Recorded on the 13th of September 1999 in Lhasa.
Born 1916 in Northeastern Tibet (Amdo). As one of the leading Tibetan “modernist”, Amdo Champa revolutionized Tibetan art in the late 1950's by painting photo-realistic portraits of his then patron, H. H. Dalai Lama, in a mural at the Norbulingka in Lhasa. His painting style was also influenced by the ideas of GC, who, already in the 1930's, had painted photo-realistic portraits of the nobility in Lhasa. They lived together for some time after GC's release from prison in 1949. In the mid-1980's he left Tibet to go to Dharamshala in India. For Tashi Tsering (See: Interview: Tashi Tsering) he painted two portraits of GC from his memory (charcoal). He later returned to Tibet, where he became the head of the Thangka Painting School in Lhasa. He died there in the year 2002. Tibetan, in the film.
What is your name and how old are you?
My name is Amdo Champa. I am 85 years old. Till now I have been painting. Since the main thing you would like to know is about GC and me; at 28, when I came to Lhasa, GC was not here. He was in prison. One or two years later he was released. After his release we met and came to know each other well. GC often visited me, and we were both poor. It didn't matter who had anything, we used to share all we had and often eat at each other's place. We stayed like that for three years. And then he passed away at 47 . That was in 1951, I guess. He was a great scholar. I don't have to elaborate on that.
When did you two become friends?
Only after his release from the prison we became friends . GC was a very popular man but I had never met him before. When he was released from the prison, I asked a friend of mine to invite him to my house. At that time I had prepared momo for us. When he first came to my house he was so skinny. He was wearing a brown chupa and a big army cap. At that time I had hung three of my paintings on the wall. One was of Lord Buddha, when he was a young prince. The second was the Chinese Emperor Kangxi. Kangxi had a long beard, and since I was so fond of the portrait, I had hung it up. On one side, I had hung the portrait of the 13th Dalai Lama, His Holiness Thubten Gyatso. All the three portraits had some compositions written beneath them, composed by Lobsang Dorje, secretary of Pabongka, a renowned Rinpoche. On the Buddha's portrait, “Young Son of Szetsang, Accomplisher of all deeds, is the greatest of all Lords”, was written. “The earth is ruled with might, Emperor Kangxi is the mighty ruler”, was written beneath Kangxi's portrait. And beneath the 13th Dalai Lama's portrait it said, “Holder of the white lotus, the only savior of the Land of Snows, Thubten Gyatso is the guide of all sentient beings”. As soon as GC entered my room, he looked at the portraits and asked me, who had composed those verses. I told him that Pabongka Rinpoche's secretary wrote those. The he asked the name of the secretary and I told him the name. GC liked the compositions. He said the compositions were really good and kept staring at them. Only then he sat down for the momo. So that was how we spent our first day together. From that day onwards, we used to visit each other often and became very close. We got along so well, since we shared the same ideology and had similar habits. Like me he was poor, and never needed much. He looked more like a beggar. I, too, never owned wealth and live the life of hands to mouth. Whatever we had today, we finished up for the day and for tomorrow it would be another day. Since we shared the same views and ideology, we got along so well. Our friendship improved with each passing day. Sometimes I used to feel that he might shift to my house, because his students were taught Tibetan philosophy at my house, too. Many of his students learnt the holy text from him. However, he used to talk more on general topics, rather than about the holy text. And he liked cracking jokes and talking idly with them. Generally, he was sort of a lazy man. Sometimes he hardly washed his face for 7-8 days and wouldn't even get up from his bed. He wouldn't wear his shoes sometimes. He would wrap himself with his blanket, which he had brought back from India. It was green in color. He wouldn't even wear a shirt underneath that blanket. He was like that in front of his students too. When he had to go for the toilet, he would wrap the green blanket around him and would walk and no one would remind him of his shoes, as all were familiar with his habit of not putting on his shoes.
