R E A D I N G

Chapter 9

While Gyaltsen Norbu lived in a golden prison, Gendun Choekyi Nyima, who was of the same age, found himself in a real prison camp. The boy, who the Tibetans considered as the real Panchen Lama, was the most strictly guarded and isolated prisoner in China.

Since the visit of the monks from Tashi Lhunpo Gendun Choeki Nyima was aware that he would take up an important post after his traditional education. His pain was boundless that his role of being the incarnation of a high religious leader in the Buddhist tradition was denied to him. His longing for it hurt him even more than his living conditions which were not very good as well.

The Panchen Lama was taken to the military camp 45 north of Bejing, but the public authorities had saved him from the worst. His parents were allowed to stay with him, even though they were subjected to strict regulations. “You are not allowed to speak Tibetan with the boy; you are not allowed to teach him the Tibetan script or other lessons in Tibetan; even more you are not allowed to familiarize the boy with the Buddhist belief or even tell him about his alleged incarnation“, the military commander-in-chief, who had come with his two representatives to demonstrate how serious the party was about it, ordered. And he threatened: “If you do not obey to these instructions from the highest level serious consequences will be inevitable. The party does not tolerate disobedience.“ Then he became more obliging and added: “Moreover, this is only for your protection. The party had found out that reactionary elements were planning to abduct the boy. Who knows what could have happened to him then. To avoid this we have taken him to this safe place.“ Not any of the prisoners believed his speech.

Already after a few weeks Dechen Chödön’s nerves were on the edge. The strong woman, who – in the few years of normality – attended her duties as a medicine, mother and housewife inexhaustibly, could not accept her life surrounded by high electrical fences, watchtowers and heavily armed soldiers. During the evenings, when she felt unobserved, she often fell crying into her husband’s arms although in former times she had been the one to support him with her power and energy.

“We are not going to accept these instructions“, Könscho Phüntsog whispered to her. “As the Dalai Lama confirmed, our boy is the true Panchen Lama. This is both, a great honour and the responsibility for us to prepare him secretly for his role as good as we can. He is still so young – who knows how the situation will develop. With the help of the gods the truth will triumph one day and on this day the boy has to be prepared for his role. All Tibetans pin their hope in this, we must not disappoint them.“ Dechen Chödön pressed her tear-stained face even closer to her husband. „If only this will come to a good end“, she aspirated scarcely audible. “It will come to a good end“, he whispered back and looked so self-assured that she felt a little confident for the first time since her abduction.

Half a dozen soldiers were detailed to keep the small family under guard. Most of them were young fellers from the countryside who were unexperienced and uneducated regarding political affairs, so that they became helpless victims of the party propaganda. They believed what the party had drummed into them – that is to say that the three prisoners were especially dangerous separatists. Nobody asked how an adolescent boy could be separatist.

Only one of them was different, the soldier Wang Lei Min. He had been serving in the People’s Liberation Army for 15 years and in his heart he was deeply unsatisfied with his job. Again and again he had to witness how his superiors increased their pay many times over by blackmailing and threatening the families of the prisoners who even possessed less than them. They often claimed money for the promise to grant privileges to the imprisoned relatives or to supply them with better food. But nobody could verify whether the money was really spent for these purposes or even dare to raise complaints when suspicions concerning irregularities werde raised. Wang Lei Min was clever enough to hide his feelings. Following the principles of the president Mao he did not attract any attention – just like a fish in the water.

He himself had tragically experienced the brutality of the army he served in. In 1989, as a student, his younger brother had taken part in the demonstrations on the Tiananmen Square. After the military intervention his family had never heard from him again. At the beginning they still hoped that he had only become arrested because they never got an official message informing them about his death. Anytime the parents tried to inquire into his whereabouts they got no reaction or the stereotype answer that there was no information about him. These times of hope and trepidiation were hard for the family – more hard than any concrete information – even a tragic information – could have ever been. After years of waiting the family gave up their hope of getting back their younger son alive. For Wang Lei Min this was especially hard because the two of them had always had a very close relationship. Still the soldier could not overcome this loss.

Another chapter of the tragic story of the family was that the father had belonged to the notorious Red Guards in his youth and participated in a mission in Tibet. After a long time of silence he could no longer keep his experiences to himself and told his sons about the atrocities of his unit in Tibet. Hardly any Chinese knew in detail about that. In the Chinese historiography the era of the Red Guards was briefly described as “misconduct of radical left-wing elements” who had brought harm to the whole motherland.

At first sight Wang Lei Min was not different from the other guards. Whenever he met the three prisoners accompanied by his comrades his orders were scarce and harsh. He also obeyed with the order only to speak to the prisoners as much as neccessary and to give them the feeling of permant observation. Furthermore, the guards had to check discreetly the progress of the boy regarding the Chinese language. The party did not only want to rely on the teachers to make sure that the parents complied with the rules.

When Wang was alone with the Panchen Lama or with his parents, what happened from time to time, his tone of voice was different. “You have to learn our language in order to achieve something in your life and to go your own way“, he told the boy with nearly paternal care. “It is not important how you learn the language. Education is important in a land like ours. We are on the move and who knows what else is still going to happen. Therfore study, whenever you have the opportunity.“

The boy did not really understand what the guard meant, but he did not dare to ask the man in uniform for more details. A short while after that encouragement, the second guard, who had delivered an important message to the ministry of the Unity Front, appeared again. Immediately Wang seemed to be a different person, a hard, strict soldier on a special guard duty and not at all different from his comrades.

