Chai Ao, MA student, Graduate Institute of Taiwan Literature, National Taiwan University
The Lost Khata is an audiobook recording of Xu Huizhi’s poetry collection O Buddha, Do Not Weep For Me. In addition to the author’s own reading, this 2006 collection features two new poems: “Lake Baikal” and “Tannu Uriankhai.”
First appearing in 1994, O Buddha, Do Not Weep For Me was Xu Huizhi’s second collection of poetry after his “religious turn.” Critic Xi Mi found the composition and language of the writing richly original and inspiring, and the poet himself regards it as the foundational work of his entire creative career. Xu completed many of the poems while visiting the hospital where his sick father had been taken for treatment. In this context, Xu turned to Buddhism in seeking answers to the questions he was asking during this major life event, thus Buddhism and death are two of the book’s constantly recurring themes.
How can we free ourselves from our bodies? Is it even possible? One of Xu’s sites of investigation is the opposition and interplay between sacred and profane, selflessness and desire. The body exists and it has desires, and so the poet meditates on its nature. It is worth noting that Xu’s thinking does not lead him to negate either body or soul but places him squarely in the middle of the two. This is the crux of his idea of “using the body as a Dharma instrument.”
In the poem “My Buddha” the poet offers up his own body to Buddha as a ground to walk on: “Yes, step upon my sorrowful living flesh.” But he then ingeniously turns it around: “Whatever is trampled by you / becomes your ground / your soil.” In this way, we see that by “body” the poet does not mean something to be cast off but that which enables one to see the Buddha. In the poem “Train” Xu writes, not without a frisson of terror, “Through carriage after carriage, in the stinking corpse pile, I sought myself.” If “myself” is already in the pile of corpses, how and why is it still being sought? The poet uses this sense of the uncanny to bring out the opposition between body and soul.
The two new narrative poems, with their richly allegorical colors, also possess the funereal flavor of O Buddha, Do Not Weep For Me. In “Lake Baikal” the poet describes an “I” searching Lake Baikal for the reborn Buddha and reciting the sutras and preaching the Dharma to him; in his old age, he is released by the living Buddha he sought. “Tannu Uriankhai” tells the story of how, while on a pilgrimage to India, Xuanzang was detained by the King of Qara-hoja, who released him once he had preached the Dharma: “Several hundred thousand years ago / My name was Xuanzang / I spoke the sutras for you / I shall preach the Dharma for you forever.” Is the poet the “frail” king who “thirsts for Buddhist Dharma,” or Xuanzang, dismayed that beings still suffer and will eventually depart? Perhaps the poet’s investigation into using the body as a Dharma instrument in these two poems ends with the “I” – the individual ego – at last being released.