Finally a translation of the timeless and beautiful songs of the Sixth Dalai Lama which does
justice to his poetry.
Lhasang Tsering author of Tomorrow and other Poems, has achieved a translation which
maintains the poetry of the original Tibetan without compromising on the meaning in anyway.
His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama of Tibet is perhaps the most well – known and the most
respected spiritual leader in the world today. He is certainly the most well-known Tibetan – Past
or present. In fact, it may well be true to say that more people in the world toady know about the
Dalai Lama than they know about Tibet or Tibetans. Many who know and care about Tibet and Tibetans
do so because they know and respect His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
To a large extent this is due to the growing interest in Buddhism around the world – which has
been strengthened by the efforts of many Tibetan lamas and their devotees. But here again the
personal charisma of the Dalai Lama – and his untiring efforts and wide travels – have been major
contributing factors. This in turn has been strengthened by the prolific writings of the Dalai
Speaking of which, although the Dalai Lamas, including the present Fourteenth Dalai Lama, have
written beautiful poetry, the general reader in English will not immediately associate poetry –
and most certainly not erotic love poetry – with a Dalai Lama. However, within the Tibetan
cultural world, the very mention of the Sixth Dalai Lama conjures up some of the most beautiful
love songs in the Tibetan language.
But why was a Dalai Lama writing love songs? Is it true that Dalai Lama actually wrote erotic love
poems? What were the circumstances that led to a Dalai Lama writing love songs? And is it really
true that the Sixth Dalai Lama actually drank wine and slept with women?
Be that as it may, knowing that the Dalai Lamas are capable of and do assume different
manifestations for the benefit of lesser sentient beings – on second thoughts – it should not be a
matter of particular surprise or concern that one incarnation turned out to be a ‘libertine’ and a
composer of love songs – especially when these songs have been a source of joy and comfort to so
many for so long.
More to the point, Tibetans and friends of Tibet who know me, or should I say know the one side of
me as a stern former school principal and a former guerrilla with uncompromising political views,
could very well wonder what I am doing translating love songs – albeit the love songs of the sixth
To cut a long story short, though my contributions are generally not acknowledged, after having
helped to develop the school at the Tibetan Children’s Village (T.C.V.) into a proper high school
and also having played an instrumental role in establishing the T.C.V. in Ladakh, the T.C.V.
School in Lower Dharamshala and the T.C.V. in Bylakuppe, in December 1982, I was asked to leave.
At the time I was serving as both principal of the school and also as deputy director to Jetsun
Being thrown out into the street in that unceremonious and unjust manner should not in itself have
been a major problem. A refugee at seven and an orphan before completing high school – I was not
exactly a stranger to hardship and homelessness. But by then I was married and my daughter was
just eight months old. Fortunately, my wife is a strong and resourceful person. So what could have
been my burden and my problem turned out to be my strength and my sustenance. My wife found a job
in New Delhi and I was free to do what I wanted.
What I had always wanted to do was to get into direct action inside Tibet and that was what I set
out to do. However, before long, His Holiness the Dalai Lama instructed me to rejoin Tibetan
Government service. I did my best to avoid this but to no avail.
To cut another long story short, my family and my friends persuaded me by correctly making the
point that – because this was the personal wish of His Holiness, I should re-join Tibetan
Government service, even if only for a short while, and then leave at an appropriate moment. And
so it was that in March 1983, I was back in Tibetan Government service. Since my old office – the
Tibetan Office of Research and Analysis – had been closed, I joined the Information Office, what
is Today the Department of Information and International Relations.
Perhaps it is simply because I am not cut out for a regular desk job, or at least not a 9 to 5
desk job, I found it hard to handle the free time before and after office hours. My working hours
at T.C.V. usually began at 6 am – when I took the older boys for a run – and ended at 9 pm, or
even later, after overseeing the evening prayers when I usually gave the older students a pep
talk; dealt with any disciplinary matters for the day and made announcements, if any, for the
coming days. It should also be mentioned that regular office work started at 8 am and never
finished at 5 pm.
It was not merely strange but seriously worrying to me that people who were supposed to be
spearheading a life and death struggle for the freedom and survival of an entire nation did not
only have spare time but were often involved in petty squabbles for power and position or for pay
and perks. As a junior functionary, there was no way I could do anything to change the system. But
my disappointment at the state of affairs was so great, I actually suffered a stroke that left me
unconscious for more than thirty-six hours and a complete loss of memory for almost four months.
