ARTISTIC PROTESTS OF ACROSTIC POETRY (KA-TSOM): LONGCHENPA’S ‘DAZED BY CONDITIONS’ POEM AND ‘LIES THAT SELL’ NEW POEM. Overview of acrostic poetry, Tibetan Buddhist examples, translating Tibetan poetry and new acrostic poem and Instagram page

“KA-yey! Listen, precious lama!
KHA-zhey (Only mouthing words) and not remembering the sacred Dharma.
GA-ley (Drip by drip) my life has been drained.
NGA ni (Myself) when dying, going to hell is certain!”
–Khandro Tsering Chodron’s acrostic question to her husband, Jamyang Khyentse Chokyi Lodro (tr. Tomlin)

“A​nyone, wherever they’re from,
B​e it Beijing, Calcutta, the snowy
C​ity of Lhasa or Nepal; I’ve
D​iscerned they’ve all the same nature.
E​ven if they shy from clamor, and
F​ashion themselves modest, they cast for
G​arments, goods, and coin—just as
H​aggard fishermen angle for their catch.”
—from Gendun Chophel’s Acrostic Poem (tr. Schmidt)

“It would be tempting to say that “HEAR” is an invitation to hear, as well as to see, the words in [William] Blake’s [acrostic] poem.”

“… “the translator of poetry must himself be a poet”. For if not, the result is an uncooked, albeit exact, recipe—despite the fact that all the ingredients are accounted for, the reader is left clueless as to how the original dish actually tasted.” – Schmidt (2017)

Introduction

Today, continuing on the theme of poetry, I offer this new essay, translation and poem on acrostic poetry, particularly focusing on its use by Tibetan Buddhist masters.

First, I give a brief overview of what acrostic poetry is and its history.  Secondly, there is a short review of its use in Tibetan Buddhism, by well-known masters such as Longchenpa, Gendun Chopel, Jamyang Khyentse Chokyi Lodro and his spiritual partner and wife. If you are aware of any others, please do let me know.

I offer a brand-new translation of Longchenpa’s alphabetic acrostic poem ‘Dazed by Culminated Conditions’ (rkyen la khams ‘dus pa), and a brief overview into why I have translated it differently from a previous translation by Adam Pearcey. In particular, looking at Longchenpa’s use of the Tibetan term ‘khams’ in the title which could mean the psycho-physical elements of a person (and thus referring to one’s ‘health’) but also to the area of Tibet called Kham. After all, Longchenpa was ‘booted out of his abode’ Sangphu Neutok by the Khampas who he refers to continuously throughout the verses.

Finally, I offer my own new acrostic poem, “Lies That Sell” inspired by an Instagram call for creativity on the topic, and also to announce my new Instagram page. Despite my heavy resistance, I was persuaded to join Instagram by followers of my website who use it, but also due to my using more video and sound-based platforms.  I will use it to post more personal photos, music, videos and observations than on the website and Facebook, like this fun 21 Tara reel here. So, for those of you who also like a bit of colourful, visual fun in their Dharma feeds, I hope it satisfies!

Also, in the next few days, I am launching my own Instagram and FB poetry initiative based around the acrostic art, asking people to post their own acrostic poems using the word DAKINI or GODDESS as the acrostic word! See the Instagram/FB page for further details.

May this new translation and poem help us see through the lies that sell {and yet make us suffer) and come to a place, space and heart of authenticity, wisdom, poetry, beauty and grace!

Music? A Beautiful Lie by Thirty Seconds to Mars, I’m Looking Through You by the Beatles, Policy of Truth by Depeche Mode. Finally, ending with Honesty by Billy Joel: “Honesty is such a lonely word, Everyone is so untrue, Honesty is hardly ever heard, And mostly what I need from you…”

Written, translated and edited by Adele Tomlin, 27th November 2022.

History and overview of acrostic poetry and composition

The term acrostic and non-Tibetan examples, past and present
Acrostic – the first-century Latin Sator Square

An acrostic poem is a cryptographic form in which the first letter of each line spells out a word, often the subject of the poem or the name of the person to whom the poem is dedicated. It cans also take the form where the first letters spell out the alphabet.

The term comes from the French acrostiche from post-classical Latin acrostichis, from Koine Greek ἀκροστιχίς, from Ancient Greek ἄκρος “highest, topmost” and στίχος “verse”. As a form of constrained writing, an acrostic can be used as a mnemonic device to aid memory retrieval.  The first known acrostics date back to ancient times.

