Recorded on the 23rd of August 1999 in Xining, Qinghai Province.
Born 1960 in Machu, Northeastern Tibet. He is a famous Tibetan intellectual, writer and poet. Composed a poem in the honor of GC and edited several publications of rare books on Tibetan Buddhism. Presently working as translator in Golok Prefecture (Qinghai Province). See also the poem of Ju Kesang. Tibetan, in the film.
What is your name?
My name is Ju Kesang. I am 39 years old.
What inspired you to write this poem, entitled Gendun Choephel?
I heard the name GC towards the end of 1970s, in 1979 [See interview: Hortsang Jigme, Tsering Shakya, Pema Bhum]. But I have read only one or two of his works. First, I saw the White Annals [GC's book on Tibetan history]. Then I read one or two of his poems. In the past, I considered GC merely a historian and poet. As time passed, I realized that GC, in that Tibetan social environment, was not merely a poet and historian. He was a man with exceptional thoughts. I don't know, whether my opinion is correct. Then I developed a deep respect for him. I started reading all his works, anything that came my way, even if it were only one stanza. I read both the long and short writings by him. I contemplated on everything I heard about him from people. But I must clarify that I did not go out of my way to do research on GC. His thoughts moved me so strongly that I wrote this poem [See: Poem of Ju Kesang].
Have you ever tried to imitate GC's style of writing?
GC's style is good. Generally, we write poems in the traditional Tibetan style. Apart from the traditional style, we have our colloquial language. The traditional style uses more of the classical language and less of the colloquial language. Our scholars of bygone days wrote many excellent works. GC could have written great poems in our traditional style. But he adopted a unique style. He used more of common people's words, more of the colloquial language. But it was not entirely in colloquial language. I thought over this. In our history, there have been some people, who wrote in the colloquial language. Among them, GC's achievement is substantial. He mixed classical and colloquial languages. This makes his writings understandable to the people of all the three provinces, namely U-Tsang [Central Tibet], Kham [East-Tibet] and Amdo [Northeast-Tibet]. This is a good style. This is the quality of his writings. I liked his style and imitated it in the past. Later, I did not write anything that was the same as GC's style. But some of my writings were slightly similar to those of GC's. Having read GC's works extensively, his style has influenced my works. But I seldom imitate his style consciously. In the beginning, I wrote poems in the traditional style. Then, I wrote in the commoner's style. Later, I wrote in my own style, not in GC's style. When we write in our own style, we would not imitate GC's style. To sum up, I was influenced by GC's style. But his influence reduced as time passed.
Why did GC mix classical and colloquial languages?
As I see it, GC was an advanced person. He was advanced in everything he did. He knew a lot about both Tibet and the outside world. This is what I think. How do I wish that Tibet had more people like GC! In that period, there were few people like him. Later, I thought over this matter and realized that there were many external and internal factors, which made him what he was. The internal factor is that GC was a gifted person. His mind was much sharper than those of ours. He had a great mind. The internal factor was his mental ability. Then he was also curious for knowledge. He explored vigorously. He was industrious. On top of this, he did not confine himself to Tibet. He went to foreign countries and met many scholars, with whom he exchanged views. When he traveled out of Tibet, he was already an accomplished scholar of the Tibetan learning. Then he became exposed to the outside world, which helped to make him an advanced person. That's why he wrote what he thought. His writings reveal his mind. The poets of bygone days wrote in the classical language for very good reasons. This style has its merits. This style has its unique quality. GC mastered this style. He knew all its merits. Then he wondered if our Tibetan poetry could be made even more valuable. He looked for the shortcomings of our poetry. While doing so, he contemplated the social trends. He decided that if the words in our scriptures were gradually changed into colloquialism, our writings would match the social trends. This is the condition for the development of our society. This thought came to his mind. Based on this, he decided that it would not do to use ancient letters and words in our poetry. Poetry should answer the social development. Our poetry should serve one target, which is the contemporary generation. Our poetry is not intended for the eyes of dead scholars. It is intended for the eyes of those, who are living in our present Tibetan society. It is them, who should get the messages of the poems they read. If they understand the poem, they will appreciate its artistic values. The poet has to communicate his thoughts to the people. He has to influence the people. If the poet uses only classical words and ignore colloquialism, then he will not be able to serve the contemporary generation. I feel GC thought this way about the social development.
Can you tell us more?
