Submitted by Sonam Tsering
113 folios. Also available as e-copy at tbrc.org. (Note: This text is in Tibetan)
Lodö Gyatso’s biography is a disciple’s account of the life and deeds of his master Katok Situ Chökyi Gyatso (Kaḥ thog si tu Chos kyi rgya mtsho, 1880–1925) of Katok Thupten Tashi Chöling, a major Nyingma monastery founded by Kadampa Desheg (1122-1192) in the region of Kham, Tibet in 1159. Although undated, the biography was composed at Pema Chöling retreat center at the behest of Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodö (1893-1959) and published by Gyakhar Gonpo Namgyal between 1925 and 1959. While the later phases of the master’s life up until his death were witnessed by the author, the other events were based on notes and recollections by Jamyang Khyentse, Khenchen Lekshe Jorden, Tulku Kunsang Tenzin and others. (Lodö, 112)
About the master
Katok Situ Chökyi Gyatso was formally the third in the line of Katok Situ reincarnations which extended from Tai Situ Chökyi Jungney (1700–1774), who was himself considered the eighth reincarnation of Situ Panchen Chökyi Gyaltsen (1377–1448) according to Pelpung lineage of Karma Kagyü tradition, yet omitted from the conventional reckoning of Katok Situ incarnations [Note: Lodö Gyatso lists Chökyi Jungney as seventh, f.11b]. Although it was the Second Katok Situ Chökyi Lodö (1820-1880) that actually held an abbatial position at Katok monastery, Jigme Chökyi Senge was probably considered the first for being a reincarnation of “Situ” Chökyi Jungney, enrolling as a bona-fide Lama at “Katok”, and for affiliating with Nyingma tradition which led to the formation of a new “Katok Situ” lineage as opposed to the Kagyü “Pelpung” Situ, both originating from the erstwhile Tai Situ lineage of Kagyü tradition.
Patterns of reincarnation
His line of incarnation reflects the popular reincarnation patterns found in Tibetan Buddhist traditions—intermittent, consecutive, divergent, convergent, homogenous and heterogeneous.
From the perspective of intermittent lineage, his predecessors originates from Buddha Maitreya and extends up to the fifteenth century, stringing a lists of masters such as Dombi Heruka, King Trisong Detsen, Marpa Chökyi Lodö, Dromton’s disciple Kawa Chokleg Dorje, Sakya Pandita Kunga Gyaltsen, Kunkhyen Longchen Rabjam’s direct disciple Jampel Chökyi sang aka Jamkar, the Second Throne-holder of Katok Dorjeden Monastery Chökyi Tsangton Dorje Gyeltsen, and Druptop Tangtong Gyelpo, (Lodö, 4-9) some separated by centuries and also masters such as Tangtong Gyelpo postdating the first Situ incarnation.
While his origination from Buddha Maitreya and extension through a series of masters, each emanating from different Bodhisattvas such as Avalokiteshvara, Manjushri and Hévajra reflects the heterogeneous nature of their emanation sources, the four consecutive Situ reincarnations at Katok monastery reflect its homogeneous nature with respect to their sources of emanation as well as spiritual and monastic traditions.
While we see the numinous convergence of different personages from eonic Buddhas to Indian panditas to Tibetan Sakya and Kadampa masters into the person of Chökyi Gyaltsen, who was accorded the title “Guǎngdìng tàisīduò”, loosely meaning “the extensive, unshakeable, and greatest helmsman”, by Yongle Emperor (1360-1424) of China’s Ming dynasty, the divergent nature of the reincarnation patterns is evident from how the Tai Situ lineage branches out into Pelpung Situ of Kagyü tradition and Katok Situ of Nyingma tradition.
Chronological life accounts
Lodö organized his biography in eight parts: prophetic birth; enthronement at Katok; religious training; spiritual attainment and mystical realization; academic teaching, debate and composition; establishment of religious centers; and death marking the passing into Nirvana.
Situ Chökyi Gyatso was born in Dego (de’u mgo) village in Derge, Kham in the Iron Dragon year, 1880 CE. At six, he was formally recognized as the reincarnation by Pema Osel Dongag Lingpa, who then conducted the hair-cutting ceremony and gave the name Ogyen Tenzin Chökyi Gyaltsen Pel Sangpo. (Lodö, 26) Khenpo Thupten Rigzin Gyatso took special care of the young child, who then lived a simple life sustained by the little stipend he received from the monastery. Seeing that the young incarnate lacked even a proper cushion, Khenpo Thupten granted a woolen cushion, thus marking the beginning of his care and guidance.
At eight, he received the probationary vows (genyen) from the Karmapa Khakhyap Dorje and was named Karma Shedrup Tenpe Nyima Chökyi Gyatso, a name he adopted throughout his life. From as early as 11, he was exposed to teachings of various traditions including Nyingma, Kagyü, Kadampa and also Gelukpa. (Lodö, 32). These he imparted to the monks years later when he taught at Katok. (Lodö, 80) He received novice vows (getsul) at the age of 12 from Rikzin Migyur Tenpe Gyeltsen and was named Tupten Jigme Chökyi Dorje, whereupon he began observing meditative retreats by visiting 100 haunted grounds, 100 natural springs, and 25 major and other minor sites in Kham and Amdo.
