A SONG FROM THE MAD DHARMA LION

In TANTRIC POETRY by Steven Goodman3 Comments

Kham Nyon Dharma Senge’s Songs of Experience, The Garland Dancing of the Moon in Water

What follows here are the initial stanzas, the first part of the Dharma Lion’s Garland, his song written for the dance of the moon in water, followed by his evocations concerning the subtle pilgrimage places within the body, and finally song itself becomes the topic. He first invokes his teacher, Oceanic Wisdom, alias Yeshe Gyamtso or Jnanasamudra. In stages, he then sings of the universal ground and its transformations, esoterically named: The Completely Wonderful, also known as Kuntu Zangpo and Samantabhadra, effortlessly maintaining the dimension of reality as it is; the Ruler of Sublime Forces Vajrasattva, maintaining the dimension of reality in its full sensuous presence of shifting peaceful and wrathful spiritual forces; the Lord Intense Joy, known as Garab Dorje or Prahevajra, is said to have been the first human to gather together the wisdom traditions of the Great Perfection, and then transmit them to scholars and saints in an unbroken lineage which is actively maintained even today.

Namo Guru Vajra Jnana Samudraya!
To you,
my teacher Diamond Wisdom Ocean,
I pay homage!
The link to the teachings is intrinsic
& beyond limit & concept, simple,
the embodied dimension of what’s real
& the display of the five certain things is there:
the source, called teacher
the message, called teaching
the gathered beings, called students
the special place & the special time
there spontaneous & perfectly complete
the full sensual presence of what is
& to this magical dance
taming & balancing everything & everyone
I pay homage as the teacher.

the primal purity of this world & beyond is this dance,
for it bears the seal of wisdom,
& its afterglow blazes radiant with signs & marks,
& is completely wonderful,
kuntuzang : samantrabhadra

& yet there are no divisions, no differences, no multiplicity
& so is beyond limit,
& is the ruler of sublime forces,
rigkyidag : vajrasattva
ruling the infinite shape shifting energies—both calm &
fierce
& to this retinue of energies
I humbly bow.
the three portals to freedom
are the expanse of the (ava)dhuti, the great mother:
she birthed buddhas before now
& births buddhas presently
& she will birth buddhas after now,
for now comes the gathering of dakinis
one hundred thousand well endowed
with the best of everything
suffused with the aura of every holy place,
the essence of Jalendhara.

In the sovereign realm of warriors,
the secret lord, free from wordy scribbled ramblings
was brimming with the nectar essence of all sixty million
teachings
which he then transmitted as the three series & nine spaces
& in this way
Intense Joy / Lord Garab, revealed the supreme path:
in sacred rolls of spiritual splendor
filled with the energy of compassion,
& this transmission & knowledge was then passed down
through the ages to scholars & sages
& has arrived just now, in the present,
as the cresting wave of oceanic wisdom.

Having all buddha’s wisdom in a tangible form is a
miracle,
& the manifest beauty of this presence
showing what to renounce & realize,
& all the spiritual qualities, the deeds & practices
the wise, powerful & kind shower
graciously & spontaneously born as
the nobly arisen wisdom holder
the Lotus Born Lord : Padmasambhava,
your handsome presence elegantly manifest as
the crown jewel amongst mortals,
guiding them in these snow bound lands stirred with
worldly fears.

From the pure ocean of natural space,
primal, simple, uncompounded
the melody holder Sarasvati,
she who has the music, she who is resplendent
with every sign & mark
the embodiment & wisdom of the buddhas,
arisen from the energy of visions & insight
from her splendid throat
many a wave of vajra song plays forth
& nothing is ever wasted
it becomes part of her sportful dance
in the circle of sensuous delight.

A Ho!
Amazing!
I was blessed by my teachers
Yeshe Gyatso & Rigzin Chopel,
so that from the path of melodious song,
the abiding nature of which descended into my heart,
& their spirit fell into my heart & then
there issued forth [my songs]which I set down here,
my account of the journey along the profound freedom
path,
recorded for those fortunate ones who will come along
later:

fakery & opinion gone
things just are & in the space
of that great whirl, they can’t stop, they
keep happening, naturally:
visions & insights arising inside
that lotus space
ecstatic & open,
fresh wisdom, that sweet smell
wafting everywhere, & like circling insects
they respond, smart & sensitive to the five inner centers,
they respond with the message:
compassion.
it’s through arousal of that wisdom energy,
that the ways of this world & beyond come about:
it’s an echo, ungraspable,
it’s a fine tune, you chase the innate
& it’s gone

the essence of song, if expressed,
is like that, that’s it.
the ear catches the sound of things,
& then there’s a link to visions & insights
vibrating back & forth, & that melody
is then drawn through the vase in the throat
& this is “melodic song”, this is it’s real meaning

with disgust & revulsion [for the pain of this world] i was determined to get out,
so i was drawn toward the sublime melodies,
the teachings of the compassionate one
& with prayers & songs of grief & longing,
this music of exhortation was at the core of what i felt

through visions & insights & prayers,
the genuine way of being develops
& these songs enhance & mature this natural state
& in this way what needs to be learned,
heartfelt advice is taken as the path,
which is carried by these melodious songs,
& this is their benefit.

thought & awareness distinguished,
experience & insight are different:
when troubles are gone & fortune comes,
then there are happy time songs & so,
in accord with circumstance, there are various melodies:
for invocation & benediction & so on,
& the distinctions & nuances are beyond mental capture
like following the trail of thought,
for flighty & lazy types, there are songs urging wholesome
action:
their wayward habits are thereby cleansed with strong
devotion,
leading to the portal through which pure visions arise;
but for the brave & energetic,
you just show them the right path,
for when you’ve got the view,
when you have the experience,
the visions & insights,
then that’s it
it’s certain
it’s sunshine

At present we know very little about this Mad Dharma Lion from the East Tibet region of Kham. He seems to
have spent considerable time in Lhasa. Tulku Thondup informed me he probably died in 1890 in Lhasa, and Kyabje
Dudjom Rinpoche told me he had been a teacher of one of his own teachers in Lhasa. In addition to the collection of songs, he composed commentaries on Cho according to the Longchen Nyingtig tradition of Jigme Lingpa
(1730–1798), a number of works on medicine, and a small commentary on the practice of the tantric feast ritual
ghanachakra.

About the Author
Steven Goodman

Steven Goodman

Prof. Steven D. Goodman is co-director and core faculty in the Asian and Comparative Studies Program at the California Institute of Integral Studies (San Francisco). He co-edited Tibetan Buddhism: Reason and Revelation (New York: SUNY Press, 1992), and studied Tibetan Poetics as a Rockefeller Scholar in residence at the Rice University Center for Cultural Studies. Board of director at Jonang Foundation, Working Committee at 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha and Advisor at Khyentse Foundation.


This poetry appeared in Tibetan Literary Arts, Curated by Marit Cranmer, published By Shang Shung Institute, Neilson Library, Smith College, May 2007.

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  1. Thank you so much for this beautiful translation! You mentioned that khams smyon d+harma seng+ge wrote a commentary on tshogs / gaṇacakra. Where can I find this commentary. I couldn’t find it on tbrc… Thank you! 🙂

