Homage to the guru who reveals the secret pathways
To the hidden land at the centre of my heart
Where resides the eternal teacher
Beyond all birth and death
Ever serene and radiant
To you I pray:
In all my lives may we come face to face,
May my mind be always merged with yours!
May my prayers turn towards you
In times happy and sad!
May your blessings pour upon me
And your teachings be my only light!
~ Prayer by Lopön Ogyan Tanzin Rinpoche
Pemako is one of the hidden lands, or beyuls, blessed by the 8th century Buddhist master Padmasambhava as places of refuge. He predicted that in times of great confusion and danger the elements would be so imbalanced that it would affect meditators, so he concealed many valleys in the Himalayas as termas or hidden treasures with guidebooks to be revealed at precisely the right time. These termas describe valleys reminiscient of paradise that can only be reached with enormous hardship.
Pemako, literally “shaped like a lotus”, is considered the supreme hidden valley and the most sacred place blessed with holy virtues. It is located on a secluded plateau in the Himalayan mountains, in the region of Tsangpo gorges in southeastern Tibet. Nowdays, the northern part of this exquisite, ancient land (known as Upper Pemako) belongs to China, and the southern part (known as Lower Pemako) belongs to India.
Pemako was very much cherished by Guru Padmasambhava. In many texts, he refers to it as the king of all other of his hidden lands. In the Tsa Sum Gongdus, he says:
“In this hidden land, all mountains are like blooming flowers. All rivers spontaneously recite mantras and flow with nectar; rainbows are arched on trees and bushes. All the oath-bound protectors watch closely and protect true practitioners and punish those who merely pretend to be. Those who practice sincerely will attain enlightenment in this lifetime. Pure samadhi will spontaneously arise just by being in this land.
One session of practice in this blessed land is equal to a year of practice in other places. Those who make three prostrations here will never take lower rebirth. Those who die after seven steps taken with the intention of arriving here will definitely be reborn in this land. Those who build stupas and temples, and perform other works of virtue in this land are my messengers. Therefore, my fortunate sons and daughters, keep devotion to this land. You will soon realize its significance.”
The geography of Pemako resembles the dakini Vajravarahi, lying on her back. Various areas of this hidden land are described in terms of the different parts of Vajravarahi’s body, mainly in five chakras. Tsangpo Gorge, the world’s deepest canyon, is considered to be her life-current. Some Tibetans believe that in the lowest part of the gorge there are waterfalls which are an entrance into Pemako’s hidden center.
This area contains numerous minor as well as four major holy places. The first of these is Dharmakaya Amitabha’s holy place, Padma Shri; another is Samboghakaya Avalokiteshvara’s holy place, Riwo Tala; a third site is Nirmanakaya Guru Padmasambhava’s holy place, Citta Puri; and the fourth holy site, Devi Kota, is centered between the other three and embodies the blessings of all three.
An eighteen’s century terton, a Tibetan yogi Lelung Shepe Dorje, vividly describes the challeges awaiting pilgrims who will attempt to enter Pemako in the The Delightful True Stories of the Supreme Land of Pemako:
“In the borderlands between Tibet and India, in the land of savages, lies Pemako, the supreme of all hidden lands… The land is full of mischievous spirits that constantly display magic and miracles. Those without courage, or those with lingering doubts, too many mental conceptions… those who fall into accepting and rejecting… such people will have difficulty reaching this land… When obstructed in their essential nature, all the mountains, rocks, trees and rivers [here] appear as magical realms or deities…”
Such places often have a power that we cannot easily describe or explain. When approached with an awareness of the emptiness and luminousity underlying all appearences, they can encourage us to expand our vision not only of ourselves, but of reality itself. The innermost parts of Pemako are ultimately inseparable from the innermost parts of our own being. In honoring and developing its full potential as a ‘Paradise on Earth’, we bring forth that same quality within our own mind-streams.
In A concise guidebook to the hidden land of Pemako, originally revealed by Chogyur Lingpa, Khamtrul Jamyang Dondrup Rinpoche describes the extraordinary benefits of remaining and practicing in the hidden valley of Pemako:
“In this supreme of sacred lands, whomever practices the refinement of spiritual insight will be uplifted by the Buddhas which reside in the ten directions with ones very own physical body to higher realms. In this supreme of sacred lands whomever erects a temple or shrine, will be liberated to the highest of all pure lands — Akanistha and abide there in supreme illusory form. In this supreme of sacred lands, whomever constructs a statue of the Buddha, will instantaneously be liberated into the primordial heart sphere of the Buddha himself. In this supreme of sacred lands, whomever makes offerings and homage will attain the empowerment of immortal longevity beyond the need for meditation or mantric accomplishment. In this supreme of sacred lands, whomever would walk, circumambulating its circumference on foot would attain the foundation of magical emanation. In this supreme of sacred lands, whomever makes offerings of butter lamps and light would perfect the maturation of intrinsic insight. In this supreme of sacred lands, whomever performs rites of purificatory ablution would transform one’s aging complexion into youthful splendor.”
Visiting such places with good motivation and appropriate merit, one can learn to see the world diffrently from the way it commonly appears, developing and enhancing such virtuos qualities as wisdom and compassion. The goal of such pilgrimage is not so much to reach particular destination as to awaken within oneself the qualities and energies of the sacred place, which ultimately lie within our own minds.
Sources: “The Heart of the World, A Jorney to Tibet’s Lost Paradise” by Ian Baker; Pemako Dharma Wheel.
Images: 1 — View on Tsangpo Gorge, Pemako; 2 — Thangka of Vajravarahi from the collection of The Rubin Museum of Art; 3 — Tibetan map of the area from Lhasa to Pemako.