Memories of Lhasa

Although all phenomena are manifest due to causal factors,
Each and every instance is devoid of inherent existence,
O precious Lama, teacher of the infallible law of karma,
Pray bless me, your humble disciple, with compassion.

Like a dazed nomad without much learning and knowledge,
In essence, with excruciating longing for my beloved Lhasa,
The following muse gushes forth from my heart,
Pray my good friends, share with me these memories!

I miss Lhasa where
Flocks of cranes frolic in their teeming multitude
Spraying heavenwards shimmering arrays of crystal,
Where the great Kyichu river gently burbles past,
Majestically meandering its way down from the right.

I miss Lhasa where
The undulating valleys and wide open plains
Are bedecked with a garland of green meadows and trees,
Where the bright sun and the moon orbit unhindered,
Where the land is luxuriant, shimmering in glorious hues.

I miss Lhasa where
A period of dark foggy gloom that never seems to clear,
Such as that enveloping us here in depressive stupor, is unknown.
I miss the pristine Lhasa of cool summers and warm winters
Where merry people rejoice, resplendent in their festive best.

I miss Lhasa where
Fertile plains spread out like a lotus in full blossom,
Where craggy mountains bear the eight auspicious symbols,
Where the azure sky spreads out as round as a wheel,
Where the land abounds in auspicious signs and symbols.

I miss Lhasa where
Market places throng with happy, boisterous crowds
And charming damsels glide nimbly with perfect poise,
Where all the paragons of beauty come together
With beaming faces adorned with winsome smiles.

I miss Lhasa where
Occasionally, riches comparable to that of the God of Wealth
Abound — infinite in range and choice of goods imaginable,
Revelling in the variegated merchandise in the stores,
And circumambulating the Barkor circuit time and again.

I miss Lhasa where
Unlike the frenzied haste of the good folk here,
People enjoy unhurried leisure with infinite patience,
Where people eat quietly and engage in honest labour,
Always fair and upright in all dealings and agreements.

I miss Lhasa where
In the spring season flowers blossom in riotous abundance,
People in droves frequent the parks for picnics and pleasure,
Where sounds from violins, harmonicas, flutes and horns
Compete to fill the air with a cacophony of myriad tunes.

I miss Lhasa where
Trays laden with the choicest of Chinese cuisine
Are brought with a flourish and placed on high tables,
And picking the delicacies of oneâ’s own choice,
Guests relish every morsel with crunching delight.

I miss Lhasa where
Pretty barmaids like the winsome Nyin-nyin Metok,
Casting coquettish glances with bright flirtatious eyes,
Ply you with drinks saying, “Have it, Sir, Drink up, Sir,”
Courteously serving never-ending rounds of beverages.

I miss Lhasa where
The power and glory of this holy Land of Dharma
Reverberated across the vast horizon in ancient times,
A holy place of patronage without miserly parsimony,
Where everyone makes generous offerings and donations.

I miss Lhasa where
Officials dressed in ample, flowing brocade costumes,
Confer and discuss all issues in depth with intelligence,
Hurriedly transcribe all religious and secular edicts
For prompt and expeditious implementation.

I miss Lhasa where
The State laws are a balance of stricture and leniency,
Where cases adjudged are as true as Brahma’s axis line,
Where false charges and excuses have no scope of prevailing,
Where each is judged on the basis of one’s own actions.

I miss Lhasa where
Officials in brocade gowns with tassels and cup pouches
And shady Mongolian hats, look bright as the rainbow,
Rushing about with Sogjil earrings swaying with each step,
While attentive personal attendants gather and wait to serve.

I miss Lhasa where
A thousand melodious tunes echo in music parlours
And scintillating voices captivate and overwhelm,
Where gentle touches with soft hands evoke heavenly bliss,
The gathering place of a bevy of vivacious beauties.

I miss Lhasa where
From time to time, masked dances, traditional opera
And other such graceful performing arts entrance crowds,
Each event attracting the involved gaze of all spectators,
Such occasions of merry festivities and holy worship abound.

I miss Lhasa where
In narrow alleyways and labyrinthine byways,
Even the disabled, the unsighted and old destitute beggars,
Inebriated senseless whether by sweet or bitter chang,
Straggling merrily to nowhere and sleeping anywhere.

Pray, listen to more of what I miss about Lhasa,
Physicians on whom we rely for our good health,
Dear friends for whom we harbour affection and love,
Kind and loving parents who make our homes cosy,
I miss Lhasa for all of them.

I miss Lhasa where
Amidst rows of flickering butter lamps and sumptuous offerings
Reside the two Jowo images of the Buddha in all their glory,
With reverential silence devotees go to receive blessings,
As they murmur prayers fervently for divine blessings.

I miss Lhasa where
Mountain passes, the abode of peaceful and wrathful deities,
Reverberate with earth-shaking “Ki! Ki! So! So!” invocations
As people string and hoist prayer flags of all hues and sizes,
And dense smoke from incense offerings billows heavenwards.

I miss Lhasa where
Devotees visiting and exploring the fabulous Potala Palace,
Upon seeing the holy chambers replete with precious artifacts,
Are moved to tears of sublime faith and devotion
And pearl-like teardrops roll down irrepressibly.

I miss Lhasa where
All the great and good Lamas seated on elevated thrones
Profess profound Mahayana teachings as profuse as rainfall
To large gatherings of devotees with folded hands
Listening with contemplative silence in stony courtyards.

