Tibetan and Himalayan Library - THL

THL Title Text
Tibetan Poetry on Wutai Shan
Kurtis R. Schaeffer, University of Virginia
JIATS, no. 6 (December 2011), THL #T5719, pp. 215-242
Section 2 of 2 (pp. 225-230)

Natural Features and Their Symbolic Counterparts in ChangjaLcang skya’s Song

Natural feature: Symbol

1. The Mountain

Mountain foot: Liberation

Mountain peak: Wisdom

[page 226]

2. On the Mountain

Meadow flowers: Virtue

Bumblebee dance: Causation

River flowing: Love

Forest breeze: Call to the path

Ripe fruit: Joy of contemplation

Birdsongs: Religious advice

Deer wandering: Joys of religious path

Cliffs: Spiritual plain

Scented herbs: Skill and wisdom

3. Above the Mountain

Cloud formations: Mañjuśrī’s magic

Objects: Merit

Light: Visions


Reeling in this interplay between the site’s natural features and a litany of ubiquitous Buddhist buzzwords, the poem would have the reader’s imaginative gaze move from low to high initially – from the basin of the mountain complex up to the clouds – but then it returns to the human scale, to the mountain paths and temple precincts, back to the human artifacts that imbue the landscape with cultural significance. As it moves the reader up and down the mountains, it elicits each of the five senses: sight, hearing, smell, touch, and taste. We hear the bees, the birds, the breeze and the rivers. We smell the wild flowers and herbs. Cooling winds and forest breezes touch us, as we reach out to rocky cliffs, high meadows, and waterfalls. We taste sweet fruit, and savor aromatic restorative herbs.

Yet it is sight that holds sway over the other senses in this and other Tibetan poems on Five-Peaked Mountain. To gain some sense of the overwhelming priority of visual themes in this literature, we can look to a time perhaps just prior to ChangjaLcang skya’s years at Five-Peaked Mountain, to when the elusive Lama Tsé Ngapa Penden DrakpaBla ma rtse lnga pa dpal ldan grags pa composed a guidebook in verse. Penden DrakpaDpal ldan grags pa’s Ornament for the Peaks (Karchak Lhünpö GyenDkar chag lhun po’i rgyan) does not seem to be currently available, but it appears to have been known to ChangjaLcang skya and – more importantly – was cited extensively by Yeshé PendenYe shes dpal ldan in his guidebook.27 From the 231 lines (something like fifty-seven four-line verses), quoted by Yeshé PendenYe shes dpal ldan, we can [page 227] see that Penden DrakpaDpal ldan grags pa’s work developed the topics commonly treated in the Tibetan poetry of Five-Peaked Mountain in far greater detail than any other extant work. One theme he elaborates upon is the many light formations for which the site is famous. Penden DrakpaDpal ldan grags pa lists ten lights by name: the “deep light,” the “very wide light,” the “hair tuft light,” the “stone pillar light,” the “light wheel,” and others. But light number ten is simply called “the light that shines in any way,” and in thirty-nine relentless lines of verse, Drakpa GyeltsenGrags pa rgyal mtshan all but blinds the reader with this multiform radiance:

Ten is the light that shines any way,

Appearing as one, appearing as many,

Appearing the same, or different, or paired,

Appearing for an instant, appearing for a minute,

Appearing long or over many moments,

Appearing clustered, appearing scattered,

Scattered light appearing clustered,

Mixed or unmixed with its own hue

Looking to be mixed, then not,

Very clear and not so clear,

Clear just as you see it,

Appearing to one, then appearing to all,

Appearing to one and all alike,

Appearing just this once, appearing all the time,

Shining in the morning, shining in the night,

Expanding and contracting, and then not,

Simple white or only green,

Green and red or as a set,

One, a hundred, a thousand, ten thousand,

Hundred thousand, hundred million, and on beyond,

Appearing as a single lamp or filling up the sky,

Appearing as a square, appearing as a circle,

Appearing as a crescent or other sorts of shapes,

Formed as a god or a human or a ghost,

A flower, a lamp, a censor and the like,

Shining as a young man, shining as an old man

Shining as the King’s lion throne,

Shining as five forms shining as a shrine,

Shining as a stūpa and much else besides,

Ribbons, canopies, and banners of light,

Appearing as a shining flag and much else besides,

Appearing as magician or dancer or bard,

Shining as the many riches of gods and men,

Golden lamps, celestial fire pure and white,

One, one hundred, thousands appear without end,

A giant damaru drum in sky and so much else,

Celestial instruments of all sorts, even sounding out,

Wondrous and fantastic emanations such as this,

[page 228]