Sometimes he would ask me to come for circambulation with him at the Barkhor [the market-street surrounding the Jokhang Temple]. At that time, he lived with a female from Chamdo, named Tseten Yudron [See interview: Tseten Yudron]. Sometimes he would ask her for money. Whenever we were to go for the circumambulation at Barkhor, he would ask her for some money. Only when he went for the circumambulation and to the market, would he get out from his bed and wear his shoes, chupa [Tibetan traditional dress] and the loose army hat. Sometimes, I had to persuade him to go for circumambulation with me. His wife Tseten Yudron normally had to help him in tying his chupa, else he couldn't wear it properly. Whenever he had to go out, he would beg money from his wife, as he didn't have a penny with him. That time we were using Tibetan currency. In our currency, ten showor is equivalent to one sangkang and 15 showor is one counting. Tseten Yudron would give him 10 showor after much searching. But he never had the habit of keeping a purse with him, so he would ask me for a purse to keep the money. Tseten Yudron would put the money in an empty matchbox and give it to him. While at the market, he never had the habit of looking sideways, nor talking to others, but would go straight to the place he had to go and do whatever he had to do. Before reaching the Barkhor, there was an old woman, who was selling shapale [fried momo]. He would buy three shapales and eat one there. He would also offer me one, but I would refuse, as I used to feel embarrassed, since people of Lhasa would never eat food on the street. Only beggars would do such things. Besides, a dignified person would never eat outside. He would eat one, and would stand up for giving the money to the woman. Since he had the money in the matchbox, which he had to look for in his big chupa, he would have a difficult time in looking for it. After not being able to locate it in his big chupa, he would tell me that he might have lost the money. Then the old woman would get worried and ask him, where he had put it. She had at times even helped him in looking for the money in his chupa. He sometimes loved idle and baseless talks. People would look at him and say that he must be a madman [See interviews: Thubten Wangpo, Ju Kesang]. But their remarks had no impact on him, and he wouldn't care, instead he would compose a poem on the shapale, he was eating and people would laugh at him. I used to feel embarrassed. On reaching home, he would give one of the shapale to his wife Tseten Yudron and say it tasted good. So, this was how we carried on with our life.
Sometimes, I would ask him to go to the temple with me [the Jokhang Temple]. Often he would refuse going there, asking what there was in the temple to go so often. I would urge him that it was good to go there and sometimes I would even drag him with me. After much persuasion, he would sometimes agree to come with me, but only on the condition that we would not see many deities; that we would not pray for a long in front of the Gods; and that we would be back home soon. He would say that we should run through the Temple from one image to the other. He also said that it was not good to pray for too long a time in front of the Gods. So I had to agree with him, just to make him to come with me. Once inside the Jokhang Temple, he would not pray much, but would just glance at the Gods' faces. Only while visiting Jowo Rinpoche [the main shrine in the center of Jokhang], he would bow in front of it. Other than that, in other temples, he wouldn't give much notice to the images.
Another story about GC: there was a treasurer of Tolung Drag. The Tolung Drag was formerly a king of Tibet, but the main power rested in the hands of the treasurer. There were the cabinet members [Kashag] above the treasurer, but on important decisions, the ministers couldn't decide without the consent of the treasurer. So, the treasurer was one of the students of GC. Sometimes, the treasurer used to invite GC to his house. I once told GC that he should give respect to the treasurer, especially in front of others. I asked GC if he respected him. GC replied he had never respected anyone. I asked him, why he didn't. He said that it was just his habit and that he had never respected anybody. I told him that, although he had never respected anybody – but the treasurer being an important person – he should give respect to him. GC didn't say anything in reply. When GC returned from his visit, I asked him what the treasurer's reaction was and how he treated him. GC said, whenever he visited the treasurer, the man would get up from his seat to welcome him to sit on his seat instead. GC said he used to sit on it. I was surprised to hear that he would sit on the treasurer's seat, and I told him so. GC explained he considered everybody to be equal, irrespective of his or her status and position. Looking back at his words, it seemed that he didn't bother about the other people's status. He acted, as if he was the most learned person in Tibet [I wonder, whether Amdo Champa got the point, GC was trying to make].