It was not neccessary to call on the Panchen Lama to study more intensively. In spite of his abduction and isolation he was still bent on learning more. Finally he even got into the Chinese language. His teachers used books which were a few decades old. The history books did not seemed to deal with any other subject than the successes of the glorious People’s Liberation Army and the malice of the class enemies. Also Chinas historical alliance with Tibet, the peaceful liberation of 1950 and the cruel feudal system of the Dalai-clique filled the lessons. More and more new texts informed the Panchen Lama about how brutal life in the old Tibet before the liberation had been, how bondsmen had been humiliated, beaten, mutilated and terribly killed in all imaginable ways by feudal landowners and abbots and how the survivors finally had revolted and won with the support of the People’s Liberation Army. The books also told long-windedly about the gratitude of the former bondsmen to their liberators and reported how they considered themselves fortunate to have controlled their own destiny and to know that the exploiters had fled abroad under the leadership of the Dalai-clique.

At first these information were imparted to the Panchen Lama by means of pictures, than by means of little stories and after one year he was able to read and recite the evidences and reports of the bondsmen by himself.

In the course of the lessons he understood more and more what the soldier Wang Lei Min meant when he had told him that it is not important how you learn a language. He was not interested in the content of the texts and he ignored it as good as possible. However, to master the Chinese language was certainly useful.

What was really important he learned from his parents. After they had gained the impression that the custody no longer was that strict because they had not done any wrong, the father sat down at his son’s bedside one evening. “Boy, you know that you should be in Tashi Lhunpo to be educated there. What you learn here, does not have anything to do with the history and belief of our people. You play an important role in strengthening that belief and for that reason you need an appropriate education. Tomorrow we will begin with that education because this is my responsibility as your father – even if this is not the right place for a boy like you. Nobody must know about it and your mother and I will ensure that. The lessons will always take place in the evening when the guards are not longer directly with us. As the Gods will be with us we will succeed.”

Gendun Choekyi Nyima was overwhelmed. His eyes were filled with tears but although his heart brimmed over with gratitude and joy he was not able to say a word. After a while, when his father was about to leave so that nobody became suspicious his son held him back: “Please, Father, tell me, why are we here at all? Why did the monks from Tashi Lhunpo not take me directly to the monastery when they visited us? Why did they not return although they had promised it? Why did soldiers come instead of the monks and how long will we still have to stay here?“

The boy got more and more excited so that the father tenderly put a finger on his mouth to close his lips. It was the first time during the imprisonement that the Panchen Lama frankly protested against his fate and it was clear how intensely he had already thought about it. “Careful, very careful”, the father whispered. “When we begin with your education you have to be even more careful with each of your words and you have to study even more hard with your teachers than before. Some of your questions will be answered in the course of the time; even I am not able to answer every question so I can only speculate about some answers. What I can now tell you is that the monks wanted to keep their word but the party did not allow them to do so. You are the Panchen Lama, just before the soldiers arrived we heard in the radio that the Dalai Lama, our beloved leader had confirmed you and nothing else matters. But the party does not like the Dalai Lama. I do not know in detail what happened, but at least we are with you. I cannot tell you more and now I have to go.“

He quickly went away. The latest information could not affect the deep feeling of happiness he felt when a real education had been promised to the boy. The father did not tell him that this education would not have a lot in common with an education in Tashi Lhunpo. He knew that he was only a layman with modest possibilities and hoped that this would be enough to form a basis a monastery could build on in case the situation would fundamentally change.

As the parents had always spent the evenings together with their son from the beginning of the banishment, nobody cared about what happened during that time of the day. While Könscho Phüntsog taught his son lessons, his wife watched out wether one of the guards approached. The two had agreed on a secret warning sign: From her room she could oversee the inner yard an uninvited guest would have to cross. The provisional lessons took place in a room in the back part of the small habitation which had no windows towards the yard. In case of danger Dechen Chödön would turn on the TV in her room which served more propaganda than entertainment. As it was programmed so that only governmental and army channels could be received the family lived without this form of distraction most of the time. But if she turned on the TV at full volume without leaving the room she did not raise any suspicion. Her husband and her son would hear it in the adjoining room and had time enough to eliminate any evidence of the lessons

At first everything went according to plan.

First of all, Könscho Phüntsog taught his son the Tibetan characters because this was the basis for all further lessons. His son mastered the language very well although they were forced to speak only Chinese.

After a few weeks Könscho Phüntsog began with the basics of the Buddhist doctrine. He himself was more or less familiar with it. He had grown up in a time when practicing religion had been punished like a serious crime but in the short era of openness a few years after the death of the bid leader Mao he had often attended schoolings in monasteries where he had had the possibilty to become familiar with the basics of Buddha’s doctrine.

