Poems Lamenting the Sudden Loss of the Tenth Panchen Lama, Summer 1989
Translations of Poems by Mangrawa Dukar Bum, Submitted by the Amdo Translation Collective*
Introduction to the Author
Mangrawa Dukar Bum was born in 1965 in Amdo Mangra in the lineage of the Thok ngak tshang family. He is the son of father Lhadruk and mother Lhundrup Ji. From the age of three or four he started learning Tibetan from his parents and from his uncle Ngawang Dadrak. In 1972, he started school in the village primary school and ended up graduating from the Tsholho (Hainan) Tibetan Teacher’s Training College in 1986. From 1987 to 1990, while working as a teacher, he attended and graduated from the Tshongon (Qinghai) Education University’s class in Tibetan Ancient Humanities. In September 1992, he was invited to attend the central Translation Bureau’s translation workshop, but on the way to the workshop from the Tibetan city of Ziling (Xining) to the Chinese city of Beijing, he instead escaped to India. In 1994, he returned to Tibet and was detained and interrogated by the Chinese government’s National Security Bureau over two year’s time. Finally, he was sentenced to five years in prison having been accused of living in Tibet while serving Dharamsala. At the end of 1999, surveillance was tightened again and in May 2000, he escaped to India once again right before he was to be detained for another round of interrogation. Both in and outside of Tibet, he has been writing about Tibetan culture and the political situation in Chinese and Tibetan. Now he lives in the United States.
Translators’ Note: The Tenth Panchen Lama, Lobsang Trinley Lhundrub Chokyi Gyaltsen, the Geluk incarnate lama second in stature only to the Dalai Lama, was born in northeastern Amdo in 1938 and passed away suddenly in January 1989 at the young age of 51 at his monastic seat of Tashilhunpo in Central Tibet. His life spanned unprecedentedly tumultuous times in Tibetan regions that saw the Chinese Communist-led revolution in 1949 and their takeover of central Tibet in 1951. When the Dalai Lama escaped into exile in India in 1959, the younger Panchen Lama remained and ultimately became a fierce advocate for Tibetan culture and political rights to Chinese central authorities. He is famous for submitting the “70,000 Character Petition,” an unprecedented report on and scathing criticism of atrocities committed by Chinese officials and local extremists during the military crackdown on Tibetan resistance to Chinese-led collectivization efforts starting in 1958. For his outspoken advocacy, the Panchen Lama was brutally attacked during humiliating public struggle sessions in the mid-1960s and then imprisoned in Beijing for nine years. After he was released during post-Mao reforms in 1978, the Panchen Lama embarked on a series of inspection tours of Tibetan regions, and with the express support of Chinese central leaders like Deng Xiaoping, again took up his role as a fierce advocate for Tibetan cultural, linguistic and Buddhist revival, as well as of Tibetan regional autonomous governance. In his home region of Amdo Tibet especially, Tibetans saw the Panchen Lama as the essential bridge to central Chinese leaders in support of Tibetans’ rights in China. His sudden death in 1989 was thus a terrible, collective blow for Tibetans, even as a new crackdown on Tibetan protests in Lhasa starting in 1987 was once again heightening surveillance and curtailing religious freedoms that the Panchen Lama had long fought for. Thus when Dukar Bum composed these two free-verse poems lamenting the loss of the beloved tenth Panchen Lama, he chose to write in the register of coded language familiar to Tibetans since the Maoist years, in which authors draw on a large repertoire of metaphors as a way to express politically sensitive ideas and sentiments while avoiding Chinese censors.
Mangrawa Dukar Bum’s Introduction to his poems, “Sun and Clouds,” and “Snowland, My Mother”
These two free-verse poems were written in May and September 1989 respectively. They portray how at that time I was constantly thinking about the situation of Tibet, every day, all day. The two poems can also be seen as background for my decision later in 1992 that I needed to take refuge in Dharamsala, India instead of going to Beijing. The line in “Snowland, My Mother,” “eyes…watch me from afar,” especially shows the direction of my future in my thoughts at that time.
