The Cony Who Got into Bad Company
Once upon a time, a long, long time ago, when the world was young and new and the mountain tops were all peaks and the garden of Eden had not been pushed up towards the sky by the big high mountains of Central Tibet, men and animals understood each other. In a desert place, away among the mountains, was a little hut of mud and stone, and in this little hut with its dirt floor dwelt an old Lama. His house furnishings were very meager. There was a small piece of beaten felt upon which he slept at night and sat on cross-legged most of the day. He had no clothing and no covering at night except the one gown that he wore. He had some baskets of grain and sacks of tsamba, an earthen-ware pot for tea, and a small wooden bowl from which he ate. He dwelt in this house away from people that he might meditate and pray a good deal, and so acquire holiness. Every day he sat pondering the questions of life, and thinking about the little animals as well.
There was a cony by the name of Susha and a rat by the name of Mukjong. These two were great friends and cronies, and both pretended to be friends with the old Lama, but at night when he was asleep for a little while, they would sneak into his hut and steal all the grain they could find. One day the Lama decided that these two were not really his friends, but were just pretending to be, and that they came to see him every day to discover what he had in the hut and then plan to come back at night and steal it. He said, “I’ll just set a trap and catch them.” So he fixed one of his round baskets into a little drop trap and that night caught them both. Next morning he found them, cut off their whiskers, ears and tails and turned them loose. They were very angry and said to him, “We belong to the Aberrang, and that is a class that doesn’t lie, nor steal nor do any bad or dishonest thing. And you know we are your friends and have not stolen your stuff at all. We just wanted to see what you had in your basket and now see what you’ve done to us. Well, we’re going to our own kings and ask them to send an army to take your grain for sure. So you better make a lot of traps to catch us all when we come.”
The rat, very much ashamed of his condition, went to the king and showed him what had been done to him, telling him that he was innocent and asking that his king organize an army and attack the old Lama as a punishment for what had been done to him. The king, who was an old man, agreed to do so at once if the king of the conies would aid him. But when he asked the king of the conies he refused to help, as he knew the rat had been guilty. After the delegation had gone, the king of the conies called the cony to him, who came, looking very much ashamed, and told what had happened to him. The king said, “You only got what you deserved. When you are found in bad company you are judged as guilty as they. The rats are thieves and robbers and have been since the beginning of time, and when you are found with that kind of people you are thought to be just as bad as they. The conies are not a thieving folk, as you well know, and my advice to you is never to be found in the company of the rat or his kind of people again.”
(from the book ‘Tibetan Folk Tales’ compiled by Albert Leroy Shelton)
Image Attribution: The image above, sourced from Wikimedia Commons, is based on an autochrome (an early form of colour photography using plates coated with dyed starch grains, that was patented by the Lumière brothers in 1904) of a Buddhist lama in Beijing, China (dating back to 1913). Taken from Albert Kahn’s Archives de la planète (Archives of the Planet), the image was captured by the French photographer Stéphane Passet and formed part of a vast collection of 72,000 photographs, now housed in the Musée Albert-Kahn in Paris.