When the last letter of each new line (or other recurring feature) forms a word it is called a telestich; the combination of an acrostic and a telestich in the same composition is called a double acrostic (e.g. the first-century Latin Sator Square). And one of the most famous ancient acrostics is the Roman word-square found at Cirencester in southern England (see image).

Relatively simple acrostics may merely spell out the letters of the alphabet in order; such an acrostic may be called an ‘alphabetical acrostic’ or abecedarius.

An acrostic poem written in English by Edgar Allan Poe is entitled simply “An Acrostic”.

William Blake’s “London” and acrostics as hidden messages/protests
William Blake’s acrostic poem, London.

Acrostics can be used for spiritual books, but also to make political or personal statements. For example, a famous acrostic poem London by William Blake (see image), spells out HEAR. One reviewer wrote of this poem:

“It’s worth saying that, if you hadn’t previously noticed that word in Blake’s poem, you weren’t alone. Acrostics are at once blindingly obvious (once we’ve noticed them), but also something we’re inclined to overlook (there’s no mention of that acrostic in most online study guides for the poem, I note). After all, who goes through poetry looking for hidden words? And, more to the point, what kind of poet writes them in in the first place? Keats, when writing an acrostic that spelt out the name of his sister-in-law, Georgiana Augusta Keats, offered a kind of judgment on the form when he wrote that it was “the first and most likely the last I shall ever do”. It is as though the acrostic is beneath serious poets — too obvious in its methods, and forcing too many concessions onto the rest of the poem’s workings.

It would be tempting to say that “HEAR” is an invitation to hear, as well as to see, the words in Blake’s poem.

However, if the acrostic is an invitation to hear the poem, then it’s a strange one — after all, unlike Blake’s tightly controlled rhythm and precise terminal rhymes, the acrostic is one feature of poetry that has to be seen, and cannot be heard. Try reading the stanza aloud to a friend: you can bet they won’t hear “HEAR” spelt out in the air. In that muddying of visual and aural perception, we might say Blake is setting us up for the synaesthetic images that follow — those apparent confusions of seen and heard experiences, as in the image of sighing blood, or in the last stanza where we similarly “hear” a tear as it is “blasted” by a curse.”

Other contemporary examples of people using acrostics to display other messages, are those such as in October of 2009, California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger sent a note to assemblyman Tom Ammiano in which the first letters of lines 3-9 spell “Fuck You”; Schwarzenegger claimed that the acrostic message was coincidental, which mathematician Stephen Devlin disputed as statistically implausible.

On 19 August 2017, it was reported that the members of president Donald Trump’s Committee on Arts and Humanities resigned in protest over his response to the Unite the Right rally incident in Charlottesville, Virginia. The members’ letter of resignation contained the acrostic “RESIST” formed from the first letter of each paragraph[2].

Tibetan Buddhist acrostic poetry (Ka-Tsom) and the art of translation

Ka-Tsom – Tibetan word for acrostic poetry

Not much has been written in the English language about the use of acrostics in Tibetan poetry by great Tibetan Buddhist masters, especially the abecedarian (alphabetic) form known in Tibetan as ka-tsom (ka rtsom) literally meaning letter composition. There is a paper by Dirk Schmidt in 2017, which I discuss below. Also,  a video presentation this year, called 1047: From Āli to Kāli and Ka to A: A Preliminary Look at the Influence of Indian Alphabet-Based Writings on Tibetan Abecedarian Poetry (ka rtsom) by  Lowell William Cook (thanks to Adam Pearcey for making me aware of this).

In terms of the form of acrostics in Tibetan poetry, Cooke explains that:

