Gendun Chopel (1903-1951), aka “the angry monk,” is widely regarded as Tibet’s greatest modern poet. Born into the Nyingma lineage of Tibetan Buddhism, at the age of 12 he nonetheless entered a Geluk monastery, where he excelled at his studies and mastered the art of ritualized debate so characteristic of the Geluk school. His modern sensibilities (he was, among other things, interested in Western science and hoped to pull Tibet into the 20th century), and charges of counterfeiting eventually put him at odds with the Geluk establishment and landed him in prison. He served a 3-year sentence and died 2 years after his release. To learn something about this extraordinary writer, poet and monk, and to get to know his work, read Donald Lopez’s elegant translations of Gendun Chopel’s work in In the Forest of Faded Wisdom: 104 Poems by Gendun Chopel. For now, here’s a taste—but just a taste—of what you can expect:
Hearing the song in your elegant voice, The arrow loosed by the god of desire, Intoxicated with insanity, Landed in my heart. Now, what need is there for the melodious tune Of arrogant honeybees? The lotus of my palm Closes at my chest.
Striking the palms together in debate Proudly making distinctions in the truth Found in conflicting scriptures on obscure topics; This does not adorn the king of reasoning’s teaching.
You might also want to check out Luc Schaedler’s film The Angry Monk: Reflections on Tibet (2005), which screened at the Rubin Museum of Art in New York a few years back. Coming this week: Don Lopez will give a talk at the Trace Foundation, in New York City, on the 21st, from 6p to 7:30p.