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A Journey To Hidden Land

Updated: October 26, 2013 12:22 pm

A Step Away from Paradise tells the stroy of Tibet’s Tulshunk Lingpa, a visionary lama who in 1962 launched an expedition to what he and his followers believed to be the land of immortality, described in twelfth century Tibetan tradition. With over 300 disciples, he ventured up a remote Himalayan mountain at the Nepal-Sikkim border in order to open the way to a hidden land of plenty, found on no map. After years of careful research, Thomas Shor delivers an enthralling account of the life of Tulshuk.

The book tells the story of Lama Tulshuk Lingpa’s life and his unlikely expedition to a land beyond cares while reflecting on what this means for the rest of us. It draws on both research and extensive interviews with his surviving disciples and family members. The 281-page book is richly illustrated with portraits of those who went with Tulshuk Lingpa and the places he travelled to. The book also delves into the tradition within Tibetan Buddhism of Shambhala and the hidden valleys, which mirror traditions around the world of utopias and lands of milk and honey, thus showing the quest for the hidden land is a universal urge of humanity.

Tulshuk Lingpa himself is a remarkable character even by the standards that the world has commonly applied to the holy men of Tibet. The eccentric and enigmatic Tulshuk enlivens the book with his inexplicable behaviour, which inevitably turns out to be the actions of a man with clairvoyant powers and often the result of commands issued to him by deities in dreams. Lingpa’s mission earns him the ire of two monarchs—the kings of Nepal and Sikkim—who fear that he might wean their subjects away. They threaten to put him in jail but Lingpa evades them.

Although the book is woven around Lingpa, there are several other men and women whose stellar and invaluable roles in the mission have been highlighted. Among them, the most moving story is that of Seshe, the sister of Lingpa’s khandro (consort), who later becomes his khandro and is blessed with a special, intuitive ability to see images in the burnished brass of a ritual mirror. She too is gravely hurt in the mishap that costs Lingpa his life but still retains her faith in her leader who had taken them to just within a step to paradise.

From a rational viewpoint, the story itself seems a product of exaggerated imagining. The idea of a world existing within this world yet invisible to most is incompatible with reality—a reality that follows the premise that only that which can be explained is real. But Tulshuk and his 300 followers remind us that for some reality and faith are not separate and need no explanations or rationalisation. The book is engaging not just because it is a tale of reincarnations, rice grains turning into daggers in mid-air, or of ancient scrolls being pulled out from the walls of ancient monasteries, but also because it is a tale of ordinary people with extraordinary faith.

In a nutshell, the book is by no means a page turner, it sets its own leisurely pace, culminating in a sedate climax. However, the authenticity of the tome is hardly in doubt as Shor has done his homework well and has put all the facts provided by those who were close to Tulshuk Lingpa, including his only son, Kunsang, and the survivors of the ill-fated mission.

By Ashok Kumar

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