The governmental teachers recognized that the Panchen Lama changed. While they did not attach any value to it at first, they began worrying about it as time went by. The boy seemed no longer reserved and incommunicative, he indeed approached his excercises with nearly pleasant anticipation. Before, they had often had the impression that his thoughts were miles away. At the same time the boy was always tired out, exhausted, just as if he did not get enough sleep. These impressions did not fit together and since the boy did not change and did not have a satisfactory explanation for his behaviour, they decided to talk about it with the boy’s guards. Maybe they could explain it, at least they could keep their eye’s open and become even more attentive, for the party had put the responsibility for an important affair on them. And the parties expectations must not be belied.

Months passed by and the private lessons of the Panchen Lama from his father showed a big success. He had quickly learned the Tibetan characters and practiced writing enthusiastically. Every night when the lessons were over, the mother took the small scrolls and burnt them the next day in order not to leave any marks. The boy was taught about the Buddha doctrine without written recordings and he soaked the information up like a sponge soaks up the water.

One cold winter day Dechen Chödön sat as always in the dark of the room, keeping a wary eye on the dimly lit yard in front of their door. Since the beginning of the lessons that night she had already turned up the TV for a few times because she had thought to have noticed somebody, but it had always been false alarm. Nevertheless they all agreed that is was right to better be excessivly cautious than to risk a lack of attention. She asked herself how long all this would still last. During the lessons in the evenings in the adjoining room she felt very tensed. Her husband and her son completely concentrated themselves on the lessons and they trusted in her implicitly. They were confident that she would realize any approaching danger just in time. Sometimes she caught herself thinking secretly that she had taken the heaviest burden on herself and that she would like to change the role with her husband, but deep in her heart she knew that it was good like it was. She even knew less about the Buddhist doctrine than her husband, so she could not have taught her son anything about it.

While she was thinking about this, the door was suddenly thrown open. Before she was able to realise what happened, somebody was at the light switch and the garish light of the simple bulb dazzled her. In this moment she became aware of the danger. She had to hold the uninvited guests up for a few minutes. So she jumped up to switch on the TV but she did not get very far. Big hands pushed her back to her chair; nobody said a word. A man quickly strode towards the door of the teaching room. It was too late. Three of the guards, among them Wang, had come to their house across a backyard the family did not know anything about, so they did not have to cross the yard the mother was keeping an eye on.

There was no sense in denying anything. Gendun Choekyi Nyima was just writing a Tibetan text and the characters were that exact that only somebody who was very familiar with the Tibetan language in speech and writing could have written them.

On the next day Könscho Phüntsog was questionned at the police headquarters. He was facing important party functionaries as well as scowling security agents. Most of them wore sunglasses what made it impossible for him to look them in the eyes. The government took the affair very serious. “Comrade Könscho Phüntsog“, somebody – not the functionary of the highest rank as Könscho Phüntsog assumed- began. “You violated the basic conditions the party placed for the education of your son. Only severe self-criticism can save you from what you deserve. Do you regret your actions?“

Könscho Phüntsog had to think about a defense strategy very quickly. Of course he did not regret anything but it did not seem wise to him to contradict the functionaries frankly. As well he did not want to neglect completely what he had done. So he began slowly and carefully: “My boy is a Tibetan boy and our constitution allows the national minorities to use their language and to cultivate their cultural identities. Therefore I considered it the proper thing to…“ He did not get any further. ”Comrade, if you had a little more respect for the party and its representatives“, the spokesman of the interrogation interrupted him harshly, “you would not lecture us about our constitution. We all know the constitution very well and also the rights that are granted to the national minorities.

But the party also has the right to grant exemptions if superior interests and the security of the state are at hazard. That is the case for Gedün Choekyi Nyima. He enjoys the privilege of a patriotic education which imparts everything he needs to him. Nothing more is required - especially since the Dalai-clique and other antigovernmental forces want to abuse him for their separatist propaganda.“

Könscho Phüntsog did not completely understand the last sentence. Visibly intimitated he kept digging submissively. These tough functionaries did not compromise on anything but he did not want to make it that easy for them: “Please forgive me but I had no idea about the role my boy is supposed to play. I made a big mistake I bitterly regret know. But please allow me one more question, comrade.“ His interlocuor nodded sullenly. The self-critiscm of the father had calmed him a little bit: “Why did the party decide to keep my boy away from every Tibetan education? Of course we deplore each effort to separate the motherland. We only want to preserve our cultural identity.“

This question was also met with disapproval. “What the party says is to be accepted even if you do not understand it. The party does not need to justify their decisions and your question once again shows how little respect you have for the party in spite of your self-criticism.“

As the prosecutors assumed that Könscho Phüntsog only taught his son the Tibetan language and grammar but not the Buddhist doctrine they only issued a harsh caution which was a comparatively mild punishment for a crime against the safety of the state. If they only had a vague idea about that Gedün Choekyi Nyima also was familiarized with Buddhism during the lessons, the punishment would have been much more severe. Nevertheless, the functionaries made it very clear to the father of the Panchen Lama that further private lessons for his son would have very serious consequences.

When Könscho Phüntsog was taken back to the camp after one week he hardly recognized his wife. Her eyes were swollen as if she had cried all the time. Her hair hang over her face in tangled, greasy strands although she had always set great value upon hair care. She must have gone through more than words can say and nobody had informed her about the fate of her husband. Also Gedün Choekyi Nyima seemed to be distraught and did not understand what was going on in his surroundings.