“Sun and Clouds” By Mangrawa Dukar Bum
Written in May 1989 in Ziling
At dawn, they say deep red clouds appeared on the eastern horizon
At noon, they say white clouds gently drifted in the vast open skies
At dusk, they say red gold light shone from the western horizon
The sun came and went but
The clouds are not what they say
Yesterday there were no red clouds on the eastern horizon
This morning black clouds shroud the east
Does the new morning sun have any light?
The time of dusk is coming closer and closer
Are the sun’s movements ever inconstant?
Translators’ note: In our conversations, Mangrawa Dukar Bum said that Chinese and Tibetans talk about the sun differently. For Chinese the sun is red (Ch. hong taiyang), but for Tibetans it is golden (Tib. nyima serpo). He told us that “the sun” in the first lines of this poem stands for Tibetan leaders (including state officials and Buddhist lamas or teachers), and “the clouds” stand for Tibetan society and the masses (e.g., ordinary Tibetans). He said those first three lines speak to what he heard about the old society, before the Chinese occupation. At that time, both the leaders and the people were present morning, noon and dusk. We can interpret the next line on the movement of the sun as referring to the cycles of reincarnation in the old society, and specifically the Tibetan tradition of lamas’ early and later reincarnations. Then he said that “yesterday” means when he was born, the time of the Cultural Revolution (1960s-70s), and at that time there was nothing but the Red Sun [eg., the Chinese Communist Party-state], there was no society. Thus at the end of the poem he meant “the new morning sun” as a metaphor for young Tibetan leaders after the tenth Panchen Lama passed away, during that time of no recourse for the Tibetan people. The final line holds out some hope for the inevitable return of the Panchen Lama in his reincarnation and the rejuvenation of Tibetan leaders.
“Snowland, My Mother” By Mangrawa Dukar Bum
A reflection on the truth
The snow white hair becomes thin
Bygone years appear on the forehead
The eyes with their weakened sight
watch me from afar without closing
The once nimble arms stiffen
The once effortless gait slips away
Among the everyday activities
traces of both humans and dogs
the strong vital flesh turns to mere skin
the joints of the once-straight bones grow crooked
the bones, almost falling apart,
bulge right and left from the skin
consciousness from the five senses shrinks inward
comprehension of past experiences subsides
where awareness has not yet let go
muddled and mumbling
becoming old and infirm
Translator’s note: Mangrawa Dukar Bum told us that during the Panchen Rinpoche’s lifetime, Tibetans had been strongly united. He said he wrote this right after the Panchen Rinpoche’s death, when a certain group of Tibetan officials did not take up the movement for the Tibetan cause and became traitors. Here, he told us, the “me” who is far away means His Holiness the Dalai Lama. He could not use the third person pronoun, “him,” because it could have attracted the interest of the police. When the Panchen Rinpoche was alive, he said, there were places to go to bring petitions and requests, places of recourse. Thus he said, by the “nimble arms” and “effortless gait”, he meant the strength and vitality of the Tibet movement. He told us that the “traces of humans and dogs” meant that some people had become like dogs, two-faced traitors who selfishly chase after food and enjoyment. And by “vital flesh” he meant when the Panchen Rinpoche was alive and everyone was working together. He said that the bones on the verge of falling apart meant the condition of Tibet itself at the time. And by the five senses becoming weak, he meant the five Buddhist sciences (Philosophy, Art and Technology, Medicine, Linguistics, and Dharma Studies). Thus he concluded that Tibetans at that time were despondent and confused about the future of the Tibetan nation.
The Amdo Translation Collective // མདོ་སྨད་ལོ་ཙྭ་མཐུན་ཚོགས།
The Amdo Translation Collective (ATC) is an international group of Tibet scholars who work collaboratively on translating texts and media from early Post-Mao and contemporary Amdo into English, in order to make them accessible to larger publics. Their translation philosophy is to preserve as much as possible of the content, tone and form of the Tibetan originals while crafting English language “siblings” that are accessible and poignant to readers who are not literate in Tibetan. In recent years, they have been focusing on translating texts related to the life and times of the tenth Panchen Lama, Lobsang Trinley Lhundrub Chokyi Gyaltsen (1938-1989).