“The Tibetan terms tsigluk and ka-tsom seem something of oxymorons in Tibetan, the letters of the Tibetan alphabet can be placed at the beginning, most commonly in the middle or at the end of a line to form an acrostic. This alphabetical arrangement can be done in forward or reverse order, lug-jung, or lugdok, or even according to the letter’s gender. Tibetan abcedarian poems can contain any number of syllables or be composed in nearly any meter though Tibetan abcedarian poems are based on the thirty consonant consonants gametes and not the vowels. They can, however, be combined with other product forms like fixed vowels. These are some of the main characteristics of abcedarian poems. However, since there’s nothing barring poets from experimenting with other forms there can be said to be an unlimited number of ways to write ka-tsom.”
As for the origin of the form in Tibet, this seems to be disputed:
“The origins of abcedarian poems or ka-tsom in Tibet is something of an anomaly it’s not part of Tibet’s Kaviya tradition, as it’s not found in the Mirror of Poetics the Kaviyadarsha. Even though some scholars both historical and contemporary have attributed abcedarian poetry to the Mirror of Poetics, specifically its third chapter which describes sound ornaments. This is however an untenable attribution, indeed scholars such Wuchen Tar, in his 1995 article have demonstrated how there are a number of significant differences and divergences between abcedarian poetry and sound ornaments. On the other end of the spectrum, many contemporary Tibetan authors… tend to use the term thun-min or thun-min ma-yinpa to describe abcedarian poetry as being unique to Tibet.”
Cooke then goes on to describe the influence of Indian-alphabet based writings on the form in Tibet.

There are several such ka-tsom Tibetan poems, of which I consider three here below from Gedun Chophel, Longchenpa and Khandro Tsering Chodron . There is also a remarkable Praise to the 1st Karmapa by the 15th Karmapa, with images in the acrostic form, see here (BDRC MW22081_643CD1).

1) Gendun Chophel’s nine syllable per line, Acrostic Poem and the ‘difficult’ art of translating Tibetan poetry

“It is in this vein that Burton Raffel goes so far to say that “the translator of poetry must himself be a poet” (emphasis ibid). For if not, the result is an uncooked, albeit exact, 11 recipe—despite the fact that all the ingredients are accounted for, the reader is left clueless as to how the original dish actually tasted[3] – Schmidt (2017)

In a recent paper by Dirk Schmidt (2017) on the topic called Translating Tibetan Poetry: A Case Study of Gendun Chöphel’s Tibetan Alphabet Acrostic | He considers the difficulties of translating Tibetan poetry, and need for the translator themselves to be a poet. In particular, he looks at an alphabet acrostic poem called Alphabet Poem Invited by Ladrang (bLa brang la bskur baʼi ka rtsom- see images) by the Tibetan poet, writer and spiritual practitioner, Gedun Chophel[4].

Chophel’s remarkable poem (see images) is not only an example of an alphabet acrostic, but also of a strict nine-syllable pentameter. Not easy to create!  I republish  Schmidt’s 2017 translation of it (based on a former one by Donald J. Lopez)  in full here below[5].

In terms of translating poetry and acrostics, Schmidt (2017) correctly asserts that:

“A major stylistic feature of Tibetan poetry is its use of repetition, which serves as both a method of thematic emphasis and as a phonological marker of symmetry (it is “phonological” in that poetry is not only about words and their meanings, but also about words and their sounds). In this stanza, Gendun Chöphel employs repetition by ending each line in dga’, to like. The technique is employed throughout the poem, such as in the fifth stanza with don, and again with the phrase phyogs la in the second and fourth stanzas.

However, he also says that:

“Repetition of whole words like this is generally an inappropriate technique for the English language, wherein it sounds obvious, artificial, or clumsy, and is generally considered a sign of weak writing.”

This is where I would disagree, such repetitions form an important rhythm and style and even musical melody, which should not be omitted, when possible. For me, I would include the sound ga at the end, to keep it included.

Thus, I have included the repetitive elements (especially when they form a big bulk of the poem/song) in other poems I have translated too, such as the recent one by Milarepa on the Suffering of Animals and the Evil Custom of Eating Meat. Milarepa uses the same word (lugs) meaning ‘custom/tradition’ at the end of each line. Surprisingly, this repetition, rhythm and melody was completely lacking in previous published translations of the same song, and thus lacked what I see as a fundamental aspect of its sound, rhythm and melody, so I included them:

“How hateful this murdering beings ‘custom’!
How hugely regrettable this self-deception ‘custom’!
How heavy a weight this killing parents ‘custom’!
How much wrong is done for these stacks of meat ‘custom’!
What is done with the masses of blood in this ‘custom’?”

Another criticism that can be made of Schmidt’s analysis is his persistent and predominant use of the male pronoun (he/him/himself) throughout. Although, the corpus of Tibetan Buddhist texts is predominantly male, in the 21st century, any Tibetan language scholar-translator should really be sensitive and aware of the fact that women can be, and are, poets and writers too. After all, Schmidt is writing about the importance of language and how we use and translate it, especially when the Tibetan texts often themselves do not use male pronouns!

