Nangsa Woebum


In the District of Gyantse, Tsang province, south-western Tibet lived a good peasant family of Phehue Nangba. The father of the family, Kusang Dechen and his wife Yansa Sedon were getting quite old, but continued to live pious lives, constantly praying to the Goddess Arya Tara and performing virtuous deeds. Their only regret about their lives was that they had not had any children.

However, the Goddess Tara took pity on them and Yansa Sedon gave birth to a truly beautiful baby girl. She was named Nangsa Wobum, which means, “The One given to this earth, whose rays of light would liberate 100,000 sentient beings”.

The Plot

Nangsa Wobum grew up to be a wise, good and exceptionally beautiful young woman. There were, of course, many men who desired her hand in marriage. But Nangsa cared nothing for such worldly ties and wished only to devote her life to the Dharma.

However, at a very special religious festival, Dhakpa Samdup, the son of the very cruel and powerful Lord Drachen, spotted Nangsa and immediately fell in love with her. He sent his servants to enquire about the girl and he had his servants force on her the “Good Luck Arrow”, which symbolises an engagement.

Although Nangsa had no wish to marry the Lord’s son, her parents thought it was a good idea. They thought it would provide security for their daughter, but also they were afraid of the possible repercussions if Nangsa didn’t marry Dhakpa Samdup. The dutiful Nangsa reluctantly agreed to her parents’ wishes. She was taken to the Lord’s mansion where she was married in a large and grand ceremony.

Shortly after her marriage, Nangsa gave birth to a son. Though it was a cause for much rejoicing for everyone else, Nangsa knew it was yet another link in the chain which would bind her to Samsara.

One of Nangsa’s duties in the household was to bring the field workers their midday meal. One day after the laborers had eaten and were resting, a holy yogi and his disciple passed by the field. They were returning from a pilgrimage to the sacred Mount Kailash. They begged Nangsa for some food, but she was afraid of her husband’s sister, a nun Nyemo, who had become insanely jealous of Nangsa ever since she arrived in the household. Nangsa told the yogi he must ask the nun Nyemo’s permission. This he did, but the hard-hearted nun gave him only a volley of abuse. Despite her fears, the kind hearted Nangsa then gave the yogis a large measure of barley. The yogi blessed her and told her he was Rechung Dhakpa, the chief disciple of the renowned Milarepa. On hearing this Nangsa prostrated herself in front of the holy man.

Nyemo, the wicked nun saw all this and abused Nangsa for giving their food to dirty beggars. When Nangsa tried to explain, the nun beat her cruelly. Nyemo then rushed to her brother, telling him that not only did Nangsa give away valuable items to the beggars, she grossly misbehaved with one of the young beggars.

Dhakpa Gyaltsen was, of course, greatly incensed on hearing this and beat Nangsa without mercy. It took many months for Nangsa to recover. One day Nangsa was staring vacantly out of her bedroom window, her heart heavy with grief, when she saw a beggar and his tame monkey on the street. The beggar, who had a fine voice, sang songs describing the futility of this life and how true happiness could only be achieved through the Dharma. The songs moved Nangsa so much that she asked the beggar if he knew of any great lama or yogi who could help her. The beggar replied that she should seek the holy lama Shakya Gyaltsen who lived in the monastery of Sera Yerlung.

In gratitude, she gave the beggar some turquoise and Dzi-stones from her jewellery. The old Lord Drachen saw this act of generosity and beat Nangsa furiously. That night, her heart broken, she died. Nangsa’s body was taken to a distant hill, where, according to astrologers it should be left untouched for a week.

Nangsa Wobum’s life-force was taken away for judgment. Her sins were weighed against her righteous actions, and of course the latter far out-weighed the former. Looking in his “All Revealing Mirror”, the Lord of Death saw that Nangsa Wobum was no ordinary woman but the incarnation of a pure dakini who had taken rebirth to help end the suffering of sentient beings. To allow her to achieve this, he returned Nangsa’s life-force to her body.

Understandably, everyone was astounded to see Nangsa alive, and when she told them she was a true Dhelok, or one who has returned from the dead because of one’s virtues, her husband, father and sister-in-law all begged her forgiveness and asked her to return home. She refused, saying she wanted to devote her life to the practice of Dharma. However, her resolve softened when her little son begged her to come home, and she decided to return there at least until her son had grown up.

Still she was not satisfied, and one day whilst returning from visiting her parents, she decided to grasp the opportunity and go to the monastery of the Lama Shakya Gyaltsen and practice the Dharma. On arriving at the monastery, the Lama refused to let her in, just to test her determination. Nangsa declared that without practicing Dharma, her life had no meaning and pulled out a knife to kill herself. Then the Lama knew she was serious and accepted her as his disciple.

Her husband and his family were furious that she had disappeared and when they discovered that she was at the monastery of Lama Shakya Gyaltsen, they and a large armed contingent set out to forcibly bring her back. In the battle that followed, many monks were killed and the old Lama was brought before the Lord and his son. Nangsa, up till now deep in meditation, came to the Lama’s aid, begging her husband and father-in-law to stop their fighting. However, the Lord Darchen and Dhakpa Samdup’s minds are elouded with ugly suspicions about the relationship between the old Lama and the beautiful Nangsa, and they prepared to kill the holy Lama.

But the Lama miraculously flew up into the sky and even raised the life of monks killed in the battle. Nangsa also performed some amazing miracles. The Lord Drachen and Dhakpa Samdup were astounded and they realised that Nangsa and her Lama were true enlightened beings, and they prayed to them for forgiveness. The two Lords then understood the futility of Samsaric existence and from that day on devoted their lives to the Dharma. Thus did the holy maiden, Nangsa Wobum, incarnation of Tara, come down to benefit all sentient beings.