On the Dates of Katok Situ Chökyi Gyatso

Or: The Radiant Sun that Banishes the Darkness of Uncertainty Concerning the Dates of the Great Master Katok Situ Chökyi Gyatso

This is merely a brief note, a sort of expanded footnote, on the dates of Katok Situ Chökyi Gyatso, who is best known for his guide to the pilgrimage places of Central Tibet.

Several publications in recent years have treated his dates, and that of his death in particular, as uncertain, or else they have diverged from what was once the standard chronology. This is curious, because earlier publications were unambiguous in stating that he was born in 1880 and died in 1925.

These 1880–1925 dates accord with the main biography of Katok Situ, written by Jamyang Lodrö Gyatso.[1] They appeared in E. Gene Smith’s 1969 preface (p. 17 n. 65) to the autobiography of Khenpo Ngawang Palzang (1879–1941); and they are also given in the Bod rgya tshig mdzod chen mo, published in 1985.

The recent divergence from this consensus is reflected in Katok Situ’s entry on BDRC, which mentions that rGyal rabs lo tshigs shes bya mang ‘dus mkhas pa’i spyi nor by Gonpo Wangyal gives 1923 as the year of his death. Unfortunately, the work is copyrighted and inaccessible via the BDRC website.

To confuse matters further, Karl-Heinz Everding gives the year of Katok Situ’s death as 1924 in a 2017 paper on the pilgrimage guide. He provides (p.30) the Tibetan date as the seventh day of the ninth month of the Wood Mouse year (1924/25), corresponding to 3 November 1924. He doesn’t provide a source, but it cannot be the biography by Jamyang Lodrö Gyatso because that gives the same date (seventh day of the ninth month) only for the following year, the Wood Ox (corresponding to 24 October 1925).[2]

All of this brings us to a text from Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö’s writings, a short lament which provides in its colophon the precise date when Jamyang Khyentse learnt of his guru Katok Situ’s passing: the 12th day of the tenth month of the Wood Ox year. According to an online date conversion tool, this corresponds to 27 November 1925. Jamyang Khyentse says that the death itself occurred during the previous month, which corroborates the account in the biography by Jamyang Lodrö Gyatso.

On the basis of these two early primary sources we can only reaffirm the 1880–1925 dates for now, until and unless some strong counter evidence emerges.

One final note: Orgyen Tobgyal once observed that Katok Situ died at approximately the same time as six other senior figures including Shechen Gyaltsab Gyurme Pema Namgyal (1871–1926) and the Third Dodrupchen Jigme Tenpé Nyima (1865–1926). He claimed that all these deaths happened in 1926, making it something of an annus horribilis for the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. While this is not quite borne out by the facts, and his suggestion that the Fifteenth Karmapa died at this time is insupportable, there can be little doubt that the period was a difficult one for Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö, who lost no fewer than four of his main teachers between 1925 and 1927, with Katok Situ the first among them to depart.[3]


1. See ‘Jam dbyangs blo gros rgya mtsho 23a & 107b–108a. Jamyang Lodrö Gyatso’s full name is rMugs sangs gnas rgyab mchog sprul ‘Jam dbyangs blo gros rgya mtsho dri ma med pa’i dpal. His dates are unclear, but he was a contemporary of Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö, who provided the spar byang smon tshig for the biography. There are two separate entries for him on BDRC: P1CZ2001 and P2PD17473. There is some additional potential for confusion insofar as Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö also counts Jamyang Lodrö Gyatso among his many names.

2. Ibid. 108a.

3. The four were Katok Situ Chökyi Gyatso, Tertön Sogyal Lerab Lingpa, Shechen Gyaltsab Gyurme Pema Namgyal and Dodrupchen Jigme Tenpé Nyima.


Mgon po dbang rgyal, rGyal rabs lo tshigs shes bya mang ‘dus mkhas pa’i spyi nor. Beijing: Mi rigs dpe skrun khang, 2000. BDRC: W21015

‘Jam dbyangs mkhyen brtse cho kyi blo gros. “Bla ma dran pa’i gdung dbyangs snying gi gzer chen” in ‘Jam dbyangs chos kyi blo gros kyi gsung ‘bum. BDRC: W1KG12986. 12 vols. Bir, H.P.: Khyentse Labrang, 2012. vol. 8: 542–544. Translated here.

‘Jam dbyangs blo gros rgya mtsho, Chos kyi rgya mtsho’i rnam thar mdor bsdus ngo mtshar yongs ‘dus ljon bzang. BDRC: W1CZ1992

Everding, Karl-Heinz. 2017. “Kah thog Si tu’s Account of his Pilgrimage through Central Tibet during the Years 1918-1920 (dBus gtsang gnas bskor lam yig)” in Zentralasiatische Studien 46, 2017 pp. 29–35

Smith, E. Gene. “Preface” in The Autobiographical Reminiscences of the Nyingmapa Visionary Mkhan-po Ngag-dbang dpal-bzang, Late Abbot of Kaḥ-thog Monastery. Sonam T. Kazi: Gangtok, 1969, pp. 1–20.