On the Long Life Arrows of Māratika Cave
(The Silken Arrows of Longevity)
by Māratika Dungdzin Rinpoché,
Ngawang Jigdrel Chökyi Wangchuk
(maa ra tik ka’i mdung ‘dzin rin po che ngag dbang ‘jigs bral chos kyi dbang phyug)
Translated from the Tibetan by Erick Tsiknopoulos
Regarding the Silken Arrows of Longevity (or Long Life Arrows, mda’ dar), which are prepared according to the traditional practice of longevity rituals (mthong brgyud phyag len) of Māratika Cave1, and which are made out of the Bamboo of Longevity (tshe smyug) from that selfsame supreme sacred site [of Māratika Cave]: They are assembled according to reliable texts [of instruction]; and are made with the traditional practice of longevity rituals and so on. They [the arrows themselves] are constructed from the material of precious white metal (rgyu rin chen ltung); and inside them rests the Bamboo of Longevity, imbued with blessings, which grows at the sacred site of Māratika.
In general, the Silken Arrows of Longevity are made to be endowed with excellent bamboo cane, of three, seven, nine or thirteen joints; whichever is suitable. Thereupon are bound silks of five-fold color; while at their tip, a vulture feather of four sides is affixed, and a mirror and small turquoise at their bottom. The base is set in the shape of a spear.
As for the meaning of their symbolism: The three joints [of the bamboo] and so on represent the Three Vehicles (yāna-s)2, [the seven joints represent] the Seven Good Qualities of the Higher Realms3, [the nine joints represent] the Stages of the Nine Vehicles, and the thirteen [joints represent] the Ten [Bodhisattva] Levels of the Great Vehicle [Mahāyāna] and the Three Bodies of Awakening (kāya-s) [thus making thirteen combined]. The five-colored silks are the Ḍākinīs of the Five Families [of Buddhas], the Five Deep Wisdoms (jñāna-s), and the Five Awakened Activities. The vulture feather at the tip is the realization of the highest ultimate view of unchanging true reality; and of never meeting defeat by any opposition whatsoever. The mirror is the dawning of the outer universe and its inner inhabitants in the three realms, in their entirety, as vivid and distinct. The turquoise is the Life-Energy Stone of Humanity (mi yi bla rdo), and it is said to be capable of healing the drifting and dissipation of life-energy and longevity; owing to the profound rituals of Secret Mantra [Vajrayāna]. The base which rests firmly and steadily has the meaning of unchanging longevity and life-force; and the bamboo cane which is straight and supple has the meaning of always and ever abiding within the faith of trusting in the Supreme Gems [the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha] and in karmic causality, by authentically dwelling on the path of the Ten Virtues.
And thus, as for this work regarding the Silken Arrows of Longevity from the great sacred site of Māratika Cave, which are accomplished through reliable texts [of instruction] and the traditional practice of longevity rituals and so on, written by the Lineage Holder (gdung ‘dzin) of Chimey Takten Chöling Monastery (‘chi med rtag brtan chos gling mgon), ngawang Jikdrel Chökyi Wangchuk (ngag dbang ‘jigs bral chos kyi dbang phyug), by the virtue of spreading this in the supreme support of pilgrimage to the sacred site [of Māratika], may all living beings become rich in the glory of longevity, prosperity and all that is desired; and thereby may it become a cause for freely enjoying the virtuous signs of the benefit and welfare of the Teachings and beings. SIDDHI RASTU.
(Translated from the Tibetan by Erick Tsiknopoulos, late October to late November 2017, in the village of Rakkar, near Dharamshala, India. Completed on December 16th 2017. Minor revisions made on December 24th 2017.)
1 Māratika Cave (Skt. Māratika; Tib. མཱ་ར་ཏི་ཀ་, འཆི་བ་མཐར་བྱེད་, Wyl. ‘chi ba mthar byed): The rocky caverns where Padmasambhava attained the level of a Vidyādhara [Knowledge Holder] with Power Over Longevity (tshe la dbang ba’i rig ‘dzin), through his practice with his consort Mandāravā (who was probably a princess from Himachal Pradesh, India). It is thought to be the cave of Haileshi in Sagarmatha, Nepal. A traditional biography of Padmasambhava says: “Returning to Zahor, Padmasambhava took the royal princess Mandāravā as his consort, and they then went to the Māratika Cave, where for three months they practiced the Sādhanā of Longevity. The Buddha of Limitless Life, Amitāyus appeared, empowered them with longevity, and blessed them as inseparable from him. They both accomplished the second Vidyādhara level, ‘Vidyādhara with Mastery Over Life’. [Edited from the Rigpa Wiki article.]
From the ‘About’ section of the Māratika Monastery website (www.MaratikaMonastery.org): “Māratika Cave, in eastern Nepal, is the sacred place where Guru Padmasambhava and Princess Mandāravā accomplished the state of Immortal Awareness Holder (‘chi med rig ‘dzin). In the wisdom tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, Māratika is counted among the six most holy places of our world.
Introduction and Historical Background: Māratika, or ‘chi ba thar byed in Tibetan, means “liberating from death”, and is also known as Halesi, or “literally astonishing”. The place is rich in history, mythology and sacred geology, and despite its great isolation, it is a major holy place for both Buddhists and Hindus. For Tibetan Buddhists in particular, it is the site of immortality, one of the six supreme pilgrimage sites in the world. It is the place where the great master, the second Buddha Padmasambhava, and Ḍākinī Mandāravā obtained the realization of immortal life. Māratika was also blessed by the Family of Three Protectors: Mañjuśrī, Vajrapāṇi and Avalokiteśvara. For many years, the sacred cave of Māratika has been a very important pilgrimage destination for Buddhists seeking to engage in the long life or longevity practices. Due to its historical connection with Padmasambhava, the Lotus Born Guru, and the Family of Three Protectors, it is particularly sacred within the Rimey or Non-Sectarian movement of Tibetan Buddhism in general, and within the Vajrayāna vehicle in particular.