One day, while he was teaching philosophy for some aristocrats, he said they considered him as knowledgeable, which he said he was. He said he had worked hard for his knowledge. Unlike his aristocratic students, he didn't let his mind roam around, he kept his mind concentrated and focused on things, and he would think a lot. He said if they compared themselves to him, they were not different from his cat, which had a very limited imagination and knowledge. In the morning, when you look into the cat's eye, the eyeballs were round. But at noon, its eyeballs were small, just like a point of a needle. He said the way we see things and the way the cat see things, are very different. When we look from here at a mountain, it does not matter, who is actually looking at the mountain. What we see is only a mountain. We don't see two mountains. But if the cat could speak, it would probably say that there were two mountains, because a cat's eyeballs and our eyeballs have different shapes. Likewise, when we look at a pillar, all of us would agree that the pillar has a cuboid shape. Whether we ask one or a hundred persons, all would agree that a pillar has a cuboid shape. Nobody would say that it was round. We, the
human beings, have the same sense of conceiving things. When we see a square, we all recognize it as a square. When we see a round figure, we all recognize it as round. That's our way of looking at things. The shape of our eyeballs makes all humans see things in the same way. Likewise, a common standard recognizes all the matters, irrespective of whether it is concrete or abstract, and everybody describes it the same way. Other than that, there was no reason, why things are called, what they were called by everybody.
Did GC tell you about his experiences inside the prison?
Yes, he did. He said the prison in Tibet was far better than the hotels in foreign countries. Here, even if the prisoner were told to leave the prison after the completion of his prison terms, he would rather request to be detained. A few days after their release, they would come back to stay in prison. GC said that he had a good life in the prison. Some aristocrats used to visit him in the prison and would bring food for him [See interviews: Horkhang Jampa Tendar, Tseten Yudron]. He used to share his food with the others in the prison. He had painted in the prison, too. He met that female, named Choedon in the prison. GC felt that life in the prison was good, except for its name. Every evening around dusk the prisoners would assemble on the terrace and say prayers, facing towards the His Holiness' Palace [Shol prison was right underneath the Potala Palace]. The prisoners could also gamble Mahjong [a Chinese game]. Sometimes the monks from the Namgyal monastery would come to gamble in the prison with the prisoners. To give an indication to the monks that there would be a gambling session, the prisoners would place a maroon robe on the terrace after their prayers. After seeing that robe, the monks would come for gambling. Upon his imprisonment, GC was first locked up in the office [he is referring to the office of the Lhasa magistrate] instead of the prison [Shol prison]. At first he wasn't told the reason for his captivity. But GC felt that he was caught, because the British government might have sent secret letters [reports] to the Tibetan government, stating that he was a criminal. During his stay in India for 12 years, GC was doing researches on Tibetan history. He knew that the British government was keeping eye on him. They knew the details of all his activities. Even, when he returned from India through Moan Tawang to Lhasa [in 1946], the British spies were on his trail. So the British could have reported to the Kashag [the cabinet], blaming GC of espionage. And that was, what GC felt. But he claimed of not being a spy at all. However, he didn't have any proof of his innocence. He felt so scared that he might get his hands chopped off or get his eyes poked out. Fearing so, he said he had been saying Dolma [a female deity] prayers, while his captivity. Since he was locked in a house with a wooden floor [again Amdo Champa is referring to the office of the Lhasa magistrate that had a prison, too], he used to mark the number of his prayers on that floor, because he didn't own a rosary to count his prayers. Later, he noticed that almost the whole floor was covered with these marks. And then, one day, he was called by the superintendent, who told him that he would be shifted to the Shol prison [underneath the Potala, where GC spent most of his term]. He was also informed that he would be given fifty lashes at that prison. But when at Shol prison, he was saved from the whipping by Surkhang [a minister] and the Rupon [military commander], because both had once been the pupils of GC. They bribed the person, who conducted the whipping. The person was told not to hit GC directly, instead flipping the whip on the ground, in order to bring out the sound only [this version was not confirmed by others, but all agree that GC was whipped].