Nearly unconsious Dechen Chödön fell into her husband’s arms and during the following days he learned more about her fettle.

The mother of the Panchen Lama had blamed herself very much that the soldiers had succeeded in getting in the room unnoticedly. She could not even comfort her with the thought that it had not been in her responsibilty because they had not come across the yard. Full with feelings of guilt she had gone to the guards and had begged them to arrest her instead of her husband but they had spurned her brusquely. She had not gotten any answer everytime she had inquired into the whereabouts of her husband.

By morning she fell crying into a restless sleep which did not bring her rest and relaxation. She was anguished by nightmares even more than the reality could ever anguish her. She saw her husband in the prison being brutally tormented, bleeding and begging for mercy. But there was no mercy. He was chained up nakedly under a ceiling and hang so high that his feet could not touch the ground. At the same time weights were attached to his feet and nipples which tore his limbs and caused unbearable pain. His tormentors hit him with iron bars on the whole body and they enjoyed to stub out cigarettes on especially sensitive parts of his body. When Könscho Phüntsog squirmed with pain the weights even tortured him more. Then one of them penetrated into his anus with an iron bar…

She woke up crying and bathed in sweat. Her son sat helpless at her bedside. Furthermore she noticed Wang Lei Min standig in the doorframe – obviously alone, but he did not say a word.

The images were so concrete that she had to take the torture scenes for real. Each time she fell asleep for a short time the nightmare came back to her. Therefore she made every effort to resist her need for sleep completely. She often succeeded and her physical state visibly worsened.

“That was not real – it were your fears“, she heard her husband whisper tenderly, and she slowly realized that he was right. Nevertheless she did not get rid of her feeling of unease since she had never had so intense dreams.

Könscho Phüntsog took up time until he told his wife about the warnings of the functionaries. But he also emphasized that he did not have the intention to abandon the lessons. It was his duty to the Tibetan people to prepare the Panchen Lama for his role even if the conditions were very hard. And this duty counted way much more than his duty to the party. But he would have to be even more careful and let time lapse away.

On the National Day, when the whole country commemorated the glorious foundation of the People’s Republic, the family was visited by two guards, among them Wang Lei Min. Obviously they had the order to check whether the family also honoured the special event appropriately. One of the guards had brought some alcohol which was only allowed on this special occasion of their highest holiday. The man had a weakness for alcohol and Könscho Phüntsog noticed how frankly Wang encouraged him to drink. In contrast Wang refrained from drinking and the father of the Panchen Lama even observed that he secretly tipped out some of the glasses his colleague had poured him in. Apparently he pursued a certain intention. In fact, after two hours, the man was so drunk that he fell into a deep sleep. When everybody was sure that he did not notice anything anymore Wang seemed to have completely changed. “I know that you have a lot of questions. I will try to tell you everything I know“, he started suddenly….

“You know that nobody, absolutely nobody, must receive a word about what I tell you know. That would be the end for all of us.“ While saying this he first looked the mother and then the father straight in the eye. What they had secretely hoped but hardly dared to hope turned into reality in this moment: Deep in his heart Wang did not belong to those who were responsible for their humiliation. “Yes, yes, of course“, Könscho Phüntsog who was normally more self-confident stammered. And he added softly:”Thank you, thank you very much.“

So Wang began with his story: “Your boy Gendun Choekyi Nyima was acknowledged by the Dalai Lama as the real Panchen Lama, but the party leadership was foaming with rage about it. The party did not want to accept that the Dalai Lama had the final say in such an important affair. Therfore your son had been abducted. But after all it was too late - because everybody in Tibet, yes, in the whole world, already knew about it. And everyone except our governement considers him to be the true Panchen Lama. I learned that a picture of him is secretly spread all over Tibet.

But the more people admitted that your son is the Panchen Lama, the more stubborn the Communist Party became. So they held something against it. About half a year after you had been imprisoned here they initiated an election in the Jokhang Temple which was broadcasted on Chinese television. In the presence of important functionaries a cleric drew a sheet of paper with a name on it out of a golden urn. Gyaltsen Norbu was written on it– like the leader of our party in Tibet.“ He paused with an uneasy smile. “No, it is not him.” It should amuse his listeners, but nobody in the room was inclined to it. In the still they heard the drunk guard snore. As they had been entranced by the story they had not paid attention to it before.

Finally Wang continued: “ The parents of the boy belong to the party. He also lives here in Peking – a bit more comfortable- and is educated in accordance with the instructions of the party. The party hopes to have a big influence on the religious life in Tibet through him but they will only succeed if your son, the real Panchen Lama is kept missing. That is why your family is closely guarded like dangerous criminals and why the boy should be kept away completely from the Tibetan tradition. Even if the situation changed one day, the Panchen Lama would know nothing else but the Chinese education. That is what the party wants.“

Könscho Phüntsog and Dechen Chödön took a deep breath. Now things became more clear to them. And they wanted to seize the opportunity to get to know more.

“But what about the monks who visited us, Chadrel Rinpoche, the most resepectable abbot from Tashi Lhunpo, who had never said anything against the Chinese? Wasn’t it his responsibility to determine the Panchen Lama?“

And so Wang told them about the fate of the abbot in detail, how he had kept to the tradition and had therefore been criminalized as a public enemy. The Chinese media had reported about it in detail to warn all separatists and by know Wang was very skilled to select the truth from all the propaganda.