2) New translation of Longchenpa’s acrostic satirical poem – playing with double entendres Dazed in Kham
Longchenpa (1308 – 1363) great Nyingma and Dzogchen master

After recently creating a new website for a Longchenpa’s Collected Works project in Bhutan, I was delighted to read in particular, this translation of an acrostic poem by Longchenpa,  Dazed at the Culmination of Conditions: The Thirty Letters of the Alphabet (རྐྱེན་ལ་ཁམས་འདུས་པ་ཀ་ཁ་སུམ་ཅུ་ཞེས་བྱ་བ་བཞུགས།) [8] by Longchenpa, (translated by Adam Pearcey in 2022). For the reasons cited below, I have re-translated and reproduced this poem in full here at the end of this article (it can also be downloaded as a .pdf). I have used the same source edition of the Tibetan text, published in Bhutan in 1982. Here is an excerpt:

པ་ནས་གང་བའི་ལྡུམ་ར་ངན་པ་འམ། །
ཕ་རོལ་ཆང་དང་སྒོག་བཙོང་དྲིས་སུན་འབྱིན། །
བ་ལང་བཞིན་དུ་གཙང་བཙོག་མི་ཤེས་པས། །
མ་རབས་དུད་འགྲོའི་ཁམས་པ་གཟིགས་ལགས་སམ། །

Monstrous like a putrid garden full of poo
Nauseating stench of garlic, onions and booze,
Oblivious like cattle to what’s clean and dirty
Pernicious Khampa beasts, have you seen them?

Longchenpa explains that:

“These thirty letters of the alphabet verses, I affixed at the crossroads when booted out of my abode.

Ngakgi Wangpo of Samye composed this at Sangphu Neuthog. May it be a cause for virtuous excellence to abound!”

In terms of the circumstances that led Longchenpa to write this poem when he was booted out of his residence and treated as a ‘pariah’ and ‘outsider’, see Dan Martin (2010) in The Brilliant Scholar and the Scurrilous Letter – early Tibet:

“But his time at college was marred by the small-mindedness of his fellow students. Sangpu was dominated by students from eastern Tibet: Khampas. True, Sangpu was in Central Tibet, but Kham has always provided a high proportion of Tibet’s greatest scholars, and this was reflected in the student body at Sangpu. As a Central Tibetan, Ngagi Wangpo felt that he was treated as an outsider. So at the age of twenty-seven (in the year 1334) he decided to drop out. As he walked away from the college where he’d spent the last eight years, Ngagi Wangpo met an inquisitive monk who asked him why he was leaving.

When he told the monk how the Khampas at university had made his life a misery, the monk sympathized and encouraged Ngagi Wangpo to write something to publicize the behaviour of the Khampa students. Thinking this an amusing idea, Ngagi Wangpo took a single sheet of paper and filled both sides with a satirical poem. The poem was written as an alphabetical exercise with one line for each of the letters of the Tibetan alphabet.”

There is another poem by Longchenpa called Dazed with the Culmination of Causes: Garland of Flowers (rgyu la khams ‘dus pa me tog gi phreng ldan), which precedes it in the Miscellaneous Writings (gsung thor bu) collection. Pearcey states that:

“The title is also a play on words, as the term translated here as “disheartened” (khams la ‘dus pa) includes the word for Kham (khams).”

In my view, Pearcey has missed another rather obvious play on words here, the use of the Tibetan word, Khams. This is why I have translated the title of the poem differently here.

The word Khams in Tibetan can mean a person’s fundamental elements/health and so does not mean ‘disheartened’, more a sense of one’s elements/health becoming pervaded by causes or conditions. So, the words, ‘dozy’ or ‘drowsy’ or ‘dazed’ seem more suitable.  The most obvious play on words here by Longchenpa, is in relation to the Tibetan area name, Kham. Especially as the reference to Khampas pervades the poem. Using the double meaning, Longchenpa thus may be talking about Kham (the place) and kham the elements of a person. So, the poem’s title could mean Kham Culmination of Causes.