He stayed almost three years in Shol prison. Only after his third year of imprisonment, some monks from his college in Drepung [Lhubum khangtsen] stood for his surety to get him released. GC had once been a monk in that monastery. Only then he was released. On the day of a prisoner's release, the officials had to read out the reasons of the prisoner's captivity or impeachment in front of all the other prisoners. During GC's release they said, he was a criminal, who had spied for the Russians. They also said he was sent by the Russians [communists?] to spy. The reason they stated for his release was that, since His Holiness the Dalai Lama had reached his 15th birthday, in order to ward off all the evils on that year, GC would be spared [Nobody else confirmed this story]. Saying so, he was released. The main allegation against GC was of being a spy. In fact, the British officers branded him as a spy, as he stayed 12 years in India, studying Tibet's history. Doing so, he knew that the areas lying around the river Ganges and Delhi had once been under Tibet [8th century]. Likewise, the British knew about GC, studying all the languages and letters of the places he came across in India. So they put him on trial in their court [GC was never put on trial in British India. Amdo Champa's explanation for GC's arrest sounds very confused here].
What about GC's involvement in this political party in Kalimpong?
He didn't tell me anything about it. He said he was not into such activity and wasn't in their group. He only said that while in India for 12 years, he had been leading a very poor life. He had been even without a penny sometimes. Feeling sorry for his difficult condition, some people had even suggested him to take up a teaching job, since some schools were willing to pay him handsomely. But he didn't take a heed to that offer, because if he had taken that profession he would not have been able to do his research on Tibet's history, he would have been busy teaching. While in India, he was called Mahapandita GC [See interview: Gurung Gyalsay]
Did GC tell you about the coming of the Red Chinese to Tibet?
I cannot tell you in the correct sequence, however, I will tell you, whatever I remember, picking from here and there. I remember him telling me that the stone pillar in front of the Potala Palace [the Shol pillar] was invaluable. He said that the pillar is very important for Tibet. Even if we happened to cover this pillar with gold from all the sides, still it would not be adequate to reimburse the gratitude we should feel for this pillar [the inscriptions on the pillar indicate that Tibet had once received a tribute from China, 8th century]. He opined that the Tibetans never really knew, how important the pillar was. Some people even used to hit stones at the pillar and made holes that spoilt the letters on it. These days a barbed fence surrounded the pillar. Earlier, some irresponsible youths used to throw stones at the pillar and made holes, thus many important letters got disfigured [GC mentions this problem in one of his essays on Tibetan history. Otherwise the pillar is very grateful to Tibet.
He once cited the example that Tibet was like a bowl of vegetable, placed on a square table. Four spoons were put in the bowl. Each person at the table was ready to pick up the spoon and eat the vegetables from the bowl. He assumed that in the case of Tibet someone would definitely pick up the spoon and eat the vegetables. He also presumed that the Chinese would be the ones. At that time the Chinese have not reached Tibet yet. The Tibetans had only heard about some fighting in China, and had never imagined the Chinese coming to Tibet. GC also knew that an American Journalist had met with Mao Tsetung. GC said Mao was very clever and a cunning man, who knew to feign and pretend to live like those simple poor people. Those days Mao used to clad himself with patched clothes and wore a torn straw hat. GC said, all this was Mao's concocted life, as soon as he had the control of the land; he would surely change his attitude, because the Chinese loved a luxurious life [Amdo Champa seems to be talking about the time
just before the Chinese Revolution in 1949]. At the same time, the condition of the Tibetan government was weak, as the Dalai Lama was still very young and didn't know much. He was surrounded by elders and was completely fenced off [from life and politics]. Since he was only a child, he wouldn't know anything. Though there were many wise, intelligent and bright people, they wouldn't get any chance to rise up and gain power. Those in power would never let those bright persons to rise in power. As long as this situation didn't change, Tibet, as a nation wouldn't exist more than four, maybe five years, GC said.
Why did GC drink so much after his release?
When GC was imprisoned on the British allegations Kapshopa was a minister in the Cabinet [Kashag]. GC always said that his arrest was all Kapshopa's doing. Only few, including Kapshopa, knew the real reason for his captivity. Other than them [the members of the Cabinet], very few knew of his captivity [See interview: Tashi Pelra, Lobsang Dekyi]. GC felt very sad and unhappy after his time in prison. He felt that he would die anyway. He felt that they would kill him anyhow. So he started drinking and smoking. Gradually he started cracking up mentally [See interview: Tseten Yudron].
