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Hortsang Jigme

Hortsang Jigme

I do not have anything special to say. However, I shall start with a song (mgur) that Gendun Chopel wrote while in prison. I do not remember the words exactly, but it goes something like this: Now I am in some prison, and the conditions are very difficult / But there is a bit of light from outside the prison, and I must place a great deal of hope on that and wait / But I trust that there will be a time one day when the light of truth will shine.

I mention this mgur, because today, as arranged by Trace Foundation and Latse Library, many scholars and people who knew Gendun Chopel have gathered from around the world to discuss and pay tribute to Gendun Chopel’s life, accomplishments, and writings. I think that with this conference, the truth that Gendun Chopel mentions in his mgur will finally shine.

I don’t have much time, only twenty-five minutes, and the director of this library said there was no certain topic and it would be all right to discuss anything related to Gendun Chopel. Thus, in the interests of time, I would like to speak about just a few issues and in a very concise manner.

First, what does Gendun Chopel signify now at the end of the twentieth century and the start of the twenty-first century? He has become a symbol of the cultural level of the Tibetan nationality. Everyone recognizes him as a watershed between the old culture and the new culture. I, too, see him has a symbol of the level of Tibetan culture. Whether this means that Gendun Chopel himself was brilliant or whether he actually is a symbol of Tibetan culture is another matter. However, a nationality’s need for such a flag or symbol is human nature. Without such a flag or leadership, it would be difficult for common people to make progress. [For example,] Dondrup Gyal is basically said to be emblematic or a symbol of the new poetry and free verse. However, now we think that there is a big difference between the new poems penned by Dondrup Gyal and the poems being written by young writers today. It is as if the writers of the new poetry today are still carrying the flag of Dondrup Gyal as they go forward writing new poetry. For this reason, it is all right if we still carry Gendun Chopel as a flag for our culture as a whole, our literature, thought, and so forth.

Second, the majority of scholars both inside and outside Tibet who have been researching Gendun Chopel—whether it be his life, his personality, or his legacy—are fabricating strange stories about him. Many people who have no firsthand knowledge of Gendun Chopel are more or less writing fiction in order to further elicit a sense of amazement. I think that by doing so there is danger of erasing Gendun Chopel’s works, his life, and his true personality.

Another thing is that I myself have researched Gendun Chopel. During the course of my research, many people who talked about Gendun Chopel would praise him, saying things like: “There has never been a scholar in Tibetan history like Gendun Chopel,” or “Compared to Gendun Chopel, previous scholars were nothing.” When I looked into the reason why they needed to praise Gendun Chopel so much, I could see that [they thought] that Gendun Chopel didn’t accept Tsongkhapa and he didn’t like the Gelukpa School and thus belittled it. They would say things like he was strongly partial to the Nyingma School. In short, their underlying goal was to elevate the Nyingma and to put down the Gelukpa School by praising Gendun Chopel. Gendun Chopel himself probably didn’t hold such a narrow view. I think that using Gendun Chopel in this way risks creating problems between the Nyingma and Gelukpa.

One also sees various writings in which researchers of Gendun Chopel, while discussing his intelligence and debating [skills], write about how there was a bad conflict between Labrang Monastery and Jamyang Zhepa on the one side, and Gendun Chopel on the other; they write about how he was kicked out from Jamyang Zhepa’s monastery. Although these claims are not true, they are important, because after Gendun Chopel stayed several years at Labrang Trashikhyil and left only of his own will. If he had been kicked out of Labrang, everyone—the tshogs chen zhal ngo, the disciplinarian, the tshogs chen khri ba, Jamyang Zhepa, etc.—would need to follow the rules of the monastery. For example, they would need to give him an order: “Gendun Chopel, you must leave the monastery for three days or five hours.” But, they didn’t kick him out like that. I think that some researchers, with various motivations, while talking about Gendun Chopel, use him as a tool to discredit Labrang Trashikhyil and Jamang Zhepa. This is wrong; it is creating trouble.

I am not going to say much more. I have just one last thing to say: there have been a great many researchers of Gendun Chopel. Probably, still more scholars will continue this research. It is a fact that Gendun Chopel spent some years in prison. At that time, various reasons were given for imprisoning him. One of the most important responsibilities for future research is to determine whether he was in fact engaged in treasonous work that would hurt the country or the people. Did he hurt the Tibetan country and people? Was he guilty of breaking the law or any regulation? If he committed no crime, then it was a mistake for him to be imprisoned. He was not guilty. He was innocent, and the need to exonerate him is critical. We have gathered here for his memorial, but he still cannot be made innocent. No one has come forward to exonerate him. If scholars could research this and prove that he was an innocent person and wrongly imprisoned, then those who were responsible for putting him in prison at that time should accept their mistake by saying, “We made a mistake. He was wrongly accused.” The need to exonerate Gendun Chopel is of historical importance. Thank you. I shall stop now.

Translated by Lauren Hartley.