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Song of the Road: The Poetic Travel Journal of Tsarchen Losal Gyatsoby Cyrus Stearns
Synopses & Reviews
In Song of the Road, Tsarchen Losal Gyatso (1502-66), a tantric master of the Sakya tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, weaves ecstatic poetry, song, and accounts of visionary experiences into a record of pilgrimage to central Tibet. Translated for the first time here, Tsarchens work, a favorite of the Fifth Dalai Lama, brims with striking descriptions of encounters with the divine as well as lyrical portraits of Tibetan landscape. The literary flights of Song of the Road are anchored by Tsarchens candid observations on the social and political climate of his day, including a rare example in Tibetan literature of open critique of religious power.
Like the Japanese master Basho's famous Narrow Road to the Interior, written 150 years later, Tsarchen's travelogue contains a mixture of luminous prose and verse, rich with allusions. Traveling on horseback with a band of companions, Tsarchen visited some of the most renowned holy sites of the Tsang region, incluing Jonang, Tropu, Ngor, Shalu, and Gyantse. In his introduction and copious notes, Cyrus Stearns unearths the layers of meaning concealed in the text, excavating the history, legends, and lore associated with people and places encountered on the pilgrimage, revealing the spiritual as well as geographical topography of Tsarchen's journey.
In 1539, Tsarchen Losal Gyatso, a Tibetan lama whose mastery of the tantric Buddhism of the Sakya tradition has never been surpassed since, made a pilgrimage from Tibets western regions into the center of the country. This is his record of that journey, providing a uniquely personal window into the country at that time and into the mind of this charming master. Tsarchen and his companions slowly pass through the countryside, crossing high passes and rivers, descending into deep valleys, visiting hermitages, estates, temples, villages. The richness of the language, imagery, and visionary experiences set it apart from other works of the same genre in Tibet.
Tsarchens journal is sometimes strikingly similar to the famous Narrow Road to the Interior (Oku no Hosomichi) of the Japanese haiku master Matsuo Basho, which records a journey taken in 1689, exactly 150 years after Tsarchens trip. As with Bashos classic, Tsarchens text is written in a mixture of luminous prose and verse, with an immense amount of hidden meaning. The extensive notes essential to revealing the layers of meaning beneath Tsarchens words, placing them in the context of the spiritual topography of the land he travels, the centuries of history and legend permeating the
About the Author
Cyrus Stearns has been a student of Tibetan language, literature, and religion since 1973, when he began studying with the great Tibetan polymath, Dezhung Rinpoche (190687), and serving as his principal translator. In 1985 Cyrus was the leader of the Smithsonian Institutes Associates Tour to Tibet and China, one of the first groups allowed into Tibet after many years of travel restriction by the Chinese government, and he has lived in Asia eight years all together. Since receiving a Ph.D. in Buddhist Studies from the University of Washington in 1996, he has established himself as one of the most admired translators of Tibetan literature today. His numerous books include Taking the Result As the Path, Hermit of Go Cliffs, and King of the Empty Plain. He is currently a fellow at the Tsadra Foundation and a translator for the Library of Tibetan Classics. He lives in the woods on Whidbey Island, north of Seattle, Washington.
Table of Contents
List of Illustrations
Notes to the Introduction
Maps of Tsarchens Route
Celebration of the Cuckoo: My Autobiographical Song of the Road
by Tsarchen Losal Gyatso
Notes to the Translation
What Our Readers Are Saying
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