Recorded on September 8, 1999 in Lhasa.
Horkhang Jampa Tendarorn was born in the late 1940s in Chamdo, Eastern Tibet (Kham), where his father, Horkhang Sonam Penbar (a close friend of Gendun Chopel's), was stationed as a commander of the Tibetan army. As small child he was an eyewitness of the attack of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) on Chamdo in 1950. During the Cultural Revolution (1966–1976) he worked as teacher and translator in the Tibetan countryside. He later returned to Lhasa, where he worked together with his father on several cultural projects. Among them was the compilation of Gendun Chopel's collected works, which were published 1990 in Lhasa as dGe-'dun chos-'phel gyi gsung rtsom in three volumes. Since the death of his father, he has been in charge of the family's archive and photos. He recently published a biography with selected texts and articles of his father. He lives in Lhasa.
Horkhang-la basically spoke without me (and Yangdon Dhondup) asking too many questions. We would throw in key words at times and he picked them up to continue his speech:
Today you have come here to interview me about Gendun Chopel. Since my father [Horkhang Sonam Penbar] and Gendun Chopel had a lot of interaction, you ask me if I know a little bit about Gendun Chopel. I will tell you whatever I know. My name is Bhu Jampa Tendar. My father was Horkhang Sonam Penbar. I have two sisters. I am the youngest son. My parents had only one son. My mother is the daughter of Tsangpa Nampu Shey. Her name is Dolma Yangzom. I have three children, one son, and two daughters. The two daughters are married and live separately from us. I am retired now. The government gives me monthly pension. The children are employed and have no problem making a living. I am happy.
I read religious scriptures at home. Before his death, my father asked me to make efforts to compile and publish his book [his biography]. This was his last wish or request to me. That's why I am making efforts to compile and publish his book. I have no other work to do now.
To tell you about Gendun Chopel: I met him only once. That was in 1951, when I was very young. I was born in 1945. My father first met Gendun Chopel in 1945 [it must have been 1946, because they met after Gendun Chopel had returned to Lhasa]. Geshe Chodrak introduced my father to Gendun Chopel [Geshe Chodrak knew Gendun Chopel from there time in Drepung monastery]. Geshe Chodrak was my father's teacher.
He told my father that Gendun Chopel had come to Lhasa. “You are interested in learning Tibetan. You can also learn some English from him. If you want to improve your literacy, you must invite Gendun Chopel to your home.”
He introduced my father to Gendun Chopel. Then my father invited Gendun Chopel home. My father and Gendun Chopel knew each other then. In the beginning they did not talk much. Gendun Chopel told my father about his wish to write a history book [The White Annals]. He asked my father to help with that. My father agreed. As time passed, they became closer and finally they became teacher and student. They became life-long friends. My father did everything he could to help Gendun Chopel with his history book. They went together to Ramagang and studied the stone pillar, jotted down the pillar's text to serve as historical research material [the inscriptions date back to the eighth century]. Then they rode around the Tsangpo River—the new bridge did not exist then.
Then Gendun Chopel started writing The White Annals. My father told me that Gendun Chopel had thought up the title by himself. My father was then the Rupon, the captain of the Body Guards Regiment [of the Dalai Lama]. He had to live inside the Norbulingka premises, where he had been allotted a residence. He invited Gendun Chopel to live and work at his Norbulingkha residence, as it was a quiet place. Gendun Chopel agreed. My father had a servant at his residence in Norbulingkha. The servant served tea and did other chores for Gendun Chopel.
Gendun Chopel started writing the history book at my father's residence in Norbulingkha. My father had to go frequently to Norbulingkha for his duty. There he often met Gendun Chopel and talked. One day they went up to Shol. There was another old stone pillar in Shol [with old inscriptions, dating back to the eighth century]. They spent a long time reading the text of the stone pillar. Many curious people came to look at them.
Gendun Chopel told my father, “Let's go now. Let's not stay here now. Now there will be obstacles to my project of writing the history.” He said this many times. “In the past, when I went to Toed, my dreams and other indications showed that there would be obstacles to the project of my history book.”
They came back that evening and went to our place; he returned to his residence in Lhasa. The next day, the local government arrested Gendun Chopel. That morning Rakra Rinpoche [Horkhang Sonam Penbar's cousin from the Tethong family] sent a note to my father, informing him that Gendun Chopel had been arrested the previous night. Rakra Rinpoche wanted to know what could be done now. Gendun Chopel, he said, had been accused for forging Tibetan currency notes. Gendun Chopel was not a person who would do such a bad thing.
My father made efforts. He went to the magistrate Tashi Pelra [who arrested Gendun Chopel] to find out the facts.
Tashi Pelra said this: “This is the responsibility given to us by the Kashag” [the Tibetan Cabinet]. He said nothing about the detention and charges against Gendun Chopel. Then they came back. Tibet was then ruled by Taktra Rinpoche [the Regent]. The Kalons [ministers] were Rampa, Surkhang, Kapshopa, and Phunkhang. We are related to the Surkhang family. Then Rakra and my father divided the tasks. They worked very hard to clear Gendun Chopel of the charges and get him released.
Rakra approached Rampa. They must have been related. I am not sure of this. He approached Rampa and my father, Surkhang. Phunkhang was also approached through someone else. The Kalons unanimously said that Rakra and my father should not get involved in this or this business would ultimately wipe out the Horkhang and Tethong families. My father said this to me. He has written it in the book also [the biography referred to earlier].
Then they became helpless. Gendun Chopel was detained on the upper floor of Nangtseshag [the office of the Lhasa magistrate at backside of the Jokhang Temple], in the room facing east. Rakra Rinpoche and my father bribed the guards and managed to send in whatever food Gendun Chopel wanted [see interview: Lobsang Dekyi, the sister of Rakra].
Gendun Chopel's favorite item was cigarettes. They sent him cigarettes. The history book remained incomplete. My father and Gendun Chopel communicated secretly by passing notes to each other. My father asked him what should be done about the history project.
Gendun Chopel replied, “I have completed three chapters already. But now the project has met with obstacles. I have reached the end of this project.” He asked my father to complete the book. My father used to say that Gendun Chopel would write on anything, including matchboxes [and cigarette wrappers]. Unlike us, he would not write on full pages.
The facilities in the prison were not good. My father preserved all the notes that Gendun Chopel had written on scraps of paper. We still have some of them. He wrote three letters to my father [See: letters from prison]. The letters talked about how the history book should be completed. The second point was a big request. He said that he had dreamed twice in prison that my father would complete his history book [The White Annals]. The first dream was auspicious, while the second was ordinary one [see: letters from prison]. As I reflect on his words in these letters today, I think this was Gendun Chopel's prophecy. All his notes were lost for some time [they were confiscated upon his arrest]. My father managed to collect and make them available to all [Horkhang published Gendun Chopel's collected works in three volumes in Lhasa, 1990].
To tell you what my father told me about The White Annals: There are many books on the history of Tibetan religion. But they are written in a flowery language and talk a lot about the spiritual doctrines and miracles. Ordinary readers would not understand them. Many historical facts are mixed up with spiritual phenomena. These books do not give clear historical facts. Gendun Chopel based his book on materials unearthed in the [Buddhist] caves of Dunhuang [in the northwest of China, today Xinjiang province]. Gendun Chopel's book is clear and factual. His made a great contribution to the posterity. My father said this to me.
Now what happened to The White Annals? Gendun Chopel was still in prison when my father went to Chamdo [in east Tibet]. My father then entrusted the work of wood-block carving, printing, etc., to Geshe Chodrak. Geshe Chodrak completed this work. He was able to carve the wood blocks. Because of the obstacles, only three chapters [of this Tibetan history] were written [indicating that more was planned]. Gendun Chopel was my father's teacher and closest friend till the end of his life. My father made all efforts to fulfill the wish of Gendun Chopel [to publish The White Annals]. I will not talk much about this. I will switch over to the second point.
I met Gendun Chopel only once. I remember it clearly. When Chamdo was being liberated, my father was there. I must have been about seven years old. My memory of that time is not very clear. I vividly remember how Chamdo was liberated [by the Chinese in 1950], how we escaped. Gendun Chopel was still in prison, when Chamdo was being liberated [in fact Gendun Chopel had already been released in 1949]. Chamdo was liberated in 1950. We had gone to Chamdo in 1947. My father was the treasurer of the Chamdo army. He went there as Lhalu's staff [the Governor of Chamdo]. We spent about four years in Chamdo. I must have been one year old, two years by the Tibetan system, when we went to Chamdo. I don't remember anything about this. We returned to Lhasa in the third moon of 1951.
