THE GREAT MARATIKA CAVE OF IMMORTALITY

In PILGRIMAGE by Dorje Phuntsok2 Comments

At Maratika Cave you meditated to gain immortality.
You perfected the practice of longevity and met Buddha Lord of Infinite Life.
Birth and death lost their hold on you; your body matured into immutability.
–The Immaculate White Lotus, a Padmasambhava hagiography from the Sera Khandro treasure cycle.

After Padmasambhava had transformed his execution pyre into the lake we now know as Tso Pema, in modern day Himachal Pradesh, he is said to have flown to Maratika Cave in, Eastern Nepal with his consort, Princess Mandarava. According to Jamgon Kongtrul, for three months they engaged in longevity practices resulting in seeing Amithayus, the Buddha of Infinite Life, face to face.

Maratika, known locally as Haleshi, is near Khotan in the Eastern Nepali hills. A six hour drive from Kathmandu, it can also be reached by bus or helicopter, but due to the road conditions, I would strongly advice against bus travel. The site itself consists of three hills on a ridge. These are known as Manjushri, Avalokiteshvara and Vajrapani. Avalokiteshvara is the middle hill and is where the main cave system is located. There is also a small cave on the far cliff face of Manjushri hill, where there are occasional retreatants.

The main, upper cave in Avaloketishvara hill, is where Padmasambhava is said to have attained immortality. Specifically in a small alcove at the back of the cave. One enters this cave by coming down a set of steps. To the left is an area where many Buddhists will do meditation and puja. Slightly above this up some steps is a natural Shiva lingam. Below this is the main cave, with the aforementioned alcove. Around the cave are various Hindu shrines, mostly related to Lord Shiva. There are also various rock formations which are said to be gateways to various hells, pure lands and such. A large community of bats add a specific smell to this cave. Despite being quite busy, most pilgrims are very respectful, so you can practice without being disturbed. As with any holy site in Nepal, Saturday is peak time.

Personally I found the lower cave, which is also the largest, to be the best for practice. This was mostly due to it having less visitors and its sheer size diluting the noise. You enter from below and walk up a long tunnel until you reach a plateau where there is a huge opening in the cave roof. It is almost big enough to be used as an underground base in a James Bond film. Padmasambhava however used it as a place of practicing Vajrakilaya, and if you have the right karma, you will see some relevant images in the cave walls. There are also various rock formations which have Buddhist, Hindu and in some cases Kirat, mythology attached to them, such as the two rocks just inside the cave door, which are meant to be the the body and head of a demon decapitated by Padmasambhava.

Vajrapani hill has no caves, but is a nice place for raising prayer flags and doing sang purification practice. It also has nice snowpeak views and is much less busy than Avaloketishvara hill. There are plenty of guesthouses between Avalokiteshvara and Manjushri hills, most of which seem reasonably priced. I stayed in the guesthouse of the Mindrolling branch monastery and it was very good. Just below the monastery is s tiny restaurant which amazing aloo roti and thukpa at very reasonable prices. Khyabje Chatral Rinpoche and Trulshik Rinpoche both wrote pilgrimage guides to this site which are well worth reading before travelling.

About the Author
Dorje Phuntsok

Dorje Phuntsok

Traveler, explorer, author, poet, Dorje Phuntsok is a perpetual pilgrim in search of Padmasambhava. He sometimes takes other travelers with him, sometimes translates and sometimes writes. instagram: @dorjephuntsok

Featured image by Photo provided by the author.

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  1. Erik Pema Kunsang

    THE MELODIOUS TAMBURA OF JOY
    GUIDE TO THE SUPREME HOLY PLACE OF IMMORTAL LIFE
    THE ROCKY CAVE OF MARATIKA
    by Kyabje Chadral Sangye Dorje Rinpoche

