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The History of Legshey Lodhen

Today I need to write my story. The reason is not that I am particularly highly educated or specially qualified but rather because my teachers ad friends have requested me to put pen to paper. I have become inspired by the events of my past to write down my story and the story of my family. On 25th February 1994 over 70 friends and I protested against the Chinese destruction of our culture and the continued discrimination against the Tibetan people. We held this protest in an attempt to free the Tibetan people from this destruction and killing.

My family background

For over 200 years before the invasion of Chinese forces, the country of Tibet had been a religious and powerful country. This is very clear from the history of Tibet. Before 1959 Tibet was a large country and the people were very compassionate and religious believing strongly in the concept of karma. They were very tolerant. My parents and grandparents passed this information onto me. I was informed in great detail about my grandparentsı torture and arrest. I was also told how happy our family was before 1959. In 1959 tragic, sad events occurred and around 1 million Tibetans have been killed since. Tibet was illegally invaded and there was an attempt to eliminate Tibetan culture and customs.

I will describe this destruction from the grassroots level using the case of my family. My fatherıs family home was named Samdup Kansang and my motherıs Tashiling Lhobar. My mother moved to my fatherıs home as his wife. Their first child was recognized as a Lama but he died at the age of one due to an illness. Their second child was a girl and their third a boy. Another three daughters followed and then I was born. One girl was born after me.

Our house raided by Chinese authorities

In 1960 the Chinese authorities came to my family home and labeled my family ³aristocracy² saying from now on the Tibetan government did not exist. They took our family treasures such as pearls, turquoise, zi (a precious Tibetan stone), gold and silver. They also took our familyıs fine chubas, priceless thangkas (religious paintings) and religious statues made of gold and silver. They kicked my family members out of their house and dragged my grandmother along the ground by her hair. Because of two English guns my father had been keeping in the house, he was detained for eight months during which time he was badly tortured. Despite being badly tortured and humiliated, he survived. During this time my mother was pregnant with her fifth child and my older sisters and brothers were very young. Because of this situation, the family was very poor. My whole family had to survive on one bowl of tsampa daily. These poor living conditions had not been experienced before. The family went to visit my father in prison and they begged for tsampa from local families to take to him. This time was very difficult for my mother. She was pregnant and her other children were very young and could not look after themselves. Our familyıs living conditions were so poor and were terribly affected by the fact that my father was in prison. My mother relayed these experiences of hers to me. I wished that I had been alive during that time so that I could have helped my family. I told my mother that if I had been born, the Chinese people never would have been able to come to Tibet! My mother would tell me how childish I was‹if it were so easy then the Tibetan armies would have already kicked the Chinese army out of Tibet. It is not so easy for the Chinese authorities do not seem to have compassion, understanding and tolerance.

My younger brother Lobsang Dorjeıs death

We children gradually grew old enough to help with the family chores. My sister Kunsang and my brother Lobsang Dorje would go to work on government collectives. During this time, the Chinese would show movies featuring Mao Zedong in our village. One time my brother threw dirt on the screen. He was arrested and beaten for his actions. It was said that my brother was very strong and hard-working, so the Chinese made him do hard labor. He worked long hours doing grueling physical labor but his work team did not provide him with adequate food. He became so ill he could not even get out of bed. Even though my parents took him to Khardze County hospital for medical checks, because of the poor medical facilities he continued to get worse. One time my parents decided that they would carry my brother on their back to the Kanden Chekor District Hospital where there were better facilities. On the way back, while he was on my fatherıs back, he slowly and softly told my father that he thought he was dying. His mind was filled with sorrow and his eyes filled with tears. My father began praying. Shaking his head he said that they should return home. Because my father had been a doctor in Men-tse-khang (the Tibetan government hospital) he knew it was too late to save my brother and we should return home. At the same time my mother began crying and fell unconscious. All my siblings hugged my mother and we tried to console her by saying that we were all here and not to worry. After half an hour we arrived home where my brother died. The house became very cold and food lost its taste‹our minds were filled with worry and anxiety.

My fatherıs mental anguish

After my brother died my father became filled with sorrow and became a bit mad. He kept asking where his son had gone. He bit his hands and pulled out his hair. One time he was about to jump off the roof. The neighbors saw him and stopped him. They gave him cigarettes and encouraged him to forget his worries. This behavior continued for a year. As I write this story and reflect on the suffering of my family, tears are falling. I have been holding a cigarette in my fingers for five minutes or more to release this sorrow. Later my sister Kunsang married and she and her husband lived with us in the house. My other sister Chungkyi moved to Lhasa to marry another man and live with his family. My younger sister Gyalo and Tashi Dolkar stayed in the family to look after my parents with my sister Kunsang.

Later my sister Phuntsok Kunsang joined Penpe Paldentsi nunnery to become a nun but at the end of 1994 she escaped to India for religious studies.

