The Lung-Gom-Pas Runners of Tibet
Source: Magic and Mystery in Tibet, by Alexandra David-Neel
Under the collective term of lung-gom Tibetans include a large number of practices which combine mental concentration with various breathing gymnastics and aim at different results either spiritual or physical.
If we accept the belief current among the Lamaists we ought to find the key to thaumaturgy in that curious training. Keen investigations do not, however, lead to extraordinary enthusiasm for the result obtained by those who have practiced it, seeking to acquire occult powers. Nevertheless, it would also be an error to deny that some genuine phenomena are produced by the adepts of lung-gom.
Though the effects ascribed to lung-gom training vary considerably, the term lung-gom is especially used for a kind of training which is said to develop uncommon nimbleness and especially enables its adepts to take extraordinarily long tramps with amazing rapidity.
Belief in such a training and its efficacy has existed for many years in Tibet, and men who travelled with supernormal rapidity are mentioned in many traditions.
We read in Milarepa’s biography that at the house of the lama who taught him black magic there lived a trapa who was fleeter than a horse. Milarespa boasts of similar powers and says that he once crossed in a few days, a distance which, before his training, had taken him more than a month. He ascribes his gift to the clever control of “internal air.”
However, it should be explained that the feat expected from the lung-gom-pa is one of wonderful endurance rather than of momentary extreme fleetness. In this case, the performance does not consist in racing at full speed over a short distance as is done in our sporting matches, but of tramping at a rapid pace and without stopping during several successive days and nights.
Beside having gathered information about the methods | used in training lung-gom-pas, I have been lucky enough to catch a glimpse of three adepts. In this I was extremely | fortunate as, though a rather large number of monks endeavour to practice some kind of lung-gom exercises, I there is no doubt that very few acquire the desired result, and in fact true lung-gom-pas must be very rare.
I met the first lung-gom-pa in the Chang thang of Northern Tibet.
[An immense wild grassy region at a high Revel, inhabited only by a few tribes of nomad herdsmen living in tents. Literally chang thong means “northern plain,” but this term is used to designate any large tract of wild land, similar to the solitudes of Northern Tibet.]
Towards the end of the afternoon, Yongden, our servants and I were riding leisurely across a wide tableland, when I noticed, far away in front of us, a moving black spot which my field-glasses showed to be a man. I felt astonished. Meetings are not frequent in that region, for the last ten days we had not seen a human being. Moreover, men on foot and alone do not, as a rule, wander in these immense solitudes. Who could the strange traveller be?
One of my servants suggested that he might belong to a trader’s caravan which had been attacked by robbers and disbanded. Perhaps, having fled for life at night or otherwise escaped, he was now lost in the desert. That seemed possible. If such was really the case, I would’ve take the lone man with us to some cowherds’ encampment or wherever he might wish to go if not far out of our route.
But as I continued to observe him through the glasses, I noticed that the man proceeded at an unusual gait and, especially, with an extraordinary swiftness. Though, with the naked eyes, my men could hardly see anything but a black speck moving over the grassy ground, they too were not long in remarking the quickness of its I advance. I handed them the glasses and one of them, having observed the traveller for a while muttered:
“Lama lung-gom-pa chig da.” (It looks like a lama lung-gom-pa.)
These words “lama lung-gom-pa” at once awakened my interest. I had heard a great deal about the feats performed by such men and was acquainted with the theory of the training. I had, even, a certain experience of the practice, but I had never seen an adept of lung-gom actually accomplishing one of these prodigious tramps which are so much talked about in Tibet. Was I to be lucky enough to witness such a sight?
The man continued to advance towards us and his curious speed became more and more evident. What was to be done if he really was a lung-gom-pa? I wanted to observe him at close quarters, I also wished to have a talk with him, to put him some questions, to photograph him … I wanted many things. But at the very first words I said about it, the man who had recognized him as a lama lung-gom-pa exclaimed:
“Your Reverence will not stop the lama, nor speak to him. This would certainly kill him. These lamas when travelling must not break their meditation. The god who is in them escapes if they cease to repeat the ~gags, and when thus leaving them before the proper time, he shakes them so hard that they die.”
Put in that way, the warning seemed to express pure superstition. Nevertheless it was not to be altogether disregarded. From what I knew of the “technique” of the phenomena, the man walked in a kind of trance. Consequently, a sudden awakening, though I doubt if it could cause death, would certainly painfully disturb the nerves of the runner. To what extent that shock would harm him I could not guess and I did not want to make the lama the object of a more or less cruel experiment. Other reasons also forbade me to gratify my curiosity. Tibetans had accepted me as a lady-lama, they knew that I was a professed Buddhist and could not guess the difference existing between my philosophic conception of the Buddha’s doctrine and lamaist Buddhism. Common Tibetan folk completely ignore the fact that the term Buddhism includes a number of sects and views. So, in order to enjoy the confidence, respect and intimacy which my religious garb brought me, I was compelled to behave in close accordance with Tibetan customs especially with religious ones. This was a serious hindrance, and often deprived my observations of a great part of their scientific interest, but it was the unavoidable price I had to pay for being admitted on ground still much more jealously guarded than the material territory of Tibet. This time, again, I had to repress my desire for full investigation and remain satisfied with the sight of the uncommon traveller.
By that time he had nearly reached us; I could clearly see his perfectly calm impassive face and wide-open eyes with their gaze fixed on some invisible far-distant object situated somewhere high up in space. The man did not run. He seemed to lift himself from the ground, proceeding by leaps. It looked as if he had been endowed with the elasticity of a ball and rebounded each tine his feet touched the ground. His steps had the regularity of a pendulum. He wore the usual monastic robe and toga, both rather ragged. His left hand gripped a fold of the toga and was half hidden under the cloth. The right held a phurba (magic dagger). His right arm moved slightly at each step as if leaning on a stick, just as though the phurba, whose pointed extremity was far above the ground, had touched it and were actually a support.
My servants dismounted and bowed their heads to the ground as the lama passed before us, but he went his way apparently unaware of our presence.
Entry filed under: Weird.