How can we describe them here when they cannot be fathomed?28

When in 1824 Drakpa GyeltsenGrags pa rgyal mtshan composed his eighty-verse devotional poem entitled Brahma’s Melody: A Place-Praise of Five-Peaked Mountain,29 he was certainly dazzled by Penden DrakpaDpal ldan grags pa’s unremitting litany of lights, and he praises each and every one of them, one through ten (he does not take up each variation of light number ten, however). Drakpa GyeltsenGrags pa rgyal mtshan was born in AmdoA mdo (in Domé Lhogyü BoraMdo smad lho rgyud ’bo ra), studied at Drepung’Bras spungs Monastery near LhasaLha sa from 1783 to 1788, and served as the twenty-third abbot of Labrang Monastery.30 In contrast to most other poets listed here whose travels we know something about, Drakpa GyeltsenGrags pa rgyal mtshan appears never to have visited Five-Peaked Mountain. His poem was composed at his home institution of Labrang. Many abbots of Labrang Monastery before and after Drakpa GyeltsenGrags pa rgyal mtshan visited the site, and it is easy to imagine that he would have had ample literary and oral sources from which to write his own work. It is clear that Drakpa GyeltsenGrags pa rgyal mtshan new of Lama Tsé Ngapa Penden DrakpaBla ma rtse lnga pa dpal ldan grags pa’s early verse guidebook, for he draws extensively from it (or a common source). In his praise of the ten lights (verses 53-64), for instance, Drakpa GyeltsenGrags pa rgyal mtshan integrates verse lines wholesale from the earlier work, occasionally making minor changes in vocabulary, or picking select lines to fit neatly into his own more formally structured devotional work.

The Thirteenth Dalai Lama, Tupten GyatsoThub bstan rgya mtsho, was the last of the great Tibetan Buddhist leaders to write on Five-Peaked Mountain during the Qing period, [page 229] and it is with him that we conclude. Composed at Five-Peaked Mountain in 1908, his Beautiful Clear Mirror: A Praise to Lord Mañjughoṣa’s Abode, consists of five chapters, detailing: 1. Mañjuśrī’s Body (twenty verses); 2. Mind (nine verses); 3. Good Qualities (eight verses); 4. Speech (seven verses); 5. Enlightened Activity (eleven verses).31 The Dalai Lama informs us that he wrote it while trying to come to terms with the plethora of Mañjuśrī images in the temples of Five-Peaked Mountain. But we can read the Dalai Lama at the moment for the insight he succinctly provides into the relationship between poetry, place, and the senses with the following lines:

Through sight, sound, memory, and feeling,

This best of places bestows a soothing coolness.32

Here the Dalai Lama appeals to the senses as key to understanding what is powerful about Five-Peaked Mountain. It is “cool” precisely to the extent that one can see, hear, feel, and recall the place. In a broad sense Five-Peaked Mountain is portrayed in the poetry (as well as the biographies and histories) of Tibetan Buddhist visitors and residents of the site as a Buddhist “retreat,” isolated from the frenetic social life of the Beijing and other cosmopolitan centers and yet intimately connected with a Buddhist institutional network stretching throughout China, Tibet, Mongolia, Nepal, and India. This network was largely held together by the memory to which the Dalai Lama draws our attention. Poetry was among the principle forms of communication – along with maps, prose guidebooks, rituals, oral legends, and the like – by which Five-Peaked Mountain was remembered – was evoked, envisioned, and embodied – throughout the Tibetan Buddhist world. Through the literary work of poetry Five-Peaked Mountain’s place within this institutional network was constantly maintained. For is poetry not, by virtue of its vivid language, intricate phrasing, rhythm, and repetition, one of the principle forms of expression by which place is brought before the senses, including and especially if one is not presently in place, but rather the place is in oneself, in one’s mind, in one’s imagination?

