Friday, February 12, 2010

Geshe Lobsang Gyaltsen's Story

(NOTE: Geshe-la is one of my students. He has a sharp wit, a quick mind, a great sense of humor and a kind heart. I am constantly awed to be in his presence. My life has been deeply blessed to be touched by his. The above photo is of one of our English conversation lessons at LIT, Learning and Ideas for Tibet)

Geshe Lobsang Gyaltsen, a Doctor of Buddhist Philosophy, chose to become a monk at the age of 15, in 1987. He speaks to a group of international travelers at L.I.T., Learning and Ideas for Tibet, a non-profit organization which supports a Free Tibet, about events related to his arrest and torture at the hands of the Chinese.

He became a monk at the age of 15. Roughly two years later, he became involved in a campaign for human rights, free Tibet, and awareness of related issues.

In 1989, he says, the Chinese came to interrogate monks at his monastery on issues related to an uprising in Tibet. The monks and local villagers decided to protest on 24 August, 1989, stating that Tibet had been a free and independent nation throughout history until 1959.

 Chinese police arrived quickly and told the protesters that if they capitulated and declared that Tibet was part of China, they would not be arrested. The protesters resisted. The next day villagers and monks decided to oppose the Chinese. Some 500 Chinese police were sent from Lhasa. Of these, roughly 300 were “special forces” who were authorized to shoot and kill without official direct permission or orders.

Geshe-la was one of four organizers and leaders of the protest who stood up and admitted their role. The police hand-cuffed him to another organizer, Dorje, and they both had their hands tied behind their backs. They were taken to a prison in Lhasa where they were kicked and beaten with gun butts. Then they were lined up against a wall and beaten with sticks and fists for about an hour, during which time they broke his nose. He says he remembers bleeding badly.

After the beating stopped, they were put in separate dark windowless rooms with no sheet to put on the floor or use as a cover. They had to use a corner of the room as their toilet. He was held at gunpoint and told if he renounced Tibet he wouldn’t be arrested. The Chinese beat him again and poured hot water over him for refusing to say that the Dalai Lama had organized the protests. 

He reports being tortured daily for a month with various electric devices until he lost consciousness. Water would be thrown in his face to revive him each time, but still he refused to comply.

Each day, he said, prisoners were given only a small amt of tsampa and one cup of water. Some days they received no food or drink. They were forced to clean pig sties and never given clean clothing or allowed to bathe.

He spent 9 months in prison. When he was released, he was given a letter he was ordered not to open for delivery to the abbot of his monastery. The letter said he was to be expelled from the monastery. He went to live with his family, but was watched closely by the Chinese, his activities limited.

After 6 months he decided to escape. He requested to visit his brothers in another part of Tibet. Permission was granted, but instead of going to see them, he went by bus to Lhasa, then on to the Nepali border, where he paid a guide 700 yuan to lead him through the mountains. It took a week to reach the reception center in Nepal.

He stayed at the reception cnter for 2 months, where he was given good food and medical care. In 1990 he was sent first to Delhi, then to McleodGanj. After meeting HH the Dalai Lama, he received an opportunity to study Buddhist philosophy along with approximately 5000 other monks at a monastery near Bangalore. His studies continued for 18 years, until he achieved the degree of Geshe (Doctor).

In 2007 he returned to Dharamsala to study Sanskrit at HH the Karmapa’s monastery for one year. Now he teaches Buddhist philosophy at  a monastery in McleodGanj, India. He is studying English at L.I.T. and has expressed an interest in teaching Buddhism to foreign visitors.

ADDITION: Geshe-la has since told me that, after his escape, his brother, who was also imprisoned with him resulting from the protest, was questioned harshly and repeatedly about Geshe-la's where-abouts but refused to answer. This resulted in his re-arrest. Not long after, the news came that his brother had died. Geshe-la feels that this was a direct result of torture at the hands of the Chinese.


  1. Incredible story! You are indeed living a rich life to be able to learn the stories that are needing to be told. Thank you for sharing this amazing man's story. I find your story, the writer, photographer, artist, traveler, equally fascinating. WOW and double WOW.

  2. I have tears in my eyes as I'm reading this. What a remarkably brave and strong young man Geshe la is. His story is a testimony to faith. May he be blessed always.