May 15, 2014
A poem from Tibet's preeminent 20th-century artist and intellectual
The wealth of the world is mist on the mountain pass.
My closest friends, but guests on market day.
Uncertain joys and sorrows are last night’s dream.
I think and think; they have no essence.
Led by the unknown envoy of Yama [god of death],
My friend wanders the long and narrow path to the next life.
Sublime refuge, three divine foundations,
Please be his compassionate guide.
Being born then dying is the nature of samsara.
Its manifestation, the illusion that nothing changes.
The royal decree of relentless Yama
Has befallen my helpless friend.
When the drizzle of past prayers and deeds is falling
The afternoon rainbow appears, seeming so real.
When the sun of yearning begins to shine
It vanishes in the realm of invisible sky.
Dear childhood friend, radiant half of my heart,
When the flower of youth blossomed,
The streams of our minds mixed.
Where in the six realms could you be now?
At the end of three days of bountiful friendship
In the narrow riverbed of Gyisho Lhasa
We promised to meet before too long.
The time has come to meet within a dream.
All beings, old, young, those in between,
See what unpredictable death looks like.
Yet there is no means to end the inner grief
Of those left behind by childhood friends.
To feel remorse at someone’s death is foolish;
It only ruins the body and mind.
Yet I cannot overcome the accustomed,
This habit of mind so long familiar.
As your body lay dying, a skeleton’s image appeared;
Hoping to remain alive,
You stared with death’s eyes,
If what they say is true, it devours my heart.
In the way things appear to the ordinary mind,
You are still with me; you seem so real.
When the bow of memory is bent,
It only causes an empty heart.
Pondering how love and friendship endure,
I dispatch to my friend in the land beyond
The few good things I’ve done
In the field of the infallible three jewels.
Translated by Tricycle contributing editor Donald S. Lopez Jr., Arthur E. Link Distinguished University Professor of Buddhist and Tibetan Studies at the University of Michigan.
Lopez’s new book Gendun Chopel: Tibet’s First Modern Artist, presents the artist’s watercolors and sketches along with commentary from the author. Join Lopez at Trace Foundation’s Latse Library in New York City at 6:30pm on Thursday, May 22, for the book launch party, signing, and conversation. Details here.
Image: Chopel, Gendun. "Abhayagiri Stupa." In Gendun Chopel: Tibet's First Modern Artist, by Donald S. Lopez Jr., page 95. New York: Trace Foundation, 2013.
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