Sunday, 2 February 2014



Trulku (སྤྲུལ་སྐུ།) is one of Dhondup Gyal's (དོན་གྲུབ་གྱལ།) most well known works. Published in Light Rain་ (སྦྲང་ཆར།) in 1981, the short story describes a stranger arriving in a village and announcing himself to be an incarnate Lama. The protagonist, Uncle Nyima has unswerving faith in Tibetan Buddhism. The supposed incarnate Lama however demonstrates no knowledge in Buddhism, abuses the trust of the villagers, and engages in sexual relations with women. Uncle Nyima, seeing this, fails to question the Lama and instead sees the issue to be his own lack of faith.  In the end the Lama is found be a fraud, nothing more than a opportunistic swindler. 

Trulku was seen as social commentary on Tibetan's blind faith in tradition and the the authority religion commands over the common people. The story shocked readers at the time, but since 1980 there have been many works criticising bogus Lamas. Some readers have suggested that this work exemplified Dhondup Gyal's critical view of religion. However in 'The Emergence of Modern Tibetan Literature- gsar tsom', Tsering Shakya suggests another reading, 'given the recent history of Tibet and China, the figure of the Incarnate Lama could be interpreted rather differently: it can be seen as a critique of the blind trust placed by the people in Mao and the Communist Party.' 

The short story is stilled enjoyed by readers today and is featured in many anthologies of Tibetan Literature. Trulku is made up ten short chapters or episodes, which will be serialised here.

Apologies, still don't have access to a scanner so the Tibetan text will posted at another date.


by Dhondup Gyal

Translated by Ingsel


As usual Uncle Nyima sat cross-legged on a white woolen mat in the courtyard reciting his prayers. He held his turquoise and sandalwood prayer beads between his left index and middle fingers, his thumb brushing the top of each individual bead. 'Om Ma Ni Pad Me Hum', he repeated, producing each syllable clearly. Then he mumbled 'Omm Omm'  and though unclear you could tell from the movement of his thumb that the six syllable mantra was complete. 'May the Three Jewels, the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha care for me' he prayed, clasping his palms together into his chest. The wrinkles of his face bunched together, criss crossed in concentration. This toothless, white haired old man was considered by all to be honest by nature, and as straight as an arrow. Uncle Nyima began his monastic life at the age of ten. Although he wasn't particularly intelligent, he never went against his Lama's teachings in either speech or conduct. He upheld his vows diligently and in his teacher's eyes he was a first class monk. The year he turned eighteen, Uncle Nyima's father fell sick and departed the realm of men. Left alone, his mother requested the Lama to let Nyima leave the monastery. Renouncing his religious life, he now had to take care of the household. Nyima proved to be a very capable man. And his bride Lhamo a more than capable wife. Although the household never became particularly prosperous, they never struggled to put food on the table or clothes on their backs. Still as the saying goes, we never know when death will come. Not long afterwards, Nyima's mother suddenly fell gravely ill. No amount of medical treatment or prayer services seemed to help, and she too passed away.

Although he had now lost both his parents, Uncle Nyima was a very independent man. He'd never been the sort to press his father for counsel. Nor beg his mother for advice. He was the kind of man who sword hilt was always at hands reach. Soon afterwards, Nyima and Lhamo had children, a son called Tsering and a daughter called Dolma. When Tsering grew up they found him a wife by the name of Chakmo Khyam. By convention, they sent their daughter off as a bride to a family in another township. And so their minds were finally at rest. Their only misgivings were about their own bride. Chakmo Khyam wasn't prone to complain or express distaste. Since arriving in the household, she respected her new mother and father, obeying their every word and never putting a word out of place. Whether in running errands outside or in household chores, all were unanimous in their admiration for her. Even though Tsering and Chakmo Khyam's marriage was arranged by their parents, there was never any conflict between husband and wife. Especially after the birth of their son Dorje, the love they had for each other grew even deeper. Really, if one went without food, the other would go without drink. However Chakmo Khyam had one big problem: she had no idea how to talk to people, how to keep a secret. So far as that even when it came to a close family matter, she'd chatter away fervently to anybody who would listen. 'How is it that you, a thinking person doesn't know how to control her mouth!' her father in law scolded her. Tsering went as far as to say 'If you don't watch your mouth, you'll received a wack on the head.' Uncle Nyima rose in anger. 'If you raise a hand to our bride, this day I'll…' he said, taking the side of his daughter in law. 

Aunt Lhamo was of a kind and sincere disposition. Whoever she met, her smile was ever present. Never would there be a coarse word uttered or a trace of a black expression on her face. If an argument fell out between family members, she'd just laugh and ignore them. From time to time Uncle Nyima would berate his daughter in law. 'As you get older, your words grow uglier, you ancient!' Lhamo would tell her husband, smiling. 'What kind of father but you treats their bride this way' she'd criticize. And Uncle Nyima finding himself agreeing with his wife, would quiet and shrink away. Yet Chakmo Khyam still seemed unable to watch her words. And at whits' end Uncle Nyima'd remark 'There's no stopping my harsh mouth nor our bride's elongated tongue!'

Uncle Nyima sat in the courtyard, reciting his prayers and enjoying the sun. But his mind was restless, full of memories of the past. Ever since he'd lost the strength to work, whether it was summer, winter, autumn or spring, he'd sit out in the yard if the sun was bright enough. Sun and prayer were his closest friends he'd say. Suddenly a magpie perched itself on the wall of the courtyard, 'Chak, chak, chak', it produced three sharp sounds. To Uncle Nyima the appearance of a magpie signaled the arrival of guests. Who would pay a visit so late in the evening? He thought for a moment. Oh! It's been ten days since Tsering left for Kumbum. Thinking it was probably his son returning, he made his way to the gate. 

The fields of their village were green. The warm summer winds had blow across the land like waves rippling the surface of the ocean. Trees covered the foot of the far off mountainside. The sun was about to set over the western mountain. The scenery of the summer evening was resplendent. Yet Uncle Nyima's eyesight was failing him. How could he admire the distant view? At this time two dark shadows made their way unseen along the village's narrow footpath. Dorje was coming back from school, and seeing his father, he jumped up and down in elation. 'Aba's home!' he cried and ran off towards the path to greet Tsering.Hearing his grandson's voice, Uncle Nyima rubbed his eyes.  He stood up and looked ahead, with one hand over his eyes. Tsering had really returned home. And looked to have a bearded companion alongside him. Turning back inside he shouted 'Lhamo! Make some tea. We have guests.'

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