Tibetan Myths Surrounding Snow Leopards
“The Song of the Snow Range” comes from Garma Chang’s book The Hundred Thousand Songs of Milarepa, (Harper & Row, New York, 1962).
Tibet’s eleventh century poet-saint, Milarepa, traveled throughout what is now Tibet’s Qomolangma Nature Preserve, meditating in small caves and remote villages. Milarepa decided to leave the village where he had been staying, to escape its worldly distractions, return to the “Great Cave of Conquering Demons,” and regain the solitude to pursue his devotions. But winter was coming and the villagers begged him to stay – for his benefit as well as theirs. “You can conquer evil demons any time,” they said. “Stay with us until the spring.” But he went, promising to provide instruction to anyone who ventured up the mountain. It snowed that winter for eighteen continuous days and nights, cutting off the trail to the cave for six months. Milarepa’s disciples, assuming him dead, performed the appropriate sacramental feast and other rituals, and when the mountain cleared in spring they went in search of his body.
“Just short of their destination, they sat down to take a long rest. In the distance they saw a snow leopard yawning and stretching as it climbed up on a big rock. They watched it for a long while, until it finally disappeared. They were quite sure they would not find Milarepa's corpse, as they firmly believed the snow leopard had killed him and eaten his body... Then they noticed many human footprints beside the leopard’s tracks... They thought, “Could this be a conjuration of a Deva or ghost?” In bewilderment, they approached the Cave of Conquering Demons, and hearing Milarepa singing, they asked themselves, “Is it possible that passing hunters have offered food to him, or that he has acquired some left-over prey, so that he did not die?”
At the cave, Milarepa chided them: “You laggards, you reached the other side of the mountain quite a while ago. Why did it take you so long to get here?”
In answer to their questions, and how he knew that they were coming, Milarepa replied, “When I was sitting on the rock, I saw you all resting on the other side of the pass.”
“We saw a leopard sitting there,” they said, “but we did not see you.
“I was the leopard,” he replied.
Milarepa could transform himself into any form he wished, and so did not need food. However, in a vision he had seen the villagers bringing him a meal so big that he’d felt full for days. The disciples counted back and found that it had been the date they had held the sacramental feast.