In the Service of His Country

The following article is from the Summer, 2000 issue of the Snow Lion Newsletter and is for historical reference only. You can see this in context of the original newsletter here.

The Biography ofDasang Damdul Tsarong, Commander General of Tibet

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by D.N. Tsarong

164 pp., 50 b&w photos, Oct.,

#SEHICO $14.95

This is the fascinating life story of the Tibetan aristocrat, politician, and general Dasang Damdrul Tsarong, who served as Commander-in-Chief of the Tibetan Army and Cabinet Minister. Tsarong was known as an advocate for modernization of Tibet's national government. This biography, by Tsarong's son, D.N. Tsarong, is a first-hand account of the most important events of the twentieth century, leading up to the period of Chinese occupation. It provides insight into the history and causes of the tragic loss of Tibet's power of self-government as seen through the life of one of the country's foremost leaders.

The following are excerpts from In the Service of His Country.

A seventeen-year-old boy turned his horse up the mountain, sensing an attack by a group of Golok men armed with spears. These men from Amdo Province annually traveled from their homeland to visit the holy city of Lhasa and make offerings to the sacred image of Jowo Rinpoche, an image of the Lord Buddha in the Central Temple, or Tsuglak Khang. Having shot a few rounds with his Mauser pistol in the air to discourage the assumed attackers, he resumed his journey towards Lhasa. He was on leave from the Dalai Lama's court and was now returning to resume his duties at the Norbu Lingka Palace. This was my father, Dasang Damdul Tsarong, who was to serve Tibet faithfully throughout his life. He was born in a house named Khakhor Shi in Phenpo Province. It stood in a small village situated to the north of Lhasa.

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Left top: Peter Aufshnaiter, D.D. Tsarong, Tsepon Shakabpa and Heinrich Harrer inspecting a newly proposed hydroelectric site. Left bottom: Pema Dolkar, the wife of D.D. Tsarong; Yafigchun DoUcar, the wife of the author; the author, and D.D. Tsarong. Right top: D.D. Tsarong. -Righttiottam: -D.D. Tsdrony using his skill at photography.

In the family of Khakhor Shi were my grandparents, their three sons, and their daughter. The eldest was a son named Thondup Norbu, the second was Nangang (my father), the third was a son named Phunt- sok Wangdu, and the youngest was a daughter, Yangchen Dolkar. Nan- gang was the first name of my father because he was born on New Year's eve. The last day of each month is called nangang in Tibetan. Since the conception of my father, good luck had fallen on his parents and the house prospered; therefore, he was considered to be the source of this luck.

My grandfather died of a sudden illness when my father was five years old. Since my grandmother was left to care for the land and the young children, she experienced much difficulty and hardship. She then married my grandfather's cousin, Lhundup La. Lhundup La was a hot-tempered man who used to beat both mother and children. Soon the elder sister of lhundup, Somo Nyila, came from Lhasa to live with the family in Phenpo, and after having stayed there for some time, she saw the difficulties in the home. Out of pity for the children, who were harshly treated by their stepfather, she took the three sons to Lhasa to live with her. She lived in the apartment of a mansion named Karma Sharchen, which is in the center of the city. Somo Nyila was a kind and religious woman. She shared her wealth with her relatives and friends, and often distributed food, clothing, and money to the poor of the city. It was the custom for the proud Phenpo Tibetans to visit the major temples in their home town during the religious festivals as well as on the eighth, fifteenth, and the last day of the month. Somo Nyila never forgot her offerings and her visits to the temples in Lhasa City. She brought up the children with kindness, love, and understanding. The children were sent in 1895 to a private school in the city, Phalai Labtra. When Thondup Norbu, the eldest, came of age, she gave him in marriage to one of her friend's daughters, and he left her home. In 1900, a monk official of the Tibetan Government, Khangnyi Jinpa La, who was also a close and faithful friend and family adviser of Somo Nyila, took my father as his pupil. Khangnyi Jinpa La was in charge of Norbu Lingka, the summer palace of the Dalai Lama, and was also one of the older personal attendants of His Holiness the Thirteenth Dalai Lama. A couple of years passed while my father was trained in household work, as well as Tibetan literature and scriptures, and he earned the trust of his master and tutor.