At that time, Gendun Chopel was in Lhasa. It seems my father invited Gendun Chopel for meals several times. He wanted to come up. He was not well then. Alcohol had ruined his health. One day my father invited Gendun Chopel. He replied that he would surely come up. My father told me this story. At that time, I was a small child and living at the Horkhang house in Lhasa. I went to the Tibetan school. The PLA [People's Liberation Army] had most probably reached Lhasa by then. When we first came to Lhasa from Chamdo, the PLA had not reached there. They had only reached Kongpo Gyamdha then. This was probably around the time when they were signing the peace agreement [with the Tibetan government]. After the agreement, the PLA came to Lhasa.
One day Gendun Chopel came. I did not know him. I was only a child then. A man, wrapped in a blanket, came to our house. He looked ill. I asked our servant, Tashi Paljor, who that man was. Being a son of an aristocrat, I had a servant then [laughs]. He said the man was Amdo Gendun Chopel. He was wearing yellow Indian shoes. The shoes were old. His trouser color was like that [points to his trousers]. He was wearing a shirt inside. On top of that he had a blue Indian blanket, which he had wrapped around him like a monk's shawl. His hair was not cut; it was too long, reaching up to here. He had long hair. He did not look well at all.
My father and he spent a long time talking on the upper floor of our house. They spent the whole day there. I was a little child then. We went to the room, where they were talking. We played, slept, looked around. Being a child, I did not take interest in their conversation. Around midday they took photographs. My father had a camera. He took a picture of Gendun Chopel. Then he took a photo of me with Gendun Chopel. My father treasured these photos until the time of the Cultural Revolution. There were vigorous campaigns during the Cultural Revolution. They asked my father about his relationship with Gendun Chopel and Geshe Chodrak. Our family was afraid and burnt the photos. Later, my father missed those photos. Those were the last photos taken of Gendun Chopel. I searched for the negatives, but could not find them. I regret their loss. Really.
We reached Lhasa in the third moon of 1951. Gendun Chopel passed away around 4 pm on the fourteenth day of the eighth moon in 1951. He died after his release from prison. He died in the agriculture office building, known as Gurushar. He had taken up residence there. It seems my father was with him, when he died [Gendun Chopel died alone, he was found dead in his room in the morning]. Before his death, he had told his wife, Tseten Yudron [See: interview with her], that the metal boxes containing his documents was his fortune. He had asked Yudron to give the box to my father, Horkhang Sonam Penbar. The box was brought to our home before his death. My father had the boxes till the Cultural Revolution. Before that Gendun Chopel had given the Tibetan government, whatever documents they asked for [his notes and documents were confiscated against Gendun Chopel's will]. The government retained them. The documents were lost during the Cultural Revolution. This is the story of that time [1950s]. This is the story of what I saw. I feel privileged to have met such a learned person. He was fond of me. He asked my father if I was his son.
My father said, “Yes, this is my son.”
Gendun Chopel stroked my hair, calling me Sey Kuchok. This is all I remember. I don't remember anything else of their conversation, since I was young then.
While he was in prison, Rakra Rinpoche and my father sent in all the food that he liked. They bribed the prison guards. He sent three letters to my father. My father kept all those letters. They are still with me. He wrote very clearly in his letter that he had been falsely charged, that he had worked for the well-being of Tibet and that the future generation would see this [See: letters from prison]. Gendun Chopel talked about one auspicious dream and one ordinary dream concerning my father in these letters. My father did not ask what dreams they were. He hoped that my father would complete his history book.
All the letters are here. You can read these letters later if you want. I don't have to tell you the details now. The letters clearly mention everything. Now, as I contemplate on his talk of the auspicious dream, I realize that the history text was carved on wood blocks and served as basis for all Tibetologists. Secondly, towards the end of his life, my father managed to collect all the documents that had been lost during the Cultural Revolution. Moreover, the government, and people like Lhakpa Phuntsok of the Department of Social Studies in Lhasa—now he is chairman—Dorje Tsering, and others supported the work of my father, as a result of which my father was able to fulfill his wish. Three books have been published [in three volumes, 1990]. This probably must have something to do with the auspicious dream of Gendun Chopel. The ordinary dream refers to the fact that many documents were completely lost. I think Gendun Chopel prophesized the future.
