Wu Junlin, MA student, Graduate School of Chinese Language and Literature, National Hsinchu University of Education
“The Lost Khata”
Holding handswe stood at the crossing
The ferry soon to arrivewe gazed deeply into each other’s eyes
Like a full moon the next life would illuminate all
The ten directions 1 were empty as our hearts
But a gust grew to a gale
Blew away the khata tied ’round your neck
Your beloved khata carried off on the wind
“I’ll fetch it,”I said“You board the ferry!”
I thought I’d catch up with you on the next boat over
Who knew the khata would sail so far
Over rugged mountaintops across the great seas
Five years later I found it at last
Now another thirty years have passed In the temple you expound the Dharma
Tying khata on sick bodies, one by one
Blessing souls who’ve lost their way that they may be firm and full
As plump ripe grapes on a vine
My turn now I stoop to allow you
To tie a khata on me this life’s honey-cast fetter
I draw your lost khata from my bosom
And see purple teardrops swell and glisten in your eyes
Poem by Xu Huizhi
Translated by Robert Fox
“The Lost Khata” 2 is selected from Xu Huizhi’s poetry collection O Buddha, Do Not Weep for Me. An epigraph at the beginning of the book reads, “My sickness comes from ignorance and the thirst for existence and it will last as long as do the sicknesses of all living beings. Were all living beings free from sickness I also would not be sick.” This passage from the Vimalakirti Nirdesa Sutra embodies the collection’s central theme: Our troubles are born of ignorance; driven by compassion, the Bodhisattvas hear our pleas and rescue us from the bitter sea of life and death. “The Lost Khata” tells the story of two lovers, both Buddhist practitioners. They have died together and their spirits are awaiting the boat that will ferry them over into the next life. As the ferry approaches, they gaze into each other’s eyes, their hearts brimming with mutual love and affection, believing they will be together in the life to come. Suddenly a strong gust of wind arises and blows the khata off of the lover’s neck; the poet rushes off to retrieve it, urging his lover to board the ferry, telling her that he will follow on the next boat. But the khata is carried far away, and the poet experiences five years of travail before finally locating the lost scarf.
Alas, too late – thirty years into his next life, he encounters his former lover in a temple where she is venerated as a “living Buddha.” She is tying khata around the necks of believers afflicted with illness. Then it is the poet’s turn – after accepting a khata from his former lover, he produces the khata she lost in her previous existence, the one he set off to find. And when the poet looks into her eyes, she gazes back at him through purple, glistening tears.
The poem ends there, resonant with profound and boundless emotion. In Tibetan Buddhist temples, the color purple symbolizes the precious Dharma – Buddhist doctrine – and the bodhisattva’s compassionate radiance. Here, in addition to revealing that the poet’s former lover has become a living Buddha, the hue expresses the indescribable depth of the lovers’ commitment to each other in the past life: it was love that brought them together, and love that separated them. Reincarnated, they have come together again; their circumstances and identities are different now, but what hasn’t changed is the deep feeling expressed in their eyes, emotion embodied in the bodhisattva’s glistening purple tears. Hence, from the lines “Like a full moon the next life would illuminate all / The ten directions 3 were empty as our hearts” we understand that what separates a living Buddha from an ordinary mortal is the difference between seeing and not seeing, enlightenment and illusion.
Xu Huizhi uses a Tibetan Buddhist scarf to symbolize the Tantric concept of a living Buddha, one who has been reborn from a previous existence; the “ferry crossing” is a concrete embodiment of the abstract idea of rebirth; “this shore” represents the present life, “the other shore” the life to come – thus, the poet shows how the karmic affinity he shared with a living Buddha – his lover in a previous life – was lost and regained because of a khata. By employing the concept of reincarnation, Xu restores the human natures of the Buddha and bodhisattvas, portraying them as possessing both mortal and divine aspects – earthly desires coexist with dharmic joy, the profane mingles with the sacred, and illusion and merges with enlightenment.