  2. A few comments on the translation of my dear friend, Steven Goodman:
    First, I’d make a plea for translators at levekunst.com to supply a bit of information about what they are precisely translating so that enthusiasts can easily find it and follow up. Leading by example, and adding to what Steven wrote, let me offer that the author of the text is Kham Nyon Sengge (Khams smyon chos kyi seng+ge) (TBRC id: P1017)), also known for his renditions of the cycle of the Yuthok Nyingthik, and a student of Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo.
    The text itself is from his collection of Songs of Experience written under his secret name mKha’ spyod dgyes pa’i rdo rje. As Steven notes, he translates the first pages. My page numbers refer to the 1970 Tibetan edition by Sonam Kazi (TBRC id: W1125).
    Kham Nyon uses many Sanskrit words but spells them idiosyncratically. Some misspellings are obvious, such as dha ki for ḍākiṇi; however, a couple I point to below are serious enough to occlude the nuances of the meaning.
    Regarding the lines (page 2):
    rnam par thar pa’i sgo gsum dhūtī’i klong/
    dus gsum rgyal rnams skyed pa’i yum chen mo/
    These are poetically translated by Steven as:
    “the three portals to freedom
    are the expanse of the (ava)dhuti, the great mother
    she birthed buddhas before now
    & births buddhas presently
    & she will birth buddhas after now,”

    As we will see, this definitely conveys one meaning of these lines; however, if we take dhūtī as the Sanskrit dūtī, then it is better conveyed by the word “messenger” which is translated into Tibetan by the word pho nya. The word messenger has two different meanings in a tantric context, and many nuances. It’s my best guess that the author Kham Nyom subtly intended both meanings. The most common meaning for “messenger” in a tantric context is consort, and this can, like ḍākiṇi, range across super-human, human, or mantra-born. With this meaning we might retranslate the lines as:
    “the three portals to freedom are the vast space of the messenger,
    the great mother who births the Buddhas of the three times. “

    This reading of dūtī is further supported by references such as Gray’s translation The Cakrasamvara Tantra, pages 157-158.
    The Sanskrit word dūtī or Tibetan pho nya also has the meaning of channels of the subtle body. This reading is supported by the Sakya patriarch Jetsun Dakpa Gyaltsen’s Commentary on the Central Channel (rtsa dbu ma khrid yig). There he writes “The supreme messenger (pho nya) is the central channel (rtsa dbu ma).” (p.36 in my edition). Central channel is sometimes given in Tibetan in a Buddhist Sanskrit form as avadhuti.
    Continuing further on page 2:
    Rnam kun mchog ldan ‘bum phrag dha ki’i tshogs/
    Gnas yul khyab rnam dza landha ra tog/
    Steven Goodman translates this as:
    “now comes the gathering of dakinis
    one hundred thousand well endowed
    with the best of everything
    suffused with the aura of every holy place,
    the essence of Jalendhara.”
    Correcting Kham Nyom’s spelling here, and Steven’s (Kham Nyom actually has Jalandhara), I would render this as:
    “A gathering of ḍākiṇi¸100,000 possessing every feature,
    Pervade the pilgrimage sites, [to] the tip (tog) of Jālandhara”
    First we should note that Jālandhara is to this day a pilgrimage site in the Punjab associated with a Śakta temple. There are other discussions of the location of Jālandhara in Dyckzkowski’s “The Inner Pilgrimmage of the Tantras.” In any case, Jālandhara may be found among common lists of the 24 Tibetan Buddhist pilgrimage sites. The key to understanding the precise phrasing of “tip” and the choice of Jālandhara among the 24 pilgrimage sites in the phrase “[to] the tip (tog) of Jālandhara” is to realize that the 24 pilgrimage sites are also places in the physical body. In this system, according to the Cakrasamvara tradition, Jālandhara is placed at the crown of the body. Thus “[to] the tip (tog) of Jālandhara” means “[to] the tip (tog) of the crown.” Again, our author plays on multi-layers of meaning in each line.
    I thank my friend Steven Goodman for bringing this interesting song/poem to light and to Erik Pema Kunzang for encouraging me to make a few comments on it. There’s a sad tendency in academic circles to take delight in every oversight or foible of a translator. I hope here at levekunst.com, and elsewhere, we can see translators as brave pioneers who face significant challenges when they enter the rich world of Tibetan masters. If some paths they leave behind are poorly marked or incomplete then let’s help them with a good spirit that congratulates and encourages them on their efforts.

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