Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö writes in his own autobiography that he was born in the female Water Snake year. He is unsure of the precise date, but says that it was during the autumn. This means it was certainly 1893. The Water Snake began in February 1893 and continued until the following February, but the reference to autumn precludes 1894.
I was born […] in the female Water Snake year— during the autumn months, I heard it said. My parents had little concern for such things, so they left no written record of the planets and stars, or dreams and signs.
So far so clear. Yet, many sources, including recent ones, state that Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö was born in 1896. One such is E. Gene Smith’s Among Tibetan Texts (Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2001), and Smith’s unimpeachable authority may account for some of the other instances. Another is Chögyal Namkhai Norbu’s The Lamp That Enlightens Narrow Minds (Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books, 2012), although the book does note (p. 141, n. 28) that Tulku Thondup’s Masters of Meditation and Miracles (Boston: Shambhala, 1996) and other texts give the birth year as 1893.
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.
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.