"Rivers are deep, the waves run high and wide, And water dragons lurk to catch the crane!" Dreaming of Li Bai by Du Fu
We departed from the cave when the moon was high, under the watchful eyes of griffon vultures perched on crags. The female limped, and I was weakened from starvation, so our pace was slow, with many pauses to recover breath.
The wind blew from the direction of the sea. Often did I turn my head toward the way we had come, hoping beyond hope that Mother would be following us.
She’s gone, young one. The Wheel has other plans with her, the female said.
“But is she dead? How do you know for sure?” I whined.
The Wheel has spoken, she answered.
The Wheel turns. The Wheel knows, the males said.
We were walking through the ridges of mountain slopes, following the Tsangpo River upward, toward forests of rhododendrons and oak. The fingers of daylight were raising above the jutting peaks, pushing the night away. We were close enough to the Gorge to hear the waterfall. Here the path disappeared and we leapt on rocks and boulders to make way.
“What is the Wheel?”
The Wheel cannot be explained with mortal words. It is part of All That Is, the bridge between life and death and life, and knows everything that happens.
“But how does the Wheel know for sure? Mother said there is no one in the world that can know everything. Does the Wheel know my name?”
I was not prepared for the answer that came.
Dawa, a new voice said, a lilting choir of both male and female voices.
I almost slipped in the river. Goosebumps travelled down my spine, and my mouth went dry.
“What was that?” I cried.
The leopards looked at one another knowingly.
It is no coincidence we’ve met tonight, the male said.
Dawa. Moon, the choir sang. Midnight born.
“How do you do it?” I asked the leopards. “Speak with many voices like that?”
No answer came.
“You are scaring me.”
Come to me to know thyself, my child, said the choir again.
To Pemako. The Hidden World, Lotus-shaped. Land of enlightenment where the Wheel of Time dwells among mortals. It was the male leopard’s voice.
Words like enlightenment or dwell were far from my six year old vocabulary, and did nothing but confuse me. “Mother told me if anyone speaks with big words that I can’t understand, he or she must be a scholar.”
Do you think it was us speaking to you? he asked.
Or was it the Wheel? the choir added.
I was growing afraid.
Do not let yourself be plagued by indecision and fear, my child. The path will be barred for those without courage, and those with lingering doubts.
“Mother said strangers can be dangerous,” I hissed. “You are a stranger.”
No soul is a stranger to another soul that knows thyself.
They were lying to me. I had a feeling I was making a big mistake being there with them. Dark thoughts crept in my heart, pulsing with danger. I had to get away. If I sprinted fast enough, I may be able to outrun the male leopard.
Dawa. Do not let Chaos rule over you.
“Get out of my head!” I cried. “You are not real.”
The choir changed its tone. It became colder, emotionless and authoritative. It would not be the first time you fail to listen to summons, my soul. But this is the last chance you get at reincarnation.
It wasn’t a threat, but a fact, and I knew it without knowing why. My body began to move on its own accord, one paw in front of the other.
“What are you doing?” I asked. “Are you controlling me?”
I never control anyone.
The leopards paved the way and I followed, or better said my body followed. I had been pulled away, my consciousness pushed to the back of my mind, while something else took possession.
Years later, when I would learn about the mischievous spirits living on the sacred road, finding pleasure in leading the pilgrims to Pemako astray, I would be very grateful for that intervention. When you are young, your mind is unguarded. And demons love nothing more than to make one fail at finding their way toward the reason for being alive.
We walked for hours in silence, the sun burning bright, the winds blowing harshly on us.
Here you are, the Wheel said after a while. We had stopped in front of a narrow crevice in the mountain. There was nothing but mist on the other side.
“Through there?” I asked the leopards.
They had stopped talking to me.
Yes, the choir answered in return.
“Why aren’t the leopards talking to me anymore?”
They never were.
As I observed the entrance, the wish to flee still tingled my paws.
Come to me, Guardian, to find the meaning of your life.
I pushed through.
And found Paradise.
It would be the first time I would experience the exhilaration of stepping in a world built for the gods. It caught me completely unprepared. The moment my paws touched the grassy ground, a deluge of ungodly strength surged through my veins, seeking to fill every corner of my body. My senses heightened to maximum, my pain and fatigue disappeared, and when I looked around I could see the world for miles as if I was holding the mountains in the crook of my palm.
Later in life I would encounter only one other experience more powerful, more consuming, and shattering than this, and that would be making love to a god.
I was so overwhelmed with emotion, I momentarily lost control over my shifting and dropped on hands and knees, milky white limbs struggling to keep me upright. My uncombed hair fell around me, and my tiger coat weighed heavily on my shoulders. I should have been cold, but here it was warm and pleasant, no trace of wind.
The leopards had not followed. I was alone, but felt the opposite.
Through my messy strands of hair, I saw a pair of feet approaching. I didn’t dare look. My heart drummed crazily in my chest.
“You are here. At last,” a familiar voice said. Startled, I looked up and saw… myself.
Pemako= Long ago in Tibet, ancient scrolls and texts were found describing beyul – earthly paradises hidden in the Himalayas. The most sought-after, revered and mysterious of all the hidden lands is the beyul of Pemako , the “hidden land shaped in the form of a lotus”. https://www.elephantjournal.com/2011/08/journey-to-the-hidden-land-of-pemako/
Dawa = In Tibetan culture and Sherpa culture, Dawa is a word meaning “moon” or “month”. It is often used as a name for children born on a Monday. The name can be given to either a girl or a boy.