Gyalsae Drimeh Kunden

Background

Drimeh – Kunden is a famous jataka (former lives of Buddha) story. The opera has been adapted from a story in the Buddhist scriptures (Tengyur) entitled ‘Prince Sudana Sutra’. This version was translated from original manuscripts in the possession of the Batang players in Eastern Tibet in 1931.

Prelude

A long time ago, the land of Beta was ruled by King Sayong Drakpa. He was a very powerful king, having authority over one thousand ministers and sixty princes, and holding in his possession many rare and beautiful treasures. Amongst these were the precious wish-fulfilling gem, of which it was said that the possessor would be endowed with good fortune.

The Plot

Once upon a time a Prince was born. As he came into the world he recited the words “Om Mani Padme Hum”. He was named Drimeh Kunden, meaning “having all purity”. The Prince is very wise. He understands the nature of suffering of all beings. He weeps in anguish. The King, his father, is very wealthy and the Prince suggests that to relieve some of the suffering of the world, he will distribute his wealth in alms. The King loves his son and agrees to this idea.

The King’s ministers, however, are angry and say that the Prince should marry a rich Princess in order to acquire more wealth. It is decided that the Prince should marry Mande Sangmo, a beautiful, pure, humble and religious girl from Pemachen. The couple meet and fall in love instantly. They are very happy and have three children, two sons and a daughter.

One day the Prince and his father are walking in the garden. The Prince looks sad and the King asks why he is sad. The Prince replies that it is the suffering of the continuous circle of birth, old age, disease and death that causes his anguish. The King tells his son not to worry for others, who suffer from the result of their own deeds, but to be happy in the richness of fortune. The Prince replies that if he could give away all his father’s wealth to the paupers then he would be free from misery. The King agrees out of love for his son and the Prince scatters alms upon the people of the world.

At this time, the neighbouring country is ruled over by an evil, irreligious King. He wants a special wish-fulfilling gem from King Sayang Drakpa’s treasure house. He offers half of his kingdom to any one of his subjects who can acquire this gem. One old man takes up the offer and sets off over the high mountains to the country of Beta. He approaches the King’s palace and begins to weep. The Prince comes to meet the old man at the gate and says that he will grant any request the weary old man may have. The old man tells the Prince a sad tale of his starving family. The Prince gives the old man many jewels. Then the old man says that his only desire is to receive the wish-fulfilling gem.

The prince does not own this gem. He explains this to the old man. This gem belongs to the King so it is impossible for the Prince to give it away. The old man protests that he has travelled far to see the Prince. He storms out in a great rage. The Prince calls the old man back and agrees to give him the gem that fulfills all wishes.

One month passes before the King notices the absence of his most precious gem. He is in a great rage as one minister tells the King that it was his own son who gave this gem away as alm. The King confronts his son. He laments the loss of his wealth and kingdom. The Prince wishes that his father had less attachment to wealth. He explains that he would gladly give his children, his wife, even his own life, to any passing beggar.

The high officials sentence the Prince to death for stealing the gem. The King changes the sentence and decrees that the Prince and his family are banished for 12 years to the Demon Kingdom of Mount Hashang. The family set off and the Prince urges his wife to stay behind. He explains that he would be willing to give her and their children away to beggars. The Princess is firm that she will follow the Prince as his servant wherever he goes.

They set off along the road and soon the Prince has given away all their possessions as alms. Some Brahmans stop the Prince and ask him for alms. He replies that he has nothing to give and the Brahmans ask for the three royal children. Sangmo protests, but the children are handed over tearfully and the royal couple continue on their journey alone.

The gods Indra and Brahma wish to test the Prince’s vow of alms giving. They manifest themselves in the form of two Brahmans begging for alms. The Prince tells them he has nothing to give and they ask for the Princess. The Prince knows he must fulfil his vow but feels great compassion for Sangmo, who has suffered so much. He hands her over to the Brahmans, begging her to go happily. After walking for some time, the gods reveal their true identities to the Prince, return the Princess and promise him future happiness. The royal couple are led to an illusory city of great beauty where they are entertained for seven days.

The Prince insists that they cannot stay here so the place vanishes and Drimeh Kunden and Sangmo continue on their way.

At the edge of a dark forest they meet a hermit with a long yellow beard. He warns them of the dangers of where they are headed, but still the couple continue. In the forest, there are many wild and ferocious animals. The Prince speaks to them with great calmness and clarity and the animals become peaceful and tame.

Drimey and Sangmo live in this desolate place for 10 years. Finally, the time comes for them to leave and they bid farewell to the creatures of the forest. The royal parents are reunited with their children. As they approach the kingdom of Drimeh’s father, a blind beggar by the roadside asks for alms. The Prince replies that he has nothing to give and the beggar implores the Prince to give his own eyes. The Prince at once draws out a knife and cuts out his own eyes. Later the Prince prays to the God and he is granted new eyes so that he can continue on his journey.

The Prince is received after 12 years absence with great joy and celebrations. The King begs forgiveness of his son and offers him the entire treasury to give as alms. The King announces that Prince Drimeh Kunden is his regent. All of the people prostrate themselves before him.

Under the rule of Prince Drimeh Kunden the Kingdom of Beta prospers and strengthens. He and Sangmo eventually attain enlightenment.