Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö and an Enigmatic Text of Prophecy
Several times in recent years, I have received queries about a text attributed to Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö (1893–1959) that has circulated in various forms (and forums) online. The text in question, Ma ‘ongs lung bstan gsal byed sgron me, was translated into English by the late Stephen Brinson Aldridge (Ka-rma gSung-rab rgya-mtsho, 1948–2018) under the title The Light That Makes Things Clear: A Prophecy of Things to Come. It has garnered considerable attention, not least because the translator ascribes the foretold events to the not-too-distant future, specifically the period from 2026 to 2032. In recent weeks, a connection has also been made between this text and coronavirus, as if the current pandemic might presage the more severe misfortune that is to come.
Now, partly in response to a request and partly to satisfy my own curiosity, I have produced a translation of the text as part of the ongoing Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö sungbum translation project. It might therefore be appropriate to say a few things—well, five to be precise—about the text. Of course, all this is provisional. As more editions emerge they may help to resolve some of the issues raised below.
First, as others have noted, there is nothing in the text itself to suggest that the events described are imminent or correspond to the period 2026–2032. The text mentions some years in the Tibetan calendar (male Fire Horse, male Earth Monkey, female Earth Bird, male Iron Dog, female Iron Sheep, etc.) but does not specify to which sixty-year cycle they belong. At least one of the versions I consulted (labelled mChan bu in the bibliography) places two of the events described in the past (from our perspective), albeit in the future from the standpoint of Buddha Śākyamuni, who is the one predicting them.
Second, there is some confusion as to the role Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö played in relation to the text. He has been referred to as its “revealer”, as if it were a terma, but Tibetan sources describe him as its compiler (phyogs bsdus mdzad) who arranged for an edition to be printed. The text does appear in the most recent, 12-volume edition of his collected writings (but not in the two earlier editions) after a section of benedictory verses which the master composed as dedications for the colophons of printed works. I have translated the verses for this particular text here. (The 12-volume edition features several texts by other authors, included simply on the basis of their connection to him.)
Third, it is unclear what the ultimate source for these prophecies might be. Although Jamyang Khyentse is said to have compiled them from the sūtras, the details within the text do not match anything in available editions of the Kangyur, at least to my knowledge. (Indeed, reference to the Tibetan calendrical system would be, to say the least, atypical in canonical literature.)
Fourth, there are a great many versions of this out there. This is hardly surprising, given that the text itself admonishes readers to make copies and disseminate them widely. For this translation I consulted eight different Tibetan editions available via BDRC (as listed in the bibliography). Six of these are manuscripts. Of the two print editions, one is from Jamyang Khyentse’s 12-volume collected writings and the other from a compilation of prophecies published in 2016. There are substantial variations between witnesses (although the four from the National Library of Mongolia are closely related), and I have not attempted a proper text critical analysis but simply highlighted some of the more significant differences in the footnotes—most of which will mean little to the average reader. Perhaps the most striking difference is in the mantra. The fact that a nine-syllable mantra appears in at least three different forms is nothing if not curious. The editors of the compilation of prophecies mentioned above refer (in their preface) to early versions from Ngari and from Rahor (in Drakgo Dzong) in addition to the version compiled by Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö that was printed in Delhi in either 1971 or 1979 (the book offers both dates, confusingly), upon which they claim to have based their edition. It is unclear from the preface whether these other texts predate Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö’s edition.
Fifth, I originally intended simply to review and, where necessary, emend Stephen Aldridge’s translation, especially since he produced it in consultation with Ngor Thartse Khenpo Sonam Gyatso Rinpoche (alias Hiroshi Sonami). However, it soon became apparent that this would not suffice, in part because his translation is based on a version of the Tibetan I find slightly problematic. There are some clear differences in how I interpret certain passages even where our sources agree. As these will be evident to anyone who cares to undertake a comparison, I won’t go into detail here. Time is precious, after all.
1. Here it is in video form.
2. A ninth version on BDRC (W3PD888) is restricted and consequently unavailable to me.