Once upon a time in Kashmir, there was a Sultan (the VIth, to be precise) named Sikandar who was a religious zealot. He destroyed Hindu temples, persecuted his non-Muslim subjects, and banned their rituals, festivals and public displays of faith. He managed to earn the title of “the Butcher of Kashmir”. Another moniker was “Sikandar the Idol Smasher”
In time, he was succeeded by one of his sons, Zain-ul-Abidin, the VIIIth Sultan of Kasmir (we won’t worry ourselves with the fate of the VIIth Sultan…)
Unlike his father, Zain-ul-Abidin was a secularist. He revoked all of his father’s anti-religious policies, earning the title of Bud Shaw – the Great King – among the majority of his subjects.
So how did a a family undergo such a radical change of heart in just a generation?
Now, historians have their theories;
But then there’s what the people know, especially the Hindus of Kashmir.
During the reign of Zain-ul-Abadin there lived a Brahman (the Hindu priest class) named Shri Bhatt. A physician of renown, he was summoned to the Sultan’s court; the King was not well.
Zain-ul-Abadin was suffering from an abscessed wound; his court physicians had been unable to heal it. in desperation, they had summoned the Hindu doctor.
Shri Bhatt was a skilled physician; he promised the Sultan that he would be healthy within three days, and his prediction was accurate; Zain-ul_Abadin was holding court three days later, radiant and vital.
In the swoons of his illness, he asked the good doctor how he could repay him.
Shri Bhatt asked him to reconsider his policies regarding the Hindus of Kashmir, and the Sultan acquiesced; if he regained his health, he would stop the persecution his father had initiated.
Shri Bhatt left the court smiling; he had reversed the fortunes of his people.
And the story ends here.
No, of course not.
While the Sultan intended to be true to his words, within a short time he fell ill again.
Not only was this bad for Shri Bhatt’s reputation, it was potentially disastrous for his Hindu brethren.
What Shri Bhatt needed was time. Time to heal the king; time for the Sultan to honor his oath, and reverse the direction Sikandar the Butcher had headed the country on.
Strange things happen in the valley that leads to the Land of Snows, Tibet.
In Vajrayana Buddhism, there is a method called Phowa. While it is primarily concerned with transferring one’s consciousness into the Pure Lands (a psychic “heaven”) at the time of death, it has other implications, which the Buddhist master Naropa elucidated:
Phowa techniques can also be used to transfer ones consciousness into a recently deceased corpse.
Based on what happens next in this folktale, it’s fair to assume that this practice had a precedent in Indian Tantra (Naropa’s student Marpa traveled to India to find Tantric texts on this very subject).
Back to our friend, the very worried doctor Shri Bhatt.
Shri Bhatt’s dark meditations were interrupted by an unexpected sight: a wandering Tantric sage, also known as a Siddha, an empowered being.
The Siddha asked the Brahman doctor the way to the nearest temple, which made Shri Bhatt smile bitterly.
Sikandar the Idol Smasher had destroyed all the temples; there was quite literally nowhere for the Siddha to go.
The Siddha asked how he could help.
And now our story begins.
After hearing about the situation in Kashmir, the Siddha explained to the Brahman that he could heal the dying king by moving his life force into the Sultan’s body.
This could only be maintained for one hundred days, after which he would have to return to his own biological body.
While animating the Sultan, he could implement the drastic changes that Zain-ul-Abadin had promised the Brahman doctor.
Shri Bhatt thought this was a good idea…
It turned out to be a great idea.
The Sultan, now possessed by the Tantric sage, dropped the persecution of religious minorities.
Now, some of you might be thinking, wouldn’t it be great if we a had a Phowa practitioner right now?
<insert politician you would like to see Phowa-ed here>
Well, what’s good for a nation isn’t always quite so good for a Tantric…
As the hundred days came to an end, Shri Bhatt had an idea:
Things had been really good since the Tantric had possessed the Sultan…
What if the Tantric didn’t have a body to come back to?
With that in mind, he cremated the body of the Tantric, trapping him in the Sultan’s body.
As the body burned, he mused to himself:
“In the end, it’s nothing but the ashes for all of us, tomorrow if not today. Why not today?”
And so, the Tantric’s body died, and the Bud Shaw, the Great King, was born.
And the take away?
In the end, nothing but ashes…
Hopefully, not today.