I have learnt about yet another sad news about the passing away of an eminent individual, who made a distinct mark in the world of Tibetan studies. Mr. Sonam T. Kazi, a scholar on Dzogchen and who served as aide to His Holiness the Dalai Lama for over 13 years, passed away in mid-June. His cremation took place on June 22, 2009, after he was in meditation poise for seven days, according to a source. He was 84.
While I am not capable of talking about his spiritual expertise (he has written quite a bit on Dzogchen), I have always been fascinated by individuals like him who play critical roles in political developments as assistants to the major players. Since March 1959, when he was sent by the Government of India to receive His Holiness the Dalai Lama when he crossed over into Indian territory from Tibet, Yapa la, as he is known to Sikkimese and Tibetans, in his own words “was attached to H.H. the Fourteenth Dalai Lama as his Chief Interpreter for thirteen years in Dharamsala, until 1972.”
Even before 1959, Yapa la had interaction with the Dalai Lama in Tibet, which he had visited a few times, as official of British Indian Government. You can read about his experience in a remark he made in London in 1994. Yapa la was there when Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru hosted a lunch attended by visiting Chinese Premier Chou En Lai, the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama. You can see him, in his young self, in the news clip of the first meeting between Pandit Nehru and the Dalai Lama, after his escape, which took place in Mussoorie on April 30, 1959. He is handing over a khata to the Prime Minister that is offered to His Holiness.
Thomas Merton also talks about meeting Yapa la during his travel to Dharamsala in 1968. He writes, “We had walked up, Harold and I, to Upper Dharamsala by the back road to McLeod Ganj, which is where the Dalai Lama lives. It is really the top of the mountain we are on now. Suddenly we were in a Tibetan village with a new, spanking white chorten in the middle of it. There we met Sonam Kazi, who was expecting us to come by bus.” In another noting, Merton recalls, “The Dalai Lama told me that Sonam Kazi knew all about Dzogchen and could help me, which of course he already has.”