[FILM] " FIRE UNDER THE SNOW " - 2008 / USA & Japan / 75 Minutes


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 compassion.
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]
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