Tuesday, February 24, 2009

soe lhatson and bhumo

the house i share with three other westerners in dharamsala shares a wall with drolmaling nunnery, a tibetan nunnery with 200 nuns in residence and undergoing a 15-year intensive training program in buddhist philosophy and debate. among the nunneries built in exile, drolmaling was designated as one of the nunneries for tibetan nuns who had been imprisoned as political prisoners - nearly all for having taken part in peaceful protests asking for greater religious as well as political freedom for tibet. it was thought best for their healing process that such nuns should make their homes in nunneries with others who shared that particularly traumatic experience.

while sitting across the wall from this community, this morning i read online a short item from the ny times mentioning the sentencing of two tibetan nuns to 9 and 10 years for participating in the protests that were taking place all across tibet last spring.

i quote the item here in full. somehow i found the matter of fact tone of the piece somehow highlights the sinister quality of the devastating facts it reports.

Four Tibetans in Sichuan Province have been sentenced to prison for taking part in protests last spring, according to a Tibetan advocacy group. Two are nuns from the Pangri Na convent in Garze County: Soe Lhatson, 35, sentenced to 10 years in prison, and Bhumo, 36, sentenced to 9 years, said the group, Tibetan Center for Human Rights and Democracy. They were among 55 nuns arrested after a protest on May 14, the group said. Two other people were sentenced to three years each for taking part in a protest on March 18, also in Garze.

it bears mentioning that pangri-na nunnery houses a total of 80 nuns. it is thus clear that the nuns had decided as a community to offer their bodies and voices collectively. only a dozen or so nuns who had been committed to do prayers for families in that area had been absent from the protest. after the arrests, chinese police raided the nunnery and those nuns who had not protested were reportedly "restrained with tied hands and detained for the whole day. Then their hands were untied and they were released after being held for one day, but still they are not allowed to leave the nunnery." they were later subject to 'education' sessions by chinese officials following the arrest of their sister nuns. the 50 - 55 nuns who were involved in the protest last year were reportedly beaten severely at the time. about 40 of them were held for six months and released and another 12 nuns from this monastic community in eastern tibet are still in prison. the 12 still under arrest are said to be leaders of the community.

his holiness the dalai lama mentions sometimes an ordinary tibetan monk he met and whom he asked he had ever been in danger during his years of imprisonment in tibet. this monk replied that indeed he had, and when his holiness asked him what danger, he said he had been at times in real danger of losing his compassion for his chinese jailers. since these two nuns are in their 30s, they may have had the years of buddhist practice needed to authentically adopt such an attitude towards their gaolers. but the total physical control that prison guards have over their wards in the prisons in tibet makes female prisoners - and somehow it seems especially nuns - particularly tempting targets for forms of victimization.

in the very best case, they will emerge in the years 2018 and 2019 with some inner humanity intact. if they still have the courage and resolve to make the long trek over the himalayas to escape to india - a trek that is particularly fraught for ex-political prisoners as if caught they know precisely where they will be sent back to, they might find homes in tibetan nunneries here. but unless they have exceptional resolve, these two, at least, will most likely be too old to begin the long and arduous training program here at drolmaling.

i am posting this message on february 25, the day of the tibetan new year. it may go some way towards explaining tibetans around the world do not find cause for reveling in the dawning of yet another year of this current situation.

soe lhatson and bhumo are just two of many, many other nuns in similar situations. but their names made it on to the public record, and so we have this modest chance to see them as individuals, recollect them, and connect with them in our minds as particular human beings, even once in a while over these long years ahead. their parents names too were published, so can include them too in our thoughts. soe lhatson's parents - no doubt afflicted terribly now by the news of their daughter's sentence - are yeshi gyaltsen (her father) and her mother is named drukdung. tenzin thinley and theymo are the father and mother of bhumo.

in the vast networks of possibility, soe lhatson and bhumo could become our neighbors, in a distant future too rosy for these two even to dare to dream of in their coming days, weeks, months and years of incarceration. whether their future brings them in our geographical direction or not, i want already to acknowledge our connectedness to them in a broader human sense. for our part, we four in this small across the wall from what could be their future home will be repeating their names from today on in our evening prayers, doing our best to accompany them in our own small way.

photo of a nun at drolmaling comes from their website

No comments: