Your enlightened eyes glisten sun and moon.
And I, I am left speechless and humbled.
Your enlightened eyes glitter sun and moon.
And I, although I make to escape, my knees freeze.
The lions in your brow pierce my belief in a self,
While the flowers in your wrinkles utterly captivate me.
After waging this war with you, O noble giant,
It is I who casts down my flag and flees.
Written spontaneously while looking at a few photos of H.H. Dilgo Khyentse.
Translated by Lowell Cook.
This poem is written by the contemporary Tibetan poet Sangdor and is part of a forthcoming book of his poetry in English translation. Sangdor was born in the Lake Regions of Amdo and recognized as a highly revered reincarnated master. However, in his 20’s announced that he was not actually this master nor was he a monk any longer and thereby returned his robes. Since then he has been writing poetry and has published at least fifteen books of poetry.
It is not only Sangdor himself who is a unique mix of the traditional and modern but his writing style too. For example, the form of his poetry is almost exclusively traditional metered verse yet, within this form, he employs a wide range of modern terminology as well nomadic expressions. Before the 20th century, Tibetan kāvya or poetry was, by definition, expected to utilize a proscribed set of ornamented expression. Thus, by using a mix of common everyday words, newly coined terminology, and slang in traditional form, Sangdor’s compositions represent both a break and an embrace of traditional poetry.
The poem Guru shows Sangdor’s personal admiration for a renown Buddhist master. In the poem, Sangdor is completely captivated and humbled by the presence he feels upon looking at a photo of Dilgo Khyentse. Feeling naked and exposed under the noble giant’s enlightened gaze, and with no place to hide, he eventually surrenders and cast down all that he clings to. I am happy to share this particular poem as another side to of criticism that Sangdor has faced from Tibetan society. This has largely been as a response to his controversial essay, The 84,000 Collections of Falsehoods, where he claims that the majority of the texts in the Tibetan Buddhist canon are not actually the words of the Buddha but later compositions. This essay caused quite a stir among both the learned and general population, leading many to criticize him. However, when I met him last month in Xining, it was clear that he was someone who has a deep seated respect for Buddhism in addition to a critically engaged perspective. This search for authenticating or disproving the words of the Buddha is not unlike Gendun Chophel’s intention in translating of the Dhammapada, perhaps the most undisputed Buddhist work into Tibetan, which the Tibetan Buddhist canon was presently without. This may be one of the reasons for the recent controversy and internet debates about whether Sangdor should be compared with Gendun Chophel. I hope you all enjoy this short gem.
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