We have come out of our past rigid tradition. This thought of his was great. In the past, we were all confined, within our very rigid thoughts. GC's thought was liberated from this. He did not have rigid views. He did not hold the all-pervading rigid views. But he had to survive in that very rigid social environment. There was a contradiction between him and his social environment. His views could not fit within the social environment. But the social environment tried to force his views within its confines. On the one hand, the social environment was sucking him into its confines. The social environment refers to the old Tibetan society. On the other hand, his views, having become very broad, had escaped from these barriers. But it did not completely escape. Since the old Tibetan society was so rigid, there was no way he could escape completely from it.
In what ways did the old rigid society hamper his thoughts?
Let me cite an example of the thoughts in GC's Ludrup Gongyen [The Adornment of Nagarjuna's Thoughts]. Our bygone scholars showed us one way, regarding these thoughts. Of course, I have not researched all their works. From the Buddhist point of view, this contention is right. According to this, everybody has to pass through this narrow path, following one bygone scholar after the other. It is not right to speak from this direction, when others speak from that direction. It would be considered wrong to speak from all directions. Now, I think GC believed that the ultimate aim of the “Middle Way” was to come to this point. Most of our bygone scholars said that one should follow only this particular route to reach this point. GC believed that, as long as one mastered the thoughts, one could take any route to reach a certain point. GC was an accomplished scholar. His views were free from those kinds of barriers. Since his views were free from barriers, he did not insist that one should follow only this particular route. According to my opinion, GC's view on the “Middle Way” was basically the same as those of the bygone scholars. He did not say anything special and unknown in Tibet. What he said in Ludrup Gongyen was the same, as what the bygone scholars had said. But the way it was said was wrong. He put it in a way that was different from those of the past scholars. He put it from a different angle. That's why his views became too broad. Since the past tradition was very rigid, everybody had to say exactly what the other scholars before him or her had said. If one said something that was slightly different, people would oppose him or her. They would oppose by saying that, “What did not happen during the time-span of a thousand Buddhas, should not happen during the lifetime of one monk.” GC was not like that. He was highly learned and had a free mind. That's why he would not insist on following the tradition laid down by one individual.
You said that GC died to early. What did you mean?
At the time of his death, GC had many ideas and plans. But the Tibetan social environment of that time did not appreciate them. Many of his aims remained unfulfilled. Those aims remained unfulfilled. I will not name the individual ideas. But generally speaking, he believed that there should be cultural changes in Tibet, that Tibet should follow the advanced countries of the world, that we need not rigidly follow only the traditional systems, etc. He had such ideas and responsibilities. When he was alive, he propagated many of these ideas. But very few of his ideas made any impression, because of the social environment of that time. They did exert a certain influence. But the influence was not strong. In my opinion, he thought, “Wishing well for Tibet, I contemplated a different future for us, our race, and our people. But then others, under the influence of the rigid social environment, do not appreciate it. Why is it that my plans do not materialize?” I wonder if he did not die while contemplating on such thoughts. This is the reason why I said in my poem that he died carrying many question marks. To sum up, many of his plans did not materialize. That is why I believe he died with a sense of regret.
Do you consider the Tibetan society, during the lifetime of GC, to be a turbulent one?
I think that there were many problems in the views and perceptions of the Tibetan society during the lifetime of GC. Tibetan conventions, ways of doing things, customs, and habits, prior to the time of GC, were calm like a static and frozen river. There was nothing in this. Everybody followed the social norm. There was no great contradiction. Although most people lived in this calm atmosphere for many years, it does not mean that there was absolutely no contradiction. But our society as a whole did not have such a great problem. However, in that period, the time of GC [1903-51], Tibet for the first time came face to face with foreigners and their different customs, their systems, their ways of talking, their norms, their cultural trends, their political and economic systems, and many other phenomena, which Tibet had never seen before. That was also the time, when many Tibetans ignored and opposed the foreign phenomena, and rigidly stuck to their own tradition. It was also the time, when only a few people imbibed the ways of foreigners. This includes both the political and the economic systems. This includes culture, too. It was like this from all sides. There were different views. There was no agreement between all sides. In our political affairs, there was influence from the British and other powers [China]. In our culture, there were influences from India, Britain and China. There were disagreements among the people. Therefore, our society was passing through a period of tension. People held conflicting views. Our views were changing from the old to the new. Damage was done to the old order. Having done that, we could not remain any longer in the old situation. At the same time, we were unable to accept the new order completely. It was the time when there was torsion between the old and new orders. This is what I mean by saying that our society was in a state of strife and complications.