By the age of 13, he completed his study of classical poetry and poetics, thereby composing the complicated diagrammatic “Kunsang Khorlo”. (Lodö, 34) One such poem written at this time in dedication to the Buddha is found inscribed on the walls of Dzonggo [possibly Samten Ling] Monastery at the time of writing of this biography (Lodö, 85). At 14, he began his study of classical Buddhist texts on philosophy, metaphysics and eschatology such as Nagarjuna’s Root Wisdom (Mulamadhyamaka), Chandrakiriti’s Supplement to “Root Wisdom” (Madhyamkavatara) and Shantarakshita’s Ornament to the Middle Way (Madhyamakalamkara), and developed the notion of selfishness. (Lodö, 77) He also trained in the Shije and Chö traditions, and, at 17, he received teachings from the Sakya tradition. (Lodö, 36-9)
At 20, he received the full monastic ordination (gelong) from a college of senior monks at Katok. Since then he had extensively received, offered or exchanged explanatory teachings, oral transmissions and tantric initiations with various masters including Pelpung Situ (Lodö, 40) with who he shared Situ Panchen Chökyi Jungne as predecessor.
His works thereafter include bestowal of teachings, transmissions and initiations to thousands of disciples; generation of funds for Katok Monastery; restoration of ancient scriptures and renovation of temples; creation and reproduction of religious artifacts; and others.
On the evening of the seventh day of ninth lunar month of Tibetan Wood Ox year, 1925, when he was barely 46, he died peacefully facing the Northern Pure Land of Amitabha. After three months, the bodily remains were cremated on the 30th day of the eleventh lunar month the same year. (Lodö, 109)
Cultural and religious interactions
Situ Chökyi Gyatso maintained friendly religious contacts with the Thirteenth Dalai Lama Tupten Gyatso and the Central Tibetan Government in Lhasa. His offering of Kyapten, a token of spiritual submission, to the Dalai Lama was acknowledged with a reply and gift of 30 precious pills. (Lodö, 71), while at the same time he observed rituals for both central and local government officials (Lodö, 104).
His mystical powers were revealed in his formulation of Kyedun Rilbu, a class of sacred pills believed to provide liberation in seven lifetimes (Lodö, 74), and his prediction of the invasion of Tibetan regions, particularly Chatreng, (Lodö, 76) by the Qing General Zhao Erfang.
He also instituted funds for daily religious programs and congregations, and generated funds for the renovation of temples and monastic buildings. He donated seats, cushions, carpets, robes, hats, ritual instruments, utensils, and bowls. Musical instruments donated to Katok Monastery include around 100 round cymbals, 40 flat cymbals, 200 drums, 32 sandalwood Damarus, etc. (Lodö 91-8)
As a great patron of arts, he commissioned the creation of more than 90 major and other numerous tangka paintings. (Lodö, 95) These include reproduction of Situ Chökyi Jungney’s Mythical Tree: Stories of Earlier Lives (Skyes rabs dpag bsam ljon shing), a famous painting on the former lives of the Buddha according to the Chinese Sitang (Xi) tradition.
He showed special interest towards restoration of rare Tibetan scriptures of all schools and denominations including Kagyü, Sakya, Gelug, Shijé and Chö (Lodö, 89). From personal libraries of Jamyang Khyentse and Khamtrul Ngawang Kunga Tenzin Kunga alone, Katok Situ commissioned the reproduction of nearly 300 volumes of scriptures and commentaries. During his time, Utse Sungrap Gatsel Library at Katok housed a rich collection of scriptural writings, secular texts and religious artifacts such as Satcha, mandalas, amulets, treasure vases, etc. (Lodö, 89)
His own works include Life of Mahasiddha Shakya Shri Jñana (Rje btsun bla ma rdo rje ’chang chen po shAkya shrI dz+nyA na’i rnam thar me tog phreng ba), Praise to the Life of Mahasiddha [Panchen Shakya Shri] (Rig ’dzin grub pa’i dbang po’i rnam thar gyi tshul la gsol ba ’debs pa byin rlabs nyin byed ’dren pa’i shing rta), An Account of a Pilgrimage to U-Tsang (Gangs ljongs dbus gtsang gnas bskor lam yig nor bu zla shel gyi se mo do) [available in English translation] and others.
His legacy is perpetuated in the life and works of his popular disciples including Karmapa Khakhyab Dorje, Jamyang Khyentse, Pelpung Situ Pema Wangchok Gyelpo, Penor Choktrul, Dodrup Jigme Tenpe Nyima, Tertön Lerap Lingpa, Dzokchen Tupten Chökyi Nyima, and others. (Lodö, 100f)
Aside from serving as biography of a Tibetan Buddhist master who lived at the turn of the twentieth century, it provides clear glimpses on several aspects of Tibetan spirituality—the complexity of reincarnation theory in practice, the academic training at a major Nyingma monastery, the additional training in rituals undertaken by reincarnate lamas, and, above all, the glorious life of a highly renowned Buddhist master.