There was so much the parents of the Panchen Lama still wanted to know but suddenly the drunken guard coughed slightly. Wang studied him with his poker-face. “Come on, comrade, you seem to have had a few drinks to many“, he adressed him and strictly looked at him. The guard bowed his aching head in shame. Bit by bit he became aware of where he was and that he had let himself go in a way which could have serious consequences for a guard soldier of the People’s Liberation Army. The National Day did not justify that by any means. Under no circumstances his superiors must never get to know it. „Comrade“, he began guiltily, “Would it be possible...“, he halted and stuttered, unable to find the right words. Could he even trust Wang? Suspicion and spying also dominated the daily life of the guards. But if his collegue gave notice of the incident it would be all over for him. Even in his miserable constitution he knew that he absolutely had to prevent that.

“Do you have something on your mind?“, Wang asked innocently. “You know, my constitution...“, the drunkard tried again but he did not succeed in expressing himself properly. “Oh, you are worrying that one of our superiors will get wind of it?“ Wang liked the game and it even could bring concrete advantages for him as nobody knew what was still about to come. ”Yes”, the man confirmed embarrassedly, feeling relieved at the same time that the other now knew what this all was about. ”Would it be possible that our superiors do not receive a word about this evening?“ ‘I will hope that’, Wang thought by himself and hardly could suppress a grin. ”Trust in me”, he answered with his usual stoical face and in a strict tone he added: “Maybe you can do me a favour one time, too.“ ”Of course, comrade, of course, I’ll do whatever you want. And thank you, thank you very much.“ The man’s relief was more than clear and he did not seem to be bothered that the imprisoned family witnessed the whole scene. ‘We will see’, thought Wang, linked arms with his thankful college and left the family without saying goodbye and with a severe look like usually at the end of his shift.

Monotonous weeks and months passed by. During this time the only interrumption of the monotony of the Panchen Lama’s daily life were the official Chinese lessons. His father wanted to let some time lapse away before taking up the Buddhist education again. Even if he did not know how to realize it, it was beyond doubt that he would continue with the education of his son. Their custody had become even more severe and they noticed unknown faces among the soldiers. Every night two of the soldiers stayed in the poor accomodation until the son fell asleep – or at least until it seemed so.

But the boy became more and more impatient. “Father”, he finally urged. “I eventually want to continue my real education, I want to be taught by you.”

On this evening it was Wang who had the last guarding shift. Könscho Phüntsog would have liked to hear Wang’s opinion about it but that would only be possible if the second soldier left the lodgings – at least for some time. Wang caught the eye of the father and understood immediately. He waited a few minutes and then he said to his colleague who was inferior to him in the hierarchy: “Comrade, could you please give me our minute book for the daily report? I want to use the time to attend my duties.“ “But the book is over there in the guardhouse“, the you soldier answered. “Really?” Wang pretended to be naive. “I thought you had taken it with you. It would shorten our shift if we discharged our duties now. Anyway, I don’t think anything special will still happen tonight.“ “Shall I go and get it?“, the boy asked oblingly. “If you could do that for me? And you don’t have to hurry, I have everything under control here. We will still have to stay long enough.“ The soldier headed off and Wang planted himself obliquely behind the barred window so that he was able to oversee the dimly lit yard without being seen. He knew that nobody would come across the backyard.
“I think I know what you have on your mind“, he began as soon as his colleague was out of hearing. “You want to continue with the education.” “Yes, that is our greatest wish”, Könscho Phüntsog, who was a bit worried that Wang could read their thoughts so easily, answered.

“You have also realized that the security measures were intensified. Paper is no longer allowed to you and they even thought about guarding you in your house twenty-four-seven. But as you behaved in an exemplary manner since your arrest, the party assumes that you have realized your mistakes and your character’s are cleared now. That gives you a little more freedom but the party nevertheless is on the guard. Even the guards are strictly observed.“ That did not sound very calming but after a short break Wang added with a bitter-sweet smile: “Don’t worry, I have been in the system long enough and I know it very well. Unfortunately it was already too late when I heard about the planned control visit across the backyard. This measure had been decided according to orders from very high above because the eager teachers”, he could not hide his disdain, “had become suspicious that something was wrong with the boy. I can tell you, the two are even worse and more suspicious than all the other guards together and against them we are helpless. They are under the direct control of the mininstry of the Unity Front.“

“Nevertheless I will take the risk again“, Könscho Phüntsog declared stubbornly. “And I will support you“, Wang answered as resolutely as the father. “I hate this system and I will get you a special writing tablet: The writings on it will be deleted automatically. You will have to hide it very well but that risk is maller than smuggling new paper in your habitation again and again. If they should ever find that writing tablet with you you must of course never tell them where you got it from. Tell them you took it away for school.“ Wang laughed out loud but the father of the Panchen Lama was not in the mood for joking. “That is not the biggest problem“, the soldier came back to the topic. “The problem are the teachers. If you start with the lessons during the night, when the guards are gone, the teachers will soon worry about the fatigue of the boy. We cannot avoid that. And even if they will not convict you they will become suspicious. And I am afraid the consequence for you will be a strict watch around the clock. Or even worse, the boy will be taken away from you.“ Wang seemed a little bit helpless.

“How about“, Dechen Chödön began to speak, “changing his sleeping rhythm? If he went to bed earlier he would be able to get up earlier in the morning and the lessons could take place before school.“

The men met this idea with approval. As the Panchen Lama heard that he had the chance to continue his religious education it was not difficult to persuade him to go to bed early. Wang even gave the command to unhinge the door of the bedroom in order to avert any suspicion. He reported to his superiors that the soldiers needed to have the possibilty to observe what was going on in the bedroom if the boy went to bed so early. Wang was praised for his vigilance and alertness. But his considerations were simple: Every guard should witness that Gedün Choekyi Nyima only went to bed early and fell asleep soon. Nobody realized that he was woken earlier in the mornings. Soon the idea turned out to be very good.

After a few weeks Gedün Choekyi Nyima had gotten used to get up at four o’clock in order to study the Tibetan language intensively for three hours as well as to be familiarized with Buddhism. The Buddhist schooling took up more and more time of his eductaion. Like before, Dechen Chödön kept guard and had –as good as possible- an eye directly on the door and not only on the yard. Anyhow it would have been difficult to notice somebody in time who would come across the backyard, so that the tension during the lessons was high.

The Panchen Lama absorbed eagerly what his father taught him and was nevertheless concentrated during the lessons with his governmental teachers whose duty was more and more not only to familiarize him with the official view of the Tibetan and Chinese history, but also to keep an eye on his development. Every change, any strange behaviour should be noticed and reported to the authorities immediately.

Nearly one year had passed by since Könscho Phüntsog had been arrested when the teachers of the Panchen Lama decided to test him profoundly. They did not inform the boy about it, but suddenly started with it one morning. The boy had memorized some sentences about the old feudal system, but he could not remember much. He had always thought an exam would be announced and then he would have had enough time to repeat the phrases with his parents the teachers wanted to hear. But now it was too late and the result was modest. Gedün Choekyi Nyima hardly knew anything about the foundation of the glorious Communist Party and the People’s Liberation Army. He did neither seem to be interested in the Long March of the honoured leader Mao nor in the reform politics of the beloved comrade Deng.

His teachers were alarmed. They urged him to follow their lessons with more attention. And they assumed that somebody tried to baffle their efforts. Only the guards and their parents had access to the boy. As all the soldiers were chosen and reliable party comrades, their loyalty could not be impeached. Thus only the parents remained. They had to be kept under guard more intensively. But the parents proceeded very carefully. The sleeping room did not have any outer windows and father and son only used a flashlight so that no light shone through the open door. They sat in the most far-away corner of the room so that the glimmer of light could not be seen from the yard. Dechen Chödön had checked it several times.

After the teacher’s report - which had been colored a bit - the party gave the order to keep the prisoners discreetly under guard around the clock. Nobody noticed anything- even that Dechen Chödön took up her station at the window from four o’clock on could not be seen from the other side of the yard where one guard also kept watch behind the window. She also moved around easily in the darkness. Two weeks passed until Wang had the opportunity to tell the family about the new order.

During the time to come the boy studied with special zeal. Nevertheless the suspicion was maintained. Weeks and months passed by and the everyday life of the Panchen Lama remained the same. The only interruption of the daily routine was Wang. When he had the possibility to talk to the family alone they heard news from the world beyond the walls of their dungeon. Also the Panchen Lama realized that Wang was different from the others and stood on their side. The boy had no explanation for that.

It was a nice day in the late autumn. The last trees were about to lose their leaves and with each day the autumn sun showed on the clear blue sky the days were growing shorter. As the nights already were quite cold, it became more difficult each morning for the Panchen Lama to get up so early and to concentrate on the lessons his father taught him. Therefore Dechen Chödön discussed with Wang if she could take the risk to prepare their beloved butter tea in the morning which would do the two scholars in the bedroom good. They agreed to try it with all due caution when Wang would be on nightwatch in the opposite house and they found out that nothing could be seen from there.

During these days the teachers got alarming news from the ministry of the United Front. The minister himself wanted to check the learning progress of the boy during a teaching visitation scheduled for the next week. The teachers debated whether to inform Gedün Choekyi Nyima about that or not and finally decided to tell him about the planned visit without letting him know the exact date. Although they did not trust the boy he had to be well prepared because in case the minister would not be satisfied with the education of the boy it would all come back to them and carry serious consequences. They could not make anyone else responsible because they did not have any proof that the parents tried to influence the boy in favor of the feudal Dalai-clique - , anyway it was their task to avoid such efforts together with the guards.

Both teachers awaited the visit with growing nervousness. What if the boy did not make any efforts to show his knowledge? His patriotic attitude did not seem to be very strong.

They could hardly find any sleep in the night before the visit. Long before sunrise they got up, being nervous and restless. “It is a beautiful, clear night and the dawn will shine like the flags of our republic. Let us go for a walk, maybe it helps to calm down and concentrate”, one proposed and the other agreed.