1A Buddhist term, the “ten directions” are north, south, east, west, northeast, northwest, southeast, southwest, above, and below, i.e. everywhere or everyplace.
2A khata is a Tibetan Buddhist ceremonial scarf symbolizing purity and compassion.
3A Buddhist term, the “ten directions” are north, south, east, west, northeast, northwest, southeast, southwest, above, and below, i.e. everywhere or everyplace.
Wu Junlin, MA student, Department of Chinese Language and Literature, National Hsinchu University of Education
Xu Huizhi was born Xu Youji in Taoyuan in 1966. He graduated with a degree in engineering from National Taipei Institute of Technology (now National Taipei University of Technology). Xu has won the National Student Literary Prize, the China Daily News Literary Award, the Ministry of Education’s Creative Art and Literature Award, the Annual Poetry Award, and the Fourth of May Youth Literary Award. In 1994 he and his friends set up the Horizon Poetry Society to bring together young poets in Taiwan.
Xu’s literary output has tended to concentrate on poetry, but he has also written prose collections and children’s literature. His early poems focus on himself, speaking of love, loneliness, and the corrosive effects of civilization on humanity, but also investigating a variety of social problems and meditating on life. Xu’s writing encompasses both those closest to him and historical tragedies, depicting lower class people in dire straits who are struggling to eke out a living in impossible circumstances. He writes about government oppression at the time of the Tiananmen Square protests, military coolies and Taiwanese aborigines serving in the Japanese Imperial army in Southeast Asia, political prisoners in Taiwan under martial law, Aung San Suu Kyi, and Lin Yi-hsiung. Themes often include death, corruption, and the grief and sorrow that death leaves behind. Zhang Cuo has said of Xu’s poetry, “It is a rather ambitious and breakthrough effort which tries to articulate multiple unconventional perspectives on human experience.”
Beginning with his 1994 poetry collection O Buddha, Do Not Weep for Me, Xu has interwoven many elements of Buddhism into his work, using the lens of religious compassion to focus on physical suffering. Xu pares away religion’s outward sanctity to reflect on and engage with the true meaning of human life and the human world, how we hold onto things as if they were realities, and how we indulge ourselves. By speaking of the indulgence of the body and corruption, and of our fears and imaginings of death, Xu’s poetry always hovers between great joy and great sadness, between the essential and the marginal. As Wang Der-wei said, “Violent sadness, deep sorrow – in between these emotions which come and go like the tide – the poet seizes a momentary respite and pours out his heart.” Since integrating religious concerns into his work, words such as corporeal body and islands have been appearing in Xu’s poetry. From what was once a trap, like a room full of bees’ nests, he has fashioned a boat of fate to cross the sea of suffering and a honey-filled hive.
In addition to being a writer, Xu has also been a successful editor and magazine editor-in-chief; the literary books he has published have been well received. Xu has worked as editor for the literary supplements of Liberty Times and China Times Express, and as editor-in-chief for the Unitas literary magazine. He is currently general manager and editor-in-chief for Unique Route. Xu’s works of poetry include Sunshine and Hive (1990), Family (1991), Body (1993), O Buddha, Do Not Weep for Me (1994), Like a Whale Yearning for the Sea (1997), Deer of Sorrow (2000), Bright Day (2004), The Lost Khata: Xu Huizhi Reads His Poetry (2006). His prose works include Eye, Ear, Nose, Tongue (1993), As Long As I Remember (1999), and Creative Catalogue (2010). Xu has also written a book of children’s literature, The Notebook of Stars (1994).
|Work(English)：||The Lost Khata|
|Anthology：||O Buddha, Do Not Weep for Me|
|Publisher：||Taipei: Crown Publishing Co. . Ltd.|
|Ordering information for original work(Link)：||http://www.crown.com.tw|
Ordering information for original work(Note)：
|Crown Publishing Co. . Ltd.|
|Ordering information for translation(Link)：|
|Ordering information for translation(Note)：||Unpublished Translation by the Literature Toolkit Project|