Song of Symbolic Dharmas Necessary for Meditation
(sgom dgos pa’i brda chos kyi mgur)
by Chöjé Marpa Sheyrab Yéshey (chos rje smar-pa shes-rab ye-shes, 1135–1203)
Translated from the Tibetan by Erick Tsiknopoulos, 2016
That which is like a brilliantly glowing rainbow,
In the limitless, totally pure sky:
If emptiness and the mode of emptiness are not understood,
Then emptiness will be bound by emptiness.
The wheel of the experience of emptiness
Turns in unbroken continuity;
While the flower that grows in the sky
Seems to have been eaten by the child of a sterile woman.
And so it is that, because the letters of a few pages of final addendum for this song have long since faded [completely or mostly, yal zin], it is bereft of any means of supplementation. Thus an addendum, as found in the other original manuscripts, must be affixed here. This note was written by the Karmapa of the Snowy Mountains (gangs-ri karma-pa, Gangri Karma Rinpoche).
(Translated from the Tibetan by Erick Tsiknopoulos, March 2016.
Found in the collection of poems, songs and other writings by Marpa Sheyrab Yéshey, chos-rgyal smar-pa’i mgur-‘bum legs-par bzhugs so, published by the Martsang Kagyu Global Corporation, Taipei/Delhi 2015, pages 150-151)
- “The wheel of the experience of emptiness” (stong pa’i nyams myong ’khor lo de): Could also be read as “the wheel of empty experience”, but this seems much less likely to be the (primary) intended meaning, partly because stong pa (technically ‘empty’) was also used in the previous stanza for ‘emptiness’ (where ’emptiness’ is clearly the meaning), rather than the more formal stong pa nyid (‘emptiness’ proper).
- “While the flower that grows in the sky/ Seems to have been eaten by the child of a sterile woman” (mkha’ la skyes pa’i me tog de/ mo gsham bu yis zos pa ‘dra): It is noteworthy that variations on these images are also used extensively in the Chan/Zen tradition. Their origin is primarily found in the Mahāyāna Buddhist sūtras. For a classic Japanese Zen take on the first part, see ‘Flowers in the Sky’ (Kuge) by Eihei Dōgen (1200-1253).
- “sterile woman” (mo gsham): Also ‘barren woman’, that is, a woman who is unable to conceive a child.
- “few pages of final addendum” (‘mjug ‘phro shog bu ‘ga’ zhig): Usually this would just entail a brief colophon about the circumstances and author of the composition, but the ‘few pages’ (shog bu ‘ga zhig) raises the question of whether this final addendum was originally more extensive information such as commentary on the two stanzas of this song. This question may well be unanswerable, given the mostly faded status of the letters; although one wonders whether reconstruction might be possible with modern technology.
Erick Tsiknopoulos (b. 1981) is an American translator of Tibetan, a scholar, researcher and postgraduate student in Buddhist Studies, a teacher and tutor of Tibetan language, a writer and editor, a voracious reader in various subjects, and an experienced world traveler. He is the founder and primary Tibetan translator of the Sugatagarbha Translation Group, and the creator of their main website, Tibetan-Translations.com, which currently features English translations of over 400 Tibetan texts. Many of his translations have been published in various forms, including as books.
He has been a student of Buddhism since 1999, a student of Tibetan Buddhism since 2003, and a student of Tibetan language since 2005. He has been translating Tibetan texts into English since 2007, has been based in India and Nepal studying Tibetan language and Buddhism intensively and translating Tibetan texts since 2008, and has been working professionally as a Tibetan-English translator and interpreter since 2009.
He is available for contact via email at: EmptyElephant@yahoo.com and SugatagarbhaTranslations@gmail.com