At the same time Dechen Chödön woke her son like every other morning before. Even if it was hard for him to leave his warm and comfortable blanket he got up immediately. Discipline was one of his most important characteristics and he was looking forward to the tea his mother prepared on a small flame. After having served the tea to her family, Dechen Chödön went back to her observation post behind the curtain.

She enjoyed the calm and piece at this time of the day although she knew that someone from the opposite site of the yard observed her habitation during the whole night. If the guards fell asleep from time to time? This thought made her smile and she decided to ask Wang at the next opportunity. However, this was no reason for her to be less careful and to let her guard down. She remembered the one and only time she had not been attentive enough and the consequences had been fatal. Although everyone tried to convince her that it had not been her fault, she could not ease her bad conscience.

On this starlit morning she stood near the fireplace as the two teachers walked through the backyard and passed her habitation. The break of dawn was still far away and through the curtains they could see fuzzily the weak flare of the fire in the hearth. They looked at each other astonishedly and in the same moment Dechen Chödön noticed the two shadowy grey silhouettes in the dimly lit yard. They stood in her door which could not be locked from the inside before she could react. “Already up that early?” The sarcastic tone hit Dechen Chödön like a blow. Everything went so fast that noone in the habitation had time to react. Immediately one of the teachers stood in the bedroom where father and son pored over a writing tablet. “Give it to me”, screamed the uninvited invader, rushed over to them and grabbed the tablet. He recognized Tibetan characters he could not read – but whatever was written there: It was strictly forbidden to use the Tibetan characters even if it were hymns to the party or the leader Mao.

The teachers immediately summed up the situation and knew exactly what to do. One of them took the tablet and ran to the guardhouse, the other kept the totally intimidated family at bay. Although the characters on the writing tablet were no longer readable, both of them were sure that with help of technology it would be possible to make the text visible again. One moment later six frowning men with their levelled guns appeared in the doorframe. Without hesitating they caught Könscho Phüntsog and pushed him with their guns towards a car. His wife and his son would never see him again like they knew him before that day. Within seconds, all those nightmarish pictures which tormented her after her husband’s first imprisonement flashed upon Dechen Chödön’s inward eye. Her knees began trembling and she collapsed. She tried to cling to the cold stone and she was such a miserable sight that even the ideological blinded guards felt a hint of pity for her. But this also made them feel helpless; being helpless in turn gave them a bad feeling and they made the broken woman responsible for it. One of them planted himself in front of her: “You have broken all the rules and offended against all principles of the party. Who do you think you are? How dare you to still expect mercy?“ He became more and more excited about it until he felt Wang’s hand on his shoulder. “You are right, comrade, but let it be. She does not understand a word of what you’re saying. Today high representatives of the government and the party will arrive, they will know how to proceed with those reactionaries.“ He wanted to spare Dechen Chödön the last humiliation because he knew exactly what the family had to expect and he could do nothing to prevent it. He felt like screaming for anger when he thougt about it – nevertheless he had to act like a sovereign guard. Maybe he could at least support the boy? Who could know what the party would now do with him?

Only the teachers grinned satisfiedly at each other. How merciful the fate could be. Not long ago they had anxiously awaited this day, facing a test without having any idea about the expected results. Now they could be sure of the highest appreciation from the party because thanks to their observation it had been possible to convict dangerous counterrevolutionaries

Four hours later the minister and the party functionaries arrived with a big entourage. They had been informed about the goings-on in the camp by phone and already knew that the teaching visitation would not take place. When they got out of their smoked limousines they did not even try to hide their deep satisfaction about how rigorously the party persecuted reactionaries and separatists. But they could not screw any information out of Dechen Chödön. The woman was not approachable. Anyhow, the party imposed that for the time being two guards should move in with mother and son and watch them twenty-four-seven. They should never be unobserved again. What they had to expect beyond that, the party functionaries wanted to consider carefully because the fate of this boy was of great importance for the reputation of the whole republic: China-hostile forces abroad kept asking for it.

Dechen Chödöns nightmares became worse and worse. Already when her husband had been arrested for the first time she had thought to have reached the limits of what she could bear. Now she realized that such limits did not exist – except in death. But it was forbidden by her belief to consider this tempting salvation.

Again she saw pictures of her husband being tortured and this time it was as if it happened to herself. She heard how bones were broken, skin was burnt and teeth were knocked out. She woke up crying and tried to give up sleeping, but when she finally fell asleep after a few days, the pictures came back to her immediately.

This time Könscho Phüntsog did not return neither after one week nor after one month. His wife’s fettle became that worse that the guards decided to take her to a military hospital. Her son was allowed to accompany her. The doctors quickly understood what was wrong with Dechen Chödön and informed their superiors. “He learned his lesson, that’s sure” grinned Sitha to whom the case was reported, “reunite them.”

But the man who was taken back to his family five days later was a completely different man than the man who had left them before. The technicians had succeeded in identifying the writings on the tablet and thus found out that the boy had been educated in the Buddhist doctrine. The party was shocked by so much independence and individuality – or disobedience as they called it – and therefore Könscho Phüntsog was taken to a torture camp which was especially infamous. It was the prison Ngaba in the province of Sichuan, where the imprisoners were treated in an especially ruthless way. And everything his wife had seen in her nightmares during the first arrest was real –back then, it only was a reality they would still have to go through.

