Books by Palden Gyatso

Released: Nov. 1, 1997

To readers of this memoir, however untraveled, Tibet will never again seem remote or unfamiliar. The author embodies in his personal story the trials of his country under half a century of Communist Chinese rule. In 1992, Gyatso, a Buddhist monk then 59 years old, fled from Tibet to Dharamsala, India, where the exiled Dalai Lama encouraged him to write his autobiography. The chronicle of Gyatso's early adult years provides a window onto the ways of a Tibetan Buddhist monastery; the rest of his memoir, however, is largely about prison life. For after China invaded Tibet in 1950, claiming it for part of the People's Republic, many native monks, deemed politically reactionary, were thrown in jail. Gyatso was arrested in 1960 for refusing to accuse his teacher of spying for India. In prison he endured repeated interrogations, shacklings, and beatings at the hands of his captors. For his ability to bear up with dignity under such conditions, both Gyatso and the Dalai Lama, who wrote this book's foreword, credit his Buddhist training. But Buddhist teachings on meditation, suffering, and compassion are invoked here only tangentially. This is all the more noticeable when Gyatso himself questions the tradition: For example, he wonders why a learned monk of his acquaintance would show fear in the face of death, while a layman untrained in Buddhist philosophy can somehow manage to accept his own execution in peace. Gyatso leaves the question hanging. He refrains from asking Buddhism, which offers so many insights into individual suffering, to explain why whole nations suffer. Nor will readers find sustained reflection on the uses of Buddhist teachings to political resisters. Nevertheless, the writer gives witness to physical and mental anguish, inviting sympathy for the Tibetans while also asking for political intervention on their behalf. Gyatso reminds us that the language of suffering is universal. (11 illustrations, not seen) Read full book review >