Padmasambhava and Tso-Pema Lake
I’m in my final semester of study at RYI and the last (and perhaps most daunting) challenge I have left is to complete my master’s dissertation. It was during research for my thesis that I, one silent night, came across this lovely story involving Padmasambhava before he left for Tibet to introduce Vajrayana to the “North”. This legendary tale, which has multiple renditions with varying details, involves Guru Rinpoche, his consort Mandarava and the kingdom of Zahor (which in the version I will share with you is related to the modern day town of Rewalsar or Tso-Pema in Himachal Pradesh, India).
The king, Tsuk Lak Dzin, had one daughter- princess Mandarava, who wished to be a dharma practitioner despite the king’s ardent wishes. Meanwhile, Guru Rinpoche who was passing through the same area came to know of Mandarava and met with the princess to bestow teachings. Hearing all this (it’s amazing how quick news travels even in the legends), the king and his entourage got hold of the pair. They decided to burn the guru alive. They placed Padmasambhava over an enormous pyre and set it ablaze; a thick blanket of smoke covered the sky and engulfed the area for a week. As the smoke persisted and did not dissipate, the king and his courtiers decided to wade into the smoke and see what was taking so long. As they did, before their eyes, the giant pyre was transformed into a beautiful lake with Guru Rinpoche sitting on a lotus in the middle of it. The lake was enclosed by a ring of dying flame. It was at that moment that the king and all those present had an experience of strong faith in the individual before them. They repented their crime and prostrated to Guru Rinpoche and asked for forgiveness.
Perhaps what I like most about this tale is that the Tso Pema lake in Rewalsar (near Mandi) is still visited precisely for this reason… for its relationship to Guru Rinpoche and subsequent holiness. An island of floating reed in the middle of the lake is said to have Rinpoche’s spirit; and I’d like to think that if you squint at just the right angle and with the right amount of merit and devotion perhaps you can see the ring of flames surrounding the lake too!