In what ways do you think GC served the society of that time?
To sum it up in one sentence, GC brought us new ideas. He brought us new ideas, ideas that the Tibetan society had never had before. That's a great achievement. By bringing us new ideas, he did a great service to our society. To explain this, apart from him, there were others who brought new ideas [e.g. General Tsarong, 13th Dalai Lama, Geshe Sherab Gyatso etc.]. If they brought the new ideas and transplanted them directly on the Tibetan society, people would not accept them. The Tibetan society would drive them away. GC was a learned man. He was thoroughly conversant with the Tibetan tradition. If he had brought new ideas, blended them well with the old ones, and grafted the new onto the old, most of the people of that time would have probably accepted them. But as to the others, let me give you an example if someone came to Tibet after living in foreign countries for a long time, and told us all of a sudden that our Tibetan system was wrong, that it was backward, that we had to keep on moving forward, that we should give up those views and take up these views, etc., the Tibetan society would not have accepted this. Why, because this person had no understanding of the Tibetan society. He wasn't thoroughly familiar with the Tibetan tradition. Without this understanding, he would not be able to blend the old and the new. If he could not blend them, people would not be able to appreciate his initiatives. GC, on the other hand, brought new ideas, while being in a position to claim that, “I know the tradition of Tibet better than you.” He could say, “If you know about the 'Middle Way”, I know it better than you. If you know the science of logic, I know it better than you. If you know poetry, I know it better than you.' If he said that other people had such and such ideas, the Tibetan society would accept them. To sum up, he brought new ideas to the old Tibetan society. On top of that, he was able to blend the new ideas with the old traditional culture. That is why some people in the old Tibetan society accepted his ideas. Here I would like to give you another example: In our old scriptures, there are many descriptions of the land, the earth, on which we live. But none of the scriptures say that the earth is round or spherical [See GC's texts in the Tibet Mirror]. Now if someone went to a foreign country and then told the Tibetans on his return that the earth on which we stand, is not flat or protuberant like this, but that it is round, he would find no subscribers to his ideas. The great geshes [scholars] and monks would not know that the earth is round. They would say that this man does not know what he is saying. They would argue that we would not be able to stand on a land of this shape, that our scriptures say that the earth is like this, that this man has not seen the scriptures, that he would not know, etc. But he could point out that Abhidharma [a Buddhist scholar] had said such and such things a long time back and that in the Kalachakra [a Buddhist text] it said such and such things. He was fully conversant with all these scriptures. He could say, “I have read all these scriptures. I have learned all of these.” Even if he had to debate with a geshe, he could say, “Although you geshe know this, I know it better. My thorough research on this matter makes me believe that the earth on which we now stand is actually round.” If he explained his contention by blending it with the traditional wisdom, he would be able to drive home his point. Then they would not dare argue with him. They would have to accept his point of view. They would have to say that he was most probably right. Any other person would not able to achieve this.
Do you think that GC is important to the present generation?
GC has beneficial influence on the present generation. Today, GC symbolizes courage to us. He had thoroughly mastered our culture and taken the best from other cultures. He had the courage to challenge the old and take the new. And he did not merely talk. He did not achieve much, then, but he showed the courage to do it. Our society needs a person like him presently and in future. A time will come in the distant future, when we fall in need of such a person. He was an example to our [Tibetan] nationality. He was the flag bearer of our nationality. As I see it, GC brought courage to our people, both today and in White Annals: if we study them, we and the next generation and the generation after that, might gain benefits. But as time passes, as history marches on, such benefits will wear off. What we must learn from him is his courage to challenge the old and accept the new and blend the two. If we were to take advantage of GC's achievement, we must imbibe his courage. He belongs to the whole of Tibet. He is someone who makes every Tibetan think. This is what I feel.
Why is it that GC is taken so seriously today?
