to others as if to his only child.
One day when the weather was fine, the king along with his queen, sons, and ministers left the town for a relaxing time in the country. The king and queen rode upon an elephant while the sons, ministers, and retinue were mounted on beautiful horses. After half a day’s ride, they arrived at a place of thickly wooded forests resonant with birdsong while nearby blossomed a tapestry of flowers in rich variety. The king was pleased with the scenery and ordered a large encampment to be prepared for everyone’s enjoyment. The servants immediately unpacked everything, set up tents, and laid out a hearth of stones for cooking. Soon the ground was covered with tents as clouds billowed in the sky above. The servants bustled about, preparing a variety of foods and offering tea and liquor to everyone. Then the young people began to sing, dance, and play, transforming the encampment into a celestial realm. The king, queen, and ministers watched the entertainment while enjoying an eighteen-course meal accompanied by wine and sake.
Then the three princes, in the full flush of their youth, picked up their bows and arrows and headed for the forest. As they walked along, they noticed a den in the dense woods. They crept up to it and saw inside a tigress sleeping beside her cubs. Great Sound and Great Deity laid arrows on their bows, making ready to kill the tigress, but Great Being stopped his brothers, saying that killing was completely wrong. When he looked into the cave again, Great Being noticed that the tigress was not able to move, for she had just given birth and she also feared that if she left to hunt for food, another animal might harm her cubs. Tormented by hunger, she lay on the ground unable even to lift her head. Great Being was moved to tears with compassion that arose from the depths of his heart. He asked his brothers, “What kind of food would save the tigress and her cubs?” They responded, “This kind of red Indian tiger eats the warm flesh and blood of a recent kill. So if you want to help her and the cubs, you must find flesh and blood that are fresh.”
Great Being thought for a moment: “It’s indeed true that to save the tigress and her cubs, warm flesh and blood are needed. But then I’d have to kill another living being, and that would mean killing one to save another. What else can I do?” He thought for a long while but did not find a solution. Then his brothers said, “We came out here to have a good time. It’s pointless to worry about this tigress and her cubs. It’s time to return to our parents.” And so they left.
As he followed his brothers back to the encampment, Great Being thought, “For a long time, I have been cycling in samsara, wasting countless lives, sometimes due to excessive desire, sometimes aversion, and sometimes ignorance. I have rarely met such an opportunity to accumulate merit. What real use is this body if not for the Dharma?” Finally, he decided, “This time I must be truly generous.”
Before he had gone very far with his brothers, he said to them, “Brothers, you two go on ahead. I have something to take care of and will catch up with you soon.”
He took the path to the tigress’s den quickening his pace. When he found the collapsed tigress, she was so exhausted
that she could not even open her mouth. Great Living Being reached out his hand to touch her face, but she was so weakened she could not even bare her fangs. So the prince sharpened a splinter from a nearby tree and cut his body to draw blood, which he allowed the tigress to lick. Not long after, she opened her jaws and stood up. With a roar, she pounced on the prince and devoured him.
The two brothers waited a long time, but the youngest prince did not come, so they set out to find him. Reflecting on what he had said earlier, they did not doubt that he had returned to the tigress’s den. When they arrived and looked inside, there was nothing left of their brother but blood, bones, nails, and bits of clothing. The tigress had consumed him. At this sight, Great Sound and Great Deity immediately lost consciousness; it was a long time before they recovered their senses. The two gathered up the pieces of their brother’s clothing and, sobbing with deep sadness, set out for their parents’ encampment.
During this time, the queen was taking a nap and in a dream saw three doves flying high in the sky. As they fluttered around, a hawk struck and carried off the smallest one. Waking in terror, the queen immediately related her dream to the king. He replied, “Hearing your story, I believe the three doves are our three sons. The youngest of them, carried off by the hawk, is my most beloved son. I’m sure that something dreadful has happened to him.” So saying, the king immediately sent out servants to look everywhere for his son.
Soon, the two princes arrived and the king asked, “Did something bad happen to my beloved son? Do you have any news?” Choked with sadness, the two were unable to speak or even breathe for a while. Finally, they sighed deeply and told their parents that the tigress had eaten Great Being. Upon hearing this terrible news, the queen fainted right away. The king too was overwhelmed with immense sadness and tormented by sorrow. After a long while and with profound sighs, the two princes, the king, and the queen rushed to the place where the youngest prince had died. When they arrived at the opening of the den, what met their eyes were the bones and rivulets of blood left behind by the tigress. The queen recoiled, overcome with sobbing, and did not recover for a long while.
Meanwhile, the prince had been reborn as Great Courage (Nyingtob Chenpo). He wondered, “What did I do to be reborn here in the celestial realm of Tushita?” Through his divine eye, he thoroughly examined the five realms. Great Courage saw that, gathered around the bone fragments he had left behind, were his parents and two brothers. They were sunk in lamentation and completely miserable. He thought, “My parents are experiencing such unhappiness, it could threaten their very lives. To lighten their spirits, I’ll go talk to them.” He descended from space to the lofty sky and spoke words of encouragement to comfort his parents: “I’m the prince Great Being. After giving my body in generosity to the starving tigress, I was reborn in the celestial realm of Tushita.” With tears in their eyes, the king and queen said, “Son, you who are like our very heart, offering your body to the tigress was certainly most praiseworthy. But whom can we tell of our suffering in missing you?”
