This is also a Buddhist Film. The last one I introduced here dealt with
Dogen, a Zen Buddhist monk, but the main character this time is Palden
Gyatso, a monk that continues the fight for the independence of Tibet.
Palden was born in a small village of Tibet, in 1930. His mother died at
his birth and he was raised by his grandmother. Following a Tibetan tradition
that advises parents to send their youngest son to be a monk, the little
Palden was put into a Buddhist monastery.
China invaded Tibet in 1950 and incorporated it as Chinese territory. The
Chinese authorities greatly oppressed Tibetan Buddhists and, as a result,
people reacted strongly with a national popular uprising in 1959. Palden
participated in a pacifist protest rally and was arrested.
While he was in detention, the Chinese authorities questioned him harshly
and often tortured him. This was part of the reeducation program imposed
on all Tibetans so that they would stop demanding independence, but since
Palden refused to give in they tied him up and hung him upside down from
the ceiling and performed a terrible torture on him introducing an electric
bar into his mouth. At other times, they made him kneel down on pieces
of broken glass and gravel. Once he was able to escape from prison and
go to India but got caught and spent 2 years in jail handcuffed and fettered.
Before his release in 1992, Palden spent 23 years in prison and 10 working
in a concentration camp. In all he had been jailed for 33 years. He was
61 years old.
After leaving jail Palden went to live at Dharamsala, the residence of
the Reverend Dalai Lama. He could have entered the Buddhist monastery,
but since he had decided to work for the independence of Tibet, he continues
to live alone and is actively involved in the protest movement against
China all over the western world.
In 2006 during the Winter Olympic Games at Torino (Italy) and later at
the time the Games were decided to take place in Beijing in 2008, Palden,
together with a group of young Tibetans, conducted an indefinite hunger
strike. The government in exile, which had abandoned the struggle for independence
and changed its policy to become a full autonomy under the Chinese government,
asked for the hunger strike to be abandoned, but Palden replied that he
was unable to control himself any time he heard bad news from Tibet. Then,
finally after the Italian government made an official declaration, the
13-day hunger strike was brought to a halt.
The words of a prisoner companion who died in jail crossed the mind of
Palden. The companion, who was about to collapse, asked for water, but
since there was no water available Palden gives him his saliva. The prisoner
thanked him before dying and told him, "If you survive, please fight
for an independent Tibet." Palden has not stopped fighting for his
companions who regretfully died in jail.
Perhaps you remember that last year, before the Olympic Games in Beijing
started, a popular uprising exploded in Tibet and many monks and citizens
were killed or wounded. Palden explains, "I'm a witness to the fact
that in Tibet human rights do not exist. Oppression and persecution continue.
Palden is by no means a revolutionary. He is a religious person. Even the
Chinese that tortured him try to understand that most probably there are
reasons behind the protest movements. That is the Buddhist teaching on
At the same time, the Reverend Dalai Lama explains that anger is a by-product
of compassion. As long as the Chinese use oppress the Tibetans, the continuation
of angry protests to stop the oppression is an act of compassion. It is
Palden's "compassion-anger" that drives him to continue his fight.
Palden prays, speaks up and fights. For him, there is no contradiction
between praying and fighting. An essential result of prayer is to continue
fighting. Anger is not essentially evil, and fighting is not an act that
contradicts faith. For Palden, prayer and anger, faith and fighting come
beautifully together within his spiritual life approach. Although I'm not
such a great believer, I would also like to learn from his faith.
[Shibata Yukinori, Jesuit Social Center, Tokyo]