The reason for so much interest is... There are different perspectives to that. There are many theories. Some people say that GC became famous because of this, while others say that he became famous because of that. As I see it, there were many intelligent Tibetans at that time. But very few were like him. That's why if the mainstream views of the Tibetan society was like this, his views were different. One reason why we like him so much is because he was different. I think that judging by the general Tibetan standard of the time, his thoughts were advanced. This is what inspires us to do research on him. He reached the top with a one-pointed mind. I wrote this poem on him [See: Poem of Ju Kesang]. I did not say that he was a famous man. His thoughts on different aspects were more advanced, than those of other Tibetans. If we conducted a research on him today, it would prove valuable. In the Tibetan society after his time, there were people who held the same views as GC. But in the pre-GC Tibet [late 19th century], there wasn't anyone with his kind of views. During the time of GC, there were only a few people with his kind of views. Here if I sum it up, when one reflects on the Tibetan social environment of that time, his thoughts were advanced. That's why he became such a famous man.
Does the younger generation of Tibetans admire him?
Yes, the present generation of Tibetan youths admires him immensely. The reason is, as I stated earlier. GC had courage. They admire his courage. There are many other reasons for their admiration. His poems are good. His historical research tells the truth. Everything he said was honest. For these and numerous other reasons, the youth of today admire him. Most of the younger people admire him. But I can't say that 100 percent of the youth admire him. But most of them do admire him.
Which one is your favorite book or text?
I thought that his Tamgyud Sergyi Thangma [editors’ note: Grains of Gold], a journal of his travels in India, was good [See: GC in Horkhang]. Then his poems are excellent, both artistically and for the thoughts contained in them. Thirdly, his Ludrup Gongyen is good. It is a unique work from the Buddhist point of view. As I stated earlier, he had said the same things, as the others before him had said. But he said it differently, using new logic. This added a new dimension to our thought process. It is a work that adds a new dimension to our thought process and encourages us to think that we could explain the old scriptures in different ways. The fourth is his historical research work [the White Annals and GC's historical articles in the Tibet Mirror]. His historical works show honesty. They are not like the works of earlier historians, who made pretension to knowledge and produced guesswork. Furthermore, GC managed to tell everything that we need to say. His historical works are based on credible sources. On top of that, they tell the truth. Time and facility permitting, I read all of GC's works, whether it is a full book or just one stanza. I have read many of his works, but have forgotten some.
What are for you the main points in GC's Ludrup Gongyen?
This is what I think: Talking from the point of view of Nyingma and Gelug doctrines, he probably warmed to the Nyingma doctrines of the Middle Way better [GC's family background was Nyingma, whereas he was formally educated in Gelug monasteries]. I think this is probably, what he thought about the Old [Nyingma] and New [Gelug] doctrines. However, on the whole, he did not refute the Gelug doctrine completely or exclusively supported the Nyingma doctrine. On top of this, I realized this: He investigated the “Middle Way” doctrine, which was propounded by Nagarjuna [an early Buddhist scholar]. Right from his first reflection to the last word, he had made an attempt to find out the real thoughts of Nagarjuna. As I see it, he came to the conclusion that something like this might be Nagarjuna's doctrine. If that is really the case, then his mind, as I stated earlier, had escaped from barriers. It was free from the barriers of tradition [either Nyingma or Gelug]. His thinking was free from the rigid doctrinal barriers. He did not reflect like: “We Tibetans say this. Indians say that. Nyingma followers say this. Gelug followers say that,” etc. Being very broad-minded, he thought that the “Middle Way” was the ultimate basis of the Buddhist doctrine and that Nagarjuna had propounded the doctrine of “Middle Way”. Therefore, he contemplated on what might have been the real thoughts of Nagarjuna. GC was liberated from sectarian and doctrinal partisanship. He was free from this. He searched for the facts and truth. He searched for the ultimate facts and truth. He wasn't thinking about anything else.
Do you think GC's Ludrup Gongyen is against Buddhist teaching?
I have done no specific thinking or research on this. I have not done this. As I see it, his ultimate thought... the facts about this samsara [the “illusionary” world we live in]... According to Tibetans, this entire samsara is divided into the permanent and impermanent. He investigated the ultimate truth about the permanent and impermanent. GC contemplated on this from the perspective of the discipline of logic. Nagarjuna said this. But to tell the truth, is this really the ultimate truth about the samsara? The search for the ultimate existing and bygone truth about the samsara is the aim not only of Buddhism. The search for the ultimate truth is the aim of different religions of the world, different doctrines, different logical disciplines, and great spiritual masters. He thought over this and contemplated, whether this or that was the ultimate truth about the samsara. This is what I think.
Why was GC jailed?
