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.
Much has been written in recent years about the life of Gendün Chöpel (dGe ‘dun chos ‘phel, 1903–1951) and his travels through India and Sri Lanka in the 1930s and 40s. The very latest offering, Grains of Gold: Tales of a Cosmopolitan Traveler (trans. Thupten Jinpa and Donald S. Lopez Jr, Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2014), is in many ways the most fascinating, and is highly recommended to readers of this blog. Part of what makes Gendün Chöpel’s story so intriguing is that the attitude of openness and curiosity that he exhibited in his travelogues, translations and essays was in such marked contrast to the official policy of insularism then prevailing in his homeland. And it was all the more tragic, therefore, when he was condemned and imprisoned by the Tibetan authorities before his premature death. For it meant that the country lost a liberal, modernising voice, precisely at a time when, it might be argued, it needed one most of all.