Padampa in his Zhijé form (and not the 'Cutting' or Chö form) is, in recent times, mainly depicted with the very interesting gesture shown above. It seems to be unique to him, and I've never been able to locate a reasonable explanation for it that carries with it much conviction. If it was made with the right hand alone it would be the ubiquitous Teaching Gesture. (I think the gesture actually works well for many non-Buddhist Euro-types, too, since it looks like 'putting a fine point' on something, or just making a particular point [a 'micro-grip' for holding tiny objects]. It's not just an 'OK,' even if it does look similar, and even if we might find connections here, too, if we reflect awhile. I don't think it an accident that Europe somehow and somewhat shares this understanding with Tibet... Perhaps another time. Meanwhile, see and compare the picture down below.)
I imagine, although I have no proof for it, that the left hand exactly mirroring the right doubles the emphasis on his role as a teacher. But not only that, it seems to be saying that you receive double the teachings from him. At first you have a superficial understanding, and only later on and gradually, if at all, it hits you that he taught with something deeper in mind than you at first imagined. So to speak, the 'inner guru' kicks in. That is just my thought at the moment, and I may come up with a different explanation tomorrow.
The most famous literary piece by far among all the works associated with Padampa is the one known to every Tibetan as The Tingri Hundred. It exists in quite a few recensions, as often happens with extremely popular works, and not just in Tibet. It was written in verse in the form of couplets, about a hundred of them in this case (there is an obviously somewhat shorter version of this set of couplets called The Tingri Eighty). Each couplet ends with the same three syllables, the exclamatory Tingriwa (Ding-ri-ba). Since I need a term for these, I'll just call them Tingriwa couplets.
One way among others to divide the different recensions is to look at this verse (no. E16) to see if it has the word for 'monkey' (spre'u) or the rather similar, but only in its written form, word for 'rhinoceros' (bse'u, which I take to intend bse-ru) I think the monkey version makes better sense, but that's rather beside the point here.
In the forest fastness the monkey [or rhino] thinks it's happy,but the edge of the forest is ringed with fire, my Tingrians.
We'll call those the monkey and rhino versions. I only give this as one example among many others, just so nobody will imagine that the text was ever set in stone for all eternity. Like texts throughout Eurasia in earlier centuries, the manuscripts were alive and evolving beings.
The earliest English translation of this work has helped to promote a rather unfortunate misconception. The Evans-Wentz publication has Tingriwa translated as "Tingri folk." This lends the impression that Padampa's words were addressed to the peasant villagers in Tingri. Actually, if they were spoken by Padampa at all, they were spoken to his meditation disciples at Tingri Langkhor, then and now a hermitage located an uncomfortable distance away from the main town. They were not spoken to the 'folk' and do not belong in the category of folklore. Another thing to observe about Evans-Wentz's version is that it attempts to use rather archaic English of the King James Biblical variety, making Padampa sound like the proverbial but eccentric prophet crying in the wilderness. Well, in a way and to some degree I suppose he was.
I imagine you might have been a little surprised when I suggested, just now, that they might not be by Padampa. Let me rephrase that. All the versions that we have today were most definitely inspired by Padampa, who was the first to pronounce verses in the just-described form. Padampa spoke the original Tingriwa couplets. The second person to compose them was Padampa's immediate disciple Kunga, who pronounced no fewer than 118 of them just before his own death only 7 years after Padampa's. The odd and interesting fact is that only a very few of the Tingriwa couplets in the popular collections available today are actually found in the sets pronounced by Padampa and Kunga (these two latter preserved only in the Zhijé Collection). The simple solution to this problem is just to say that it's very likely that the collections we have today were not in fact by Padampa, but appeared at a later date in Tibetan literary history. This idea might be supported with the information that, to the best of my knowledge, the very first Tibetan-authored work to quote any of the verses from the Tingri Hundred is one by the author of the most famous Tibetan history book, The Blue Annals. That means Gö Lotsawa, in his commentary on the Ratnagotravibhaga. You can find the verse Gö Lotsawa quotes at no. E20 in our text of The Tingri Hundred.
Escorted by your Lama you will arrive where you want to go.
As your fee, pay your trust and veneration, my Tingrians.
What that means is that the earliest citation of a couplet resembling any of those we have in our Tingri Eighty or Tingri Hundred collections (both of them include this verse, but the sets of Tingriwa couplets in the Zhijé Collection do not have it) is in a composition dated to 1473 CE. The other known verse citations date between the 18th century and the present. There are quite a few of these, testifying to the popularity of our collection in the last three centuries.
