The Song Whose Time Has Come: The Melodius Hum of a Bee

by H.H. the 16th Gyalwang Karmapa, Rangjung Rigpe Dorje (1924 – 1981)

This song is ala ala ala.
It is thala thala thala.[1]
“Ala” means it is a song of the unborn.
“Thala” is a word that invokes.

If you do not recognize this place,
It is the place of Akanishtha’s heart chakra. [2]
In the mandala of glorious Chakrasamvara,[3]
The main seat is Tsurphu in the Dowo valley.[4]

If you do not recognize a person like me,
I belong to the family lineage of ‘den, a good ancestry.
If you call me by name, I am known as Rigdröl Yeshe.[5]
This victory banner of the teaching of glorious
Dakpo’s lineage[6]

Is raised high on the summit of worldly existence,
they say,
Planted at the end of a series, held high and never
declining.[7]
Nourished by the essence of the father lama’s oral
instructions,
It is the perfection of the great display of innate
primordial wisdom.

From the land of high snows, this turquoise mane
of the lion
Pervades the countries of the future, they say. [8]
In the exquisite sandalwood forests, lives a huge tiger
With a powerful roar and the radiant color of
clouds at dawn.[9]

Insatiably he conquers the wild animals of wrong views.
What I have spoken is the truth, the Victorious
One’s power,
Resounding over the lake with its waters of
eight qualities[10]
Like the pleasant sound of hastening ducks.[11]

In the sky, vast and all-pervading,
Are set the sun and moon, luminous and natural.[12]
The most famous one called Rigdröl
Does not remain, yet knows not where he will go.

The swan places its trust in the lake
And the lake, unreliable, turns to ice.[13]
The white lion places its trust on the snow,
But fine, white snow attracts the sun.[14]

May all the noble ones left behind in the snowy
land of Tibet
Not come under the sway of the four elements.[15]
From unmanifest space, the protector
Padmasambhava looks after them,
Holding them always with his gentle hook of compassion.

May all sentient beings who have a connection with me
Bring to fruition the four supreme kayas.
I do not stay now, yet my place is uncertain;
I go to experience the fruition of previous lives’ karma.

In springtime a cuckoo will come to Tibet.
Its lovely song will strike sadness in your heart.
Then you will wonder where the man Rigdröl is.
Will not you, who depend on me, know untold grief?[16]

On the day the swan circles the edge of the lake
And leaves its fledglings in the darkening swamp,[17]
The day the white vulture[18] soars in the depths
of the sky,
You will wonder where the man Rigdröl is.

O Fledglings, I feel untold grief for you.
Now I will not explain much; this is but a jest,
Yet unified with ultimate reality.
When the Lord of the Path[19] is held by the
king of birds,

In prayer I aspire that we gather in great joy.
For this life, take this as the essential point to be heard:
Speech is indestructible sound like an echo.
Mind is empty, free of material concerns.

On the path that does not take up the positive nor
reject the negative,
The conduct of the king of birds[20] is relaxed within
itself. [21]
Examine in detail this meaning in a hundred flavors.
Ki so so, [22] gathering of wrathful Wermas.[23]

In the sixteenth rabjung’s [sixty-year cycle's] year of the wood monkey [1944], this was composed by the sixteenth incarnation of the Karmapas, Rangjung Rigpe Dorje, in his residence Tashi Khangsar, located in the main temple of Tsurphu Dowolung. May it be auspicious. Under the guidance of Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche, translated by Michele Martin of New York © April 1994, 2000.

Footnote annotations by Ven. Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche
[1]For Tibetan ears, these sounds of ala and thala add a mellifluous quality to the line. Such devices are common in Tibetan poetry.

[2]“Akanishtha” can have several meanings; here, it poetically refers to Tsurphu as a sambhogakaya pure land. Three of the main monasteries associated with the Karmapa are linked to the enlightened body, speech, and mind of the Buddha: Kampo gangra (Kam po gangs ra) represents the body, Karma gon (Karma dgon), the speech, and Tsurphu (mTshur phu), the mind.

[3]One of the main deities practiced in the Kagyu lineage.

[4] The Dowo is the name of the river that flows by Tsurphu and gives its name to the valley.

[5] This is a childhood name of the XVIth Karmapa, used until his enthronement at the age of eight.

[6]Dakpo Lhaje or Gampopa was the teacher of the first Karmapa, Düsum Khyenpa.

[7] “Series” refers to the unbroken lineage of the Kagyü teachings.

[8]The snow lion’s mane is vast and a metaphor here for the teachings of Buddhism in Tibet.

[9] The lustrous saffron color of the tiger refers to the brilliance of the Dharma.

[10]The water is cool, sweet, light, soft, clear, pleasant, wholesome, and soothing.

[11] The metaphors of the lake and ducks refer to the clear and pleasing quality of the Dharma and to the fact that it pervades the great oceans.

[12]This metaphor refers to the naturally luminous quality of the Dharma and to the fact that it pervades all space.

[13]The Karmapa is the swan residing on the lake of his monastery, Tsurphu. When the Chinese invade Tibet and take over the monastery, it becomes uninhabitable like a frozen lake.

[14]The lion is also the Karmapa, who relies on his monastery of Tsurphu in the snowy land of Tibet. The heat of the sun, which melts the snow, is a metaphor for the destruction of Tsurphu during the Cultural Revolution. Both metaphors of the swan and its lake and the lion and its snow indicate that although the Karmapa wished to remain at Tsurphu, it was not possible.

[15] Here, the Karmapa prays that those who could not escape will be protected from harm caused by the four elements, such as being drowned in water, burned by fire, and so forth.

[16] Referring to the troubles in Tibet and the immense suffering of its people.

[17]Again the swan is the Karmapa departing for India and the young birds left behind are the people of Tibet, and in particular, his disciples.

[18]There are two kinds of vulture (rgod) in Tibet, the white and the black. They are renowned as being able to fly higher than any other bird. It is another metaphor for the Karmapa.

[19]“The Lord of the Path” refers to the astrological path or cycle of twelve years and the “king of birds” refers to the year of the bird, when the XVIIth Karmapa will be back in his monastery, beginning his activity again.

[20]Here, “the king of birds” refers to the vulture and, in particular, to the way it flies, soaring and gliding at ease in space.

[21]These previous four lines refer to meditation on the true nature of mind.

[22]“Ki” points to one’s courage and intelligence; “so” is like a loud whistle, meaning “Wake up! Be aware! Pay attention!”

[23]Wermas are dharmapalas (protectors of the Dharma) with great dignity and courage.