Secondly, my father supported the history book project of Gendun Chopel, because he was himself interested in Tibetan culture right from a young age. Unlike other aristocrats, my father took immense interest in Tibetan studies right from a young age. My aunt and relatives told me that my father would memorize the Sakya Lekshey text early in the morning and that he was very keen on learning and read a lot of books on Tibetan political and religious history. These are works of great Tibetan scholars. But they are a bit too spiritually inclined and had the disadvantage not being able to tell the factual history of Tibet clearly [To this point, see Gendun Chopel's texts on Tibetan history]. Gendun Chopel was the first scholar who based his history of Tibetan kings on the Dunhuang documents. His book tells the old history of Tibet clearly. So my father supported it. My father wanted a history book, in which the facts were not obscured by religious overtones. That's why he supported Gendun Chopel's project.
Reflecting on my father's words and his works on Gendun Chopel's life [he had published a biography of Gendun Chopel as early as 1983], it seems that Gendun Chopel had been connected to Rapga Pangdatsang [talking about Gendun Chopel’s involvement in the Tibetan Revolutionary Party in Kalimpong, 1945]. The British interfered. He was falsely accused [See interview: Hugh Richardson]. The real reason was his strong democratic and revolutionary ideas. I think he was imprisoned because of this. But the charge against him was of forging Tibetan currency notes. This is what my father told me. Gendun Chopel had traveled to foreign countries [only to India] and read a lot of books. He was a progressive man who wanted Tibet to change. My father said that Gendun Chopel had progressive ideas, that he believed that Tibet must change and that the old social system [in Tibet] should not remain unchanged.
Gendun Chopel was a great scholar, who loved his motherland [geographical Tibet], his nationality [being a Tibetan] and its culture. That's why he saw that it would not be good for the old social system to remain unchanged. Whatever the case may be, Gendun Chopel's charge was that of forging Tibetan currency notes. But the real reason for his arrest was the suspicion that he in collaboration with Rapga Pangdatsang had formed a revolutionary organization. Hugh Richardson and others got him arrested. That's what my father said.
About Gendun Chopel's drinking and smoking problem, my father said this. His students, who wanted to learn from him, ruined Gendun Chopel. They gave him drinks. He was unhappy those days. They ruined a kind man [See interview: Tseten Yudron]. Gendun Chopel started drinking in prison. Before that he did not drink much [See interview: Golok Jigme]. Of course, he was fond of smoking. He smoked a lot, but did not drink all that much. After his release from prison, his students gave him drinks. He was a highly learned man and talked more after drinking. That's why they gave him drinks to make him talk more. What kind of method is this? They gave him drinks, and he uttered the words of wisdom. Otherwise, he did not speak much, it seems. This is how some students ruined his health. My father told me this. Although they claimed to be his students, they were not his true well-wishers. They visited him in prison to extract knowledge from him. They brought him drinks. Gendun Chopel seemed to speak out frankly when he was drunk. This was a trick to extract knowledge of him. After that, he developed drinking problems [I personally doubt the rationale of this story. I believe that Gendun Chopel had a drinking problem on his own, for whatever reason].
Secondly, there were people who said that Gendun Chopel was mad, that he was a womanizer, that he smoked, that he had no scruples and no faith in religion, etc. I heard some people say this. But my father strongly disagreed. My father said that Gendun Chopel on the outside appeared like this sort of person; but that at the bottom heart he had a lot of faith in the Buddha and that his faith was unswerving [See interviews: Tseten Yudron, Amdo Champa, Thubten Wangpo, and Golok Jigme].
