Norma Levine

A Quest for the Hidden Lands

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My budding career as a literary scholar was suddenly hijacked by a singular seemingly random event. It was 1976 when I tiptoed into a tiny Buddhist shrine room in a farmhouse nestled into the Black Mountains of Wales and there beheld a Tibetan master, the 16th Karmapa, sitting on a throne performing a ceremony known as The Black Hat. My mind came to an immediate stop, suspended. It felt familiar, like the secret garden of childhood.

I can still remember every detail like it was yesterday:

Karmapa occupies the throne completely. He has a spiritual dignity that makes it his rightful seat, just as the lion proclaims his natural dominion. The force of his presence alone brings a hushed silence to the room. It feels like it has expanded into a cathedral.

Two monks blow long Tibetan horns in a haunting wail so loud and long it startles thought patterns, blowing them away like clouds. The Karmapa slowly opens the Black Hat-box, takes the black silk crown in his hand, and puts it on his head holding it down with one hand. With the other hand he fingers a crystal rosary moving it deftly, twirling the beads around three times. The horns continue while he gazes with eyes that seem to dissolve the fiction of time and the boundaries of space. Time is standing still.

That glimpse into enlightened mind became embedded like a seed and grew into a quest over the next decades to find the key places on our planet called the Hidden Lands.

The legend came alive while I was living in a Tibetan Buddhist monastery in the Himalayas. I met Tibetans who had been to the supreme Hidden Land of Pemako while escaping from the Chinese invasion of Tibet. They made it sound like the ‘promised land’ with streams flowing with milky water. There were certain plants that could induce enlightenment.

Why did it take decades to get there? What made the right ingredients emerge to penetrate this sacred sanctuary? And the big question: Who hid it and why?

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