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from the August 2019 issue

Absent, Or Not Absent

空,或者不空——献给嘉瓦仁波切82寿诞

In this poem about the Shuktilingka, Tibetan poet and activist Tsering Woeser writes about a world that has nearly been lost.

 


Watch a video of Tsering Woeser reciting her poem "Absent, or Not Absent" in the original Mandarin.
 

 

Dedicated to Gyalwa Rinpoche on his eighty-second birthday
 

 

1. The Empty Dharma Throne: Shukti

The Shuktilingka once stretched out
before the Potala Palace, lush and verdant. 
Shukti means “dharma throne”;
and lingka means “park.”
It was filled with ancient trees whose branches twisted
counterclockwise like dragons
and mirrored in the ponds crossed by small bridges.
A little ways away stood a stele,
the Lhasa Zhöl Pillar,1 a tall, square column
recording imperial deeds from a thousand years ago.
The dharma throne in this park
must have been made with layers
of the flattest possible stone.
There would have been tufts of grass growing
from the crevices, and flowers would have bloomed,
and even more bouquets of flowers
would have been offered by visitors
who came each day from near and far,
the fragrance permeating every corner.

This vision, from my own imagination,
matches the memories of the older generation.
A few years ago, I was brought to this spot 
by a son of old Lhasa royalty, a handsome man
with a shallow karmic reward.
He couldn’t bear the sight, covering his eyes,
he looked out through his trembling fingers 
pointing through tears to where the throne had stood.
All vestiges of that park had been obliterated.
What had been a park was now a “public square,"2
filled with red lanterns, flagpoles, memorial monuments . . . .
And loudspeakers, large and small, blared
songs of propaganda. The melodies were old,
but the lyrics had been changed. 

That honorable dharma throne, which existed before March 1959
—how did it disappear? What stories could it tell,
always vacant left waiting among the trees and flowers?
I have asked many people: Have you heard of the Shuktilingka?
A retired official from the local TV station burst 
into tears. He asked, Can you understand 
what it feels like to yearn for a memory? 
Have you known the taste of heartbreak?

And he told me this memory from before the occupation:
In those years, His Holiness was a mischievous teenager. 
People eager for a blessing would pass by
and could not help but raise their heads 
and see the young Gyalwa Rinpoche3 sitting on the throne, 
so young, his face like a smiling flower.

There is no way this man could forget the sight, 
he wouldn’t forget over the course of his life.

I continue to ask in a low whisper: 
Have you heard of the Shuktilingka?
I met a young man named Choenyi Jampel4
born in a farmer’s house 
near the hometown of the great Songtsen Gampo.5
He had a great talent for painting, 
able to depict a lost paradise he’d never seen.
Among his paintings, one stood out—one of the last 
he completed just before his unfortunate death:
layers of emerald mountains, rolling 
white clouds, a few houses that no longer survive,
and there, right in the center, 
sat the completely empty dharma throne, 
richly decorated, the heart’s dream waiting 
like a balloon floating through desire.
 

 

2. The Empty Room: Gzim Chung

 

Five lilies bloom in the black of night.
At this late hour, one is finally able to witness 
the most beautiful moments,
and so I want to make this offering:
lilies in a simple glass vase placed before a photograph.
There are some rooms, no, there are many rooms, 
where even this photo is not allowed. 
So strange. 
In this world there are those who are afraid 
of a photograph. What kind of people are they?
Aren’t the intrepid materialists fearless?
The blooming lilies bring comfort. 
In their dense fragrance, 
I prostrate myself in prayer.
At least this room is no longer empty.

I have seen many empty rooms
in the Jokhang, in the Norbulinka, in the Potala Palace.
The honorific word for one of these rooms is Gzim Chung.6 
One day, I encountered a monk I had known for many years.
He showed me a single key with a mark on it 
attached to a large ring of keys.
Seeing we were alone, 
we ducked our heads and entered a room 
covered with yellow curtains.
The smell of incense was thick, 
as though covering up another fragrance.
I did my best to identify it, 
as if searching the past for a silhouette 
of one who could not bear a heavy burden.
The silent monk pulled me back to reality, 
and with his eyes indicated a wall 
painted with images of bodhisattvas and other beings,
gouged by fierce bayonets.7
Before the empty dharma throne, a white khata 
and a few complete Kashag banknotes, 
steeped in meaning.8

A few days ago, I was sent a song 
sung by two Amdo youths9 that goes:
“Under the sun, the child of yesterday frolics about.
He grinds the planets into pigment, 
and with the pigment draws tomorrow—
he tosses all his problems to other people,
but the world is deaf and mute, it doesn’t make a sound . . .”