It seems the books written by Westerners on Gendun Chopel are not clear on the time of his death. My father told me clearly about this, because he was with Gendun Chopel at the time of his death. The Drungyig Chenmo [a monk official], my father, and Lachung Apo worked together to organize the prayers after his death. He died in his residence at Gurushar, the house of the agriculture department. The Tibetan government had allotted this house to Gendun Chopel. He died after his release from prison. His wife, Tseten Yudron, was with him at the time of his death [she wasn't, see interview with her]. He died on the fourteenth day of the eighth moon in 1951. The time was around 4 pm Tibetan time. In those days, we followed the Tibetan standard time, not the present Beijing standard time. My father told me that he was perfectly sure of the time of Gendun Chopel's death. Some writers have got the details wrong. My father knows this, because he was fond of keeping journals in the past. My father had forgotten the date at one time. But later he consulted his journals and got the date right. He happily told me that he had got the right date. We came to Lhasa in the third moon of 1951. Since then, my father interacted with Gendun Chopel for some five months: the third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, and then Gendun Chopel died in the eighth moon.
The second reason, why I know a bit about Gendun Chopel is this. In the past I was only a small child. On top of that, I did not take much interest in these things. What really happened is this. From 1951 onwards I saw Gendun Chopel's books and learned a bit about him. From 1951 onwards I developed a deep respect for him through my father. This is because, ever since Gendun Chopel's death, my father had a wish to write his life story. But circumstances, and his busy schedule prevented him from fulfilling his wish. On the one hand, my father worked for the Tibetan local government. Secondly, he taught at the Tibet government employees' academy. He had to travel on behalf of the Tibetan local government. So he was busy every day. Secondly, the 1959 rebellion [against the Chinese invaders] broke out [leading to the escape of the Dalai Lama to India]. Then there was the democratic reform. That's why the changing situation prevented my father from fulfilling his wish. Then the Cultural Revolution came [1966¬–1976]. All the documents that Gendun Chopel had asked his wife to give to my father, saying that those were his fortune, were searched and lost.
He had no material to write the life story then. My father was heartbroken and probably thought he would not be able to write the biography of Gendun Chopel. Because of this he would not write it. Then there was the liberalization [after the death of Mao in 1976. In Tibet the opening only began in the early 1980s]. The Gang of Four was smashed. The new Policy implementation took effect. The documents, which had been confiscated by the Bureau in the past, were returned to their owners. Although some of the documents were lost, there were still some to start on. My father now got new courage to fulfill his wish to write the life story of Gendun Chopel.
Secondly, many research works on Gendun Chopel [beginning in the late 1970s] and Tibetology were published abroad. My father read them [Horkhang read and spoke English fluently]. He found that some of them did not tell the truth, others contained only praises and failed to portray Gendun Chopel's real life, while others claimed that he was deeply spiritual but failed to show his other achievements clearly. That's why my father thought that, since he had the materials, he must write the life story of Gendun Chopel. He had wanted to write the life story of Gendun Chopel since 1951. At that time [1980s], I worked in the government office. I was a translator in the Tibet Translation Bureau. My father and I lived as one family then. My father was employed in the Political Consultative Committee [an institution, founded in the 1980s by the Chinese government, to reintegrate the nobility and former dignitaries into their ruling system]. He worked at this committee. But during his free time, he wrote the life history of Gendun Chopel.
He was very meticulous in writing. He consulted a lot of people and asked them, whether he got his facts right. Altogether, he wrote the manuscript fifteen times. My contribution to this work was to copy his drafts in my handwriting. I could write fast. I copied what my father wrote. My father would read what I had copied; he then made further corrections. Altogether, he corrected it twenty or thirty times. Finally, in 1983, it was published as a research work on Gendun Chopel. My father had some problem in writing it between 1981 and 1983. However, he received the support of the heads of the Tibetan Academy of Social Studies, Dorje Tsering, and Lhakpa Phuntsok. They said research on Gendun Chopel was being done abroad, and that someone in Tibet should research Gendun Chopel's life, since it was his birthplace after all—that Tibet was where the information originated and that if Tibet did not produce clear information, Gendun Chopel's biography would be incomplete, etc.
That's why the authorities entrusted my father with the work of writing Gendun Chopel's biography. They asked my father to take on this work. They approved of the project and supported my father's work. This is how his wish was fulfilled. All the materials of Gendun Chopel were then collected. With the support of the Tibetan Academy of Social Studies and the Publishing House, he was able to correct his manuscript several times. They took the responsibility for its publication. These are the efforts of my father's life. This is a gift to the people of Tibet and to posterity in general. As I copied my father's manuscript, I learned a lot about Gendun Chopel. What he did was not an easy thing. Thereafter, I started reading all of Gendun Chopel's works. But I am not a highly learned person and therefore can't really understand the depth of his works. Gendun Chopel was not to be trifled with. He cared for his motherland, his people, their religion, and culture. I feel sad that he was falsely charged and punished in the old society. If he had lived slightly longer and written slightly more, it would have been very useful. But many obstacles prevented this. Secondly, it is as they say: “A precious vase of bindruya, was smashed on the rocks” [According to Rakra Rinpoche, this quote is actually of Gendun Chopel].