In terms of its swift composition by Longchenpa, Dan Martin asserts that even though writing such a brilliant and technically difficult poem in a short space of time is out of the question for ordinary people, for Longchenpa it was not:

“Now, you might think it unlikely that a rather complicated poem like this, not only constrained by an alphabetic conceit but written in nine-syllable verses containing a wealth of literary allusions, could be dashed off in the way the story implies. But let’s not forget who we’re talking about here: one of the greatest poet-philosopher-mystics in history (and not just the history of Tibet). One thing his voluminous writings show is that writing inspired poetry was second nature to Longchenpa. I for one don’t doubt that, spurred on by the frustrations that had just led him to drop out of Sangpu, Longchenpa could have sat down and written these verses in very little time at all.”

As I wrote here before in relation to Longchenpa’s Collected Works, he was renowned for being able to write at an extraordinarily quick speed.

Image of Sangphu Neutok (from Treasury of Lives)

As for the place where it was composed, the monastery Sangpu Neutok is an important monastery in central Tibet, just south of Lhasa, that was founded in 1072 by Ngok Lekpai Sherab, a disciple of Atiśa, and developed by his nephew, Ngok Lotsāwa Loden Sherab. Originally a Kadam monastery with two colleges, it evolved into a monastery that includes both Sakya and Geluk traditions.  For more on the story of Longchenpa’s leaving Sangpu and writing the satirical verses, see: Dudjom Rinpoche (1991).  And on the fascinating history of Sangpu, its abbots and colleges, see: Leonard van der Kuijp (1987).

1st Karmapa, Dusum Khyenpa also studied at Sangphu Neutok

In fact, the 1st Karmapa, Dusum Khyenpa also studied there with the abbot Chawa Chokyi Sengge (phywa pa chos kyi seng ge, 1109-1169) and Patsab Lotsawa Nyima Dragpa (pa tshab lo tsA ba nyi ma grags pa), who taught him Madhyamaka[9].

3) A Khandro’s Acrostic Plea to her Husband
Khandro Tsering Chodrom, wife and spiritual consort of Jamyang Khyentse Chokyi Lodro

Lotsawa House also published a short acrostic by Khandro Tsering Chodron’s question/plea to her husband/lama, Jamyang Khyentse Chokyi Lodro. I have also re-translated this one, as the translator does not use the acrostic device in their translation:

ཀ་ཡེ་གསོན་དང་བླ་མ་རིན་པོ་ཆེ།
ཁ་ཞེ་མེད་པའི་དམ་ཆོས་མ་དྲན་ནས།
ག་ལེ་གུ་ལེས་མི་ཚེ་ཟད་འདུག་ལགས།
ང་ནི་ཤི་ནས་དམྱལ་བར་འགྲོ་ངེས་རེད།
ཅེས་ཚེ་ཆོས་ནས་བྲིས།

“KA-yey! Listen, precious lama!
KHA-zhey (Only mouthing words)[1] and not remembering the sacred Dharma.
GA-ley (Drip by drip)[2] my life has been drained.
NGA ni (Myself) when dying, going to hell is certain!”

For more on Tsering Chodron’s room and belongings, which I recently visited in Sikkim, see here.

Some Tibetan poems involve acrostics from all directions, the most difficult form to compose. See image below of one hung at Norbulingka, Dharamsala, India.

Kunzang Korlo poem hanging at Norbulingka Institute, Dharamsala, HP. One of the most difficult forms of acrostic poetry to compose.

 

 ‘Lies that Sell’ – New acrostic poem, Instagram page and call to create

I recently penned my own acrostic poem, in response to an Instagram call for poems on the theme of the ‘Lies that Sell’, and the creation of a new Dakini Translations Instagram page, see here:

Even though I have resisted joining Instagram for a while, as it is not really my ‘cup of tea’, as I am developing the more visual and sound side of my work these days, including a Youtube video channel, I thought that Instagram might also be a good way to share my work and reach the people who use it.

Please do join, like and share as you wish! I will publish more personal photos, images, opinions on that platform, like this reel here. So, for those who like more fun, personal content, I hope you enjoy. For those who do not use or want to join Instagram, I will continue to publish content on Facebook and the website as before though.

