Glenn H. Mullin
Quest Books/Theosophical Publishing House: Wheaton, Illinois, 1994.
265 pp., $14.00 (paper).

Geared to the nonspecialist, Mystical Verses of a Mad Dalai Lama offers a fine introduction to Tibetan Buddhism and the institution of the Dalai Lamas, a readable biography, and beautifully phrased translations of the Second Dalai Lama’s songs of enlightenment. The Second Dalai Lama, self-described as “mad” in reference to a realization of emptiness and nonattachment, was noted for his clear, powerful verse.

Mullin, who has translated other works by the Second Dalai Lama in addition to those by the First, Third, and Fourth Dalai Lamas, seems not only authoritative and thorough, but well aware of the need to set forth the basics for noninitiates. He offers a history of written Tibetan and Tibetan Buddhism, and a concise description of the tantric path. Mullin manages to convey the subtleties without becoming mired in technicalities. For example, he encourages readers to experience the songs as they would a meal: “Don’t think about the exact quantity of various ingredients—just enjoy the flavors.” He allows for this by familiarizing the reader with technical terms and adding a “translator’s preamble” to each song. The translator seems well suited to his subject here; according to Mullin, the Second Dalai Lama avoided technical language in an effort to be universally understood. In a song entitled the “Necklace of Jewels,” for example, his words are refreshingly clear and contemporary:

The noose of cherishing oneself more than others
Has in the past always held us down.
Give rise now to the enlightenment thought
That replaces self-cherishing with universal love. . . .
This string of words easy to understand
Formed into a necklace of spiritual advice
To adorn those who delight in the trainings
Is thus sung by the mad beggar monk Gendun Gyatso.
May it benefit all who seek truth’s way.

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