Personally, I think that he was a very interesting man. He had a very strange personality, though. He was never overly self-conscious. He didn't care, what people would say about him. He was not afraid of being ashamed. He didn't give a damn of what the people's stature was. For instance, one day he was invited to a party, organized by the treasurer of the government [See above]. There, the aristocrats were seated according to their stature. Since the Kalons [ministers] were the highest among the aristocrats, they were seated at the top. GC dressed up for the occasion and took his wife, Tseten Yudron along with him, saying that there would be a feast, although she was very reluctant to go, since she was unused going to big parties. He convinced her, saying that, since he was invited he could take her along, too. There were so many people at the gathering. As they were going to their seats, an attendant stopped Tseten Yudron, saying, as she was only a commoner, she couldn't join GC at his seat among the aristocrats. At first, GC was ignorant of the fact that she was stopped. He went ahead to his seat, without looking back, thinking that Tseten Yudron was right behind him. He was seated among the Cabinet members. There were four Cabinet members and several other dignitaries seated near him. After the show [dances], the lunch was served. The food was delicious and he called out for his wife to taste it. But he couldn't find her. Then he asked loudly, where she was, and when told that she was seated far behind, he demanded that she be brought immediately near him. The attendants had to bring her up near him. Those seated in front of GC were all important persons, but it seemed their presence didn't matter a bit to him. For him only the food and his Tseten Yudron mattered. He could only see his wife. He was ignorant of other's presence. That kind of nature is really strange. He was not bothered at all about those people's presence. Either he was a person without any feelings or a very sophisticated person. He didn't have any sort of self-consciousness. For him only Tseten Yudron mattered. It would be one thing if she had been beautiful, but on the contrary, she was an ugly girl. Asking her to be brought up in front of all the important persons was really
strange and later, when I told others of his behavior, people really felt that his behavior was strange. Normally, when people are in front of important persons, they tend to be nervous and kind of shrink away. But GC didn't see them as important persons, let alone being nervous of them. Whenever he came in front of any important person, he would simply light up his cigarette and ignore them completely. But with the simple common people, he really opened up. He used to share his food, talk a lot and joke with them [See interview: Tseten Yudron].
What about the incidence, when GC was poking his cigarette in the face of Lord Buddha?
That was true. Between the time of his return to Tibet from India and before his imprisonment , there was a lot of talk going on about his change of ideas [Other sources claim that this incident too place, after his release from prison, between 1949-51, see interview: Thubten Wangpo]. People used to say that GC was so popular among the educated for his hold on the Buddhist philosophy before he left for India. But then, his faith had been diluted. GC was at the time staying at Amdo Penpa's house. The house is no longer there anymore. Some geshes [scholars] from Drepung came to know of GC's whereabouts and four of them, Gyalrong Kyorpon, Tsekhang Lama, Minyak Kyorpon and one professor of astrology from the Lhasa Medical School, who was renowned for his knowledge, went to see GC to test his faith. That year, you have to know, the rain didn't fall and the country was facing a severe drought. All the reservoirs in Lhasa had dried up, and four to five monks prayed next to each reservoir for rain. As the four geshes from Drepung entered the house of Amdo Penpa, GC was coming down from the terrace. When he saw them coming, he kept looking at them, without saying a word, feeling they must have come for him. Then he went inside his room. When they came to his room, they noticed that there were very few things in the room. A carpet was laid on the floor. Other than that there was nothing, except for a copper idol of Lord Buddha and a book on top of a box of the Holy Scripture. GC at once sat near the box and didn't utter a word to them. He just ignored them. Meanwhile the geshes found a place to sit; some sat on the carpet and some on a chair. There was not a single word exchanged between them. GC lighted a cigarette and kept smoking. After a while, GC said the draught had really dried up the sky that year. The