Friday Poem

Dalai Lama

The Dalai Lama continues to laugh
a large audience.

The interpreter is super-serious
has no time for laughter
The English was like a net
the Tibetan words butterflies,
flew from the flower-petal lips of the Dalai Lama
sometimes to sit on the ears of the Tibetan kids
sometimes on the gold-flecked robes,
maybe the wedding dresses
of the Tibetan women
taken out only on special occasions
but worn away at the hems
this bit of sparkle left
like the trace of light in aged eyes.

The Dalai Lama was expounding
the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism
He raised his arm and
like three little dots of ‘therefore’
there were the marks of childhood vaccination
peeping through his ochre robe.
They whispered:
Aha, someone is talking about such high principles
but is from this very world
this very epoch
and he’s just a man.

Right in front of me, rapt, a grandfather
on his shoulder a chubby little boy and his gurgling bottle
wiping his running nose
on grandpa’s sweater —
He must have been like that —
the Dalai Lama
What do we know of Tibet —
Rahul Sanknityayan or Rinpoches
monasteries and chow mein
cheap sweaters and sandals, China,
snow, lost eyes, round faces and faithful Lhasa Apso pups.

How do those noble truths
connect with
such random bits,
the ignoble truths of life?

Does truth too have hierarchies?
A caste system? —
Brahmin truths at the top
and then the Shudra truths at the bottom?

Hunger and
heat and cold
attachment and cruelties
Love and hate —
are these truths really lower?

Dalai Lama, you tell me, please:
if the truth is like these mountain ranges —
high and low.
I prefer living in the deep cave of a small truth
occasionally coming to you
to learn the nobler truths of life.

by Anamika
from Khurduri Hatheliyan
publisher: Radhakrishna Prakashan, Delhi, 2005
translation: 2006, Arlene Zide and Anamika