When we look at the end of the work, we find a colophon in the form of a stanza which would seem to tell us that some unnamed person 'compiled' or 'arranged' it (if that is the right understanding for the verb bkod in this context, since sometimes it can mean 'composed').
Many verses gently encourage ethical behavior, but some of them are just so blatantly moralizing (particularly some of the verses near the end, which anyway are missing from some of the published versions), I can't believe Padampa actually taught them in Tingri (see couplets E95 through E98). It just wasn't his style. And his students, all serious Buddhist meditators, didn't need to be told to try and be good people. Or to shun evil companions. Really not.
The irony is that Padampa's best-known legacy is not our best guide to his actual teachings. That guide would be the Zhijé Collection itself. (If it weren't for some other Zhijé collections of comparable age and quality that lie unpublished and inaccessible in Lhasa libraries, we might say with justice that the Zhijé Collection is the only thing there is.)
It shouldn't be cause for any wonder that a recurring theme of the verses is death. It is a Last Will and Testament, after all. I hope that hearing that word won't scare you off. That would be unfortunate.
A flower one moment fine, the next moment all dried out,
there’s no relying on the body, my Tingrians.
– Couplet E30 of The Tingri Hundred.
Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,Old Time is still a-flying;And this same flower that smiles todayTomorrow will be dying.
The message of this verse that opens Robert Herrick's famous poem "To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time" — the same verse makes a cameo appearance in that 1989 Robin Williams movie, The Dead Poets Society — is that young people had better hurry up and get laid while they still have it in them. Padampa's verse uses the death imagery of the faded flower to encourage renunciation of worldly life. Herrick equips his verse with the same imagery to encourage young people to dive headlong into it. Same medium, same poetic flower imagery... opposite messages. Which I suppose is one reason Padampa, with his strong-minded advocacy of the life of renunciation, of meditation in solitude, is not likely to find multitudes of ready listeners in our day. My position is that even an imagined renunciation can do much to promote ethical reflection by people who find themselves, willingly or not, caught up in the flow (and of course the ebb) of life. In that spirit, I think anyone can appreciate at least some parts of The Tingri Hundred. I'm not alone here thinking we simply must think more about what we're doing and why. Am I?
And before sending you off to read the translation, assuming you're prepared to do that, I'd like to say that these critical reflections of mine about authorship have no bearing whatsoever on the Buddhist truth and/or spiritual authority of the text itself. It is great Tibetan poetry, a monument to the Tibetan language, a source of wisdom regardless of your ideas about religion, and a trigger for reflection on life, no matter who wrote it when. Feel free to think as you like.
The message as well as the language of this Last Will is naturally a little solemn, and rather unconsciously I have preserved a degree of solemnity in the translation, using words like savor and imbibe instead of taste and drink. But on occasion there is a breath of lightness and ease, a bit of almost-casual colloquial expression. I've tried to supply some of these moments, too, to the best of my ability, not always in the same places though. Nothing in these translations is final. Like everything else, it's a continuing process.
Perhaps for a later blog I'll try to finish up my translation of Padampa's original set of a dozen or so Tingriwa couplets and give more evidence for, and develop further, the ideas I've put forward here. Don't neglect to breathe. I've got a few other things to do meanwhile.
Carpe Diem: Poems for Making the Most of Time. Posted at the official website of the Academy of American Poets, here.
'Gos Lo-tsâ-ba Gzhon-nu-dpal, Theg pa chen po rgyud bla ma'i bstan bcos kyi 'grel bshad de kho na nyid rab tu gsal ba'i me long, Commentary on the Ratnagotravibhâgavyâkhyâ, ed. by Klaus-Dieter Mathes, Franz Steiner (Stuttgart 2003), at p. 53 is the quote of Padampa's verse. K-D Mathes' translation of couplet E20 has just been published in his monumental translation of that just-mentioned work under the title A Direct Path to the Buddha Within: Go Lotsawa's Mahamudra Interpretation of the Ratnagotravibhaga, Wisdom (Boston 2008), p. 262:
If you commend yourself to the lama, you reach wherever you like.
People of Dingri, show devotion and respect to the lama [who is like your] feet.
Chapter 17, "The Gesture of Thought, the Sign of Logos," contained in: H.P. L'Orange, Studies on the Iconography of Cosmic Kingship in the Ancient World, Instituttet for Sammenlignende Kulturforskning (Oslo 1953), pp. 171-197.
"The scroll [or book] in the left hand contains the written speech; the gesture of the right one expresses the realization of the written in the living word."
Portrait of L. Gernier,
a professor of theology from Basel,
painted by J.R. Werenfels.