four monks agreed that the draught had really been very bad that year, and that they had never experienced such a draught before. He retorted with a cynical laugh that this draught was the sign of lack of cause and effect, because during the draught, there were 5 to 6 monks doing prayers at all the reservoirs in Lhasa, but still the rain wouldn't fall. The prayers should have caused the rain to fall, but there was no rain, therefore, it was a sign of lack of cause and effect. When GC said that, Minyak Kyorpon expressed his disagreement and asked GC not to use the “cause and effect concept” for the draught. While he was speaking, GC blew some smoke from his cigarette at the idol of Lord Buddha. As soon as he saw that, Minyak Kyorpon exclaimed that a cigarette is the dirtiest among the things we take, and the fact, that a learned person like GC blew the smoke in the face of Lord Buddha, was totally wrong. Again GC laughed at him and said, “When we were in Drepung monastery; we had been in the same class [See interviews: Alak Yongtsin, Alak Chongsay]. Already then, you were a poser! Today, you still don't know anything.” – You have to understand [Amdo Champa talks to us], that Minyak Kyorpon was very learned and had obtained the first position for his Geshe Lharampa [a kind of Buddhist doctorate] degree. Later he studied Tantra and here too, he had obtained the highest degree. Later he was the Lama Umtse [The Head Chanter] of Gyuto and would probably move on to become Ganden Tripa [The Head of the Gelugpa, selected for his vast knowledge] – GC told him that even after obtaining all these degrees and very good positions, he still was feeling that Minyak Kyorpon knew nothing. The smoke blown in Lord Buddha's face was his offering for the Lord. Sakya Pandita had once said that the best among offerings was the things one liked the most. Thus, GC said, he had offered the smoke to the Lord. He would even offer chang [beer] to the Lord. But that day, he didn't have any chang. Sometimes, when he bought chang, he used to put the statue of the Lord Buddha in the pot of chang. So, when he offered the smoke to the Lord, from his side, he meant to offer his best. From the Lord's side also, he would accept it in the best intentions, rather than consider the smoke as a dirty element [See interview: Golok Jigme] GC exclaimed to Minyak Kyorpon that his head was balding with age and still he didn't know anything and still he would dream of becoming the Ganden Tripa. GC said Minyak Kyorpon should feel ashamed of it.
GC passed away in August 1951. The dates were clearly stated in Horkhang's book [Horkhang Sonam Penbar]. GC suffered from oedema, and his whole body was swelled up. He visited the Medical Institute and started taking Tibetan medicines. That was the time, when the Chinese first came to Tibet [1950/51]. When he took those medicines, the swelling subsided. But the next day again his body swelled up. The medicines from the Medical Institute started losing effect. One day he said to me, the pain was unbearable and he wanted to have a divination done. He asked me if I knew somebody, who could it. When I said I knew someone, he asked me, who this person was. I said it was Tewo Kangyur Rinpoche. Then I asked GC if I should go to the Kangyur Rinpoche for the divination, to which he agreed, saying the Rinpoche was the best one in Lhasa for it. So I went there, and told the Rinpoche about GC's illness and asked the Rinpoche, whether GC would recover soon or whether there was any threat to his life. The Rinpoche said
there was no use for the divination, as GC did not have any believe in him, and even if he did, GC wouldn't believe him. I told the Rinpoche that GC certainly believed in him, and also told him that GC purposely sent me to him. I requested him to see if there was any threat to GC's life and what prayers should be done for his recovery. Only after my explanations did he do the divination. According to his divination, the Rinpoche said, there wasn't any threat to his life. He said it would be helpful to recite the Kyabdro and to light some butter lamps at the Ramoche temple that night. I returned home and informed GC of the Rinpoche's advice. GC immediately called for Tseten Yudron and told her to melt the butter, brought by Horkhang Sonam Penbar, and to fill all the butter lamps at Ramoche temple that night. He even asked for my rosary and recited the Kyabdro some fifty or sixty times, and then returned the rosary back to me. Even though I urged him to recite some more, he wouldn't heed my advice, saying spirituality has the characteristic of limitation. He said, prayers should be limited, and if done more than necessary, it was not good. – That is one episode, I experienced with GC.
