The Old Key is My Talisman…

Tsering Woeser

(Translated from Chinese by Patricia Schiaffini-Vedani)


The old key is my talisman.

I wear it on my body as a lucky charm.

It opened the houses of good people in the secular world;

It opened a certain surviving Buddhist temple, a place of spiritual sustenance.

It opened the channel to body, speech, and mind, that supreme wisdom so difficult to cultivate.

And according to astrology, it is another name for one of the twenty-eight

Constellations, or so says a book by an enlightened person. [1]

So I kept it and gave it a secret name.

I lower my head and look down carefully at the key on my neck,

Made of crude iron, old, heavy,

Unique only to Tibet, no other to be found,

In the shape of a scorpion, with a pattern like a mythological beast,

It is tied with a black, rugged yak leather rope,

lde mig[2], the Tibetan pronunciation of the word “key.”

What private abode or vast lost paradise did it guard?

In which fallen lands did it wander during wartimes? Whose hands

Firmly passed it around, like word of mouth?

In between that who has wandered in foreign lands for so long

And the hometown that had to adopt a new look,

There is only left the lineage circulating with karmic force

And this old key with the imprint of the clan,

Tightly held in the center of the palm.

Dating back to the Tsenpo kings,

A legend mentions a key to be used at a certain time,

When a fantastic phenomenon similar to a lunar eclipse,

Will engulf in shadows the 21st tomb of the Phyongs rgyas clan,[3]

And respectfully evading its protecting lions,

Shambhala’s [4] gates will finally open.

But even those of us who carry this key have sunk into the depths,

Day by day, irrevocably, have fallen into the end prophesized by this verse:

“Eroded, the power of that key.” [5]  The power of that key….   

(Written in Lhasa on September 19, 2018)


[1] According to Chos rje nam mkha’ nor bu’s [ཆོས་རྗེ་ནམ་མཁའི་ནོར་བུ།]”Bon Religion and the Origin of Tibetan Mythology – “སྒྲུང་།”, ” ལྡེའུ།” and “བོན།”, translated by Xiang Hongjia and Cairang Tai.

[2] ལྡེ་མིག

[3] འཕྱོངས་རྒྱས་རྫོང(Chongyey District)(Shannan, Tibet Autonomous Region).

[4] ཤམ་བྷ་ལ།(Shambhala)Sanscrit transliteration, also known as Shangri-La, the Pure Land mentioned in Tibetan Buddhism is the birthplace of Kalachakra Buddhism.

[5] Quote from Paul Celan’s “Dark Eclipse” (trans. Meng Ming).



Tsering Woeser (Ch. Weise) is the most internationally acclaimed Sinophone Tibetan author. She was born in Lhasa but grew up and attended college in Sichuan province, and later on graduated from the prestigious Lu Xun Literary College in Beijing. In 1990 she went to Tibet to work as a journalist, and she soon became a member of the Tibetan branch of the Chinese Writers Association and began working as an editor in the Lhasa-based Chinese-language journal Literature of Tibet (Xizang Wenzue). Even though she had lived most of her life in a Chinese-speaking environment, once she returned to Tibet she became determined to rediscover her Tibetan roots. She learned to speak Tibetan fluently and became a devoted Buddhist.

In 2004, after the publication and subsequent banning of her book Notes on Tibet (Guangzhou Huacheng Publishing Press, 2003), Tsering Woeser resigned from her job in Lhasa and moved to Beijing to avoid having to undergo political reeducation. Since then, Tsering Woeser has been subject to the confiscation of her passport as well as to several periods of house arrest.

In spite of all odds, Tsering Woeser has continued her prolific career as a writer, journalist, and historian of Tibet writing in her own blog, as well as in publishing houses and websites outside China. Her book Forbidden Memor: Tibet During the Cultural Revolution was published in Taiwan by Dakuai Wenhua-Locus Press in 2006.

Tsering Woeser’s works have been translated into Tibetan as well as many foreign languages, including an English-language anthology of her poetry entitled Woeser: Tibet’s True Heart (Ragged Banner Press, 2008). She has won numerous international awards, among them the Freedom of Expression Prize, the Prince Claus Award, the Courage in Journalism, and the International Women of Courage Award.

Patricia Schiaffini-Vedani (Ph.D. 2002) teaches the Chinese language at Texas State University. She has authored many academic papers and two books, Modern Tibetan Literature and Social Change and Enticement: Stories of Tibet. Her research deals with Sinophone Tibetan literature. She is the founder of the Tibetan Arts and Literature Initiative (