Dazed by Culminated Conditions[i]

An alphabetic acrostic by Longchenpa

༄༅། །རྐྱེན་ལ་ཁམས་འདུས་པ་ཀ་ཁ་སུམ་ཅུ་ཞེས་བྱ་བ་བཞུགས།

ཀློང་ཆེན་རབ་འབྱམས།

ཨོཾ་སྭསྟི་སིདྡྷཾ།
གང་གིས་བསྟེན་པས་རྣམ་གྲོལ་མཛོད་བརྙེས་ཤིང་། །
རིག་དང་གྲོལ་བའི་ཕུན་ཚོགས་འབྱུང་བའི་གཞི། །
འགྲོ་ཀུན་དགེ་ལེགས་བསྐྲུན་པའི་གཉེན་གཅིག་པུ། །
ཚོགས་མཆོག་དགེ་འདུན་སྙན་དུ་ཚིག་འགའ་གསོལ། །

Oṃ svasti siddhaṃ!
Whoever discovers the treasury of complete liberation;
The basic source of abundant awareness and freedom,
The sole friend who brings virtuous excellence to all wanderers—
Supreme saṅgha assembly, please listen to these few words.

ཀ་ལིང་ཡུལ་དུ་སྲིན་པོ་རྒྱུ་བ་བཞིན། །
ཁ་བ་ཅན་དུ་ཆོམ་རྐུན་ཁམས་པའི་རིགས། །
ག་རུ་གནས་ཀྱང་གྲོང་རྡལ་འཇོམས་བྱེད་པའི། །
ང་རྒྱལ་ཆགས་སྡང་རྒྱུ་བ་གཟིགས་ལགས་སམ། །

At Kaling lands, roaming like rākṣasa demons
Bandit tribes of Khampas in the Land of Snows.
Causing chaos whichever towns or places they gather—
Desirous, arrogant and aggressive, have you seen them?

ཅ་ཅོའི་རང་བཞིན་ཉོན་མོངས་ཁམས་པའི་ཚོགས། །
ཆ་འོ་བཞིན་དུ་ཕྱོགས་བཅུར་རྒྱུ་བྱེད་ཅིང་། །
ཇ་ཆང་འཐུང་ཞིང་སྲོག་ཆགས་གསོད་བྱེད་པ། །
ཉ་པ་བཞིན་དུ་གནས་པ་གཟིགས་ལགས་སམ། །

Excitably raucous by nature, the Khampa gangs,
Forever riding about the ten directions,
Guzzling tea and alcohol, killing life—
Habitat like fishermen, have you seen them?

ཏ་ལའི་ཚལ་དུ་སྟག་གཟིག་རྒྱུ་བ་བཞིན། །
ཐ་ཆད་ཆང་འཚོང་རྐུན་པོའི་གནས་རྣམས་སུ། །
ད་བྱིད་ཟོས་བཞིན་འདོད་ཆགས་མེས་གདུངས་པས། །
ན་ཆུང་ཚོལ་ཕྱིར་རྒྱུག་པ་གཟིགས་ལགས་སམ། །

In palm groves, prowling like tigers ‘n’ leopards, or
Jostling in boozy taverns full of thieves,
Knocking back edibles like lizards, blazing with lust—
Lasciviously chasing after young women, have you seen them?

པ་ནས་གང་བའི་ལྡུམ་ར་ངན་པ་འམ། །
ཕ་རོལ་ཆང་དང་སྒོག་བཙོང་དྲིས་སུན་འབྱིན། །
བ་ལང་བཞིན་དུ་གཙང་བཙོག་མི་ཤེས་པས། །
མ་རབས་དུད་འགྲོའི་ཁམས་པ་གཟིགས་ལགས་སམ། །

Monstrous like a putrid garden full of poo
Nauseating stench of garlic, onions and booze,
Oblivious like cattle to what’s clean and dirty
Pernicious Khampa beasts, have you seen them?

ཙ་ནས་རང་ལ་རྒོལ་བ་བྱུང་བའི་ཚེ། །
ཚ་ཟེར་བྱེད་ལ་མུན་པའི་སྐྱེས་བུའམ། །
ཛ་ར་སྡང་རའི་རྒྱལ་ཕྲན་ཇི་བཞིན་དུ། །
ཝ་སྐྱེས་བཞིན་དུ་འབྲོས་པ་གཟིགས་ལགས་སམ། །

Quickly, at the moment dispute arises,
Repelled like night creatures by sunny rays,
Similar to the petty kingdom of Jaradangra,
They flee like foxes, have you seen them?

