21 Stanzas

In 1999, as part of my 30 year study of Buddhism, I wrote this set of 21 poetic stanzas under my Tibetan name, Sangye Dondrup. I wrote this as an homage to the great Indian sage, Nagarjuna, who authored many classic philosophical texts in verse. After studying the writings of Nagarjuna I felt inspired to try to write a treatise of my own in a similar style. I worked on this – editing it now and then – for several years, but never published it. Now I feel that it’s ready (and I am ready) to share it. Each line has a metre of 5 beats and each stanza has a rhyming scheme of A B A B C C. Enjoy!


What is reality? — A question so profound,
So deceptively simple yet so deep
That most give up before the answer’s found
Or grasp wrong answers and live their lives asleep.
For only once this question is resolved
Can enlightened wisdom be evolved.


Have you ever asked this ultimate question?
Do you have the passion to follow through
Until you realize the final satisfaction
Of knowing what is real and what is true?
Asking this ultimate question is the key
To realizing wisdom and becoming free.


Free from what? From ignorance and delusion.
Free from attachment, aversion, desire and hate.
Free from pain, depression and confusion.
Free from every negative and positive state.
Freedom from limits of the body and mind
Is what, by solving this mystery, you will find.


Saying that things are “real” is common sense;
It seems absurd to question their validity.
But do things really have their own essence
If no basis is found for their solidity? 
Things are only by other things produced
And into parts they all can be reduced.


Where in a thing does the thing-itself reside
If reducing things to parts has no end?
Since into further parts their parts divide,
On what final things do things depend?
No thing has a basis for its construction:
No thing escapes this logic of reduction.


This doesn’t deny that things indeed appear,
Just that they are more than mere collections
In which no truly existing things inhere.
Illusory things are just the mind’s projections. 
Since things appear but only exist in name
“Appearance” and “existence” are not the same!


Lacking findable basis, things are essenceless
Which just means that they are insubstantial,
And doesn’t imply a nihilistic nothingness
Which would contradict what’s circumstantial:
Illusory things, whatever they may be,
Were they nothing, we couldn’t even see!


This applies to whatever is conceivable:
To self and other, and even to emptiness.
However if one finds this unbelievable
Just keep trying to find anything’s “thingness.”
Nothing can escape this emptiness proof,
Not even Buddhas are beyond this truth!


Impermanent things like waves upon an ocean,
Dependently co-arise and are inseparable.
Constantly changing form and location,
The waves are the water, they’re ungraspable.
Even the water itself lacks any substance,
So where is there any ocean of existence?


All phenomena are conceptually imputed:
Space, time, energy and mind are relative
To measurement scales and thus are refuted;
Even emptiness itself is not substantive!
Neither waves, nor water, nor ocean remains,
And even emptiness is emptied of what it contains.


Doesn’t the world seem like an hallucination?
Don’t experiences, just like vivid dreams,
Lack objective existence or location?
The world does not exist in the way it seems:
Whatever experiences are appearing to arise,
Do not, by arising, any real things comprise.


No forms or emptiness grasped anywhere,
(Such dream-images can’t be lost or gained),
Beyond beliefs, this universe is nowhere
And nothing can be rejected or attained.
So what was found by this investigation?
Just pure awareness without elaboration!


Awareness does not perceive any duality,
It has no self or other, inside or outside.
Its nature is the essence of reality
Yet nowhere in reality does it reside.
It doesn’t come from the brain or biology,
Nor from matter, mind, nor energy.


This clear awareness, the mind’s natural light,
Projects all experiences yet remains unstained.
Uncreated, invisible, intrinsically bright,
It’s not a “thing” and cannot be explained.
Pure awareness cannot to others, be shown,
And even once it’s realized is still unknown!


Only unborn awareness beyond illusion
Can explain whatever is taking place.
It’s the root of enlightenment and delusion,
It is the pre-requisite for creation, time and space.
Neither from the relative world is it apart,
Nor of the relative world is it a part.


Awareness is not a source from which things flow,
Nor the stage on which they are performed, 
And when things end, it’s not to where they go.
Never created, destroyed or transformed,
Without parts or substance, immaterial,
Not a “thing” at all: it’s transcendental!


Right in the midst of any worldly activity
Natural awareness can be recognized.
It doesn’t require a degree in equanimity
For one’s own awareness to be realized.
Simply awaken, be present and alert
Without becoming distracted or inert.


Pure awareness is the primordial wisdom
That knows without confusion, selflessly.
Never moving from spontaneous freedom,
Inherent awareness abides axiomatically.
“Awareness is reality,” so it seems,
But even this belief is another dream!


If you can know it, that’s just conception,
If you can’t, you’re lost in formless games.
How will you ever demonstrate your perception
Of what’s beyond all mental reference frames?
The nature of reality: What can one say
That could express it without going astray?


If anything, by these lines, has been defined,
It’s just another conceptual elaboration.
Perhaps if my realization were more refined,
I could have provided a clearer explanation.
This nature of reality, we wish to know,
At least in one last stanza I will show: