Memories of Keutsang Lama (Life in Tibet After the Chinese ‘Liberation’)
by Keutsang Trulku Jampel Yeshe, known as Keutsang Rinpoche
[Abstract of the Autobiography]
Author: Keutsang Trulku Jampel Yeshe, Birth Name: Jampel Yeshe Choekyi Monlan. The author is the immediate reincarnation of Darhen Keutsang Yeshe Monlan Pel Sangpo (Keutsang Rinpoche) who served as a personal assistant to 13th Dalai Lama, a member of the search team that finally discovered and identified 14th Dalai Lama, and one of the teachers of 14th Dalai Lama.
Purpose and Motive of the Autobiography: Although the author mentions that many people including 14th Dalai Lama urged him to write an autobiography, the inner motive that made him write this memoir was his great unquelled grief and indignation against China for overshadowing his youthful days. Since he did not choose the path of a martyr in prison, he needed to clarify for himself that he was never an “activist” dog who courted China’s mercy.
Summary of Autobiography: Yeshe was born in Lhokha Won, of the U-Tsang Province in 1944 and identified as the immediate reincarnation of the 5th Keutsang Lama at the age of two. He was nurtured and educated in the Keutsang Hermitage after a one-year stay at the Dingkhar residence in Lhasa. In 1959, when he was a fifteen-year-old boy, the Lhasa demonstration forced the 14th Dalai Lama into exile to India. Yeshe was arrested in the immediate wake of the demonstration (1960), simply for issuing his usual blessings of an incarnated lama to those who participated in the demonstration, an arrest contradictory to the Chinese constitution, which stipulates that individuals under 18 years are not subject to the crime of political offence. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison and classified as a member of the old ruling class. From 1959 onward, the author experienced cruel oppression, against which he struggled bitterly. In prison, he was subjected to mental and physical torture, struggle sessions, forced heavy labor, dire living conditions, and a shortage of food, all of which eventually caused chronic heart disease. In the early days of his imprisonment, he was defiant toward the aggressor because of his hearty patriotism. However, he later superficially behaved as an “activist” (a cooperative agent of Chinese authority) because he began to perceive the reality of relations between China and Tibet during his years in custody and chose to avoid an extremist stance of direct confrontation. He was released, after serving out his sentence, in September 1977 (with a three year reduction of the sentence). But this release was hardly the beginning of a second life in freedom. He was forced to work in the Retained Workers’ Unit, where very limited discretion of movement and daily life were allowed. However, he finally succeeded in seeking exile in India in 1985, narrowly escaping a second arrest. He met the 14th Dalai Lama there and resumed his life as an incarnated monk. Although the description of the author’s birth, and of the education which proved him a genuine incarnated lama to be revered, conform to the traditional style of a Tulku’s autobiography, the format of this book generally follows standard autobiographic conventions and is written chronologically.
We should not attribute cruelty to the nature of races; Germans or Japanese are in no inherent sense much crueler than other races. Humans’ cruelty originates in each of us, and the extent of cruelty stems entirely from circumstances, not from the biological characteristics of a race. However, how and to what extent cruel behaviors are expressed towards others, individually or collectively, is deeply affected by historical tradition, ideology, and relations between specific groups with the same thought. Human history shows that groups of people who sincerely pursued the great cause of realizing Utopia on the earth have often been the cruelest of all. Communism especially, which theoretically authorizes proletarian dictatorship to carry out destruction of old ruling class and religion as the utmost obstacles to the great cause, has proved the most destructive doctrine in modern history. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) was not an exception. The memoir could be best characterized as the prison diary that earnestly wanted to reveal to the world what was really done by the Chinese “liberation” after 1959.
The cruelest torture was what is known as the “struggle session,” and was the typical means to demolish “enemies of the people” throughout the history of CCP. The extent of violence that sometimes killed the persecuted was a rather secondary issue. The severity of the struggle session was its separation of people into accusers and accused without any concrete evidence. It not only destroyed the accused mentally, but also created an irreversible distrust in the minds of both the accused and the accusers. It must have been an effective way to weaken the people’s sense of unity when applied to “rebellious” Tibetans. The memoir precisely depicts the systematic implementation of the struggle session, even to the prisoners who had already been sentenced.