Legend has it that Guru Padmasambhava first subdued the demons of the Lord of the Death, before engaging in a three month long meditation retreat in the central cave at Māratika, on the practice of the deity Amitāyus, the Buddha of Boundless Life. The aforementioned deity appeared directly to Guru Padmasambhava, bestowing the Empowerment of Long Life; and thereupon Guru Rinpoche accomplished the level of a Vidyādhara with Mastery Over Longevity, beyond death and birth; the signs of which are still visible in the cave to this day.
The greater region is made up of three holy mountains, the central smaller of which is known as Avalokiteśvara Mountain, and which houses the two main caves themselves. Above it, next to the caves’ entrance, is Māratika Chimey Takten Chöling Monastery. On either side of Avalokiteśvara Mountain stand Vajrapāṇi Mountain to the south, and Mañjuśrī Mountain to the north; making up the trio of the “Family of Three Protectors”, or rig sums mgon po in Tibetan.
To highlight the importance of this holy place, His Holiness the Dalai Lama has stated, “Due to the accumulation of pure virtue, just through seeing, hearing, remembering and touching this place, the two obscurations of sentient beings [of emotions and concepts] will be quickly purified, one will be looked after by the All-Knowing One (the great master Padmasambhava); and will easily attain the state of omniscience.”
To quote His Holiness Düdjom Rinpoché, “Indirectly devoted and fortunate people in the future will gain a positive karmic link merely by visiting this place, making prostrations, worshiping or respecting it. They will have the obstacles of this life pacified, all their wishes will be fulfilled; and ultimately they will be accepted by Guru Padmasambhava and his Consort. And this will be attained certainly, infallibly. Anyone who makes a connection, through either seeing or hearing about Māratika, comes to appreciate the value of a long life, in these dark ages when lifespan is short and diseases are many. If other devoted people could make offerings to it, according to how they feel, as drops of water gathered in the ocean, they too will definitely obtain a share of the Spiritual Attainment (siddhi) and merit of long life”.
THE MEANING OF “MĀRATIKA”: Māratika in Tibetan is translated as ‘chi ba mthar byed, which means “the cave of overcoming, destroying or bringing an end to death”. Because Padmasambhava achieved a level of power beyond birth and death in Māratika, the name of this place became known as ‘Māratika’. Several hidden treasure teachings (gter ma) such as those by Nyangrel Nyima Özer (nyang ral nyi ma ‘od zer), Sangye Lingpa (sangs rgyas gling pa), and others include references to ‘Māratika’.
THE MEANING OF ‘HALESHE’: When the Tibetan King Trisong Déutsen (khri srong lde’u btsan) was building the glorious Samyay Monastery (bsam yas mgon pa), what they constructed during the day was destroyed by demons during the night. King Trisong Déutsen sent his minister, Nanam Dorjé Düdjom (sna nam rdo rje bdud ‘joms), to India to invite Padmasambhava, the great Tantric practitioner who held the power of all Buddhas of the past, present and future.
Padmasambhava, accepting the King’s invitation, was returning to Tibet with Nanam Dorjé Düdjom, when while passing through Nepal they arrived at Halayshö (ha las bshod), which literally means “to describe the experience of astonishment”. Stopping here to take rest, the minister was so surprised by simply being there at the site of the holy mountain, that he turned to Guru Rinpoché and asked: “Why is this mountain so astonishing?”. Padmasambhava then revealed to him the Outer, Inner and Secret explanations of the marvels concerning the sacred place. Thus, as Māratika came to be known as ‘Halayshö’, ‘Halayshay’ (ha las bshad) or “Halayshen” in the Tibetan language; and gradually became ‘Halesi’ in the local language of Nepali.” [Edited by Erick Tsiknopoulos.]
2Hinayāna, Mahāyāna, and Vajrayāna.
3The Seven Good Qualities of the Higher Realms (mtho ris kyi yon tan bdun): 1) long life (or longevity, tshe ring ba), 2) freedom from illness (or good health, nad med pa), 3) excellent form (or good body, gzugs bzang ba), 4) excellent fortune (skal pa bzang ba), 5) high family (or status, rigs mtho ba), 6) much wealth (or abundant resources, nor mang ba), and 7) great discerning insight (or wisdom, shes rab che ba).
Erick Tsiknopoulos (b. 1981) is an American translator of Tibetan, a scholar, researcher and postgraduate student in Buddhist Studies, a teacher and tutor of Tibetan language, a writer and editor, a voracious reader in various subjects, and an experienced world traveler. He is the founder and primary Tibetan translator of the Sugatagarbha Translation Group, and the creator of their main website, Tibetan-Translations.com, which currently features English translations of over 400 Tibetan texts. Many of his translations have been published in various forms, including as books.
He has been a student of Buddhism since 1999, a student of Tibetan Buddhism since 2003, and a student of Tibetan language since 2005. He has been translating Tibetan texts into English since 2007, has been based in India and Nepal studying Tibetan language and Buddhism intensively and translating Tibetan texts since 2008, and has been working professionally as a Tibetan-English translator and interpreter since 2009.
He is available for contact via email at: EmptyElephant@yahoo.com and SugatagarbhaTranslations@gmail.com