I think of a famous temple in northern Kham.
If you open the door unknown to others,
you will shed tears at everything you see:
a life-sized photograph of the sage sitting 
on a beautifully carved sandalwood bench,
all kinds of offerings, each selected with care. 
And inside that room, beneath the warm light of a crystal lamp,
a pair of golden slippers in front of a pure white bathtub.
 

3. The Empty City: Lhasa

Stand right here.
Each time I stand here in this city,
I am “surrounded by a strange fading landscape.”10
In my innermost heart,
there is a voice that refuses, that rebels:

If we are to achieve a reverse in course,
we must do it as soon as possible,
otherwise it will truly be too late.

I think of the deep autumn of that year.
Wait—no, it must have been early winter
when we carried a few strands of prayer flags, 
a bag of powdered bsang,11 some fresh-ground barley, 
a bottle of barley wine, and walked slowly along a ridge 
four thousand meters high, our hearts beating faster and faster.
Before we left, the Rinpoche exhorted:
You must not talk, must not shout. 
Sit down, pray that you may see the future.

To one side, the sunny slope, 
where sunlight bestows a little warmth;
on the other, a slope in shade, covered in a shallow snow.
Lhamo Latso.12 This holy lake is the Buddha’s crown, 
a pure mirror held by this U-shaped valley.
Filled with power, it’s so vivid it seems unreal.
Not a soul around its edges. Only me and my husband.
First, I offer the bsang and barley wine to Palden Lhamo.13
Then I tie prayer flags between the stones 
to speak on our behalf.
We sit down, some distance from one another, 
so as not to encroach on each other’s thoughts. 
I focus my mind and gaze at the lake: 
“Please grant me a vision of my fate.”

Suddenly two choughs appear.
One lands to my right, one to my left,
an un-choughlike cry and I turn my head:
black feathers, red beak and claws.
“The skyung ka 14 is an emissary of the srung ma,15 
not a bad omen,” I seem to hear someone say. 
The choughs pace back and forth. 
They caw occasionally while I continue to gaze. 
Gradually, an image emerges from the lake,
                                                    it’s Chenrézik,16
his smile is familiar in its compassion:
a vivid miracle, outside the realm of words.

When the sky grew dark, we returned hand in hand
to that city which has been empty for decades.
Along the way, two deer ran lightly by
as though we were within the Kalachakra mandala.
Could it be so?

Like so many of my people who have returned—
my heart is not empty. It is filled with love and hope.

July 4–5, edited July 6, 2017, Beijing

 

"空,或者不空——献给嘉瓦仁波切82寿诞"  © Tsering Woeser. By arrangement with the author. Translation © 2019 by Ian Boyden. All rights reserved.

 

Read an interview with Tsering Woeser, conducted by translator Ian Boyden

 

Translator's note: What extraordinary karmic reward to share this life with Woeser, Eleanor Goodman, Andrew Quintman, Michael Richardson, and Jennifer Boyden, all of whom provided invaluable suggestions and insights, as well as copious amounts of delight as I translated this poem. My deepest thanks. And my gratitude as well to the National Endowment for the Arts for their support of the larger project from which this poem comes.

___________________________________________

1. The Lhasa Zhol Pillar (ཞོལ་རྡོ་རིངས་ཕྱི་མ་) was erected in the late eighth century and describes deeds of the Tibetan Empire. It is also one of the oldest surviving examples of Tibetan script, a writing system attributed to Thonmi Sambhota, who was a minister to the founder of the Tibetan Empire Songtsen Gampo who is mentioned later in the poem (see note 6).

2. The Shuktilinka was destroyed in 1965. The park and its wetlands were drained and filled, then covered with concrete, becoming what was then known as the People’s Cultural Palace Square (人民文化宫广场). This square was subsequently renovated in 1999 and renamed Potala Square. In 2002, it became the site of the monstrous Monument to the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet, a thirty-seven-meter high structure commemorating the PLA liberation of Tibet in 1951. And in 2005, it was once again renovated to its current state.

3. Gyalwa Rinpoche is one of the honorific names of the Dalai Lama.

4. Choenyi Jampel was a very promising young artist in Lhasa. He was tragically killed in a car accident on March 29, 2011. He was only thirty years old.

5. Songtsen Gampo (སྲོང་བཙན་སྒམ་པོ) was an early seventh-century king. He is credited with founding the Tibetan Empire and introducing Buddhism to Tibet.

6. In the past, the Dalai Lama would stay at the Jokhang during the Buddhist ceremonies celebrating the New Year. He had a special room, which was known as Gzim Chung (གཟིམ་ཆུང་).

7. During the Cultural Revolution the Gzim Chung was occupied by Red Guards, members of the Opposition Party, and the People’s Liberation Army. During this time, the murals in this room were scratched by bayonets, and these scars exist to this day.