It was on one of these days while my father was in the service of Khangnyi Jinpa La that His Holiness the Thirteenth Dalai Lama came to the house and noticed him. The Dalai Lama was a most observant man, who took care to make routine checks in and around his palace, stables, and compounds. On one such occasion, when he surprised his personal attendants in their quarters, he saw my father and was struck by an unusual air of intelligence in the young boy. After finding out about the background of the boy from Jinpa La, he recruited him as one of his servants. Father was twelve years old when he left Jinpa La's service to join the Dalai Lama's personal staff. He served well in the palace and soon came to have the confidence of the Dalai Lama and the confidence and respect of the other members of the staff as well.

Father adored his grandchildren; no matter how busy he was, he always found time to be with them, especially in the evenings when he told them bedtime stories, which they loved. As he did with his children, he insisted that his grandchildren all have an equal opportunity to go to the British schools in Darjeeling, and many of them did. Between 1942 and 1949, my wife and I had our five children, two daughters and three sons, and four of them went on to finish their secondary schooling in Darjeeling.

My second youngest son, who was born in 1946, was recognized as the incarnation of Drikung Chetsang Rinpoche, one of the two heads of the Drikung Kagyu lineage. As mentioned, even after the passing of his friend, the previous Drikung Rinpoche, Tsarong kept a close relationship with that monastery. It so happened that as administrators and attendants of the previous Rinpoche came to Tsarong House to discuss different matters, my son, at the age of only two years, exhibited an unusual attraction to these monks. He constantly wanted to be close to them and when they left, he wished to go away with them. The monks of Drikung were highly observant of this and noted his actions carefully. They began occasionally dropping by Tsarong House under false pretenses, without calling on the parents but simply asking the servants to bring the young child out to play. Eventually he was put to several tests to which all candidates are subjected for recognition as reincarnate lamas are are subjected, namely identifying among many objects the specific ones which belonged to the previous incarnation. After reviewing all the candidates and consulting the master astrologers, as well as the Takdhak Regent, who had final word, it was decided that my son was indeed the true incarnation of Drikung Chetsang Rinpoche.

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As the predecessor was his close personal friend, Tsarong felt very pleased having the incarnation born into his own family, and of course my wife and I were quite surprised as well. My wife Yangchen does not remember any special incidences during the pregnancy, but there were some auspicious circumstances regarding his birth. Close to the time our child was due, preparations were being made for Drukpa Tseshi, an annual holiday celebrating the day Lord Buddha first taught, or turned the Wheel of Dharma On this occasion all Buddhists go on short pilgrimages to sacred places in Lhasa It is felt to be a highly auspicious day and, therefore, the Takdhak Regent decided to offer a full set of new ornaments to the image of Jowo Rinpoche at the Tsuglak Khang. Jowo Rinpoche is a sacred symbol of the Lord Buddha, but is also believed by many to be more than just a symbol. It is regarded by most Buddhists of Tibet and neighboring countries to be one of the most sacred images in existence. The Regent must somehow have been aware that Tsarong was in possession of a beautiful eigh- teen-carat diamond that he had purchased in India on one of his many trips. He sent his close friend Tsepon Shakabpa to our home to request that father sell it to him. Shakabpa explained that they were in need of a very precious stone to be the centerpiece of the ornamental headdress they were offering to Jowo Rinpoche on Drukpa Tseshi. Father agreed and sold it at cost.

Days later, my wife went into labor and after twenty-four hours, the baby still had not come. We were fortunate to have the assistance of Dr. Guthrie from the British Mission in Lhasa Everyone became concerned as the labor was so prolonged. Strangely enough, many hours later, on the auspicious day of Drukpa Tseshi, during the precise time at which the ornaments were being offered to Jowo Rinpoche, our son was finally delivered. He was born not breathing, and most of the relatives gave up hope that he would live, but through the perseverance of Dr. Guthrie who, confident in his skills, slapped and tossed the baby about, his breathing finally started.

About three years later, our son was formally recognized as Drikung Rinpoche, but because of his young age, he remained at home with the family until 1950. At that time, the Regent and representatives of the Drikung Monastery came to Tsarong House to fetch Rinpoche. He was brought back to Drikung Monastery in a ceremonial procession and officially took the seat as successor of the Drikung Kagyu lineage. ä_æ

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