On behalf of my late father, Horkhang Sonam Penbar, I would like to express heartfelt happiness about this conference marking the centennial of Gendun Chopel’s birth. I am also very happy that all of these scholars could gather from all around the world here at the Latse Contemporary Tibetan Cultural Library and convene such an extensive memorial conference. The main topic I shall discuss today concerns the relationship between my father and Gendun Chopel. Time prohibits me from speaking in great detail, but I shall summarize here. My father and Gendun Chopel first met when Gendun Chopel returned to Lhasa from India for the second time. In 1945, Geshé Chödrak (who was known as “Horkhang Geshé” or “Horkhang Geshé Chödrak” because he stayed in our house) introduced Gendun Chopel to my father and Gendun Chopel visited the Horkhang House. That was when they first met. Gendun Chopel’s main purpose in coming was to say to my father: “I am writing a history of Tibet. Would you be able to support it? It would be good if you could.” According to my father, that is how their relationship started.
The relationship between the scholar Gendun Chopel and my father was primarily a karmic one, in that they had shared a teacher-student relationship in their former lives. From the day my father met this scholar, he considered him as a beloved friend.
When Gendun Chopel was nearing death, our father went to visit him again and again. At that time, he requested of my father: “Now, please take care of my estate (pha gzhis).” My father repeated this to me many times. Moreover, as he was dying, Gendun Chopel told his wife Tsering Yudrön: “When I die, please give my writings to Horkhang.” Accordingly, Tsering Yudrön later gave the metal box and all the writings to my father. Tsering Yudrön also told me about having done this. Gendun Chopel had many students, aristocrats who studied writing with him, etc. It is said that among them, he was fondest of the Horkhang sé (sras) [my father]. Thus, we can characterize their relationship primarily as one of teacher and student, and pure friendship.
Not only did my father safeguard the writings that Gendun Chopel had sent to him, but it seems he also had the idea from early on to publish them as a collection. However, with the rapid social change and his heavy responsibilities, he never found time to undertake this project. Then, in 1966, the Cultural Revolution began. During this period, his books were ransacked. Before the Cultural Revolution, some of his books had been carried away by higher officials. At that time, I was in Kham where I had gone for work. My father was beaten under the name of the “Cultural Revolution” for having bad political relationship with both Gendun Chopel and Geshe Chödrak.
With the end of the Cultural Revolution in 1976, all aspects of China’s policy improved. A new institute, the [Tibet Autonomous Region] Academy of Social Sciences was established and the study of Tibetan literature and arts was revived. My father was invited to work at the Academy of Social Sciences. His main responsibility was to search for and collect the writings of Gendun Chopel that had been ransacked and to write a biography [of Gendun Chopel]. My father was extremely disappointed that his [the father’s] books were scattered during the Cultural Revolution. Now [in 1976], he was very happy to have this chance. Then, thanks to the first director Tibet Academy of Social Sciences Dorjé Tseten and later Lhakpa Puntshok, our father wrote a biography of Gendun Chopel. Later, he looked everywhere and managed to secure a great number of valuable writings, including Grains of Gold (Gtam rgyud gser gyi thang ma). Later, the Tibetan Archives in 1990 was able to publish his collected writings in three volumes. Now everyone could read it. Thus the wish expressed by Gendun Chopel became reality: “May these [writings] vastly benefit friends I have never seen.”
In 1947, our father was working for the Do Kham Commissioner Lhalu (Lha klu) and had to leave to serve as an official in Chamdo, Kham. During that period, he was separated from Gendun Chopel. I was born before that, in 1945, the year that my father and Gendun Chopel met. So in 1947, I was still very young, probably about two years old. I went to Chamdo with my father and mother. After Chamdo was liberated, we stayed for about one more year and then returned; that is, during the third Tibetan month of 1951, we returned to Lhasa.
Once we were in Lhasa, Gendun Chopel arrived early one morning to the Horkhang House. He brought a friend with him. Over his jacket, the man had wrapped an old motley-colored kamapali shawl from India. By the look of his face, he was not feeling well. I was about seven or eight at that time. My father spent the whole day relaxing with them. After lunch, they took a photo in the Horkhang house, and also one of Gendun Chopel by himself. [Another] photo was taken with me next to him. I kept that photo until the Cultural Revolution in 1966. When we were beaten, my family didn’t dare keep it and burned the photos. My father was terribly disappointed.
