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.
“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.
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.