Heavy Curtains and deep sleep within darkness
Tsering Woeser (ཚེ ་རི ང་འོ ད་ཟེ ར)
My Jowo Buddha sat
cross-legged in the seething
and ardent chaos of fire.
No time to write a poem, cry,
or even allow me to search for the countless treasures
behind those hurriedly hung curtains,
even though the ultimate truth
is actually impermanence
as personally manifested by Jowo Rinpoche.
Those heavy curtains are a metaphor.
On the second day after the fire
they took a piece of yellow silk
covered with red flowers,
almost without a wrinkle,
cut without a trace,
and draped it behind what was reportedly
the ‘completely intact’ body
of Jowo Śākyamuni.
It seemed like a dense and seamless wall.
Who knew what was behind it?
Or what could still be there?
Those who persevere, you actually know
that invisible fire has been burning unabated,
and those heavy curtains
concealed the world
Deep sleep within darkness.
One cannot but sleep deeply within darkness.
One cannot but rely on a dream
in deep sleep within the darkness . . .
But isn’t darkness also diverse?
It’s like these words (was it me who said them?):
‘You may think there is darkness in this world,
but in fact, darkness does not exist.’
And so, you can try and describe different forms of brightness— glimmering light, dim light, brilliant light . . .
soft light, warm light, intense light . . .
as well as the flash of light,
that time the light extinguished
more quickly than lightning,
did you see it?
as well as the flaming light,
that time the unquenched light
burned longer than fireworks
did you see it?
Suppose there is no eternal light, then what?
Suppose there is not a single ray of light, then what?
Slowly entering sleep? Gradually dying?
And how, in this endless bardo,
can one be spared
the invisible temptations of every wrong turn?
A single drop of water falls on the eyelid
of the one who is fast asleep.
A single teardrop in the darkness laments
the death of the soul that lost its mind.
But some people say, as if in the whisper
of a country a lifetime ago:
‘If you want to know how much
darkness there is around you,
you must sharpen your eyes,
peering at the faint lights in the distance . . .’
(Tsering Woeser, Beijing 2018, translated by Ian Boyden)
A poem by Tsering Woeser from chapter 2 of Impermanence: Exploring continuous change across cultures, edited by Haidy Geismar, Ton Otto, and Cameron David Warner.
Tsering Woeser (tshe ring ‘od zer) is a Tibetan writer and activist who lives in Beijing.
About the Editors
Haidy Geismar is Professor of Anthropology in the UCL Department of Anthropology where she is also curator of the UCL Ethnography Collections.
Ton Otto is Professor of Anthropology at Aarhus University, Denmark, and James Cook University, Australia.
Cameron David Warner is Associate Professor of Anthropology at Aarhus University, Denmark.