I miss Lhasa where
Fathers, mothers and elderly folk in their multitude,
On tottering legs, barely able to keep steady,
With backs bent, prostrate and amble along the holy ’Ling-kor’,
Crowding the narrow dusty path bustling with pilgrims.

I miss Lhasa where
Priests rattle the damarus and clash the cymbals,
Spray heavenwards sweet scented petals and various grains
While chanting mantras like “Hum, Hum, Phat!, Phat!
To banish afar hordes of quivering malevolent spirits.

I miss Lhasa where
Large and small Mani prayer wheels in their thousands,
When turned around for the benefit of sentient beings,
Their chimes seem to beckon, “Come!, Come!” to pilgrims,
As they whirr round and round in never ending cycles.

I miss Lhasa where
Monks and lay people, enriched with faith and spiritual wealth,
Outside spacious monastic compounds and porticos,
On well-worn slabs of stones or smooth wooden planks,
Glide back and forth in prostration to accumulate merit.

I miss Lhasa where
People from all directions converge for religious offerings,
The ocean of merit accumulated by these vast gatherings
Cannot be spilled even if shaken like an overflowing cauldron,
As their collective merit swirls and blesses the holy city.

I miss Lhasa where
Recognizing the rarity of attaining rebirth as a human being,
And the changeability, impermanence and fleeting nature of life,
People, empathizing with the acute suffering of lower realms,
Strive to attain the incomparable bliss of enlightenment.

I miss Lhasa where
A host of Lamas and Dakinis, as a matter of fact,
Dwell in the holy valleys, as multitudinous as the clouds,
Guide and help people like me and others with poor karma,
To be speedily set on the path of liberation.

I miss Lhasa where
The pure and altruistic minded, renouncing families,
Without hesitation or worldly attachment, get ordained,
With their dark hair shorn and donning maroon robes,
Join the community of orange and yellow-robed Sangha.

I miss Lhasa where
After years of contemplation on the Dharma teachings,
Somber, ocher-clad Geshes debate in wide open courtyards,
Refuting or positing views with emphatic clapping,
To dispel all doubts and erroneous views of the opponent.

I miss Lhasa where
Learned monks steeped in the tradition of Sutras and Tantras,
Seated neatly in rows and in one, well-synchronized tune,
Recite Buddhist prayer texts in sonorous tones,
The mere hearing of which prevents rebirth in lower realms.

I miss Lhasa where
In sundry peaceful hermitages in the surrounding hills,
Adepts have the power to cure one of physical ailments,
Despite the depression, tiredness or belligerence of some,
Nurturing all alike with compassion and equanimity.

I miss Lhasa where
Enticing worldly pleasures distract and inveigle the weak,
And the practice of the holy Dharma becomes but sporadic at best,
But disgust with Samsaric ways soon inspires a life of renunciation,
Generating spontaneous compassion for all sentient beings.

I miss Lhasa where
Conjectures, superstitions and imaginations,
The infinite range of ephemeral conceptions,
Each, through simultaneity of awareness and emptiness,
Is revealed as is in the great space of reality.

I miss Lhasa where
The dualistic perception of ego-clinging,
Being laid dormant in the space of non-fixation,
Everything is seen vividly as being inherently empty forms,
Even the reverberating echoes are nothing but that.

I miss Lhasa where
Even I, like a deluded house rooster on a high pedestal,
With my two wings of altruism and self-interest
Waving and fluttering, call out in a dignified voice
Until my voice becomes weak and hoarse.

I miss Lhasa where
The ten moral virtues and happiness prevail,
Though not the birthplace of this ignoramus,
But being cast there by the force of karma,
Images of this central place pervade my memory.

With reminiscences of each and every facet of Lhasa,
I find myself, helplessly, staring at its horizon,
Beady-eyed, and from the depths of my throat
Sing these nostalgic tunes of longing, as is evident.

Given that the one and only Avalokitesvara
Is also resident here far away from Tibet these days,
And since Lhasa must decidedly feel bereft and forlorn,
O Friends, repose your faith and trust in Him here.

Surrounded by hordes of aggressive Chinese forces,
Taxed body and mind with unjust orders to do this and that,
And facing execution for the slightest error in addressing,
It’s impossible at present to wish for a return to Lhasa.

May I be able to,
Towards the end of this short human life, immediately
Exchange worldly pursuits for some quiet hermitage,
Where, with quivering eyes in peaceful contemplation,
Resume the practice of Dharma long neglected.

For many eons, time and again giving us birth as mothers,
All sentient beings, innumerable as the vast space,
Without exception, to the pure land of eternal bliss,
May I become the agent to deliver them speedily.

In these many colloquialisms this old man of yours,
Lacking both innate and learned powers of scholarship,
Penned these random feelings and thoughts, reading which,
A few wry smiles I naturally anticipate.

End of Memories of Lhasa by Miwang Shelkar Lingpa.
May it be auspicious!

Tibetan original

View/download in the original Tibetan as PDF (299k) from TibetWrites


This poem of nostalgia for Lhasa was composed by Shelkar Lingpa in 1911-12 in Darjeeling, whilst in the service of HH the Thirteenth Dalai Lama during the short period of forced exile in India. The original poem in Tibetan was published by G. Tharchin at the Tibet Mirror Press, Kalimpong in 1965. Read the original in Tibetan if possible as something gets lost in translation.

Translated by T. D. Gonkatsang, Oxford, England


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