Here, I must hasten to add that these remarks should not be misunderstood to mean that there was
widespread corruption within the Tibetan Government-in-Exile. This was certainly not the case. To
start with, there just wasn’t and still there isn’t much to be corrupt about. Also, it is a fact
that the majority of Tibetan government officials have always been sincere and hardworking. All
that I am saying is that within the context of our circumstances – where we are locked in a
do-or-die, now-or-never struggle for freedom and survival, there was reason for me to be seriously
disappointed at the state of affairs as I witnessed it at the time.
If my elder brother, Karma Chophel, then Rector of the Central School for Tibetans in Shimla and
currently the Speaker of the Tibetan Exile Parliament, was not in Dharmshala at the time to attend
an important meeting – I may well not be writing this to attend an important meeting – I may well
not be writing this today. He first took me to Delhi – where my wife was working – for immediate
treatment. However, modern medicine had little to otter by way of a complete cur. My wife and my
brother then took me to Shimla, where though my brother’s good connections, Taklung Tsetul
Rinpoche cured me of much of the complete memory loss and practically all of the partial paralysis
I had suffered. However, I have begun to feel the side effects of that stroke once again –
especially in having difficulty with my short – term memory.
After my recovery, I decided to put to good use the free time before and after office hours to
work on a new translation of the songs of the Sixth Dalai Lama. This was partly because I was not
happy with the earlier translations and partly as a means to improve my poor knowledge of written
But soon, among other things, I got involved with activities of the Tibetan Youth Congress and was
elected president of the Dharamshala chapter later that year (1983). Also, in the Information
Office itself, I initiated the Narthang Publications Project. It was through this project that I
helped to develop a new type font; planned for the future computerization of Tibetan, and
intending to design a proper, frequency-based keyboard- conducted a frequency study of the Tibetan
language. The office block for the Department of Information and international Relations came up
as a result of my Narthang Publications Project.
However, before I could complete the Narthang Publications Project, in 1986 I was elected
President of the Tibetan Youth Congress and re-elected in 1989. Through those busy years with the
Tibetan Youth Congress and also during my years as a full time volunteer at the Amnye Machen
Institute (1992-1999) as one of four founding directors, there just wasn’t any free time. At the
end of 1999, I was asked to resign from the Amnye Machen Institute. This was good for me. For one,
because I was doing full time voluntary work at the Institute, the Bookworm – the only source of
income for my family – had begun to suffer. Today my situation has improved. I even have a house
and I call it Exile House. However, although it is a proper mailing address, if you come to McLeod
Ganj you will not see a signboard saying ‘Exile House’. This is because I had to borrow heavily to
build my house and I am still so deeply in dept that I feel the house does not yet belong to me. I
am now trying hard to sell Exile House. This is because – let alone paying back the principal – I
am finding it difficult to handle the interest on my huge loans. The reason why I got into this
situation is yet another story better left for another day.
Also, I had begun to do some writing, which is to say that I was finally able to do some writing
in my own name. In the past, during what should have been my most productive years, apart from a
few articles, most of what I had written was for other people. In addition to endless letters,
these included project proposals, reports and even articles and speeches for senior officials. In
fact, I had done so much ghost-writing for others that at one time I briefly toyed with the idea
of writing for others that at one time I briefly toyed with the idea of writing a book about ‘My
Life as a Ghost’. And, because of the many things I have done, a number of people have suggested
that I should write my memories and I did consider ‘Mr Former’ at least as a working title. This
is because, I am today better known as former one thing or another. It was because I was asked to
resign from the Amnye Machen Institute that I was finally able to devote some time to my own
writing. My first book: Tomorrow and Other Poems was published in 2003.
Finally, it is because I do not have any regular job or responsibility today that I am able to
complete what I had started all those many years ago – the translation of the Songs of the Sixth
Dalai Lama. As a matter of fact, the translation of the songs had been ready for the past twenty
years or so. In 1988, Mr Roger Hicks – the photographer and writer who co – authored Great Ocean:
The Authorised Biography of His Holiness The Dalai Lama used my translations of song Nos. 3, 17
and 19 in his book Hidden Tibet as evidence that the Sixth Dalai Lama was, as he put it, a self –
avowed lover of wine and women’. I had waited all these years hoping to get help from a good
scholar to do a proper historical introduction to the text and, most of all, to the life of the
Sixth Dalai Lama. Unable to get such help, I have now had to write these myself. I hope they are
adequate for the needs of the general reader.
If somebody, somewhere, now or in the future, should derive some joy from any one of these songs I
shall consider my efforts fully rewarded.
Send as free online greeting card
Email a Friend