Contrary to the Bolsheviks in Russia, who openly claimed their ideological legitimacy to persecute religions and the old ruling class, the CCP betrayed this defiant openness understood to be an integral part of the proletarian dictatorship. The CCP was deceptive towards Tibetans from 1959 to 1979, and has been deceptive towards the world since it embraced the open market economy, actually turning to capitalism after 1979. In spite his firm belief that religions were counterproductive to modernization, Mao assured the continuity of Buddhism and monasteries in Tibet in a 17-point agreement. Today, China continues to declare to the world that it never persecutes religious activities, and that there is freedom of religion in China. The author accuses China of deceit and of a double standard by revealing atrocious facts about what went on in prison and what has taken place in Tibetan society since the “liberation” of Tibet.
It was a common misunderstanding in the West that the destruction of Tibetan Buddhism began with the Cultural Revolution. This memoir thrusts upon us the fact that from the very beginning, China never observed its pledge to protect even the “genuine practice” of Buddhism. The Chinese asserted to the author that freedom of religion means that one could decide entirely of one’s own accord to be a monk today and a layperson tomorrow. Chinese systematically brain-washed monks both in prison and in monasteries to become laymen, claiming that monkhood was a deeply rooted obstacle to the modernization of Tibet. Thus, enormous number of monks were persecuted and forced to leave their monasteries. Systematic destruction of monasteries that had been abandoned was also performed in many cases.
In the wake of China’s growing openness to the world since 1979, the government has begun to conceal its coercive policy concerning Tibetan culture and Buddhism. In short, it cheated the world and human rights activists by showing reconstructed monasteries and monks living satisfied religious lives. However, the author reveals that these monasteries were actually recovered by donations from countless unnamed Tibetans, and that the monks were ordered to behave as if they were living in happy circumstances.
The author had many reasons why he “had to” write these “memoirs.” First, it was for the purpose of proving his own raison d’être, how he survived and how unreasonably brutal the conquering Chinese were. Second, it was for the many nameless Tibetans who were killed by Chinese without any legitimate reason. The memoir acts as a requiem for them by recording the enormous absurdity executed within the closed prison. Third, he needed his own testimony to prove for himself his loyalty to Tibet and demonstrate that he never sold out his compatriots who are still in jail. Albeit that the memoir is a sort of prison diary, it never loses its validity, comprehensiveness, and pertinence, because life in the prison best demonstrates the very essence of the CCP’s cruelty that has been enforced throughout Tibet. The prison life was not an absolutely isolated world. Because of its direct relation with central government without any camouflage to conceal its real intention, prison life tells us more truth than the testimony of outside society and official history. For example, struggle sessions were held almost every evening during the Cultural Revolution. Labor in prison gradually shifted from just savage physical labor to more sophisticated work such as producing textiles using sewing machines. This was a reflection of changes arising from China’s economic development. After the death of Mao in 1976, there were ample reasons to embrace hope that revolutionary change would occur soon. Although we do not have any evidence, the author’s early release must have had something to do with the death of Mao. The narrative contrasting daily prison life and China’s international situation or the CCP’s real intention is the most excellent part of this memoir.
However, the deepest cause that urged the author to accuse China must have been his wholehearted love of his country, which the majority of Tibetans share. When he went back to his home after seventeen years in prison, he was consoled by beautiful nature and lamented that “such land of enchanting beauty had been forcibly taken possession of by the Chinese communist party, totally depriving people of their freedom, and enslaving them” (p.195). Even seventeen years of forced brain-washing in prison from the sensitive age of fifteen was not successful in changing the mind of the author. Simultaneous publication of English version with the Dalai Lama’s forward explicitly shows how he and the Tibetan government in exile wanted to make the memoir appeal to the world.
What did modernity mean to Tibetans who have spent centuries in a self-sufficient agricultural society with a rich mental life, even if they have been poor and backward from a Western economic point of view? The author’s accusation that the liberalization and modernization of Tibet were destructive never loses its persuasive strength, even in the wake of China’s successful rise as a super economic power in the world.