Gendun Chophel was seen as a mysterious Tibetan figure during his lifetime and it remain so for a long time even after his death. He was often projected negatively. This was attributed mainly to Tibetan people’s misconception about this man and lack of intellectual development in Tibetan society in those days. Lately, many scholars, both Tibetan and Westerners, have started taking keen interest in his life history. His works are searched and compiled. Books and articles about him are written. People who knew him personally are interviewed and oral accounts about him are collected and compiled. Gradually, the truths about this man are coming to light and the misconception about him is slowly going away. His fans are increasing. More and more people are showing interest in his biography and many scholars are searching for more information about him.
This volume contains recollections about Gendun Chophen, a man with formidable intellect and strong patriotism, told by people who had known him closely or less intimately at various times during his life or had first-hand information about him. Compiled by the 11th Kirti Rinpoche, the original Tibetan version was published in 1983 by the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives. The purpose of this English translation is to reach wider readership and provide an important source of information about Gendun Chophel for his fans in general and scholars and others who want to do research on him. The following poem that he composed just before his death gives a glimpse of his life.
The 20th century witnessed the emergence of the great Tibetan scholars, Gendun Chophel, whose absence now is felt with a great sense of remorse not only by scholars, but also by ignorant people who believe in popular remorse. However, when this great scholar was alive, he was made a victim of false accusations and subjected to extreme tortured, and he finally died, stricken with grief. Although his also misfortune certainly resulted from causal karmic factors, there were also immediate factors, there were views on Buddhist or non-Buddhist topics openly without restrain by reasoning instead of accepting others’ views, and his unexcelled skill in the field of exposition, debate and composition, some self-proclaimed scholars spread negative remorse about him, out of jealousy. Besides, because of his heterodox attitudes, some orthodox minded people taunted him a lot, either calling him “non-Buddhist” or criticizing him for treating the teachings of the Buddha and past Buddhist masters as true and standard, or adulterating the sublime Dharma and contravening its precepts and commitments. For example, it was said, “As everyone in Tibet has heard, when Gendun Chophel was in Tibet, he criticized Je Tsongkhapa’s middle-way philosophy as flawed, all the works of the early translators as inaccurate, Nagarajuna’s views as invalid and so on. The central government [of Tibet] must arrest this enemy of Buddhadharma.(i).”
When Gendun Chophel was imprisoned, others took advantage of the situation and tried hard to tarnish his image. Even his writings were subjected to derision out of jealousy, as is clear from this verse written by him: In a forest filled with the thundering roars Of furious tigers craving for blood, A child of truth, who is left alone, Is an object of compassion to learned people.(ii)
Gendun Chophel sensed the drastic consequences Tibetan would face if it did not take steps in pace with the developments that were taking place all over the world. He therefore often talked about the need for change and progress in Tibet. At that time, since he was associated with Pomda Rabga1, Chensel Kunphel2 and Changlochen Gung3, who were out of favor with some high Tibetan government officials, he was suspected of planning to introduce communism in Tibet. The Tibetan public easily believed the remorse. Some foreigners meddled in the affair against him. The Tibetan government announced his arrest, accusing him of committing the serious crime of counterfeiting Tibetan 100-rupee notes. As a result, he went through years of torment. However, since the truth by its very nature always prevails, his fame grows like the waxing of the moon, as the way of thinking of Tibetan people progresses.
Gendun Chophel was already popular in his youth. He was innately intelligent and diligent, and had an exceptional talent for debate and dialectics. He was also skilled in drawing and had a great memory. By virtue of these qualities, in Dome everybody called him “Dhitsa Alak” (iii), ‘Dhitsa Kampo,” “Dodrak Tulku”(iv) or “Dodrak Gendun Chophel”,. Later, when he joined Gomang College at Drepung Monastery, his skills in logic and dialectics greatly impressed the learned monks, and he was regarded as the epitome of brilliance.
Later on he travelled to India and Sri Lanka, and translated some important treaties which had not been translated into Tibetan before. He composed many works such as Guide to the Sacred Places in Indian. His work called White Annuals in particular ushered in the beginning of a new form of Tibetan historiography. In the homage verses of his White Annuals, he wrote: Having compiled the accurate statements and clear chronologies Recorded in the available old documents, I have gained the confidence to make a small appraisal Of the political status and powers of the early Tibetan empire.(v)
He gave a lucid account of the Tibetan imperial period more than a thousand years ago, that was not found in the works of earlier Tibetan writers. He confirmed the dates of a King Songtsen Gampo’s birth and death, and he became popular in western academic circles. Commenting on his style of writing, he once wrote: I am not a meek fool who believes in whatever is heard. I am a wise pauper, endowed with innate intelligence, who has spent all his life in accumulating knowledge. Therefore, one should not think whatever I say is untrue, baseless and deceptive. For most people, if a person explains a complex idea in a simplified manner, he is not taken seriously or is scorned. On the other hand, if a simple thing is presented in a complicated manner, he is considered learned. I am helpless now.(vi)
Gendun Chophel based his research on facts, using logic and modern research methods, and confirmed the findings. In this way, he became famous.
Gendun Chophel’s views had no place in orthodox Tibetan society. It was therefore natural that he faced many problems wherever he went in Tibet. For instance, when he was at Tashikhyil Monastery (Amdo), there were many brilliant students in his class, including his friend Yiga Jamyang. Once when the two were discussing the credibility of the monastery’s curricular texts, some elder monks of the monastery overheard them. The monks became angry and started annoying the two, ultimately forcing Gendun Chophel to flee to U-Tsang and Yiga Jamyang to Taktsang Lhamo. A remorse circulated that the two had to leave the monastery because they were unable to withstand the wrath of the Dharma protectors, but I do not known whether it was true or not. The following is an alphabetic poem (ka bshad) in the Amdo dialect composed by Gendun Chophel, probably after leaving Tashikhyil Monastery, intended to clarify the negative remorse about him that spread after he had left the monastery.
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