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In the Forest of Faded Wisdom: 104 Poems by Gendun Chopel (Buddhism and Modernity)by Donald S., Jr. Lopez
Synopses & Reviews
In 1941, philosopher and poet Gendun Chopel (1903andndash;51) sent a large manuscript by ship, train, and yak across mountains and deserts to his homeland in the northeastern corner of Tibet. He would follow it five years later, returning to his native land after twelve years in India and Sri Lanka. But he did not receive the welcome he imagined: he was arrested by the government of the regent of the young Dalai Lama on trumped-up charges of treason. He emerged from prison three years later a broken man and died soon after.
Gendun Chopel was a prolific writer during his short life. Yet he considered that manuscript, which he titled Grains of Gold, to be his lifeandrsquo;s work, one to delight his compatriots with tales of an ancient Indian and Tibetan past, while alerting them to the wonders and dangers of the strikingly modern land abutting Tibetandrsquo;s southern border, the British colony of India. Now available for the first time in English, Grains of Gold is a unique compendium of South Asian and Tibetan culture that combines travelogue, drawings, history, and ethnography. Gendun Chopel describes the world he discovered in South Asia, from the ruins of the sacred sites of Buddhism to the Sanskrit classics he learned to read in the original. He is also sharply, often humorously critical of the Tibetan love of the fantastic, bursting one myth after another and finding fault with the accounts of earlier Tibetan pilgrims. Exploring a wide range of cultures and religions central to the history of the region, Gendun Chopel is eager to describe all the new knowledge he gathered in his travels to his Buddhist audience in Tibet.
At once the account of the experiences of a tragic figure in Tibetan history and the work of an extraordinary scholar, Grains of Gold is an accessible, compelling work animated by a sense of discovery of both a distant past and a strange present.
In a culture where poetry is considered the highest form of human language, Gendun Chopel is revered as Tibets greatest modern poet. Born in 1903 as British troops were preparing to invade his homeland, Gendun Chopel was identified at any early age as the incarnation of a famous lama and became a Buddhist monk, excelling in the debating courtyards of the great monasteries of Tibet. At the age of thirty-one, he gave up his monks vows and set off for India, where he would wander, often alone and impoverished, for over a decade. Returning to Tibet, he was arrested by the government of the young Dalai Lama on trumped-up charges of treason, emerging from prison three years later a broken man. He died in 1951 as troops of the Peoples Liberation Army marched into Lhasa.
Throughout his life, from his childhood to his time in prison, Gendun Chopel wrote poetry that conveyed the events of his remarkable life. In the Forest of Faded Wisdom is the first comprehensive collection of his oeuvre in any language, assembling poems in both the original Tibetan and in English translation. A master of many forms of Tibetan verse, Gendun Chopel composed heartfelt hymns to the Buddha, pithy instructions for the practice of the dharma, stirring tributes to the Tibetan warrior-kings, cynical reflections on the ways of the world, and laments of a wanderer, forgotten in a foreign land. These poems exhibit the technical skill—wordplay, puns, the ability to evoke moods of pathos and irony—for which Gendun Chopel was known and reveal the poet to be a consummate craftsman, skilled in both Tibetan and Indian poetics. With a directness and force often at odds with the conventions of belles lettres, this is a poetry that is at once elegant and earthy. In the Forest of Faded Wisdom is a remarkable introduction to Tibets sophisticated poetic tradition and its most intriguing twentieth-century writer.
About the Author
Donald S. Lopez Jr. is the Arthur E. Link Distinguished University Professor of Buddhist and Tibetan Studies in the Department of Asian Languages and Cultures at the University of Michigan. He is the author or editor of several books, including, most recently The Madmans Middle Way: Reflections on Reality of the Tibetan Monk Gendun Chopel and Buddhism and Science: A Guide for the Perplexed, both published by the University of Chicago Press.
Table of Contents
Teachings of a Master without Disciples
Laments of an Unknown Sage
The Ways of the World
Songs of the Tibetan Kings
Precepts on Passion
Index of First Lines in English
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