My father started writing the biography of Gendun Chopel in 1981. I had the good fortune of copying his manuscript several times. My father and I had been separated for almost sixteen years, till 1981. I had spent sixteen years working in Kham [east Tibet, as part of a campaign to send young people to remote areas]. I came back to Lhasa in 1980. In 1965 I was sent to work in Kham. By 1980 I had worked with farmers and nomads in Kham for almost sixteen years. Therefore, I did not get to spend much time with my parents. That was the time of the Cultural Revolution. ([Right]: Horkhang's father and mother right after the Cultural Revolution, Lhasa, late 1970s).
Later, my father made efforts to secure me another job. This is how I managed to return to Lhasa. I copied my father's draft. My father made corrections and I copied them again. That left a deep impression in my mind. I read a few of Gendun Chopel's books. But his works are very deep and I am not well learned. That's why I could not understand very much. However, I did understand that he was a great scholar of Tibetan history and other disciplines. I understood that he was not an ordinary scholar. Secondly, I realized that he cared for his motherland, his country and people. Moreover, I felt sad that he had to suffer imprisonment and hardship in the old society. I wish he had not been jailed. I also wish he had been able to complete his history project [The White Annals]. But he had this obstacle [of being arrested and imprisoned]. It makes me sad. It really is as they say, “A precious vase of bindruya, was smashed on the rocks.”
I can't say much about the work of my father. I think it was a very important. I also think it was very precious research work on what Gendun Chopel had left behind. There is a huge scope for research on this. Right now, research on this subject [Gendun Chopel] is being done here in China. Also, extensive research is conducted in foreign countries on what Gendun Chopel left behind. From this the researchers try to figure out what his thoughts were. He was a patriot. He was a progressive. This is the conclusion of my father's first research. He said that Gendun Chopel definitely was a patriot with progressive ideas. If you ask me— what this is really all about—it is beneficial to the present society. If you ask me, why there should be more research in Tibetology, doing research on this is akin to valuing our own culture. Research on Gendun Chopel's works is worthwhile and valuable. I think it is very useful to do research in Tibetology.
To sum up, Gendun Chopel was a great Tibetan. Not only of Tibetology, he was an unparalleled scholar in every discipline of the twentieth century. I feel fortunate that my father worked with him, and that I saw him myself. I respect him. I have immeasurable respect for Gendun Chopel. Honestly. This is a measure of what kind of person he was. When he was in prison, he gave the last part of The White Annals to my father. There was one stanza there, which I will read out to you. This sums up everything.
The white rays of loyalty to my place and people
Exist inherently in the core of my heart.
To the ruler and people of my Snow Land
I will do whatever little service my ability permits.
This poetic composition clearly reflects what sort of person Gendun Chopel was. His achievements will never fade away. This is all I have to say.
Another thing, Geshe Chodrak [his father's teacher] has not plagiarized the Tibetan dictionary, as some foreigners have written. This was claimed by some people about Geshe Chodrak's dictionary. It was alluded that Geshe Chodrak plagiarized it from Gendun Chopel. This, my father said, was untrue. Geshe Chodrak and Gendun Chopel were friends. They must have discussed the contents of the dictionary. Naturally, they would have interacted. Gendun Chopel was a scholar. But the efforts were that of Geshe Chodrak himself. My father said that he saw this himself. Geshe Chodrak, he said, certainly did not plagiarize it from Gendun Chopel. There was this composition: “The price of having eaten others' food for a long time.” This was actually written by Gendun Chopel. Gendun Chopel composed this for Geshe Chodrak, my father said. But some people alluded to plagiarism [laughs]. My father had the wood blocks made for this dictionary. In the past, my father helped Geshe Chodrak in making these wood blocks. Before the before the Liberation , my father was interested in these thing. He helped scholars a lot.