Sonam T. Kazi (1925-2009)
photo by Barry Peril
Mr. Kazi, a Buddhist from Sikkim, was born in 1925. On finishing his studies in India in 1948, he was appointed by the Government of Sikkim as the Interpreter and Guide during the late His Holiness the XVI Karmapa's first visit to India on pilgrimage. In 1949, he joined the Indian Mission, Lhasa, and with H. E. Richardson, the then Officer-in-Charge,
travelled to many important historical places and assisted him
in his translation of the ancient historical edicts of Tibet. Mr. Richardson has acknowledged his help in the Ancient Historical Edicts at Lhasa, published by The Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland in 1952. During his seven-year stay in Tibet (1949-56), Mr. Kazi had the unique occasion to meet and receive instructions from many highly realized Dzog-chen Gurus.
He returned to Sikkim in early 1956 and joined the Cultural Department of the Indian Political Office. In the same year, during the official visit of His Holiness the Dalai Lama to India, when India was celebrating the 2500th Anniversary of the Birth of Lord Buddha, Mr. Kazi acted as Chief Interpreter. When the Dalai Lama escaped to India in 1959, Mr. Kazi joined the Indian officials who met him at the border. From then until 1972, he held the post of Official Interpreter, Government of India, attached to the Dalai Lama.
During this period, he was also the translator into English of His Holiness' memoir, My Land and My People (1963); as an art expert attached to Tibet House Museum, New Delhi, he produced three art catalogues for the museum and one for the Tibetan Art Exhibition in Tokyo; at the behest of His Holiness, he organized the editing and publishing of the 130-volume Encyclopedia Tibetica for Tibet House Library, New Delhi.
In 1969, he began publishing the Nga-gyur Nying-may Sung-rab Series on his own, consisting of over 100 volumes of rare books on Dzog-chen that were fast disappearing from Tibet. He also directed and helped produce six documentary films for the French Radio-Television on rare, secret Tantric performances by the highest ranking Tibetan Gurus from the four schools of Tibet.
He first visited the United States in 1967, at the invitation of the U.S. Department of State, under the Council on Leaders and Specialists of the Experiment in International Living. During that time, he attended the Twenty-Seventh Orientalists' Conference in Ann Arbor, Michigan, as one of twenty-two invitees from India.
In 1968, when the late Father Thomas Merton visited India, Mr. Kazi was instrumental in introducing Dzog-chen to him, as recorded in Merton's Asian Journal.
His second visit to the United States was in 1969, at the invitation of the late Alan Watts, head of the Society for Comparative Philosophy, San Francisco, under the sponsorship of Douglas A. Campbell. He held joint conferences on meditation with Alan Watts and others at Esalen, San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York. He and his family, which included his daughter, Jetsün Rinpoche, the heart reincarnation of the late Most Reverend Shugseb Jetsün Lochen Rinpoche of Tibet, stayed for a week at the San Francisco Zen Center as guests of the late Suzuki-roshi. It was during this visit to the United States that he organized the Long-chen Nying-tig Buddhist Society, the first Dzog-chen meditation center in New York, sponsored by a group of Dharma seekers headed by Paul M. Postal.
In 1971, a second center was opened in Philadelphia, sponsored by Barry and Marilyn Peril. In the winter of that year, Mr. Kazi was able to invite the late His Holiness Dudjom Rinpoche to New York for the first time to bless the students of these two centers. With the appreciable initial help of Allan and Roberta Ehrlich and later with the help of Marleen Pennison, Mr. Kazi continued to teach a group of students in New York for over thirty years.
When His Holiness the Dalai Lama delivered Dzog-chen teachings for the first time in this country, on October 8 and 9, 1989, in San Jose, he specially asked Mr. Kazi to attend in order to translate talks on Dzog-chen. On the occasion of His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s visit to London in September 1994, Mr. Kazi was also invited by His Holiness to attend a special reunion lunch with a small group of people who had had the privilege to live, visit, and work in Tibet prior to the Chinese invasion of the country in 1950. Members exchanged their experiences and memories of that time and prepared an informal statement testifying to Tibet’s prior independence.
As founder of Diamond Lotus Publishing, Mr. Kazi translated several books as part of the Nga-gyur Nying-may Sung-rab English Translation Series. Kün-zang La-may Zhal-lung, Part One and Kün-zang La-may Zhal-lung, Part Two & Part Three, Volumes IV and V in the series, are the first volumes to be published.
In June of 2009, in upstate New York, exhibiting profound signs of his Dzog-chen meditation, Mr. Kazi entered mahaparinirvana.