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.Nepalese Myths Surrounding Snow Leopards
From Observations on Conservation of Snow Leopards in Nepal, by Som B. Ale and Bhaskar S. Karky.
In the northerly societies of Nepal many indigenous beliefs and shamanistic practices, reflecting local pre-Buddhist traditions, were incorporated and subsequently reworked into the Buddhist pantheon and ritual system. One such ritual in Manang connected to the snow leopard and its depredation forbids alpine herders to roast meat, for otherwise the mountain god will send its “dog”, (i.e. snow leopard) and one has to suffer livestock losses.
In Dolpo there are stories of great lamas frequently making trips to Tibet in the form of snow leopards, in search of rare medicinal herbs. Other folklore describes the snow leopard as a “fence” for the crops, meaning that in the absence of snow leopards livestock would be free ranging and thus would invade crop fields.
Local inhabitants still believe that snow leopards (and domestic cats) are considered to have taken birth particularly to remove the sins of their past lives, and killing these animals means having their sins transferred to your own life.
In Mustang, killing a snow leopard is considered to be more sinful than its prey species (for instance blue sheep), because all sins it has committed during its lifetime by killing its prey will then be transferred to you.