Firstly, with immense regret, the undersigned would like to draw a timely attention of the compiler of the ‘Togjod’ Royal Chronicle of Gongsa Ugyen Wangchuck, Bhutan’s First Hereditary Monarch to some of its flawed historical narratives, which appear on page 214, and which was first published by the Center for Bhutan Studies in 2008. While this pioneering work could be a welcome addition to the Bhutanese readers who take immense pride in cherishing the country’s history of the institution of the beloved monarchs, it is quite discouraging to observe the poorly-documented and exaggerated account of a family which traces its ancestry to one of the religious nobilities which had long taken deep roots in the spiritually rich and culturally fertile soil of Bhutan. The Royal Chronicle such as this is supposed to be brought out with the best of intentions and with minimum historical errors. But when some of the unjustified claims and write-ups contain exaggerated information this can distort historical ground realities and events beyond the limits of imagination. Unfortunately, the narratives in Gongsa Ugyen Wangchuck’s ‘Togjod’ Royal Chronicle tended to portray a bleak picture of Buli Lam owing to a very minor incident, which had occurred as a result of misunderstandings linked with the chains of miscommunications that had affected the two parties involved, which, however, has nothing to do with struggles of power rivalry for political gains. Such information in turn has the potential and unintended consequences to incite public grievances and mislead the future generations once such a work is made available in the public domain and put into writing for mass consumption.
Although, the historical narratives in Gongsa Ugyen Wangchuck’s Royal Chronicle ‘Togjod’ touching the intimate life of Buli Lam and his family are wholly incidental and not very relevant, they provide only a minor side view of a series of national, regional and international events which had impacted and shaped the whole gamut of Gongsa Ugyen Wangchuck’s political career which had finally culminated in the founding of the Bhutanese Royal Dynasty in 1907.
Thus, when Gongsa Ugyen Wangchuck was informed of this particular incident, the unfortunate quarrels and consequent tragic deaths of Buli Lam’s siblings had already taken a very sharp turn and could not be reversed, and so the distressing executions in Dungsam Shumar were suddenly all over. The Togjod mentions that Buli Lam had only four siblings. Their names and chronology are also not properly written. Then, without proper analysis, a political context was implied for the execution meted out to the siblings of Buli Lam, which in my best opinion is hardly the case. In this context, and on hindsight, the publication would have been better if the information on Buli Lam and his family which appear in the Royal Chronicle were first consulted and thoroughly cross-checked with their living descendant like the undersigned, and who could have provided much better and correct information before this work was finally published. Also, this would have avoided attracting such unnecessary criticisms from the public.
To go back to history, Buli Lam Khachab Namkha Dorje was a descendant of Lama Choying Gyatsho, who in turn was one of the twin sons of Terton Dorje Lingpa (1346 – 1405), who came to Bhutan in 1370 at the age of 25. It was Lama Choying Gyatsho, who built Bumthang Buli Gonpa in the 15th century, and Chief of Protocol of Trongsa, Dronyer Passang Tshering had descended from him. Dronyer Passang married a lady from Athang Chukpo family in Wangdue Phodrang. Their son Pema Tashi also served as Trongsa Dronyer. Pema Tashi married Kunzang Choden from Tamshing Choeje family. The couple produced seven siblings, one daughter and six sons. Buli Lam was the youngest of all.
The names of the siblings in chronological order are as follows:
1. Lam Sangay Tenzin: He was the eldest and died very young;
2. Dorje Dolma: She died before the incident;
3. Samten Yoezer or Druzop Chethoe: He served as Drugyel Dzongpon;
4. Sangay Thinley: He was a Chha-Garpa or attendant to the Gongsa;
5. Jampel: He stayed back in Buli taking care of his home;
6. Lhundup: He died of malaria in Dungsam; and
7. Buli Trulku: His family name was Namgyal Ngedup but he was also known by the pet name of Lama Nakari.
Buli Lam, supposedly assigned the role of a central character of his family portrayed in Gongsa Ugyen Wangchuck’s Togjod ‘Royal Chronicle’, was born in 1883 (Year of the Water Female Sheep). For his early education, he first went to Drangla Gonpa in Trongsa in 1890 at the age of seven. There he studied with Lopon Kunga Gyeltshen for seven years. Then at the age of 14 in 1897, he left Drangla and proceeded to Shali Pangkha Gonpa in Gaselo under Wangdue Dzongkhag. There he continued his basic education and pursued higher studies in Buddhist literature grammar under the retired Yangbi Lopon Tenzin Dondup for five years.