Great Courage replied, “Please do not be unhappy. The end of birth is disintegration, and the end of the gathering is separation. No one can transcend this for it is the nature of things. It is the same for everyone. If you perform evil actions, you will fall into the hell realms; if you perform virtuous actions, you will be reborn in the higher realms. Therefore, diligently pursue virtue. Make aspiration prayers, and in the next life we will meet in a celestial realm.” After a few more words, he disappeared. The king and queen became a little happier and committed to pursuing virtuous activity. They created a small casket covered with seven kinds of jewels in which they laid the bones of their son and a stupa was built over the place in which it was buried.
The Region of Namo Buddha, Past and Present
The pilgrimage site of Namo Buddha is about forty kilometers from the Boudhanath Stupa. Located on slightly elevated land, it is a pleasant and out-of-the-way place. The landscape below resembles an eight-petaled lotus, and the sky above has the form of a wheel with nine spokes. In this wide panorama, some mountains glisten white like a conch shell or a crystal. On other mountains, the groves of trees seem to gleam with emerald and turquoise jewels. In the summertime, southern winds bring coolness; in wintertime, the warm, gentle sun is like the clear and radiant face of youth. The flowers bloom bright and multicolored. In the blue vault of the sky, clouds gently gather and turn all shades of red at daybreak; they are beautiful in wondrous hues that fill space with their canopies and banners. Like a heap of white silk scarves, mists drift slowly from place to place. From the clouds, the drums of thunder resonate; lightning flashes like a slim dancer’s quick movement; and fine showers fall in brightness. In sum, all the harmonious conditions needed to practice samadhi are present at this sacred site. Merely coming here inspires one’s faith; renunciation and weariness with samsara naturally arise. As it is said: “In the supreme place of a solitary mountain retreat, any activity is virtuous.” In brief, Namo Buddha is a place of pilgrimage highly esteemed by people from all over the world, East and West.
After Great Being offered his body in generosity to the tigress, people found it difficult to travel through the region for fear of all wild animals, so they developed the practice of reciting “Namo Buddhaya” (“I take refuge in the Buddha”) to dispel their anxiety. To this day, the local inhabitants call the area Namo Buddha. As time passed, villages gradually appeared, and cultivated fields extended from the houses. The ancient stupa has become a special place to accumulate merit through activities such as circumambulation and making offerings. People come from all corners of the world to visit the site and make the traditional offerings of butter lamps, a fresh coat of white paint for the stupa, and a pleated cloth that encircles the base of its spire and ripples in the wind. In the past, when there were no roads for cars, only a modest footpath led to the site, and it was very difficult to reach. Nowadays, cars of any size can make the trip without a problem. In olden times, on most nights when the moon was full, a tiger would appear near the stupa; the caretaker and many local people would see it. It is said that later when cars, electricity, and other modern technology arrived, the tiger was no longer seen. Most of the local people in this area are Buddhist, and even to this day, some can read Sanskrit.
About eight kilometers below the stupa in the town of Panauti are ruins said to be the palace of the king Great Charioteer. Even today, on the fifteenth day of the fourth Tibetan month, the people of the region have the custom of setting out a gilded bronze statue of the Buddha and gathering to perform ceremonies all day. At another interesting site about three kilometers below the stupa, a small temple is said to contain the remains of the Prince Great Being’s mother. Inside one can see an image of her carved into stone. Further, in the woods below the stupa, a little spring gives what is known as blessed water. About a fifteen-minute walk up from the stupa, one can visit the place where the prince offered his body in great generosity.
Today, two caves are venerated, one near the monastery and another on a hill nearby. Since so many centuries have passed, the exact place is difficult to locate. It is certain, however, that the cave is in this locale. Many great individuals have set foot in Namo Buddha. From India came scholars and meditation masters such as the noble and supreme Vasubandhu and the unequaled Jowo Je, the glorious Atisha. From the Kagyu tradition, the protectors of beings, great lamas have visited such as Situ Chökyi Jungne and his attendant the great scholar Bero Lotsawa Tsewang Kunkhyab as well as the XVIth Gyalwang Karmapa, Rigpe Dorje; the Drugchen Khyabgon Rinpoche; and the Drikung Khyabgon Rinpoche. From the early tradition of the Nyingma, important lamas have traveled here, such as Khyabje Dudjom Rinpoche, Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, Drubwang Pema Norbu, Chatral Rinpoche, and Khenchen Jigme Phuntsok. From the glorious Sakyapa tradition, great individuals belonging to the Sakya, Ngorpa, and Tsawa schools have come, as well as major scholars and meditation masters from the Riwo Geden (Gelugpa) tradition, such as Khewang Gendun Chöphel. In sum, numerous important figures from all the traditions have walked this land.
Visit Namo Buddha
Namo Buddha is a beautiful place. There is no need to exaggerate this. The place is very quiet and pure. Its environment is very clean, with no pollution, and the natural air is so fresh, cool and healthy. It is also the right place for meditation and practice. In the morning when you wake up, you can see a beautiful sunrise. In the evening you can see a wonderful sunset. You can enjoy snow-covered Himalayan ranges which look so amazing and pure.
From the Buddhist point of view, Namo Buddha is one of the most important religious sites in Nepal. There are three major Buddhist pilgrimage sites: Boudha Stupa, Swayambhunath Stupa, and Namo Buddha.