Dangpho… Dingpho… there lived a man and a woman who had nine sons. The youngest of them was a dumb but as clever, thoughtful, and skillful as his older brothers. Unfortunately, they saw only his dumbness and ill-treated him like an animal, often comparing him to their ox. “Go and live with your companion ox in the barn,” they would make fun of him. His parents were no better. Devoid of human company, he indeed found a friend in their ox and spent most of his nights in the barn. During the day, he followed his dump companion to forest, meadow, or field, and sat scratching the earth with a stick. His family did not know that even a dump or animal were capable of same feeling and emotion like humans.
One day when he was in a meadow with the ox, the boy heard someone speaking. “Why are you crying? What makes you always sad? Why are you coming near me? What has happened to you?”
He looked everywhere but found no one. It was no other than his friend ox. “If an animal could speak, why not I, a human?” he thought and a tried to speak. Miraculously, he found he could speak to the ox. He was happy beyond sky and earth.
“Don’t you know my family is cruel to me? They tell me the two of us are the same since both of us have no gift of speech. I’m a human, yet I can’t speak,” he replied.
They talked for the whole day, sharing their sorrows and suffering. “You’ve to suffer for nine more years for your past actions. I was born as an ox for my bad action,” the ox said promising to take him to the realm of gods when the time was ripe. When asked whether they had any connection in previous lives and if that is why they could speak to each other miraculously, the ox replied that the boy would hear the answer after nine years. Until then they promised to live together, solve each other’s problem, share their happiness, and never let anyone know about their speech.
Nine years passed. Early one morning, the ox asked him to hold his tail tightly and to close his own eyes. “When rains fall, don’t open your eyes; when winds blow, don’t open your eyes; when it is dark, don’t open your eyes. I’ll tell you when to open them,” the ox advised and off they went.
On the way, the cold winds blew, heavy rains fell, and sometimes they flew through darkness. He trusted the ox and never opened his eyes. He was so faithful, ready to accept whatever destiny the ox had for him. After some time, the ox asked him to open his eyes. They had reached the realm of god where everything looked different and beautiful.
They built a hut near a flower garden around a king’s palace. He lived in the hut while the ox stayed outside, tethered to a post. The king saw the ox while he was strolling around the palace. He was attracted by the ox. All his cares and worries disappeared by merely looking at the animal. He wanted to own the animal and asked for its owner.
One morning, the king came to the hut and asked, “Does the ox belong to you?”
“Wai son!” the king said. “You don’t even have a good house to live in, good food to eat, or good cloth to wear. Your body and cloth are infested with lice. Will you exchange the ox for a good food, good cloth, and a good house?”
“The ox is both my body and sok. I’ll not sell it,” the boy replied. Sok is a life-force.
Earlier the ox had advised the boy not to sell him, not even to the king, no matter the price. The king increased the price but the boy refused. After all persuasions had failed, the king came up with a plan. He summoned the boy to the palace. “Tomorrow we’ll play a hide-and-seek game,” the king said. “The loser will surrender his ox or half of the kingdom.” Fearing for his life, he could not refuse the bet. Back in his hut, the ox told him not to worry.
The king went to hide first. The boy was to search. The ox informed him that the king had transformed himself into two tall trees above the road. “Those trees are different from others and you can easily spot them,” the ox said. “Go near the trees and pretend to fell them, saying, ‘I haven’t seen these trees before. If I take them to my king he’ll like it.’”
The boy suffered the whole day without any food or drink, searching for the two trees. In the evening, he found them above the road as described by the ox. He pretended to lift his knife and uttered the words. The trees replied, “Stop! Don’t cut me. It is only me.” The trees instantly transformed into the king. But the king refused to give half of the kingdom to the boy, saying, “Not until you find me,” and asked him to hide the next day.
The boy was worried that he would be found by the king and went to his hut, crying. “Why are you crying?” the ox asked.
“The trees turned out to be the king and I won. But he refused to concede the bet and asked me to hide. Where can I hide? His thousand men can easily find me,” the boy replied.
The ox asked him not to worry. The next morning, he hid beneath the ox. The king and his servants, soldiers, farmers, and astrologers searched everywhere but no one could find him. In the evening, he went to see the king and said, “I won. You lost. Will you keep your promise?”
“Where did you hide?” the king asked. “We searched everywhere. A thousand of pairs of eyes couldn’t find you while you alone could find me. How is that possible?”
“You searched for me everywhere but beneath the ox,” he said.
The king had been near the ox twenty times and his servants a thousand times but no one cared to look beneath the animal. The boy asked for half the kingdom, promising him that he would not be his rival. But the king asked for another hide-and-seek game.
Before the boy went to find the king yet again, the ox told him, “When you reach a white waterfall, say that you want to take it to the king and pretend to fill a kadung without a hole.” Kadung is a slender bamboo container for storing, carrying and serving alcohol.
The boy did indeed come across a waterfall. He took down his kadung from his back and prepared to fill it. The waterfall suddenly transformed into the king and said, “It isn’t waterfall, it is me.”
The king again refused to concede his loss and asked the boy to hide the next day. The ox told him that a truthful man would never lose, an honest man would never suffer, and even a king would be powerless before an honest man. The next morning he was asked to hide inside a small cave above the road, while the ox himself should be tethered above the cave.
“Don’t make noise but stay inside the cave, cleaning your body of dirt and lies,” the ox said.
The king and his servants came to search in the cave but no one looked inside it. In the evening, the king stopped searching. He was so impressed by the king’s shrewdness and thought of appointing him as his minister.
When the boy went to claim his bet, he was greeted with praise. The king said he had a clever son who disappeared either by climbing up the sky or descending down to the earth. “He was a clever man,” the king said, “but it seems you’re cleverer than him, or you must be his reincarnation.” The king explained that there was no need for either of them to rule over one half of the kingdom and offered to appoint him as his minister. The king continued, “This palace is facing water shortage. I want you to make a phochu and a mochu flow down from a cliff above the palace”. Phochu and mochu, literally means male and female water. The king demanded that water should form a lake that should neither increase nor decrease, nor sink down into the earth nor overflow.
The boy went to his ox and explained the king’s offer and command. The ox asked him to cut two trees and wrap them with his hairs. He was to insert one tree where water had to come out and the other tree along the slope where water should flow. After that was done, canal must be dug along the slope. “Ask the water to come out, phochu will spring forth. Then take out mochu in a similar way,” the ox instructed.
The boy followed the instructions. Both phochu and mochu began to fall from right and left of the palace. The water began to roar and accumulated below the palace in a lake.
The king complained about the noise and asked him to silence the water, ordering him to grow trees along the water canal with different songbirds. The ox advised him to raise prayer flags along the water canal and he did as he was told. The next morning different species of trees had grown along the canal with different types of birds singing like jakalapingka. Jakalapingka is a song bird.
The king was fully convinced that the boy was his son’s reincarnation. He was crowned king while the king himself withdrew to a mountain retreat to pursue a religious life. But as soon as the boy became the king, the ox began to fly and sing thus:
May the human civilization increase?
May Buddha Dharma prosper?
May the time of devil end?
May none listen to evil people?
May many listen to good people?
Even a dump, thoughtless animal has ways, means, and methods.
As soon as the ox disappeared into the sky, a khandoma (dakini) appeared miraculously. Indeed she was indeed the king’s son, who had been born in the human world to bring his destined husband, the dumb boy, here. They were married and lived happily.
Narrated by Phurpa Wangmo
Shingkhar village, Zhemgang
Published in PARABOLA – TRADITION, MYTH, AND THE SEARCH FOR MEANING, Spring 2009, Society for the Study of Myth & Tradition, New York.