In all traditions there are fantastic stories, which scare people, which prevent them from sleeping at night… Many of these stories exist in the Himalayan countries. There are terrifying stories of demons, ogres, vampires, spirits, savage men (the famous yetis, “migö” in Tibetan)… And there are also those of the charnel grounds which, as the name indicates, are places outside inhabited places, withdrawn, reserved for death, whose origin is very old, which goes back at least to Vedic India.
It is better to have a good heart if you walk in wild places and charnel grounds, especially if it is at night… In Ladakh, during winter vigils by the fire when the whole family is gathered, it is said that a large number of people would have disappeared during the night after an encounter with two… spirits. The rare survivors testify that at a bend in a path, they would have met a couple of very beautiful and affable “humans” and, passing them, turning towards them, they realized that they had no back! Many did not survive this encounter!
“A lot happens when one is all alone, in total darkness, completely exposed and the plaything of the elements!”
In Drigung Thil, near a famous Kagyupa monastery, is one of the last remaining charnel grounds of the Tibetan tradition. It is said that demons inhabit it and if ever, by carelessness or absentmindedness, one walks near its surroundings, or worse, if one penetrates there at night, it is said that ferocious female beings (worldly dakinis) drinking blood and eating ashes delight in the poor men passing by.
This is not the only place like this in the himalayan world. The charnel grounds are still present also in Eastern Tibet and, in the region of Taktsang Lhamo, to which my Dzogchen master was closely linked and in which I practiced Dzogchen a lot in solitary retreats, a tradition wants (even if it is less and less followed) that to reach the realization of the illusory existence of the self, one goes to meditate during 21 nights in various charnel grounds and remote places of the region. A lot happens when one is all alone, in total darkness, completely exposed and the plaything of the elements! The mind lives and imagines things that are impossible for us to comprehend from the comfort of our fireplace… enjoying a pumpkin soup. We no longer need to tell ourselves scary stories, we live them. But that’s another story… maybe for the next Halloween? A Himalayan Halloween?