A Letter from Tāre Lhamo

Namtrul Jigme Phuntsok and Khandro Tāre Lhamo
The tenth letter Tāre Lhamo sent to Namtrul Rinpoche during their correspondence.

This is a duet that Tāre Lhamo composed between Devī and Pema. Devī means “goddess” in Sanskrit and translates the second part of her name, Lhamo, and Pema refers to Namtrul Rinpoche’s name in youth, Pema Drime Lodrö. This duet was performed in 1979 for a small group of her followers during Sagadawa, the month-long celebration of the Buddha’s parinirvāna. To begin, the mood is tinged with the sorrow of being separated from the beloved. Yet overall it portrays a sense of optimism and good fortune. The devastation of the recent past is implicitly referenced as demonic forces and enemies that destroy the dharma. Despite this, there is a triumphal tone. The demons have been vanquished and the sun of the Buddhist teachings is poised to rise once again.

On the fifteenth day of Sagadawa in the Earth Sheep Year—


Congenial friend, these etchings on mind,
Engraved on the stone of selflessness,
Cannot be altered, even in death;
It is samaya, the oath of the past.

In a splendid garden on earthen meadow,
An utpala of exquisite beauty blooms.
Its nectar is the allotment for the little bee
As an elixir for memory that liberates through taste.

The resonant plucking of the lute
Has sorrow in its melody,
So that I never forget the words of my friend.
This is the accumulation of past deeds.

The sun is your handsome face,
Decorated with the help of rainbow-colored clouds.
A drizzle of cool rain is the field of disciples.
This is coincidence, shared in common.

In reply, Pema:

The luster of my youthful friend, like a conch-colored moon,
Traversing space alongside the constellations,
Its radiance clears away the murkiness of sorrow.
From prior aspirations and samaya, the time has come!


Above, the Indian peacock bearing a crown,
Its voice like the melodious kalaviṅka bird,
Flaunts its plumage, spread out like a parasol,
And dazzling form, like a hollyhock in bloom.


The mottled rocky peak with a conch seal
Is the den of the white snow lioness and her cubs,
Not the thoroughfare of lesser, ordinary beasts.
This is the way of the world, according to karma and dominion.


There is yellow gold in the depths of the ocean;
But the conch crocodile left without acquiring it.
I, the fish, so supple and so flexible,
Retrieved the nāga vase for my own gain.
Inside is the merit of all we need and desire.


Great Lion Gesar established on the golden throne,
The six divisions of Ling are settled like ice on a lake.
The fortune of Ma is replete with cattle, goat calves, and sheep,
And the mothers and aunts offer liquor to gladden.


Lord Norbu Rinpoche, the supreme victorious one,
Has destroyed the doctrine of dark demons at the borders.
The sun of the teachings of sublime Śākyamuni shines.
I offer the choice draft to convene a festival of delight.


You, fortunate men and women gathered here,
Like a city of divine male and female warriors,
I am from the auspicious site, Lhalung Sumdo,
Signifying in my sovereign form that the benefit of beings will be accomplished.

At a time of plentiful good fortune, the month’s start,
To open the maṇḍala of the profound path of secret means,
Friend, the lineage of many vidyādharas are arranged in rows,
And the powerful warriors of Ling perform the dance.

Hundreds of thousands of mother ḍākinīs sing songs of praise.
Above, the wisdom deities disperse blessings to consecrate.
In between, all eight classes of gods and spirits provide aid.
Below, the earth lords and nāgas spread luck and fortune.
The great kings of the four directions protect and nurture.

This is a song to eat the lungs and hearts of vicious demons,
Enemies that harm the dharma, the teachings of Buddha.
In order to heal the demise and misery of destitute Tibetans,
This is a song to swirl the lasso at auspiciousness and fortune.
This is a song to gather whatever deeds have been undertaken.

Retinue of chief, ministers, and subjects, remain here now;
The time has come to bring down the eighteen fortresses.
Coincidence clicks into place without obstructing conditions!
Instigate the joy of dharma, the teachings of Buddha!

With faith and respect for the teachings of Lord Śākyamuni,
With confidence in the speech of the divine lama,
Value the command of the sovereign king.
Heed the advice of the kind father and mother.
Tell the truth: don’t muddle karmic cause and effect.
Not entrusting enemies, bring them down headlong.

Without inwardly taming negative emotions, the five poisons,
There is risk of ruin in both this life and the next.
With supreme compassion for all mother sentient beings,
Lovingly protect the lowly, weak, and destitute.

Welcomed by smiling friends, relatives, and neighbors,
Conversing in the exchange of pleasant words,
Enjoying the sweet nectar of delicious food and drink,
Dressed in fine wools and jewel ornaments,
Body, because it is a maṇḍala, I present it as an offering.
Speech, because it is symbolic dharma, I sing melodiously.
Mind, because it is dharmatā, I invoke the vast expanse.

Because this place, through pure vision, is a buddha realm,
Today is the time, under the auspicious sun,
For the coincidence of glorious good fortune to converge.
The gods and humans are happy. Oh bliss! Oh joy!

However long, from now until attaining enlightenment,
To forge the happiness of the six realms of mother beings,
And so that dharma, the Buddha’s teachings, does not disappear,
Carry the burden of others’ benefit at the risk of your life
And don the mighty armor of rousing bodhicitta.

May I be a guide to one day lead all mother beings
To the self-arising citadel of Zangdok Palri,
Into the presence of the sovereign, Lord Padma,
Gathering as one assembly, never to part ways.

As a result of this aspiration in song and verse,
May the aspirations of the divine lama be accomplished.
May the mighty dominion of the ancestral chiefs increase.
May the mothers and aunts be meritorious and elegant.
May auspiciousness in accord with dharma be fulfilled.

This was spoken at the pleasant grove of Tashi Lhathang Norbu for the enjoyment of a gathering of disciples, the glory of a delightful ocean.


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Holly GayleyHolly Gayley is Associate Professor in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Colorado Boulder. Her research focuses on contemporary Buddhist literature in Tibet, and her publications address Buddhist ethics, gender and sexuality, and religious modernism.