ཞྭ་རྨོག་གྱོན་ཅིང་ཉེས་མེད་ཡུལ་རྣམས་སུ། །
ཟ་མའི་ཆེད་དུ་མི་རྣམས་རྡུང་བྱེད་ཅིང༌། །
འ་ཅག་ཁྲེལ་མེད་ཡིན་ཞེས་སྨྲ་བ་ཡི། །
ཡ་རབས་ཚུལ་ཆད་ཁམས་པ་གཟིགས་ལགས་སམ། །

Using helmets even in crime-free places.
Violently striking folk for the sake of a meal.
We are shameless,” they proclaim.
eXempt from decency, these Khampas, have you seen them?

ར་ལུག་བ་ལང་ལ་སོགས་གསོད་པའི་ཕྱིར། །
ལ་ཆུ་འཕྲང་གསུམ་བརྒལ་ནས་གྲོང་རྡལ་འཇོམས། །

Yearning to slaughter goats, sheep, oxen and others, they
Zoom across passes, rivers and ravines, destroying villages.

ཤ་ཟ་ཆང་འཐུང་བུད་མེད་བསྟེན་པ་ཡི། །
ས་སྟེང་བསྟན་པའི་ཆོམ་རྐུན་གཟིགས་ལགས་སམ། །

ཧ་ཅང་ཐལ་བའི་བྱེད་ཚུལ་ངན་པ་འདི། །
ཨ་ཁུ་ཁམས་པའི་ཐོས་བསམ་སྒོམ་གསུམ་ཡིན། །

Meat-eating, alcohol-guzzling womanizers!
Plunderers of the teachings on this earth, have you seen them?

Horrendous, degenerate ways like this are
Study, contemplation and meditation for our Khampa uncles!

ཡི་གེ་སུམ་ཅུའི་ཚིགས་སུ་བཅད་པ་འདི། །
གནས་ནས་ཕུད་ཚེ་ལམ་ཀའི་བཞི་མདོར་སྦྱར། །

These thirty letters of the alphabet verses,

I affixed at the crossroads when booted out of my abode.

ཅེས་པ་འདི་ཡང་བསམ་ཡས་པ་ངག་གི་དབང་པོས་གསང་ཕུ་ནེའུ་ཐོག་ཏུ་སྦྱར་བ་འདིས་དགེ་ལེགས་འཕེལ་བའི་རྒྱུར་གྱུར་ཅིག། །།

Ngakgi Wangpo of Samye composed this at Sangphu Neuthog. May it be a cause for virtue and excellence to abound!

Translated and edited by Adele Tomlin. 27th November 2022. Copyright, Dakini Publications (2022). For downloadable .pdf, click here.

Endnotes

[i] This title is not easy to translate. Khams here could mean the Tibetan area place name Kham, where Longchenpa wa sdriven out of his residence at Sangphu Neutog monastery. It can also mean the essential elements/constituents of a person’s psycho-physical make-up. Pearcey (2022) translated this to mean ‘disheartened’ using Kham to mean the latter. However, it may be a double play on words. I have translated is as ‘drowsy’ here along the same lines.

ALPHABET POEM INVITED BY LABRANG: GENDUN CHOPHEL’S ACROSTIC POEM

“A​nyone, wherever they’re from,
B​e it Beijing, Calcutta, the snowy
C​ity of Lhasa or Nepal; I’ve
D​iscerned they’ve all the same nature.
E​ven if they shy from clamor, and
F​ashion themselves modest, they cast for
G​arments, goods, and coin—just as
H​aggard fishermen angle for their catch.
I​n flattery, blue­bloods take pleasure;
J​oy for blue­collars is dishonesty & deceit;
K​ids dig the swagger, and the style,
L​ike the trendy savor smokes & beers.
M​erely some bizarre pageantry,
N​o matter how it’s dressed, be it
O​fferings of food and drink, or
P​riestly garb, pendants, or marquees.
Q​uiet austerities for meals;
R​eciting scriptures for alms;
S​eeing prestige in pilgrimage;
T​hinking clearly, it’s all for wealth.
U​nformed­ minds of all these crowds:
V​iew them as so many cattle,
W​edded to their pedigree,
X​enophobic, chock­full of disdain.
Y​et here we are, helplessly earth­bound,
Z​ephyrs of flesh & bone, up to ruin…
If I speak honestly, it’s so; My,
How it gets under everyone’s skin!”

Translated by Dirk Schmidt (2017).

FURTHER READING/SOURCES

Acrostic Series | Lotsawa House

Martin, Dan. 2010.  Longchenpa and the Scurrilous Letter 

Pearcey, Adam. 2022. Disheartened by Circumstances by Longchenpa.