    Homage to the Guru, Yidam and Dakinis.
    To the essence of all appearances, Pema Amitayus
    To the embodiment of emptiness, The Great Mother, clothed in white
    To the three root Long Life Deities, the Mudra of non-duality
    I bow down with devotion and beseech you to bestow the Empowerment of Immortal Life.
    North of Bodhgaya, the centre of the universe, within a rocky mountain covered with trees and bushes, is the widely renowned wondrous holy place called Haleshi, about which I will explain, so listen for a moment with joy.
    Outwardly, it is the blissful play of Shiva and Umadevi. Inwardly, it is the palace of Chakrasamvara. Secretly, it is the Celestial Mansion of the Deities of Immortal Life and most Secretly it is the Pure Land of Great Bliss; the Absolute Akanishta Realm.
    In the past, when the Vidyadhara Pema Thodrengtsal with his ravishingly beautiful consort Mandarava practiced the swift path of the secret activities at this place, the Empowerment of Immortal Life was bestowed on them by Buddha Amitayus; Buddha of Boundless Life. Attaining the body which is without birth or death, decrepitude and disintegration, Guru Rinpoche even now dwells in the southwest, subduing the rakshas, continuously sending forth emanation upon emanation in whatever way necessary to benefit beings in cyclic existence.
    Later, Bhikshu Akarma emanated from the point between the eyebrows of Songtsen Gampo, (who was Avalokiteshvara). When Bhikshu Akarma was erecting a statue of the Eleven-headed Avalokiteshvara in the Jokhang, he went in search of special substances to make it and to collect inner relics. He miraculously arrived at Maratika and at that time beheld the faces of many deities. He called it “The Practice Cave Mandala of Glorious Qualities” and uttered many other praises and stories providing a reliable source and proof.
    When the Tirthika Shankaracharya caused much harm to the Buddhist doctrine in India and Nepal, many old sacred places and holy objects were destroyed, scattered and lost. After that, all his followers took them over as places of Shiva.
    At the present time, people make special offerings of bells, cymbals, tridents, butter lamps with a hundred or a thousand wicks and incense, flowers, milk and the three white offerings, but not one person offers live sacrifice or red offerings. Their pujas, performed with the playing, both slow and fast, of drum, cymbal, white conches and various kinds of instruments of the blowing and twirling classes, causing the sounds of “ur-ur! chem chem!” and so forth to resound in the cave.
    They continuously make offering and praise to Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva (Mahadeva), and other worldly deities. Adhering to superior and inferior castes from Brahmin to butcher there are those who are allowed and those who are not allowed to enter the cave. Some of the inferior castes may only sit at the entrance as even now they adhere to their ancient traditions.
    Especially during the tenth of the waxing and waning days of the month and other excellent days, I have seen the Brahmin Pujaris inside the cave with mandalas of coloured sand making huge fire ceremonies.
    As all individuals have their own perception it is not right to harbor wrong views and speak maligning words. One should maintain pure vision, rejoice and give praise, thus making a good connection. To slander other people or the deities is the basis for misfortune.
    To arouse interest I began with an explanation of the history, in order to develop faith in outsiders, Buddhists and non-Buddhists, and to dispel arguments about the holy place.
    EMAHO! Having mentioned some of the qualities of this holy place which are clearly evident even to ordinary people, there can hardly be room for disagreement. As well, it is said in the commentaries, with good reason, that even the words of a child if authentic and well-spoken should be used.
    On seeing this place, uncontrollable wonder arises. Through merely hearing the name, the seed of liberation is planted. By recalling it, accidental death is prevented. Through making prostrations, circumambulation and offerings, great accumulation of merit is accomplished.
    The sky around forms a vast eight-spoked wheel. The ground is shaped like an eight-petalled louts with the middle swelling up like the pistil of a flower. The landscape being wide and open, the sun remains long and the weather is temperate. In the front a stream gushes forth. The centre of the holy place is a huge self-existing Assembly Hall, high and spacious with room for one thousand people. There is the single bindu skylight shaped like a round wheel.
    Outside, out of the craggy rocks grow various shrubs and trees. Inside the cave abounds with innumerable images of statues, seed syllables and hand implements of the peaceful and wrathful deities. The special characteristic or mark of this Holy Place are the many stone linga (stalagmites) ranging in size from six feet down to six inches in height. Naturally formed, they are white, smooth, shiny and resplendent.
    During auspicious times, nectar collects like moist dew and drips down. There are many crevice-like holes through which one can test one’s positive or negative karma, birth in the lower realms or entrance to the higher realms and path of liberation.
    Below the holy place is a cave whose entrance faces to the southwest. The mouth is not so big but once inside it opens up and is very wide and spacious, with enough room to fit a hundred people. There are many images of body speech and mind, hand and foot imprints, a white conch and many other amazing self-arisen things. When those of fortunate karma arrive there, dew-like nectar seeps out. Straight above, unobstructed, is a high vaulted skylight, making it renowned as a training place for the transference practice of Khachod.
    In the spacious sphere of the main cave are hosts of bats whose forms are imperceptible but they ceaselessly sound the mantra of long life (one hears the sounds of ‘tsey’ and ‘bhrum’). It is a very special place for helping all tantric practitioners on the path with their visualization of the wheel of luminosity of the deities and mantras.
    This text, which mentions only a drop from the ocean of good qualities of this holy place, was composed with the thought of benefiting others. Like a wish-fulfilling gem or an excellent vase may it bring unfailingly all our wishes to fruition.
    By coming to this sacred place, may the obscurations of all the followers of Guru Padmasambhava, dharma brothers and sisters, be purified and may they accumulate merit.
    One should endeavor in the recitation of mantras, in the offering of tormas and in performing fire ceremonies, and especially in longevity practice.
    By the merit of my composing this, may all beings under the sky be saved from untimely death and present obstacles, and ultimately, having attained the level of the protector Amitayus, lead all beings to that state.
    By the blessing and the power of the truth of the wondrous compassion of all Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, all unwanted trouble and misery without exception having been completely subjugated, may there be continuous glory and may auspiciousness prevail day and night. SHUBHAM.

    My daughter Saraswasti Devi with offerings of a stainless scarf and writing paper requested me to write a praise of this holy place. Therefore, I, the old vagabond father Sangye Dorje, wrote this in the Fire Tiger Year on an excellent day of the tenth month, between sessions, at the Supreme Holy Place of Maratika which puts an end to death.

    Translated by Ani Lodro Palmo.

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