Again the next day, when I went to meet GC, his condition had worsened. His whole body had swelled up. He could not move by himself. When he wanted to sit on the porch in the sun, he had to be lifted by four people. We sat together on the porch in the sun and he was his usual self – good humored and jolly and there was no sense of pain. When we were alone outside, he asked if he would recover from his illness or not. I told him, he would definitely get well, saying it was only a minor ailment, nothing serious. When the water comes out, you will be all right. He laughed it off, saying he would never get well. I argued, there was no reason, why he wouldn't get well. His disease was just a water disease and when the water comes out, also the disease was gone. He disagreed. He said he was very fortunate to have this disease. Only fortunate people would get this ailment. It is not easy to get this water disease. You have to pray for it. I never prayed for it, and still I got it. Once the scholars at Ganden monastery [southeast of Lhasa], used to pray to die from a water disease. Since I got the disease, without praying for it even once, I am very fortunate. When asked, why the scholars used to pray for water disease, he reasoned that, since water had the characteristic of coolness, water was the symbol of purity. So, when you die, your body gradually loses its heat and begins to shine. He said, the people who died of water
disease, would have a clear conscience. Their mind was very clear. There was no impurity. The mind would be concentrated. The mind would be steady and very clear. Whatever you pray for, when the mind was clear, would be fulfilled. When I agreed that the water disease was not easy to get, he laughed at me. I asked him if he was feeling much pain. The pain was there only seldom. Normally, there isn't much pain. He said he could sleep well at night. That was one day, but the next day GC told me that his ailment had grown worse. He inquired me if there was heaven. I was puzzled and asked him, why he was asking me, being a scholar himself. He insisted and asked me, what I think about heaven. I told him it must be there, since details about heaven were mentioned in all the Buddhist scriptures, as well as in history books. GC said all right if heaven really existed, then he would definitely go there. When I asked, whether he had the confidence that he would go there, he said yes, saying that only the wise go to heaven and not the fools. Since he was a wise man, he believed he would go there. Those were the last talks we had before his death. Now, when I recall what he said on his deathbed, I find truth in it. Unlike others, who insist on praying, GC never prayed, even through his last days – and I was with him most of the time. One of the last days he said he was feeling very sad. He said, he wasn't afraid of death as such, but felt a great sense of loss, when he thought that all his knowledge would wither away. He said, since he was very knowledgeable, his knowledge would fall apart after his death. His observations were very sound. I surmise the observations might be of a very learned person.
Where were you when he died?
I was in Lhasa. When he died, I wasn't at his house. When I went to his house, he was already dead. When he died it was like any commoner, otherwise, some high lama's die in a sitting position. Unlike commoners, many lamas die in different positions [See interview: Akhu Lama Tsering].
How did you learn about GC's death?
I went to his house the previous day, but left early. He had died on that very night. When I went to see him, he had died already. After his death, people from Lhubum Khangtsen [his former college in Drepung monastery] had come to his house. At that moment Horkhang was not there. He had already left for Chamdo. A simple funeral service was arranged by Lhubum Khangtsen and lead by a monk named Jamyang. The service was not as grand, as suiting to his stature as a renowned personality. His body was then destroyed like others [indicating that there was a sky burial. But in fact, GC was cremated], but his skull was taken by Namshar's personal assistant Sodor [?]. Sodor has passed away now, and GC's skull is no more there [See interview: Horkhang Jampa Tendar, Tseten Yudron, Akhu Lama Tsering].
Do you still have more to tell us?
That's almost it. These are only brief stories on GC. There are still lots more to tell, but most are
regarding philosophy etc. What I told you just now was just a brief part of our daily activities. There are many tales of GC's travel to Burma and Sri Lanka, but that is too long to be told... [Amdo Champa would only know from GC's books and/or from hearsay].
Once he told me that we would like to go to Lhasa with me, disguised as beggars to beg for tsampa. He was fond of imitating the beggars and poor people. He asked me, whether I could beg if we really went for begging, to which I replied that I couldn't. He said he knew from whom to borrow the begging bowl. He would also borrow those pointed hats and then wrap the head completely. He said we would have lots of fun while begging. He said if we went to the East of Lhasa, we would reach the house of the Secretary Sodor [See above] and said, we must beg from them. Sodor would certainly give us some tsampa [barley flour], but we would then plead for even more, but Sodor wouldn't give us more. So, we would still plead for more and then Sodor would scold us. He said that would be great fun! So he wanted us to go for begging. I asked him if he really meant it, and he said he was very sure of it. However, that idea didn't really work out, it vanished, either we didn't want to go or whatever...
