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. 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.
Who gets to be omniscient in Tibetan Buddhism? More to the point, who gets to be called omniscient or all-knowing (kun mkhyen), an epithet more readily associated with the Buddha himself? This question surfaced while reading Achim Bayer’s carefully researched, recently published monograph on Khenpo Shenpen Nangwa, alias Khenpo Shenga—The Life and Works of mKhan-po gZhan-dga’ (1871–1927).
Bayer introduces a citation (p.108) that appears in Shenga’s treatise The Mirror that Clearly Reveals the Knowable (Shes bya gsal ba’i me long) where it is credited to the ‘later omniscient one’ (kun mkhyen phyi ma). Bayer was unable to identify the passage and speculates as to the identity of this later omniscient one. Could it be Longchen Rabjam (1308–1364), he wonders, or possibly Gorampa Sonam Sengge (1429–1489). The fact that there are multiple contenders owes something to Khenpo Shenga’s own intellectual development (as described in wonderful detail in Bayer’s book), which began with a thorough Nyingma education and evolved over time so that in his Divine Music he expressed a newfound appreciation for, and confidence in, Sakya views.
“There is, to my knowledge, however, no evidence in the biographical archive that Patrul had a relationship with Kongtrul […]. Kongtrul does not appear in Patrul’s biographies, nor does Patrul appear in Kongtrul’s autobiography.” (2012: 51)
It is indeed true that the principal biographies of these two great luminaries of nineteenth-century Kham make no mention of any direct contact or relationship. But this is not to say that the two never met at all.
For English-reading fans of Dza Patrul Rinpoche (rdza dpal sprul rin po che, 1808–1887) these are bountiful times. July saw the publication of Matthieu Ricard’s collection of stories and texts, Enlightened Vagabond, after some three or four decades of research and preparation. This month’s A Gathering of Brilliant Moons includes translations of no less than four texts from the master (by Holly Gayley, Joshua Schapiro and Sarah Harding), and The Essential Jewel of Holy Practice will be released shortly, too.
Patrul Rinpoche, like most Tibetan masters, has several names. He is often called Dza Patrul (Rinpoche) in reference to his native Dzachukha, and more formally he is Orgyen Jigme Chökyi Wangpo (o rgyan ‘jigs med chos kyi dbang po). Another term which occurs in almost every book that features Patrul—and which almost always occasions a footnote—is Abu. This is both how he often refers to himself, as part of expressions such as Abu Hralpo (a bu hral po), Abu Lhöpo (a bu lhod po) and “old dog Abu” (khyi rgan a bu), and how his students often refer to him: as Abu Rinpoche or simply Abu.
But what does Abu mean? What, in other words, do all those footnotes have to say?
In an earlier post, I mentioned that a text commonly attributed to Do Khyentse Yeshe Dorje (mDo mkhyen brtse ye shes rdo rje, 1800–1866) is actually the work of Dola Jigme Kalzang (rdo bla ‘jigs med skal bzang, b. 1789). The purpose of that post was to discuss the nature of authorship more generally, so I did not go into detail as to why the text might have been misattributed. Now that my biography of Dola Jigme Kalzang is online at Treasury of Lives, it might be a good time to return to this question and address it in more depth.
As I mentioned previously, the colophon to bsKyed rdzogs kyi zin bris blun gtam de nyid gsal ba (Foolish Babble Clarifying Reality: Notes on the Generation and Perfection Stages, or Foolish Babble for short) gives the author as Zhönnu Yeshe Dorje (gzhon nu ye shes rdo rje). This is one of the many names of Dola Jigme Kalzang, but is not attested elsewhere as a name of Do Khyentse — not to my knowledge, at least. Do Khyentse is called Yeshe Dorje, or even Kyebu Yeshe Dorje (skyes bu ye shes rdo rje), but not Zhönnu Yeshe Dorje.
This is really just an addendum to the previous post. While looking for something else I noticed the following:
In David Jackson’s A Saint in Seattle (Wisdom Publications, 2003) there is a section based on the biography of Ga Lama Jamyang Gyaltsen (alias Jamgyal, 1870–1940) by Dezhung Rinpoche. There it says that Jamgyal first heard the name of his root teacher, Khenpo Shenga, some time after being thrown out of Tharlam Monastery (for trying to reform the discipline there). The expulsion happened when he was in his late twenties, i.e., the late 1890s. Some time after this he met an old monk from Gemang hermitage in Dzachukha. Jamgyal asked him who was in charge there now that Orgyen Tendzin Norbu had passed away (In Tibetan: deng sang bla ma o rgyan bstan ‘dzin nor bu gshegs zin pas gdan sar su yod). Following Jackson’s chronology, this conversation must have taken place in or before 1900/1901. The monk informed Jamgyal that a scholar named Gyalkhang Shenga had taken over, but that he was no different from his teacher: “The golden sun may have set, but the conch-like moon has risen” (gser gyi nyi ma nub kyang dung gi zla ba shar). As soon as Jamgyal heard Shenga’s name, he felt intense devotion and pledged to study with him.
Jamgyal studied with Shenga for a full five years at Gemang before he began his major project to publish the works of the great Sakya scholar Gorampa Sonam Senge (1429–1489). Jackson estimates that Jamgyal worked on the project from 1906 to 1910.
All of this further supports the date of around 1900 for the death of Orgyen Tendzin Norbu (and makes the 1910 date suggested in Enlightened Vagabond even more problematic). But, of course, nothing here is definitive.
Jamgyal, incidentally, went on to become the third khenpo of Dzongsar Shedra — after Shenga and Öntö Khyenrab Chökyi Özer — and, through his efforts in publishing the writings of Gorampa Sonam Senge, helped to transform Sakya scholasticism. What became of the old monk is not recorded.
Kun dga’ bstan pa’i nyi ma. rJe btsun bla ma dam pa ‘jam dbyangs rgyal mtshan gyi rnam thar mdor bsdus skal bzang rna rgyan. New Delhi, 1983.
Jackson, David. A Saint in Seattle. Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2003.
I imagine that most readers of this blog will be as keen as I am to read Matthieu Ricard’s forthcoming book, Enlightened Vagabond: The Life and Teachings of Patrul Rinpoche, which is due out (from Shambhala Publications) in July. Fortunately, the book is already searchable over on Amazon.com, and a quick hunt for some key terms and phrases brought up a little matter I would like to address — or rather, return to — below.
Biographical information on Orgyen Tendzin Norbu was hard to come by until recently, and his dates are still quite muddled in the various sources. Some, including TBRC [now BDRC], give 1851 as the year of his birth, but, as recently pointed out in a comment on the Treasury of Lives site (on the Khenpo Shenga article) [the comment is no longer accessible] this date no longer seems tenable. Tulku Thondup did not provide any specific dates in his biography in Masters of Meditation and Miracles (pp. 226–227), and noted simply that Orgyen Tendzin Norbu lived in “the 19th century.” Nyoshul Khenpo’s Dzogchen history (2005, p.482) offered 1827–1888, based on the idea that the master passed away at the age of sixty in the earth rat year (1888–9). Yet, according to Tendzin Lungtok Nyima (2004, p.594) in his vast history of Dzogchen Monastery and its associates, while Orgyen Tendzin Norbu did indeed live for sixty years, he died not in the earth rat, but in the iron rat year, i.e., 1900–1. This date, which has since been reproduced in other historical works published in Tibet, seems for the moment to be the most reliable.