8. In 1911, the Tibetan government printed and distributed Kashag banknotes. They also minted gold, silver, and copper coins. Only an independent government can issue its own currency, so the presence of these banknotes is not simply nostalgic, they speak to a time when Tibet was independent.

9. The song is titled “Empty Room” and is sung by the Tibetan Patient Band (西藏病人乐队).

10. This is a line from the poem “For the Egyptian Coin Today, Arden, Thank You” by Raymond Carver, in No Heroics, Please: Uncollected Writings (Vintage Books, 1992).

11. Bsang (བསང་།) is a powder made of various aromatic plants and is used as an offering of purification.

12. Lhamo Latso (ལྷ་མོའི་བླ་མཚོ།) is the most sacred lake in Tibet. It is where visions are sought for the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama and is presided over by the the Dalai Lama’s guardian goddess Palden Lhamo. It is located in Gyaca County, Lhokha Province, to the southeast of Lhasa.

13. Palden Lhamo (དཔལ་ལྡན་ལྷ་མོ།) is the primary dharmapāla, or goddess of protection, in the Tibetan Buddhist Pantheon and is the guardian god of Tibet, Lhasa, and the Dalai Lama.

14. Skyung ka (སྐྱུང་ཀ) is the Tibetan name for the red-billed chough (Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax), which is a species of corvid found across Tibet. Its dramatic red bill, loquacious vocalizations, and extreme intelligence have made it a powerful symbol in many cultures. Its Latin name means “fire raven” because it is said to be attracted to burning materials and to even fly off with lit candles in its mouth.

15. Srung ma (སྲུང་མ། ) is the Tibeten word for dharmapālas, mighty deities who protect the Dharma.

16. Chenrézik (སྤྱན་རས་གཟིགས།) is the Tibetan name for the bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara.

空,或者不空——献给嘉瓦仁波切82寿诞

1、空法座:修赤

 

修赤的意思是法座

林卡的意思是林苑

修赤林卡[1]在颇章布达拉[2]的前面

往昔葱茏,簇拥着虬枝右旋的老树,水塘和小桥

稍远有一座方柱形的石碑[3],记载千年前的帝国事迹

那法座,应该是用尽量平整的石块垒成,从缝隙间长出

参差不齐的草,也会开花,而更多的花朵

是远近走过的人们每日供放,香气四溢

这一切都出自我的想象

却也大致符合老人们的回忆。数年前

有过俊美容貌但福报甚浅的贵胄公子,将我引至此处

从他微微颤抖的手指望去,已荡然无存,更名为广场

因此布满这样的标配:红灯笼、升旗台、纪念碑……

正播放着一首首赞歌的大喇叭、小喇叭……

赞歌:旋律如昨,却更换了歌词

 

那尊原本于1959年3月之前存在的

法座是如何消失的?那尊

在树木与花丛中的,总是虚位以待的

法座有着怎样的故事?我问过许多人:你听说过

修赤林卡吗?在电视台工作过的退休干部突然失声哭泣

他说,你懂得怀念的感觉吗?你尝过心碎的滋味吗?

而当年,他是调皮少年,随渴求祝福的人们由此经过

不禁仰头,望见盘坐的嘉瓦仁波切[4]多么年轻,笑靥如花

他再也无法忘记。一生不会忘记。

我继续低声询问:你知道修赤林卡吗?

遇见一位青年[5],他出生于伟大赞普[6]故乡附近的农户家中

天赋画才,善于描绘不曾见过的失乐园

其中一幅,是的,那幅画,在他不幸丧生前完成

翠绿的山峦重叠,洁白的云朵翻卷,但房屋已变样

空空的法座设于正中,装饰华美,等待的心愿如气球飘飘欲飞

 

 

2、空房间:甚穹

 

五支百合在深夜怒放

必须是深夜,才能及时目睹最美的瞬间

而我祈愿这是一种奉献:虽然这百合

只能放入简单的玻璃器皿,供在一张照片前

有的房间,不,有许多房间,甚至连这张照片

都不容许出现。真奇怪,这世上,会有人

连一张照片都害怕。他们是什么样的人呢?

强悍的唯物主义者不是无所畏惧吗?

