“The Castle in the Lake” is a coming-of-age folklore that does not use water to lubricate the evolution. Instead, at the root of this Tibetan myth is a celebration of maturity and a trial in wholesome power. Both of these qualities denote the importance of Castle Lake. Without this sacred kingdom, a young man would not have discovered hisself.
Though it is natural to flesh out the protagonist, there is much to be said of the young herdsman’s mother. Definitively, she is a minor character. With no name, speech, or scene-stealing, the mother is just as essential to the plot as her son. Her memory, appearance, and disappearance are necessary for Rinchen’s development. The minuscule details of her existence sufficiently announce the boy’s untapped maturity, and offer a viewpoint of the Bon1 religion.
First, there is how Rinchen’s mother was remembered: a woman of greed and gluttony. Rinchen’s mother was cruel to the point of bringing him to tears at the thought of her. They share a backward relationship where he provides food and clothing but gets little in return. As a young man, he’s outgrown his mother, and she in return has become a baby. She wants “more and more”2 that Rinchen can’t provide. The benefit is that her actions provoke Rinchen. He’s starting to “reflect upon his life”3, and hereafter blooms the consciousness needed for him to be ready for change. In fact, he’s ready to be overwhelmed, since he resents his mother to the point that going into the lake would blessedly severe their connection, “her bondage.”4
Once the mother appears, she is endangered. After being strongly expressed as the embodiment of her son’s woe, the answer is to bring a dog home5. Despite the tales of a ravenous nature, it is not the Castle Lake king’s dog that threatens her; the mother is threatened be her own jealousy. The shared wealth succeeds what her son actually gave her before. “She was amazed”6 by the quality of Rinchen’s food and clothes. What else could she do but selfishly seek it out, look for more regardless of there being quite enough between them. Thinking to repeat the formula of yak-herding by the lake, she is never heard from again.
She’s dead. The significance of Rinchen’s mother taking the yaks is a part of a mortuary ritual in the Bon religion. Yaks were sacrificed, or in this case, used, as a “likely companion to lead demons away”7 like this neglectful mother for Rinchen. Admittedly, there are no definitive sacrifices in “Castle of the Lake” but the possibility makes a satisfying end to such a woman. Her vanishing with the yaks was truly in her best interest. In the Tibetan Highlands, yaks are a main source of food, warmth, and money,8 and the literary disappearance is a matter of “ensuring [that] the soul of a dead person was conducted safely to a postmortem land of bliss by the right animal  to obtain their beneficial influence for the welfare of the living.”9 With that in mind, there would not be a better way of getting rid of Rinchen’s mother. Her absence leaves a place for his happiness.
The mother leaving the house makes room for the next relationship in Rinchen’s life. Part of it includes there being a new woman. She has been nurturing his existence without compensation, and she knew her way around the house10. The arrival of this woman awakens in Rinchen two unprecedented qualities: desire, and conceit. Engrossed, he forces her to stay, and binds her to the house with make-up and domesticity11. He covets her. And more than anything, it psychologically makes an adult out of him to want a counterpart to cherish. The woman brings Rinchen so much enjoyment that when rashly revealing her to the alpha male, the Chief’s insensitive son, it weakens Rinchen. He’s a crying boy, again. Weeping, he confesses “I have lost my woman,”12 but this time, his sense of self is to be fulfilled by example and by choice.
In order to be a complete man, Rinchen must resolve his insecurities. Starting over, he finds himself before the king to cure his problems. The dynamic results not only pay Rinchen with confidence, but with a legacy.
The king of the Castle Lake is the key for Rinchen to be a whole and improved person. The king himself is a symbol of wisdom. Living in water, the “mediator between heaven and earth”13 by descending from the skies, pooling within the terrain, and being in attendance for human emotions—the king is literally within his element. With “watery blue eyes”14, the king is attentive, and through his minute gestures of beckoning and whispering, he is illustrated as a man of restraint. What signifies his awesome power is in having an influence to be heard from the heavens, a surrounding “deep voice which resembles the distant rumblings of thunder.”15 This means that the king hisself is not an active threat, a man of action, but he is capable of violently engulfing the opposition. He gives Rinchen a box in testimony.
The next and final step for Rinchen is his boundless potential; he is a successor to the Lake Castle king. With a powerful voice, Rinchen “took half of the chief’s lands” and all the influence of the chief’s son by becoming “a leader of the people.”22 His voice not only gave Rinchen the power to conquer, but to be followed. With esteemed confidence, came wisdom and humility: Rinchen “returned the box”23; he returned the instrument that gave him resounding power. The troubled, young herdsman with his complementary yaks, butter tea, and barley,24 advances from being the everyman25 to being the king’s retainer. Rinchen advanced by using a hill as his platform. A hill is a lesser mountain, which Buddhist mythology often refers to as “the center of the universe”,26 and with all eyes on him, Rinchen claimed earnestness in the name of the diamond27 28 kingdom.
Rinchen’s ability to “breathe quite freely”29 in the “warm and friendly”30 waters only cements his destiny, as well his connection with the king. “[N]one other than ‘Prince Rinchen’” accounted Sir Alexander Cunningham of learning “it has always been the custom amongst the Tibetan kings to make the heir-apparent assistant to his father when he reached manhood.”31 Rinchen, respecting the man who gave him a voice, remained faithful by “living in fruitful contact with [the king] for all of his life.”32 In parting words, Rinchen never felt helpless again.
The ultimate message of “The Castle of the Lake” is encouragement. With an unproductive mother, the son sulked at his static misfortune. It was with the guidance of a father figure that Richen thrived. He gained prospect and discovered possibility. Through Rinchen, his lack of confidence supplied a proportional story of how getting rid of the depressing aspects of our lives and finding a sensible role model can lead to the most productive opportunities.
Beer, Robert. The Encyclopedia of Tibetan Symbols and Motifs. Chicago: Serindia Publications, Inc., 2004. Print.
Blau, Tatjana, and Mirabai Blau. Buddhist Symbols. New York City: Sterling Publishing Company, Inc., 2002. Print
Francke, August Hermann. A History of Western Tibet: one of the unknown empires. New Delhi: Asian Educational Services, 1995. Print.
Frechette, Ann. Tibetans in Nepal: the dynamics of international assistance among a community in exile. New York: Berghahan Books, 2002. Print.
Kvaerne, Per. A Death Ritual of the Tibetan Bonpos. E.J. Brill: Leiden, 1985. Print.
— The Bon religion of Tibet: the iconography of a living tradition. Chicago: Serindia Publications, Inc., 1995. Print.
Leonard, Scott, and Michael McClure. Myth & Knowing: An Introduction to World Mythology. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2004. Print