The Autobiography of a Tibetan Monk by Palden Gyatso

tibetan_monkTitle: The Autobiography of a Tibetan Monk
Author: Palden Gyatso
Genre: Memoir, History(Tibet)
Translated from the Tibetan by Tsering Shakya

Palden Gyatso, a Tibetan monk, was arrested after the Chinese invasion of Tibet in 1950. He was arrested when he was 28 years old and was released in 1992, when he was almost 60. This is his story.

Palden Gyatso joined a Monastery in 1943 at the age of 10 and decided to dedicate his life to religious studies. He recited prayers, learnt the scriptures and generally went about doing what monks usually do. Things started to change around 1950 when China invaded Tibet under the leadership of Mao.

Many Tibetan’s were arrested for minor reasons or for no reason at all. Palden Gyatso was one of them. The Chinese took away land, stopped Tibetan’s from worshipping and started spreading the teachings of Mao, all under the name of reform. They wanted to introduce so called “socialism” and bring everyone to one level. Palden Gyatso suffered a lot in the prison, mainly because he was the son of a rich landlord and therefore someone who enjoyed a lot of privileges in the “old” Tibet. But as far as he could see these were just ways to control Tibet and its people.

Palden Gyatso describes the prison horrors and the atrocities committed by the Chinese. And considering he was transferred many times to various prisons, its obvious this was the state everywhere. Even the slightest mistake could lead to a death sentence. He describes the fear and the helplessness that took hold of every Tibetan during that time. This is one of the many passages that describes this very helplessness:

It was far safer for everyone to forget their loved ones. We all learned to live as though we were orphans, with no parents or brothers or sisters or even friends in the outside world. This was perhaps easier for me as a monk than it was for some other prisoners. I was used to being solitary. I have no strong ties, no memories of a wife or children tugging at my heart. There were many cases of a wives remarrying in order to prove that they had completely severed ties with their reactionary husbands. The Party liked this sort of public declaration.

When he was released, he decided not to stay in Tibet any longer because he feared that the Chinese might not hesitate to put him in prison again. He escaped to Nepal and from there to Dharamshala, India where the revered Dalai Lama had made his home after running away from Tibet. I have been to Dharamshala before and I have seen many monks there, probably some of them were the ones escaped from Tibet. I have also had the privilege of seeing the Dalai Lama but I had no idea how revered and worshipped he was by the Tibetans. I mean I knew but I am just amazed by the scale of it.

FireUnderSnowThe Autobiography of a Tibetan monk was definitely an eye opener. Considering Tibet is so close to India, I should be ashamed that I knew so little about the Tibetan struggle for Independence. Any country does not have the right to rule other countries under any pretext whatsoever. Its high time China realizes that Tibet is a country of the Tibetans and they don’t want the Chinese there.

I have so much respect for Palden Gyatso and so many others like him who have suffered tremendously but still fought against their oppressors. This book is not only an Autobiography of a monk, it’s a tribute and a voice for all those who have suffered and continue to suffer.

Another passage from the book:
The human body can bear immeasurable pain and yet recover. Wounds can heal. But once your spirit is broken, everything falls apart. So we did not allow ourselves to feel dejected. We drew strength from our convictions and, above all, from our belief that we were fighting for justice and for the freedom of our country.

Note: I am assuming the book on the right hand side ‘Fire Under the Snow’ is the same book with a different name. I have googled a little on it and from the excerpts it seems it is.

4.25 out of 5 stars.

Other Informative links on the Tibetan cause:
Final Document of the 2009 Sino-Tibetan Conference ‘Finding Common Ground’
A news article on Palden Gyatso after his release
Free Tibet site

I’m adding this book to the World Citizen Challenge (Memoirs, World Issues, History) and The Orbis Terrarum Challenge (Author: Tibet)

11 thoughts on “The Autobiography of a Tibetan Monk by Palden Gyatso

Add yours

  1. This book sounds fantastic. Like, you have great admiration for people like Palden Gyasto who stand up for what they believe in even when it causes them to suffer. Thanks for your review.


  2. Very powerful. It sounds like a great follow up to Sky Burial, which I read last month. I know my husband would love this.


  3. “The human body can bear immeasurable pain and yet recover. Wounds can heal. But once your spirit is broken, everything falls apart.”

    How true. Great review, Violet!


  4. Wow. Unfortunately I don’t know as much about Tibet and China as I’d like to – only basic knowledge. I remember everyone got together and lit a candle in their window for Tibet when the Olympics were on in China. This book definitely sounds like one to read to learn more about the situation from someone who has been through it all. Great review, Violet.


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