I have not done specific research on the life of GC. However, I feel that there must have been many different reasons, and we don't know all of them. One reason is that the new ideas and ideology that he propagated did not go down well with the Tibetan society of that time. The aristocracy and other high-up Tibetans of the past political system could not accept his views. That was one factor. Other than this, his biographers say a lot of things about political factors. Researchers have said a lot of things. But frankly, I have not done specific research on this. What they have written may or may not be true. I don't know. Among them, one reason was that he propagated new ideas and new thoughts, which had never been said or heard in the old Tibetan society. Therefore, he was not liked. His imprisonment must have something to do with this. This must be one reason. There must be other reasons as well...
What do you think about his drinking habit?
Tibetans explain this from two perspectives. One is a spiritual perspective. If one talks from the spiritualperspective, Tibetan Buddhism as a whole and Nyingma doctrine in particular, says that if a person reaches a certain stage of spiritual development if he reaches a high spiritual attainment, he becomes liberated from the hopes and concerns of this world [samsara]. More particularly, the yogis [the spiritually attained] will not bother about what the world says. When we reach a high spiritual stage, worldly approval will not please us, just as worldly disapproval will not disturb us. If someone says, “You are wrong”, he will say, “It does not matter”. A yogi is free from the worldly net of approval and disapproval. From the general Buddhist, and particularly the Nyingma perspective, a person can reach such a stage. People say that he has reached such a stage. This is the Buddhist spiritual perspective. I neither approve, nor disapprove of this contention. This is our spiritual perspective. Now if I reflect on this matter from the secular perspective... well, I don't know much about it. I suspect GC may have lost hope for the Tibetan society. He felt he had no hope of helping the Tibetan society. If one reflects on his social standing... There are many social strata... The potential that he brought to the society... His potential was... He had the potential to benefit the Tibetan society. He really had that potential. He thought that he would bring such an influence. But our Tibetan society had this very rigid thinking. We engaged in sectarianism and internal struggles... He saw many instances, where we did this to each other. He took a second look at the Tibetan society and thought, “Now my plans will not materialize.” He lost hope. In one of his works, he said, “The rare vase made of bindruya [lapis lazuli] was smashed against the rock. Now, they can do whatever they like.” He had high regards for himself. He could do a lot. He wanted to benefit the Tibetan society. But he realized that his efforts would be futile in the contemporary Tibetan society. He probably lost hope. This is what I think from the secular point of view, not from the spiritual point of view
Was GC the “Crazy Saint” of his days in Tibet?
I think, I can say yes. It is not wrong to say that he was a “Crazy Saint”. But the Tibetan tradition understands “crazy” in two ways. Like the Chinese, we differentiate between healthy madness and unhealthy madness. The “crazy” people of our normal life are indeed “crazy”. They are called “crazy” in a disparaging way. But in the Tibetan tradition, we also have people who are called “crazy” by way of compliment. In the past, our Tibetan society had some people, who were called “crazy” by way of compliment. In Lhasa, we had the 'Crazy Saint' of Central Tibet. In Tsang, we had the “Crazy Saint” of Tsang. In Bhutan, there was the “Crazy Saint” of Bhutan. They are the three historical Mad Men of Tibet. Who were those people? They had reached a high spiritual attainment from the religious or Buddhist point of view. Their views are different from the views of us worldly people. That's why we see them as “crazy” and they see us as “crazy”. We have a saying: “Milarepa sees the samsara as ‘crazy’. Samsara sees Milarepa as ‘crazy’.” Milarepa had no concerns for food, clothes, etc. He even did not have the sense of worldly embarrassment. He walked about completely naked, even when his sister was around. We worldly people perceive him as “crazy”. His views of the world were philosophical. He saw madness in our way of life. He advised us on what would be beneficial to us. We worldly people refer to such beings as “crazy”, not in a disparaging sense, but rather in the sense of praise. References like the “crazy” Heruka of Tsang, the “crazy” of Bhutan or the “Crazy Saint” of Central Tibet are all complimentary terms. When we say, “the three ‘crazy’ Men of Tibet”, it has a good connotation. Before the liberation of Tibet, before 1958, there were a number of people in Yushu [a region in Northeast-Tibet], who were called “crazy”. In this case, we should understand the word “crazy” to mean that they were all yogis. But in the case of GC, it is difficult to say, whether he was called “crazy” in the good sense and bad sense. But he could be called“crazy”. From the philosophical point of view, there is no meaning in this. From my perspective if I put it briefly, GC was a Tibetan thinker and reformer of the mid 20th century.