When Buli Trulku was 19 in 1902, there occurred a petty quarrel between Ashi Yeshey Choden, Wangdue-Choling Aum (1864 – 1952), who was the younger sister of Gongsa Ugyen Wangchuck, and Chha-garpa Sangay Thinley, one of the elder brothers of Buli Trulku. The cause of the abrupt conflict can be rather termed matrimonial fallout or marriage breach resulting from secret love affairs that was going on between Trongsa Ponlop Ugyen Wangchuck’s younger daughter from his first wife, Ashi Rinchen Pemo, Ashi Dechen Peldon and Buli Lama’s elder brother Sangay Thinley, who was serving at that time as Chha-garpa at Lamey Gonpa, despite the fact that Ashi Dechen Peldon was already married to Dasho Dorje Paljor, son of Ashi Yeshey Choden and Jakar Dzongpon Dasho Chimmi Dorji, and they had already issues born from the wedlock. As Dasho Dorje Paljor was older than her, Ashi Peldon’s eyes had fallen on handsome Sangay Thinley and hence the secret love affair pursued between the two. When Ashi Yeshey Choden came to know of the ongoing and unlawful secret relationships, she was quite furious. Actions were immediately taken and brought out to bear on Sangay Thinley’s life but bitter quarrels ensued between Wangdue-Choling Aum and Buli Trulku’s family. The whole family of Buli Lam was exiled to Dungsam Shumar, where the brothers unluckily succumbed to death by the soldiers sent after them from Wangdue-Choling. However, the quarrels and subsequent executions had occurred without the knowledge of Gongsa Ugyen Wangchuck (r.1883 – 1907; served as Trongsa Ponlop). Only Buli Trulku and his mother Kunzang Choden were spared upon the mother’s appeal and timely intervention submitted by the local community.
By the time, when Trongsa Ponlop knew of the unfortunate incidents; death penalties were already meted out to the brothers of Buli Lam. Then the Trongsa Ponlop issued an official instruction to Fifth Yongla Lama Sangay Chophel (r.1894 – 1920; this Lama carried a big goitre on his side-neck) to provide rations and take care of Buli Trulku and his mother Kunzang Chodon.
This way, Buli Trulku spent nearly a decade at Yongla Gonpa. It was at that time the Trulku had initial affairs with Dorje Tshomo, a daughter of Chungkhar Choeje. Then in 1910, Buli Trulku was granted permission to settle in Aja and build a hermitage. After a few years, Dorji Tshomo followed Trulku and they married at Aja finally.
Having resettled in Aja, Buli Trulku proceeded to Tibet to receive teachings from highly accomplished Root Gurus like the 15th Karmapa (1871-1922) and Drubwang Togdhen Sakya Sri (1853-1919). The latter was the most important root Guru of Buli Trulku. The 15th Karmapa conferred his name as Khachab Namkha Dorje.
While in Tibet, the 15th Karmapa instructed Buli Trulku to construct a temple in Aja. Accordingly, to fulfill his Guru’s prophecy, he selected an auspicious site on the very spot where the eighth Karmapa Michoe Dorje (1507-1554) had built a meditation center at Aja in the past, and the present Dungkar Choling Gonpa was most probably completed in 1914 in the Wood Male Tiger Year. In addition to granting a nangten ‘statue’ to be installed in the Gonpa, his root Guru also named the Gonpa as Karma Ngedon Tenpa Dargay Phuntshog Samten Ling. This refers to the biography of the 15th Gyelwa Karmapa written by Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche.
Many people and his disciples from all over Western, Eastern and Central Bhutan cherished Buli Trulku in Aja and on his extensive regional visits by receiving teachings and blessings from him. And in the due course of time, Wangdue-Choling Aum also sincerely expressed regrets for her harsh past misdeeds and reestablished cordial relations with the Buli Trulku by inviting him to Kharsumphel Cottage in Bumthang and received blessings. I have personally heard this account time and again from my late father, Aja Lama Dorje Tenzin the only son of Buli Truelku who witnessed the event.
Secondly, the narrative that Buli Trulku and his mother were kept with Yonphula Lama is nothing but a mere figment of imagination. The Lhakhang at Yonphula itself was built only in 1943-1944 sponsored by Trashigang Dzongpon Dasho Thinley Tobgay or Se’ Dopola, with supports provided by Lama Monlam Rabzang, Lama Sonam Zangpo, and Khalong Lama Kota, whereas Buli Trulku by then had already passed away at Yarab Gonpa on 10th of the fourth month of the Bhutanese calendar in 1941.
Thirdly, the narrative brings out a totally fabricated story of how Buli Lam’s brother Sangay Thinley who was seized by the demonic power of Kordhag ‘roving’ Gyelpo spirit, had dared to point a gun at his Boss Gongsa Ugyen Wangchuck, which was supposed to have been witnessed by the latter. It is sufficiently very clear that Gongsa was not there when the conflicts between Wangdue-Choling Aum and Sangay Thinley had erupted. In fact, as pointed out earlier, these unfortunate incidents had flared up almost suddenly without the knowledge of Trongsa Ponlop. By the time, Ponlop had taken due note of these unfortunate events, Sangay Thinley had already succumbed to death in Dungsam Shumar. So the false claim of the narrative has no thematic bearing on the timing of the meeting of the two persons. Moreover, Kordag Gyelpo hinting at the power of the guardian deity Gyelpo spirit supposed to be housed in Buli as mentioned in the narrative is another figment of imagination. Those in doubt can still examine and cross-check whether there is the house of worship accorded to Kordhag Gyelpo in Buli Gonpa today.