Then one day again, he said we would go begging. We would take plastic bags that the beggars and the pilgrims from Kham would take to carry their tsampa and other small utensil. He said it would be of great fun to beg tsampa and prepare tea. But we couldn't do so. He liked the life style of the beggars and the poor people. He was not concerned and didn't appreciate the life style of the rich. He liked mingling with the poor and talking about them. He would never avoid and look down upon them. That was his nature. Basically he was a very well natured, trustworthy and straightforward person. But he wouldn't believe, whatever was told to him. He would say that we Tibetans do not know how to judge. Tibetans do not know, when to tell the truth and when to lie, whereas the foreigners do. If we ask a foreigner about his livelihood, he would tell you the truth. When asked about certain facts, they would answer straight away. If we try to fool them, they would immediately know. Whatever we ask them, they would reply accordingly. Unlike the foreigners, we Tibetans weren't straightforward. When required to retaliate, we did not have the guts. So that was, what we lacked. He would always say such things. But he was a very sincere person. He would never cheat or fool anyone.
Was GC interested in women?
He was interested in prostitution, in couples, and the physical aspects of the female body. GC had written the book Tibetan Art Of Love Making. The book was sort of a compilation of his own experiences. He was very fond of women, irrespective of their beauty and age. That was his nature. He would say that even a woman of seventy or eighty years would suffice for him. Sometimes, when he got drunk in the evening, he would insist for a woman to be brought. Even when told it was almost dawn and there would be no women around, except for the old beggars, who slept outside the Tsuglakhang [Jokhang Temple], he would ask for one and stressed his need. No one would bring any female, though he insisted. GC said that once during a Women's Conference [I wonder, where this was happening?], the agenda was on how to drive pleasure from sexual intercourse. The women discussed on this topic. All women expressed their ideas. Some said they enjoy, when men are handsome. Some said they enjoy, when a man takes time to
ejaculate, while some said they enjoy, when the man ejaculates quickly. Some preferred young men, but for some, age didn't matter, as long as the penis was in good shape. So those women stated their views. And there was also a French lady at the conference. She said her husband was a handsome and nice man. They never used to have intercourse in the night, because they chose to have it in the afternoon, after their lunch. She said they used to sleep completely naked and indulge into foreplay before the intercourse. Then when the husband was fully excited and about to penetrate, she would push him back, refusing to let him penetrate. Again, they would repeat the foreplay and when he couldn't control himself anymore, she would let him penetrate. That was what she felt was the best way to enjoy sex. Everybody liked this idea and a resolution was passed, accepting it as the best way to enjoy an intercourse [this much to the growing legend around GC].
Many considered GC to have been a very learned man?
I have my own judgment. According to me I think he excelled in all the fields. He was exceptionally good in the Buddhist philosophy and the rituals of it. Besides, he was also good in all sorts of art. He was good at drawing. His portrait drawing was good, too. Even though he didn't have much practice. He used to tell me that if I was doing a portrait, I should first take a look at the man's expression and only then focus and start to paint the portrait. He said that by focusing on the first glimpse of a man's expression, it would bring out the best of the person to be portrait. He said one should focus on the man's expression, his fluffy hair, his thin face, or his fat body. He further told me that drawing of an old man is different from a young man. The colors used for each are different. For the old man, more of the red color should be used to give better appearance of his oldness. Whereas for the young man, more of the green color should be used to give him the touch of being young. When GC was at the Labrang monastery [1920's] his tutor was Alak Gungthang. Once GC had painted his tutor's portrait. He said, he couldn't draw the portrait by looking at his tutor; instead he visualized the man in his mind after studying his features, and only then put it on the drawing paper. His portrait of Alak Gungthang was much appreciated by others, due to its likeliness [I never heard this story before, and with Amdo Champa being a painter himself, I'm wondering, whether he rather talks about himself, than GC].