I would like to say a few words about meeting Gendun Chopel after our return from Chamdo and about my experience then. He was wearing glasses at that time. His eyes were not good. Before we left for Chamdo, Gendun Chopel had written my father from prison saying that he needed to finish writing The White Annals. My father repeated this to us many times. While Gendun Chopel was in prison, Tethong Rakra Rinpoché and my father approached three of the cabinet ministers—Rampa, Kashöd, and Zurkhang—with whom it seems our family was somehow related and said, “Take pity. Gendun Chopel is absolutely not making counterfeit money. Please release him.”
When they went there, the kalons told them, “Neither of you should interfere in this matter; otherwise, maybe the Tethong and Horkhang [noble] families will lose their good names.” Rakra Tethong and my father had no other recourse. All they could do was to have food brought to the prison. It is said that Gendun Chopel enjoyed cigarettes. It seems they gave him cigarettes. How Gendun Chopel stayed in prison was addressed by Mrs. Tethong this morning.
Because my father needed to go to Chamdo, he could not proofread or print The White Annals. He thus asked Geshé Chödrak to do these. Later, Geshé Chödrak edited and printed the book. Briefly speaking, that is all I have to say.
In 1994, my father fell ill. He went to the hospital but never recuperated. While he was sick, he asked me to bring all his writings and documents from home. He said, “I wrote these thinking they might be useful for later generations. While some of these are published, others are not. Now, see if you can publish these as a collection.” It was like his last testament. My father passed away on the morning of December 27, 1994—the death date of Tsongkhapa of the Wood-Dog Year of the seventeenth Tibetan calendar cycle. He was seventy-six years old when he died.
For about a year after his death I was occupied with funeral preparations and my own office work and could not compile the volume he requested. I started the project later, in 1996, and looked through the texts. I analyzed them. Among them, some had been published and others hadn’t. I compiled them all and contacted the Tibetological Center. I asked them to please publish these works, per my father’s request. Thanks to Comrade Dramdül (Dgra ‘dul), who was working at the Tibetology Center (Bod rig pa’i zhib ‘jug lte gnas), and the head of the institute, Tenzin la, and editor Kelsang Dargyé, the volume was published in September 1999, under the title Hor khang Bsod nams dpal ‘bar gyi gsung rtsom phyogs bsgrig (The Collected Writings of Horkang Sonam Penbar). It contains, above all, my father’s biography of Gendun Chopel.
When I analyzed these writings, there were handwritten manuscripts by Gendun Chopel, some finished, some unfinished. Most of these I forwarded on. [Translator’s note: It is not clear where he forwarded them.] Later, there were still some others—I don’t know how my father got them—including the complete Guide to India. Other writings were in pieces. There were also several handwritten pages of his draft for The White Annals. These were valuable. My father himself treated them as very valuable. For me, even one letter of this scholar’s writing is valuable; so, even though these were just pieces, I thought it was important to treat them as valuable. It appeared that it would be hard for me to put them in any order for publication. I wondered what I should do so that they would not get lost and so that everyone could see them.
Earlier, before my father died, the nephew of Gendun Chopel, Yungdrung Gyal, came twice to Lhasa and we talked. He said he wanted to found a memorial for Gendun Chopel in his homeland. Later, after my father died, Yungdrung Gyal sent a letter in which he wrote: “Please see if you can help and support this project.” I figured it would not be useful if he were to establish the memorial only to have it remain empty. I thought it would be good if I gave the writings of Gendun Chopel that my father had stored and offered them as objects for the memorial. In 2000, I invited Yungdrung Gyal to come to Lhasa. I said, “It’s good if you establish a memorial. Please put these objects in it. Please take good care of them. Now, all that I have I am placing in your hands.” And I gave them to him. Later, through the hard work of Dorje Gyal, Yungdrung Gyal, and Humtsang Rinpoche [a lama from Golok who sponsored the book], a book entitled Newly Discovered Writings of Gendun Chopel could be published. I would like to take this chance today to thank the three of them.
This Centennial Conference is significant not only for its unprecedented discussion of various questions regarding Tibetan culture but also for reviving and furthering Tibetan culture, as well as for research on the scholar Gendun Chopel’s achievements, which has served to further Tibetan culture. I would like to take this opportunity to thank from my heart those scholars who are working hard to research Gendun Chopel’s legacy, whether they could attend this meeting or not. That is all I have to say for today. I could not speak in much detail. Please forgive me.
Translated from Tibetan transcript by Lauran Hartley.