Schmidt, Dirk (2017) Translating Tibetan Poetry: A Case Study of Gendun Chöphel’s Tibetan Alphabet Acrostic | hc:13369 | Humanities CORE (hcommons.org)

Dudjom Rinpoche. 1991. The Nyingma School of Tibetan Buddhism: Its Fundamentals and History. Translated and edited by G. Dorje and M. Kapstein. Boston: Wisdom Publications. (vol.1, pp.578-579)

Leonard van der Kuijp. 1987. “The Monastery of Gsang-phu Ne’u-thog and Its Abbatial Succession from ca. 1073 to 1250.” Berliner Indologische Studien 3: 103-127.

Tomlin, Adele. 2020 and 2022:

THE SACRED BONE INK OF STAINLESS LIGHT: LONGCHENPA’S COLLECTED WORKS RE-CREATED THROUGH BHUTANESE CALLIGRAPHY: Contents and editions of Longchenpa’s Works, Bhutanese project and new website

JE MILAREPA’S SONG ON THE SUFFERING OF ANIMALS AND THE ‘CUSTOM’ OF MEAT-EATING

Part III: The private quarters and sacred ritual items of Jamyang Khyentse Chokyi Lodro and Khandro Tsering Chodron

ENDNOTES

[1] They are most frequent in verse works but can also appear in prose. The Middle High German poet Rudolf von Ems for example opens all his great works with an acrostic of his name, and his world chronicle marks the beginning of each age with an acrostic of the key figure (Moses, David, etc.). In chronicles, acrostics are common in German and English but rare in other languages.

[2] For example, Rolfe Humphries received a lifelong ban from contributing to Poetry Magazine after he penned and attempted to publish “a poem containing a concealed scurrilous phrase aimed at a well-known person”, namely Nicholas Murray Butler. The poem, entitled “An ode for a Phi Beta Kappa affair”, was in unrhymed iambic pentameter, contained one classical reference per line, and ran as follows:

[3] Schmidt (2017: 3-4) continues the metaphor that: “What I am suggesting here is that while a calculated recipe is exactly what an aspiring cook may want (and is someone who may find value and inspiration in such a wonderfully precise piece), a digestible and aromatic dish is more suitable for just about everyone else. To carry the metaphor further, if you’ve ever cooked your own cuisine in a foreign country, you realize you have to adapt your recipe (occasionally using creative license) to the ingredients, cooking methods, utensils, and appliances (or lack thereof) available to you, or even to the climate or altitude. While the resulting recreation is not­quite­right, trying to follow a recipe down to the T using a whole new set of foreign ingredients in a whole new foreign context is exactly what can cause the result to be inedible. This is what Patterson meant when he described the art of translating poetry as that of using a detailed ground plan to build a “robust home in a new country, in its vernacular architecture.”

[4]  rDor grags sprul sku dge ʼdun chos ʼphel. “bLa brang la bskur baʼi ka rtsom.” gSung ʼbum dge ʼdun chos ʼphel, Par gzhi dang po par thengs dang po, vol. 2, Si khron dpe skrun tshogs pa si khron mi rigs dpe skrun khang, 2009, pp. 508–09. Buddhist Digital Resource Center (BDRC), purl.bdrc.io/resource/MW1KG4286_14D71E.

[5] Gendun Chöpel’s “Alphabetical Poem Expressed Sincerely in the Common Language,” from 1963, is cited and taken from: Donald S. Lopez Jr., trans., In the Forest of Faded Wisdom (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009), no. 54, pp. 99­100

[6] dri med ‘od zer. “rkyen la khams ‘dus ka kha sum cu/” in gsung thor bu/_dri med ‘od zer/(sde dge par ma/). 2 vols. Paro, Bhutan: Lama Ngodrup and Sherab Drimey, 1982. Vol. 1: 211–212

[7] It is also reported in History of the Karmapas: The Odyssey of the Tibetan Masters with the Black Crown (2012:291). that when the Karmapa, Thongwa Donden was meditating in Nyethang in front of the Tara statue Atisha brought back from India, he paid for restoration of the monastery, after the diety Tara had revealed herself to him and asked him to compose praises to her.

[8] This term in Tibetan kha zhe has the double meaning of being a hypocrite.

[9] Here the Tibetan kha le gu le is equivalent to ‘drip by drip’ in English meaning slowly.

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