It will have come as no surprise that the Tibetan poetry on Five-Peaked Mountain is chiefly about visions, and that within the vast range of visionary topics it is largely about light. Yet we can pause to reflect on the tremendous effort undertaken by poets to evoke sight with sound, to appeal to the sense of seeing through the medium of the written or spoken word, to transpose vision into rhythm and wordplay. This is what Dobi GeshéRdo sbis dge bshes refers to in his own poem on Five-Peaked Mountain, written in the 1950s, as “pictures made of words.” And when he goes on to pray that the “sound of Mañjuśrī’s three mysteries” reaches the ears of many people through his poetry, he suggests that the body, speech and mind of Mañjuśrī [page 230] – in this case the mountain (body), its holy shrines, temples and monasteries (mind), and the teachings given in those places (speech) – are all in some sense accessible through words, through sound, through poetry.33 And if it is conceded that poetry can be culturally productive – if we grant that literature can create experience and is not epiphenomenal to it – then the poets of Five-Peaked Mountain are not merely – or perhaps not at all – describing the wonders of the place, but are among the creators of these wonders. If we grant a formative power to poetry, the Tibetan poetry on Five-Peaked Mountain is not simply about the place, it is the place. And so it is that Sumpa KhenpoSum pa mkhan po uses poetry to express what may well be the definitive epitome of Five-Peaked Mountain:

Who has fortune enough to come to this place,

No different than wisdom’s body itself,

Has searched for eons with eyes, ears, and mind:

Is this not the heart of seizing hold of life?34

[27] In Dznyana ShrimenDznyā na shrī man, Riwo Tsengé Karchak Rapsel MelongRi bo rtse lnga’i dkar chag rab gsal me long (Xining: Mtsho sngon mi rigs dpe skrun khang, 1994), 17 (6 lines), 23 (4 lines), 100 (4 lines), 139 (115 lines), 160 (61 lines), 193 (28 lines), 208 (13 lines).
[28] In Dznyana ShrimenDznyā na shrī man, Riwo Tsengé Karchak Rapsel MelongRi bo rtse lnga’i dkar chag rab gsal me long (Xining: Mtsho sngon mi rigs dpe skrun khang, 1994), 142.4-143.12: bcu pa cir yang ’char ba’i ’od ces pa // gcig tu snang dang du mar snang ba dang // gcig dang tha dad ji ltar zung ltar snang // skad cig tsam dang yud tsam snang ba dang // yun dang skad cig du mar snang ba dang // spungs pa dang ni bkram par snang ba dang // bkram pa’i ’od kyang spungs pa ltar snang dang // ’dres pa dang ni ma ’dres rang mdog dang // ’dres pa’ang brtags nas ma ’dres snang ba dang // shin tu gsal dang cung zad mi gsal dang // ’ji ltar brtag bzhin gsal bar mkhyen pa dang // gcig la snang dang kun la snang ba dang // gcig dang kun la thun mong du’ang snang // gcig tu snang dang dus rnam du yang snang // nyin mor ’char dang mtshan mor ’char ba dang // ’phro ’du’i tshul dang ’khro ’du med pa dang // dkar po sha stag sngon po ’ba’ zhig dang // sngon dmar gnyis dang tsho la yongs rdzogs dang // gcig dang brgya dang stong dang khri la sogs // ’bum dang dung phyur bgrang yas dpag tu med // mar me tsam dang bar snang gang bar snang // gru bzhir snang dang zlum por snang ba dang // zla gam la sogs sna tshogs dbyibs su snang lha yi gzugs dang mi [143] dang mi ma yin // glang chen seng ge la sogs gzugs su snang // me tog dang ni mar me lta bu dang // spos khang la sogs rnam pa sna tshogs dang // gzhon nu ’char dang rgad por ’char ba dang // sog rgyal seng ge khri par ’char ba dang // rigs lngar ’char dang lha khang ’char ba dang // mchod rten la sogs du mar ’char ba dang // ’od kyi ’phan dang gdugs dang rgyal mtshan dang // ba dan la sogs du mar ’char ba snang // sgyu ma mkhan dang gar byed glu len dang // lha mi’i longs spyod sna tshogs ’char bar snang // gser gyi mar me dkar gsal lha me ba // gcig dang brgya stong grangs med snang yang yod // mkha’ la cang te’u rnga bo che la sogs // lha yi rol mo sna tshogs grags pa’ang yod // de lta’i rnam ’phrul ngo mtshar phul byung ba // dpag tu med mod ’dir brjod ga la nus //.
[29] Drakpa GyeltsenGrags pa rgyal mtshan, Riwo Tsengé Netö Tsangpé DrayangRi bo rtse lnga’i gnas bstod tshangs pa’i sgra dbyangs, in SungbumGsung ’bum (Labrang Monastery: Bla brang par khang, 2000), 6 volumes, 6 folios. Also in Gangjong Khewang Rimjöngyi Tsomyik Sergyi DrambuGangs ljongs mkhas dbang rim byon gyi rtsom yig gser gyi sbram bu, edited by Blo bzang chos grags and Bsod nams rtse mo (Xining: Mtsho sngon mi rigs dpe skrun khang, 1988-1989), vol. 3, 1445.
[30] See his biography: Könchok Gyepé LodröDkon mchog dgyes pa’i blo gros, Yongkyi Gewé Shenyen Chenpo Gyel Khenchen Drakpa Gyeltsenpé Zhelnga Nekyi Nampar Tarpa Norbü TrengwaYongs kyi dge ba’i bshes gnyen chen po rgyal mkhan chen grags pa rgyal mtshan pa’i zhal snga nas kyi rnam par thar pa nor bu’i ’phreng ba (Unpublished), 62 folios. Composed in 1835. See “Grags pa rgyal mtshan,” Tibetan Buddhist Resource Center, http://www.tbrc.org/#library_person_Object-P297.
[31] Tupten GyatsoThub bstan rgya mtsho, Jetsün Jampé Yangkyi Nela Töpadang Seldzepé MélongRje btsun ’jam pa’i dbyangs kyi gnas la bstod pa dwangs gsal mdzes pa’i me long, in The Collected Works of Dalai Lama XIII (New Delhi: International Academy of Indian Culture, 1981), vol. 3, 395.1-404.2.
[32] Tupten GyatsoThub bstan rgya mtsho, Jetsün Jampé Yangkyi Nela Töpadang Seldzepé MélongRje btsun ’jam pa’i dbyangs kyi gnas la bstod pa dwangs gsal mdzes pa’i me long, 396.1: mthong mthos dran dang reg pa yis // phan bde’i bsil sbyin gnas kyi mchog /.
[33] Rdo bis dge bshes shes rab rgya mtsho, Ranggi Gam Namo Ngala Tsengé Netsül Shepa Desum Sobé DütsiRang gi gam na mo lnga la rtse lnga’i gnas tshul bshad pa dad gsum gso ba’i bdud rtsi, in Jetsün Sherap Gyatso Jampel Gyepé Lodrökyi SungtsomRje btsun shes rab rgya mtsho ’jam dpal dgyes pa’i blo gros kyi gsung rtsom (Xining: Mtsho sngon mi rigs dpe skrun khang, 1984), vol. 3, 448: ’di la brten nas gzhan dang gzhan gyi yang // rna bar ’jam dpal gsang gsum gsang ba’i sgra // snyan rgur khrol bas nor ’dzin dge ba dang // byis blo rmongs pa’i rgya las grol bar smon //.
[34] Sumpa Khenpo Yeshé PeljorSum pa mkhan po ye shes dpal ’byor, Pendita Sumpa Yeshé Penjor Chokgi Chötsül Jöpa Dradzin ChülenPaṇḍita sum pa ye shes dpal ’byor mchog gi spyod tshul brjod pa sgra ’dzin bcud len (Beijing: Krung go’i bod kyi shes rig dpe skrun khang, 2001), 443.5-443.8.

Note Citation for Page

Kurtis R. Schaeffer, “Tibetan Poetry on Wutai Shan,” Journal of the International Association of Tibetan Studies, no. 6 (December 2011): , http://www.thlib.org?tid=T5719 (accessed ).

Note Citation for Whole Article

Kurtis R. Schaeffer, “Tibetan Poetry on Wutai Shan,” Journal of the International Association of Tibetan Studies, no. 6 (December 2011): 215-242, http://www.thlib.org?tid=T5719 (accessed ).

Bibliography Citation

Schaeffer, Kurtis R. “Tibetan Poetry on Wutai Shan.” Journal of the International Association of Tibetan Studies, no. 6 (December 2011): 215-242. http://www.thlib.org?tid=T5719 (accessed ).