When we say Kordhag Gyelpo, it means those harmful demons and evil spirits, which have no material basis but arising out of one’s own doubt, whereas a Buddhist ruler is a lord of the lands functioning as a combined emanation of three Buddhist deities Rigsum Gonpo, having absolute power of dominance over all gods, demons and humans, and capable of subjugating both humans and non-humans. To imply that such a demon had caused ‘eyesore or eye distortion’ to the Lord of the land meaning betrayal, therefore, lacks elements of honesty and scholarship credibility. Rather the narratives had tended to cast a dark shadow of doubt on the centuries of fame and name of the Buli Gonpa, which has always sought to preserve Dharma practices and teachings belonging to Terton Dorje Lingpa for the benefit of the Bhutanese public in particular and sentient beings in general.
Indeed, the Center for Bhutan Studies is charged and mandated with the roles and responsibility of collecting the country’s research materials pertaining to past oral histories and royal chronicles, and authenticating them. But on the contrary, if oral history compilers are blinded by temporary gains of grudges against historical personalities, institutions and organizations, perhaps there is the element of great risk that the vision of the Center will remain unfulfilled. Therefore to cite what Yuthok Yonten Gonpo, the founder of Tibetan Medicine once said: ‘the hagiographies of Lamas are full of lies or exaggerations.’ Moreover distorted history has the potential to stir up human conscience and cause deep-seated troubles for posterity.
All said and done, we all attach great importance to the living institution of the Monarchy. As the founder of the Bhutanese Royal dynasty, the importance of the Royal Figure in Gongsa Ugyen Wangchuck should not be by any means overlooked or misinterpreted. The Monarch stands very prominent, worthy of respect by all of us collectively as Bhutanese subjects and citizens. We cherish all our Monarchs deep in our hearts. The Royal chronicles are also equally important for our posterities to be inspired, educated and guided. Therefore, it is needless to mention here that the historical information conveyed to the public must be obviously factual and wholly credible.
Finally, the oral history pertaining to Buli Lam and his family as published in Gongsa Ugyen Wangchuck’s Togjod ‘Royal Chronicles’ in Dzongkha by the Center for Bhutan Studies is not properly documented. It is very difficult for the public to accept the face value of historical materials or trust the sources of materials from which information has been extracted. Therefore, this clarifying note written by the undersigned should serve as a timely reminder to the writers to be more cautious and self-aware when documenting, compiling, processing and authenticating historical materials, especially those belonging to the so-called ‘genre of royal chronicles’.
In particular, the efforts should be directed at not harming others just as it is said in the religious proverb: ‘let your body be an example and do not harm others’. So when there are false narratives or highly fictitious and infectious historical materials based on three generations of repeatedly played-out and inflated gossip as well as secondary, tertiary and more often many anonymous sources of information written and published, these can adversely impact the public, particularly those young minds. Therefore, it is the duty of the public and the ones deeply concerned to uphold truth for justice and accordingly draw the attention of the writers and publishers to either withdraw the publication or if not make necessary corrections and adjustments with due care by incorporating critiques, feedbacks, complaints and comments coming from the public or individuals or from both.
In conclusion, I have also observed people sharing and airing the same narratives on Buli Lam and his family in BBS from the last few years onwards, as though they were subject specialists on oral histories. Frankly, this was quite embarrassing and damaging to me and other descendants of Buli Lam. Honestly speaking, I felt very uncomfortable with the false stories about my ancestors being circulated or aired through BBS and shared with the public. Even the page numbers in the ‘Royal Chronicles’ between 98-107 are futilely way-out and thus, fading away the quality of the book. Therefore, should anyone like to seek clarifications on the oral history of Buli Lam and his family, definitely I feel I am the right person to be consulted. This is to say, as one immediate grandson of Buli Lam, I am in a much better position than anyone else, and who can clarify all doubts regarding Buli Lam and his family. I am asserting this because I have heard all factual and un-fabricated stories about Buli Lam, his family, and descendants from my late father Dorje Tenzin Rinpoche, who was the only son and living eyewitness of Buli Trulku Khachab Namkha Dorje. In brief, my father had been the primary source of information for me for all the oral histories ascribed to Buli Lam and his family. He passed away at the age of 85 at Tashi Yangtse in 2005.
Lam Kezang Chhoephel, Thimphu