Wednesday, March 21, 1990

The Turquoise Bee

Staying on the subject of writing and dying young, I turn to the egalitarian Sixth Dalai Lama, whose poetry and songs are still revered and loved by all Tibetans.

In the wake of many stellar fundraising events for New York's Tibet House, my friend Fortuna took me to Robert Thurman's lecture and presentation about Tshangyang Gyatso, The Sixth Dalai Lama, who came to Potala at fourteen and eventually refused to take monastic vows. It was a particular pleasure to watch Dr. Thurman read The Sixth's poems in sonorous Tibetan and then deconstruct earlier translations while at the same time providing his own.

This year, by any calendar, marks the tercentenary of Tshangyang Gyatso's disappearance, or, by most accounts, his death in captivity on the way to Beijing, and the abandonment of his body at the explicit directive of the Manchu emperor of the day.

The Great Fifth Lobzang Gyatso, who was the first to gain contrl over all of Tibet, had built Potala, the gigantic winter palace in Lhasa, shown in all the pictures here (click images for sources), and died before it was completed. His successor, The Sixth, was found in southern Tibet nearly three years later, but kept in hiding at his birthplace of Mön, and then confined at Tsona and Nakartse, and neither recognized or ordained for the first fourteen years of his life. The Regent, or Desi - not to be confused with the other Subcontinental word - also known as Sanjé Gyatso, who may have been the son of the Fifth, contrived meanwhile to keep the death a secret , engaging impersonators, arranging for long monastic retreats, and plotting other complicated devices to keep the subterfuge going. Presumably, Potala Palace was brought closer to completion during this time. Yet the Desi was said to be a brilliant and complicated man, a bon vivant himself, who developed a strong paternal attachment to the Sixth.

That evening, Dr. Thurman suggested several times, always with a twinkle, that the subsequent dionysian behavior of the Sixth can be attributed to Raging Hormones, but also said that the present Fourteenth Dalai Lama believes Tshangyang Gyatso thought the time had come for monastic rule to give way to dynastic rule. Others say that the Great Fifth had been a Tantrist towards the end of his life, and that the Sixth, as his reincarnation, was merely carrying that interest forward.

In any event, unlike the image in the painting, it is said the Sixth wore blue silk robes instead of a monk's garnet and saffron, long hair, and plenty of jewelry. He loved to practice archery and party with people his own age, serving guests himself intead of observing protocol, and spending as much time in the brothels and taverns below the palace as he did seducing aristocratic beauties. His fame and ongoing popularity (Chinese New Age singer Dadawa recorded 'The Sixth Dalai Lama's Love Song' in 1998) arises from the remarkable paeans he wrote to all women alike, as well as to the great quantities of wine he consumed in the process.

Lovers who met while traveling
Were fixed up by the wine-shop woman
If trouble or debts are born from this
Please take care of her for me

His given name means 'Ocean of Melodious Song' but he called himself 'The Turquoise Bee.' When the time came for his full ordination by his tutor, himself earlier ordained Panchen Lama, Tshangyang Gyatso refused, going so far as to return his novice vows and threatening suicide if his wishes were not observed and followed.

The Desi had maintained an alliance with the Mongolian Dzungars as protection from the Manchu, but the Manchu Emperor had forged an alliance with the Mongolian Qosot leader, Lozang Qan, whom the Desi tried to kill twice. Losing another battle with the Qan, the Desi was beheaded. The Qan then captured the Sixth, deposed him on charges of being a dissolute heretic, incapable of goverment, and despite a huge popular demonstration by monks and laity, removed him to the distant monastery at Drepung, where Panchen Lama was the abbot.

When the Qan's artillery opened fire on Drepung Monastery the Sixth, then twenty-four years old, gave himself up to prevent a massacre, leaving a poem for his then beloved.

That bird - white crane
Lend me your skill of wing
I will not go far
I'll return from Litang

Litang was the birthplace of the Seventh Dalai Lama. The other prediction the Sixth made was that three sandalwood trees he had planted in
Tawang in Himachal Pradesh would grow into identical shapes before his return-- this they did just before burning down right before HH the Fourteenth Dalai Lama came to Tawang during the flight into India. Dr. Thurman, speaking of how he had discouraged a recent film project planned to concentrat on 19th Century British amd Russian military engagements in Tibet, mentioned HH's stated objections to a depiction of Tibet as otherwise unpeopled plateau, merely a backdrop for colonial military encampments and playing out cinematic schemes of Eurocentric power-mongering. "Where would all the Tibetan girls be?" he said.

Re the Dalai Lama's intended and pending visit to China
St. Petersberg Times

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