By David DeFranza
February 6, 2009
Tibetan Buddhists believe that Milarepa, one of Tibet's most famous poets and Buddhist teachers, traveled to Mount Kailash to challenge Naro Bön-chung, a powerful leader of the Bön faith. It is said that the two fought a battle of sorcery, terrible to behold. It lasted for days but no clear winner emerged. Frustrated by the stalemate, the two agreed that they would race to the summit of Mount Kailash. The winner would gain dominance of Tibet.
The race began and Naro Bön-chung took off, riding atop a magic drum. As he sped towards the summit, Milarepa sat in meditation at the mountain's base. Milarepa's followers, the minority in Tibet at that time, became nervous and begged him to begin moving. In response, he simply sat, silent and motionless.
Days of food poisoning had left me weak and bedridden in Darchen. I had come nearly a thousand miles across western Tibet with the intent of walking a kora, maybe two, but it had become a challenge simply trekking to the latrine outside.
The race continued and now Naro Bön-chung was more than halfway to the summit. His drum was moving at an unwavering speed and it was clear that in a few moments he would win the race and reassert his dominance over Tibet. Milarepa's followers had become distraught and anxious. They shouted at him to begin moving and pleaded with him to have mercy. Milarepa sat in silence, seemingly oblivious to their cries or to his opponent's near victory.
One night a young Japanese man returned. He was thin and looked weary from the cold and wind. He told me, in a mix of Japanese, English, and Mandarin, that he had just completed his thirteenth kora; that in the morning he would set off for his fourteenth. I was jealous. He had accomplished more than I had even dreamed of. Still, his achievement was undeniably impressive. We shared a pot of yak butter tea and then another before noticing the candles in the guest house had burned out.
A half hour on wobbly legs took me from Darchen to the main road. Soon, I had flagged down a passing jeep headed towards Lhasa and my eastward journey continued. As we rattled down the unpaved road, Kailash shrunk below the horizon behind me. I rubbed my tired legs, looked forward, and realized: I had just completed my own inner kora.
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