Now Könscho Phüntsog was broken. Because of bruises and scars his face was disfigured, one of his eyes had been destroyed. Where usually the pupil should be there was only a bloodshot dent left. When he opened his mouth, most of his teeth were missing and the gingival was still bloody. Even the guards turned away with horror. Könscho Phüntsog did not want to show the rest of his body – not even to his wife. He hardly talked and when his wife tried to touch him he did not seem to feel it. He did neither reject her nor did he react happily, he did not show any reaction at all. If somebody talked to him he briefly nodded, careless about what was going on. A conversation with this highly educated man was no longer possible.

Even the guards who always were around him now did not seem to disturb him. He approached them with the same apathy he showed towards his wife and his son. After two weeks he did no longer get up from bed and he refused to eat the Tsampa softened in butter tea – the only thing he still could take in. Instead he murmured ceaselessly but hardly understandable the old mantra in honor of the Dalai Lama ‘O mani padme hum’, ‘O, you jewel in the lotus blossom.’ Before the detention in the torture camp this would have been severely punished - but now the guards, who anyhow were unsure about the meaning of this, let him mumble to himself.

This was the last thing the people around him witnessed about Könscho Phüntsog. Unstoppably he slipped into the other world and the more he moved away from the physical world the more reliefed he seemed to be. One morning he did not wake up again. His wife took his hand, touched his face and begged: “Please, stay with me, don’t leave me, please!” Even if Könscho Phüntsog had been emotionally and physically scarred for life: His pure presence had given her new courage. She had ignored the outer and inner marks of the torture and had persuaded herself that her husband would soon find a new lease of life. Dechen Chödön wanted to bring her husband back to life with her love, no matter what had happened.

When he had finally left his body and Dechen Chödön had to realize that her efforts had failed, her ravaged body lost all her hope and courage to face life any longer. Step by step she also said goodbye to her life. One morning she lay in her bed unconsciously. The young Panchen Lama made a a spring at her and craved sobbingly: “Please, mother, don’t leave me.“ She seemed to be colder than usual but was still breathing flatly. Immediately the guards called for a doctor who checked her pulse and blood pressure and looked at the guards without understanding. “A pulse of below 40 and a blood pressure of 70 to 40. No human being can normally be alive with such a pulse and blood pressure. Also her brainwaves can hardly be measured. Did something happen to her?“ “Not anything beyond what you know, her husband…“ The young guard did not bring the sentence to an end, but everyone in the room, the doctor included, knew how barbarian Könscho Phüntsog had been tortured and that he finally died from the consequences of it. In contrast, Dechen Chödön had not been tortured physically. But everybody had noticed how she suffered because of the cruelties done to her husband. Bit by bit the pulse became even slower and weaker and the doctor did not have any explanation for the slow perishing of the woman. He called for another colleague who was also as helpless as him.
Gendun Choekyi Nyima noticed what the doctors and guards were talking about and suddenly he understood what was going on. His mother mastered a very special method of meditation, the Tukdam-meditation. This method was above all practiced by older monks and nons who prepared themselves for their farewell from life and their passage to the Bardo, the state after the end of the physical existence. The meditation dating from the times of the admired scholar Padmasambhava included the possibility to reduce the somatic functions more and more until they finally extincted. Hereby, the persons who practiced this method of meditation had the possibility to determine peacefully the passage from life into the intermediate realm - which they did not consider as terrible or menacing- by themselves. In Dechen Chödön’s home region, where Padmasambhava had been especially worshipped, this method had been spread beyound the walls of the monasteries so that she had had the possibility to become familiar with it and learn it.

The Tukdam-meditation did not have to be a way of no return. Up to a certain point the meditating person could be brought back from her way to the Bardo with a codeword. The codeword was only known by the closest confidants.

A few years after their abduction Dechen Chödön had made her son familiar with the Tukdam-meditation. It was during that time that the family realized that the arrest would not only be a temporary affair which could be quickly rolled back by the Communist Party. Obviously the Chinese regime planned to have them under their control for the long term, so that it would not do any harm to have this ability. Only Könscho Phüntsog had always refused to get himself into such a thing.

Not only the helpless Panchen Lama, but also Wang knew, what was going on with Dechen Chödön. After her husband had been released for the first time and the family nevertheless decided to continue the forbidden lessons she let the Chinese in the secret of deciding by oneself about the end of life on earth. Wang’s respect for death was too deep to practice the meditation by himself but it seemed reasonable to him and increased his admiration for the Tibetans. Dechen Chödön insisted that her boy practiced the meditation since nobody could know what the Chinese would still plan. Now it was the mother herself who said goodbye to the world by means of this meditation.

Since then two old women – deserved and relieable comrades- did the cooking for the boy and took care of him like it had been the duty of revolutionary parents. Apart from that, the lessons should be continued like before. The teachers had been wary like watch-dogs and therewith had commended themselves for further tasks.

Gedün Choekyi Nyima found himself all alone on this world. His despair could not have been deeper and he did not have any person he could trust. Deeper and deeper he sank in his own world while he only perceived his environment wreathed in mist; fuzzy, gloomy and unreal. He attended his lessons apathically, his eyes focussed on a far-away target that only the boy seemed to recognize. .