百合的盛开化作慰藉。香气氤氲,我伏身敬拜

至少这个房间不再空无

 

我见过多个空的房间

在大昭寺,在罗布林卡,在布达拉宫……

敬语称为甚穹。有一天,我找到一位结识多年的僧人

他又从一大串钥匙中找到一把做了记号的钥匙

四顾无人,低头走入黄色窗幔遮蔽的房间

梵香浓郁,似乎掩护着另一种芬芳

我竭力分辨,如同寻觅往昔那不堪重负的纤细身影

沉默的僧人将我拉回现实,以眼神示意

那绘有菩萨和众生的墙上,布满刺刀凶狠的划痕[7]……

空空的法座前,哈达洁白,几张完整的章噶纸币[8]意味深长

 

前些日子,传来两个安多青年唱的歌[9]

“阳光下,活蹦乱跳的,昨天的那个孩子,

把成群的行星磨成粉末,用彩粉绘写出明天,他把所有的

问题都抛向别人,可世界又聋又哑,默不作声……”

我想起康区北部的一座有名的寺院

打开不为他人所知的门,所见到的,你会泪下:

精雕细琢的檀木长椅上,仿若真人的照片

各种供奉,皆是精心挑选。而里面的那间

水晶灯散发着温馨的光

一双金色的拖鞋摆放在纯白的浴缸前……

 

 

3、空城:拉萨

 

站在这里。每一次站在这里,会

“被一种奇异而衰颓的风景包围”[10],内心

就有个声音在拒绝,在反抗,要尽快去做

去实现一个个逆缘的转变,不然真的来不及了

 

想起那年深秋时,哦不,是初冬时节

带上几串经幡和一小包叫做桑的植物碎末、

一些刚磨好的糌粑、一小瓶用青稞酿成的酒

缓缓走上四千多米的山脊,心跳加快

这是因为临行前,仁波切[11]的叮嘱:

“勿要说话,叫喊。要坐下,祈祷,就能看见未来。”

 

一面是阳坡,阳光照耀,赐予些许温暖

一面是阴坡,被浅浅的白雪覆盖

那状如佛冠的圣湖,拉姆拉措[12],恰在不远的凹形之处

像明镜,像幻境,像所有不真切的真切,充满力量

周围无人。只有我和爱人。

先向班丹拉姆[13]奉献桑的香味、糌粑与酒的美味

再将经幡系在石块之间,以示一种代言

分开坐下,互不干扰,其实我已有几分急切

尽量专注地凝视着:“请指给我看命运的样貌。”

 

两只鸦倏忽而至

一只落在我的右边,一只落在他的左边

用不似鸦的叫声使我回眸:有着黑色的羽毛、红色的嘴与双足……

“炯嘎是松玛[14]的使者,不是凶兆是吉兆。”我似乎听得有人说

鸦在踱步。间或鸣叫。那么继续凝视,一幅画面从湖水渐渐呈现:

那是坚热斯[15]在人世间的形象,熟悉的笑容寄予某个意义

就像一个奇迹多么明亮,一切尽在不言中

 

天色将晚,携手返回那座已空了几十年的城

途中,两只鹿轻盈跑过,犹如去往时轮金刚的坛城

是这个寓意吗?无论如何,与许多归来的族人一样

内心不空,倾注了爱与希望。

 

2017年7月4-5日写,7月6日改,北京

 

[1]“修赤”与“林卡”都是藏语。

[2]颇章布达拉:藏语,布达拉宫。

[3]石碑,即达扎鲁恭记功碑,立于公元八世纪,记载吐蕃帝国时代的事迹。

[4]嘉瓦仁波切:藏语,藏人对达赖喇嘛的尊称。

[5]青年即西藏当代艺术家曲尼江白,拉萨墨竹工卡县日多小学老师,2011年3月29日车祸遇难,年仅30岁。

[6]赞普,藏语,君王。这里指图伯特历史上的伟大君王松赞干布。

[7]布满刺刀凶狠的划痕:在拉萨大昭寺,往昔尊者达赖喇嘛在新年法会期间住过的日光殿(藏语称甚穹),文革期间被红卫兵、造反派和解放军所占。墙上壁画被刀刃乱划,至今留有痕迹。

[8]章噶纸币:公元1911年,图伯特噶厦政府即甘丹颇章政权所印制和发行的纸币。其他还有金币、银币和铜币。

[9]两个安多青年唱的歌:即西藏病人乐队最新专辑中的歌曲《空房间》。

[10]“被一种奇异而衰颓的风景包围”,为美国诗人雷蒙德·卡佛的诗句。

[11]仁波切,藏语,转世高僧,汉语又称活佛。

[12]拉姆拉措:图伯特最为神圣的湖,为寻访达赖喇嘛转世的观相湖,被认为是图伯特、拉萨及达赖喇嘛的护法神班丹拉姆的魂湖,位在今西藏自治区山南地区加查县境内。

[13]班旦拉姆:藏传佛教万神殿中位居首席的护法女神,图伯特、拉萨及达赖喇嘛的护法神,汉译吉祥天母。

[14]松玛,藏语,护法神。

[15]坚热斯,藏语,观世音菩萨,藏人通常用以代称尊者达赖喇嘛。

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