In defence of truth: Detained Tibetan writer’s poems translated

Tsultrim Gyaltsen aka Shogdril's photo on his blog at
Tsultrim Gyaltsen aka Shogdril’s photo on his blog at

TCHRD has translated two poems composed by the versatile young Tibetan writer Tsultrim Gyaltsen aka Shogdril who was detained late last week in the middle of night from his home at Tengkhar Village in Shamchu Township in Diru (Ch: Biru) County, Nagchu (Ch: Naqu) Prefecture, Tibet Autonomous Region.

Tsultrim Gyaltsen, 27, and his friend, Yugyal, 26, continue to remain in secret detention since 12 October 2013. [For more information, please click here]

Both the poems, Ugly Lhasa and God Must Die were published in October 2012 on, a website run by Tibetans inside Tibet. It seems the author had meant to complete the first poem Ugly Lhasa as it is still appended with a “To be continued”. Unsurprisingly, the second poem generated much criticism for its seemingly blasphemous views against religious belief. In fact, Shogdril castigates religious dogma and prevailing fatalism among believers, so his compatriots could wake up from their slumber of resignation and face life’s challenges on its own terms. It is a poem filled with existential angst, reminiscent of Nietzsche and Lu Xun. In God Must Die, twice Shogdril quotes Lu Xun.   


“Ugly Lhasa”

In Tibetan tradition
Lhasa is a Holy Land
An ancient town closest to heaven
A city of God
A beautiful garden of the humankind
A splendor
Lord Avalokitesvara’s [1] native land
Home to countless Buddhist deities

Does that Lhasa exist today?
Is today’s Lhasa really magnificent?

Lhasa’s each tree and grass blade
Lhasa’s front face and rear [hidden] face
That I am so familiar with
That I have been longing to catch a glimpse of
Every time I see Lhasa’s beautiful face
It is just for a second

I visited every nook and corner of Lhasa
Apart from bars and brothels spread throughout the alleys
Apart from beggars and wanderers on busy streets
Apart from the believers and civilians of Barkhor Street
Apart from tourists in the temples deserted
Apart from frightening situations
Apart from sad tragedies
I haven’t found any beauty
Any place where it is possible
To live and work in peace and contentment

— To be continued

“God Must Die”

Let me narrate an unconventional story
God died a long time ago
But Tibetan people never believed it.

Let me explain, my fellow Tibetans
In the last few years I examined stories about his death
Finally, I have found a fine explanation
Tibetan people in ancient times questioned everything

An intelligent young man found a way-out
He said: “for ages we have had to support God
How could we live this way?
We definitely have to eliminate God.”

Finally they let God die of starvation
For they refused to provide God with support
I believe God died
Because he ate and drank recklessly
Devouring spicy food and aromatic drinks.

What God ate belonged to the people
Had they not eliminated God
I would have found a way to eliminate him
For our country’s wellbeing.

For countless nights and days
I reflected if a lovable God ever existed
Pinning my hopes on him
To bless and protect our people and our land.

But eventually I lost hope
And I got completely desperate.

Apart from the false legends
I could not find any real traces of God
Apart from fabricated mythology
I hadn’t heard old sutras chanting the true meaning.

I am still puzzled as to why people for ages have admired God?
Why those so-called legends hold such power?
I have borne countless big questions
I have had countless doubts.

I am still a believer
I see the beauty of legends and myths dancing in the air
Of eyes enchanted by stories of our grandfathers and grandmothers
I believe in the melody of the myths
That will enchant our unseen posterity.
My beloved compatriots
Do you still remember the stories that shook our world and scared off our people
The disputes among the regions
The struggle between Bonpos and Buddhists
Between the White and Red sects?
Tibetan people have been tormented for days and nights
The tragedy is still on fire.

God doesn’t bless and protect us
In the past during the 1904 war of resistance against the British
The 1959 bloody war between Tibetans and Chinese
The 1989 life-and-death struggle
And the 2008 Battle of Awakening and so on
On those occasions did God bestow us his benevolence and pity?
Did he show us the right path?

Wake up my compatriots
The 4/14 Yulshul earthquake[1] that turned the green eucalyptus into grey dust
The 8/8 Drugchu landslides [2] that drove loved ones away
Wandering about homeless
The continuing snow storms and other natural calamities
The merciless God
Will he take care of my people?

At that time I screamed
Tonight I will whisper
Oh my compatriots
My fellow Tibetans
We need to wake up
Get ourselves on the path
Firm and upright
For our days will be bright soon.

The so-called God is merciless
Shogdril is more heartless
The so-called God is a criminal
Shogdril is more unbridled
The so-called God is powerless
Shogdril is abnormal
If God indeed exists in this world
He can’t be too greedy
And too self-centred.

Let us place our hands on our hearts
Pause and reflect
The so-called God
The so-called Buddha [3]
The so-called supernatural beings
Apart from the repeated cheats and servility
What have they bestowed us?
My beloved compatriots we need to reflect.

My friend said: “God is God. He’s great and mysterious
His essence can’t be comprehended by ordinary people.”
My lover said: “Even if God does not exist, we don’t need to proclaim it.”
She said he’s a beautiful myth
That human kind seeks spiritual sustenance from
She often asks me to stop cursing God
Not to indulge in unnecessary rants.

But this poem is not meant to eliminate God
It is not meant to eliminate Buddha
And it is not meant to change anything
It is meant to wake them up, to wake up my compatriots.

My classmate said I am a freak who lost his mind.
My readers said I am a heretic.

But I believe truth is strength

Lu Xun once said: “if I don’t go to hell, who else will?”
If I say I don’t want to accept punishment, then who would?

People are afraid of dying, of life after death
But there has been no one who could escape death
Truth is I am not afraid of life after death
I am not afraid of the moment I die
I am just wondering before my life comes to an end
How to make my life more valuable
So I cherish every moment of life
For myself, for her
In short, for my lover and for all those who value me

Up until my breath does not stop
Up until my life does not come to an end
Even in that very last second
I would stand upon that “stage of truth”
And keep singing: “Truth is the source of real strength”
At some point in life, the “dance of truth” will finally come out
Only when we embrace truth
Our life will be valuable and worth living


Notes on Ugly Lhasa:

[1] Avalokitesvara is a Sanskrit word meaning Buddha of Compassion or chenrezi in Tibetan. Tibetans believe that the Dalai Lama is an incarnation of Avalokitesvara.

[2] Barkhor is the traditional Tibetan neighbourhood in Lhasa City.

Notes on God Must Die:

[1] On 14 April 2010, a deadly earthquake hit Tibetan area of Yulshul (Ch: Yushu) in Qinghai Province killing and injuring hundreds of thousands of Tibetans.

[2] On 8 August 2010, thousands were killed and displaced after floods and landslides in the Tibetan area of Drugchu (Ch: Zhouqu) County in Gansu Province.

[3] Although written in singular ‘Buddha’, the meaning is closer to rinpoches or reincarnated lamas.



1. The original Chinese version of God Must Die is available here:

2. The original Chinese version of Ugly Lhasa is available here:


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