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Since time immemorial, spiritual truths have been woven into stories, whether as folktale, fable, legend, parable, historical anecdote, or yarn. With wit and candor, insight and delight, picturesque tales that captivate the imagination have brought a bountiful harvest to countless generations of young and old.
The piquant cornucopia of tales that follows draws on stories still being told today by the living lamas of Tibet in the course of their spiritual teachings. Transmitted through the ancient oral tradition of Tibetan Mahayana Buddhism, which is an inexhaustible repository of sacred lore as well as of Buddhist law, most have never before been committed to writing. Some of these tales date from the time of the historical Buddha himself, twenty-five hundred years ago; others retell interesting incidents from more recent times.
All these tantalizing stories share one thing in common: they are teaching tales, meant to edify, instruct, admonish -- and entertain. They are for scholars and sages as well as neophytes, nomads, shepherds, and farmers. As charming as fairy tales yet as pointed as biblical parables, these stories are replete with Himalayan folklore, magic, ribaldry, and the exotic marvels of Oriental culture, while they are also full of uncommon spiritual wisdom and common sense, providing myths to live by. Recorded, translated, gathered, and retold in the same generous spirit in which they have traditionally been received -- as spoken instructions from teacher to student, at the feet of contemporary Tibetan masters -- these small gifts of love arelike ferries to that far shore of genuine inner experience, truth itself. Tales are clues in the search for truth, the universal panacea, as fabulous as the philosophers' stone. Yet truth must be genuinely and intuitively experienced, not merely heard.
As everyone knows, truth is often stranger than fiction, and certainly it is more entertaining. It was a legitimate function of the venerable Tibetan lama to transform ordinary phenomena and perceptions through magical means, thus transforming his listeners' vision. These fantabulous tales, imbued with spiritual significance, evoke the atmosphere of peace, carefree ease, and whimsy that bespeaks the freedom and transcendence of the high Himalayas. They record lessons learned and blessings earned, deeds done and realizations won, as well as things that could, and should, have happened. Intent on restoring faith in the fact that authentic enlightenment, spiritual transformation, visionary experiences, and miracles of all kinds can and do still happen, the inspired Tibetan storyteller unfolds a luminous vision of a universe where basic goodness, universal responsibility, inner fulfillment, love and harmony, humor and hope, perfection, freedom and redemption, greatness of heart, and spiritual illumination still prevail. An enchanted world is revealed -- not only in the world of remote Tibet but in the presence of the extraordinary within the ordinary routines of daily existence -- right here and now -- the miracle of the present moment.
Life is full of contradictions. These tales are not merely descriptions of how certain events unfolded but of how things should and can be. Full of illusions and insights, the magical and the mysterious, with profound echoes of timeless questions, eternal verities, and mythic archetypes, these stories offer models of humane behavior -- the kind of behavior that lends value, meaning, and significance to life -- at the same time that they irreverently expose the spectacle that is human nature. Such teaching tales are calculated to inculcate specific values, unveil preconceived notions and underlying assumptions, and cut through selfdeception. They provoke a wry smile, an inner chuckle, helping us to laugh at ourselves and fly free of the so-called burdens of being; moreover, they intentionally inspire particular states of mind.
Here are trenchant perspectives laid bare before our eyes: the pared-down core of reality in all its immediacy, penetrating insights into fundamental issues of existence, daring flights of fancy, as well as sudden awakenings, ethical lessons, and quaint Himalayan homilies.
The Tibetan raconteur invites his or her listeners into a lighthearted, illumined world -- at times plausible, at times astounding. Through truth delightfully disguised, embellished by both fact and fancy, one is transported to a realm in which delights are legion. How long the listener or reader chooses to inhabit such an alluring realm depends for the most part on the artist's magic. To the poet, everything is luminous; to the dull, nothing is remarkable.
More than two dozen categories of stories appear in this collection of ancient and modern tales. Here you will find Himalayan folktales, fairy tales, yarns about fabulous creatures, myths to live by, and legends; records of the historical Buddha and his immediate disciples; doctrinal teaching tales, moral homilies, paradise and rebirth stories; tales of goddesses and muses, of Brahmins, scholars, and lepers; justice stories unveiling karmic concatenation, the law of cause and effect; monastery stories, children's stories, nomad tales, prison tales, devil stories, spirit stories; tales of pilgrims and sacred power places, of saints, relics and talismans, psychic powers, curses, cures, and resurrections; historical anecdotes; records of interaction between masters and disciples in the lineage transmission (the passing of spiritual teachings from onegeneration to the next); tales of monks and nuns as well as of layfolk, animals, and dreams; trickster tales and humorous stories; tales of treasures lost and found; stories of sudden awakenings and other enlightenment experiences; poems, songs of enlightenment, unadulterated wisdom tales, descriptions of spiritual events, and meditation instructions for followers and practitioners; tales of enlightened men and women; philosophical musings, psychological insights and inquiries; ribald tales, legends, visions of gods and demigods, deities, hungry ghosts, and titans; tales of poets and yogis, sages and sinners, of Dalai Lamas, Abominable Snowmen, blue Himalayan sheep, yaks, faithful animals, and others....All tumble forth like the endless courses at a sumptuous feast.
Shrouded in myth and protected by the snow-capped Himalayas, Tibet has long been known as Shangri-la, a lost world, the forbidden kingdom, the "roof of the world," the Land of Snow....The Snow Lion's Turquoise Mane. Copyright © by Surya Das. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.