Tsangyang Gyatso: the Sixth Dalai Lama - Rootless Wanderer

Tsangyang Gyatso: the Sixth Dalai Lama

Tsangyang Gyatso, who was enthroned with grand ceremony as the Sixth Dalai Lama on the golden throne in the Potala palace in 1697, was a special Dalai Lama. Born in renowned Nyingma family and brought up at a late age in Gelugpa tradition, Tsangyang Gyatso proved to be an uncomfortable blend of the two traditions. But, leaving aside the unfortunate politics that surrounded his desolate life, Tsangyang Gyatso brought to holy Lhasa and Shol taverns some of the purest and most beautiful lyrics of all times.
Extraordinary as a lover of wine and women, melodious as a singer of love songs and above all, tragic as a national hero of the status of a Dalai Lama, reduced to become a heroic pawn at the hands of the Qosot Lhazang Khan, the Sixth Dalai Lama became a legend within his short lifetime. Worshipped and loved by Tibetan people with stainless faith, Tsangyang Gyatso’s songs became famous in every corner of Tibet receiving once again the fascination of simple folk poetry.

“White crane!
Lend me your wings
I will not fly far
From Lithang, I shall return”

So wrote a desolate and lonely Tsangyang Gyatso (whose name means ‘Ocean of Melodious Songs’), the Sixth Dalai Lama of Tibet, wrote to a lady-friend of his in Shol town in 1706, when he was being forcibly taken away to China by the Mongol soldiers of Qosot Lhazang Khan — away from his people and the Potala palace. No one understood the hidden meaning contained in the song nor did anyone suspect that the young Dalai Lama had decided to end his earthly manifestation and yield the Tibetan spiritual and temporal realm to the care of the next Dalai Lama. But when that very year the sad and shocking news of the ‘disappearance’ or more probably the ‘murder’ of Tsangyang Gyatso at Gunga-Nor lake spread across Tibetan landscape, the secret meaning of last of his many songs dawned on the grief-stricken and bewildered Tibetan masses who dearly longed for his presence during a turbulent turn of history, and anxiously looked towards Lithang for the next incarnation. It may be more correct and safer to state that some of the verses indirectly show his deep knowledge and practice of of tantra, as it is clear from the one song in which he has claimed:

“Never have I slept without a sweetheart
Nor have I spent a single drop of sperm”

The claim of control over his flow of sperm openly declared his grasp and mastery of tantric practices. Of exceptional interest in the tale of three sandalwood trees Tsangyang Gyatso planted close to each other before leaving Tawang. He prophesied that the trees would grow identical to each other on the day he would once again visit Tawang. In 1959, the local people noticed to their amazement that the three sandalwood trees were growing equal to each other in size and had become identical in shape. Unfortunately, the trees caught fire which plunged the local people into anxiety and dismay. Soon afterwards they heard of the unrest in Tibet caused by the Chinese invasion, and after a week-long spectacle of crowds of foreign and Indian pressmen, security personnel and unusual suspense, they saw that the Dalai Lama had indeed come to Tawang once again, this time as Great Fourteenth, on his way to exile in India.

“Over the eastern hills rises
The smiling face of the moon;
In my mind forms
The smiling face of my beloved’

‘Yesterday’s young sprouting shoots
Are withered straws today,
Like the ageing body of a youth
Stiff bent as a southern bow’

‘If only I could wed
The one whom I love,
Joys of gaining the choicest gem
From the ocean’s deepest bed would be mine’

‘She smells sweet of body
My sweetheart, the highway queen;
Like the worthless white turquoise
She was found, to be thrown away’

‘Longing for the landlord’s daughter
Blossoming in youthful beauty
Is like pining for peaches
Ripening on the high peach trees’

‘Sleepless I am
Because I am in love;
Fatigue and frustration overwhelm
When day brings not my beloved to me’

‘Spring flowers fade in the fall;
It is not for the turquoise bees to mourn.
I and my sweetheart are fated to part;
It is not for us to cry’

‘Frost gathers on the glistering flowers
And then the cold north wind blows.
The frost and the wind must have come
To drive the bees away from the flowers’

‘I have hoisted prayer-flags
For the good luck of my beloved.
Forest keeper, Ajo Shelngo,
Do not trample her good luck flags’

‘I incline myself
To the teachings of my lama
But my heart secretly escapes
To the thoughts of my sweetheart’

‘Even if meditated upon,
The face of my lama comes not to me,
But again and again comes to me
The smiling face of my beloved’

‘If I could meditate upon the dharma
As intensely as I muse on my beloved
I would certainly attain enlightenment
Surely, in this one lifetime’

‘When my luck was good
I hoisted auspicious prayer-flags
And the young lady of noble birth
Hosted me at her home’

‘Your sweet smile is
To steal away my young heart.
If your love for me is true,
Promise me so
From the depths of your heart’

‘When the gem was mine
I cared not, and ignored its value.
Now that the gem is lost to others,
Melancholy overwhelms me
As its pure worth dawns on me’

‘My sweetheart who truly loved me
Has been stolen to wed another.
I am sick with longing sorrow
And frustration emaciates my frail body’

‘In my dreams often
I see my lost beloved;
A soothsayer I must seek
To search for her soon for me’

‘If the maiden will live forever
The wine will flow evermore.
The tavern is my haven;
With wine I am content’

‘My beloved from childhood
Seems to be of the wolf’s race;
Even after many nights together
She tries to escape,
Like the wolves, to the hills’

‘To the wings of this eagle
The wind and the rocks have been cruel.
The sly and scheming ones
Have harassed me, always without ceasing’

‘Pink clouds
Hide frosts and hailstorms;
He who is a half-monk
Is a hidden enemy of the dharma’

‘The moon tonight seems
To be the full moon,
But the hare* inside the moon
Does not seem to be alive”
* Refers to a Tibetan belief that a giant hare resides in the moon

“Like the rising moon of the third day
My beloved is dressed is pure and white,
But on the full moon of the fifteenth day
Take an oath of meeting as pure and bright’

‘Even the stars in the sky
Can be measured by astrology.
Her body can be caressed,
But not so fathomed
Her deep inner longing’

Sweetheart awaiting me in my bed
Yielding tenderly her sweet soft body,
Has she come to cheat me
And disrobe me of my virtues?

‘Peacocks from eastern India,
Parrot from the depths of Kongpo,
Though born in separate countries
Finally come together
In the holy land of Lhasa’

‘People gossip about me.
I am sorry for what I have done;
I have taken three thin steps
And landed myself in the tavern of my mistress’

‘In the short walk of this life
We have had our share of joy.
Let us hope to meet again
In the youth of our next life’

The garrulous parrot
Please stay with your mouth shut.
The thrush in the willow grove
Has promised to sing a song for me

Yama, the mirror of my karma
Residing in the realm of death,
You must judge and grant justice.
Here, while alive, I had no justice


Translation of the ‘Songs of the Sixth Dalai Lama’ by K Dhondup, Dharamshala.

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