My motherıs death

I became a monk of Nalanda monastery at the age of 13 on 15ht November (Tibetan month) 1987. After on year my mother passed away. I came to know this because one day, as I was studying in the monastery, my uncle came. I greeted him and he asked with some sadness whether my studies were going well. He was acting strangely. He told me that I should return home that day. At that time I was very young and the monasteryıs rules were very strict so I was very happy to go home that day. I asked for permission to return home with my uncle. As we were about to reach my home, I saw some monks pass by. I asked my uncle what the monks were doing there, and he replied that they had come to beg for their monastery. I had a strange feeling, but did not yet know that my mother had passed away. When I entered the house I saw monks chanting loudly. I felt afraid and a sadness came over me. My uncle told me that we should go to my auntieıs room. Inside my sister Gyalo and my auntie Rinzin Choekyi and uncle Tsewang Sonam were crying. When I asked them what had happened they did not answer me but instead offered me some tea. I was so scared trying to work out who had passed away. There were over 60 people in our living room and my father was sitting in the kitchen with his hat covering his face. I asked my father what had happened and when he told me, I fell unconscious. When I awoke, I remembered how hard my mother had worked for the family and for the children during such difficult times. How sad that my mother had died before her children had grown, I thought. After my motherıs death, my sister Kunsang, her husband Sicirl, their four children, my younger sister Tashi Dolkar, and Gyalo remained in the family. The farm land and cattle of my late mother were offered to my sisterıs nunnery.

Becoming a monk

Before becoming a monk, I attended school for two years. After those two years I did not continue as the school facilities were so poor and my father was stubborn. I worked on our land as a shepherd before becoming a monk. I was a monk at Nalanda for seven years during which time I also served the monastery a lot. I was respected amongst our villagers for this work.

Pro-independence work in my monastery

From 1992 until 22nd February 1995 we monks secretly distributed pro-independence documents and often made the Tibetan national flag. Our secret was discovered on 22nd February 1995. One of my friends, Nyima Gyalsang was arrested by Chinese authorities. When my three other friends went to visit him, they were also arrested and badly tortured. Later, even though two of them were released, the one who was the most active person in our work remained in detention. On the after of the 23rd, members of the Public Security Bureau, accompanied by around 20 armed soldiers, came to our monastery and searched every single monkıs room. A fight broke out between the monks and the police and soldiers. The soldiers began firing their guns randomly. They also threw tear gas everywhere. The monks threw stones at the police and soldiers and they left.

My arrest

On the 24th February an even larger number of soldiers surrounded the monastery from every corner and aimed their guns at us. Some of the police and soldiers entered the monastery and took monks away one by one, interrogating and arresting them. In total 36 monks were arrested at that time. Also, 70 monks were expelled from the monastery. Among the arrested monks the highest sentence they received was twelve years, the others were sentenced to between one and eight years imprisonment. Thirteen monks, I among them, were detained for one night at Lhundrup County prison. We were tortured. On the morning of 9th March our hands were tied together with ropes and we were taken by truck. We were beaten with rifle butts. Two or three monks were badly injured and their flesh was visibly red and swollen. We were taken to Gutsa prison. When we arrived they untied our hands and threw us out of the vehicle. Inside Gutsa, we were stripped naked and beaten so severely that the room became covered in blood.

8 months in Gutsa prison

We were put in separate rooms and I was detained in row 1, cell number 5 of Gutsa prison for eight months. I was beaten a lot and interrogated twice a day. They asked many questions but I replied only one thing:

³Where is your evidence?²

They said to me ³We have the evidence because we have all your friends here. You threw many stones at the communist army. You also distributed many pro-independence documents. In those documents it mentions the Tibetan peoplesı freedom, democracy, and human rights. This is obvious evidence.² I told them ³If you have such obvious evidence, regardless of what happens, make your case clear. If the case is not made clearly, I will not accept. Maybe people donıt tell the truth because they donıt like me. If this is the case, when Iım released I will make sure they donıt get away with this.² They asked ³what will you do if we bring the people who spoke against you in front of you?² I replied ³I would be happy for you to bring these people before me.² There was nothing left for them to do except beat me. I was passed onto the prison guard and the interrogators left.

Torture and starvation in prison

I was tortured so much that one of my ribs was broken and I was kept with chains around my legs and hands. I was chained by my feet and hands because I had fought with the criminal prisoners and the prison guard disliked me. Sometimes the food in prison was really bad and many prisoners were on the verge of starving. At that time we were only given one tingmo (piece of steamed Tibetan bread) per day. Usually the prisoners would get one tingmo and some rice porridge every morning, two tingmos and black tea in the afternoon and two tingmo and some boiled vegetables with dirt in it for dinner.

One day I wrote song lyrics on the prison wall with blood from my finger. The lyrics were:

³On the eighth of March 1995, I was separated from my beloved family and my beloved Nalanda monastery. The day of this separation I arrived in Gutsa prison where I have never been before. On my first day in this prison I was given only a bowl of black tea and one tingmo. In the tea I saw the faces of my family members. The boy who misses his parents so much should be released. I pray to the triple jewels that I can be taken to my parents. My body is locked inside prison separated from my parents. No clothes to wear, no food to eat, my body remains locked inside. I miss my parents from the depths of my heart. The compassionate triple jewels please help.²

I signed the lyrics ³Londen from Penpo². The lyrics were seen by a Chinese police officer. The officer didnıt know Tibetan so he called a Tibetan police officer to read the lyrics to him. The guard read this with tears in his eyes. He said to me ³You are not allowed to write such things in prison.² And then he wiped the writing off the wall.

My release

After eight months and one day of being detained three women and one old man from the Lhasa Intermediate Court came to the prison to investigate my case. One of the women said ³You must tell the truth. We have come from the Intermediate Peopleıs Court.² I said ³I donıt have anything in particular to say. What I have to say I have already said.² Then they asked me whether what I had said was true and they asked me to put my fingerprints on a piece of paper. After seven days I was taken by police out of the prison early in the morning and I was ordered to bring my things with me. At that time I had a strange feeling and all the other political prisoners were worried about me. We had grown close and we had become like siblings. When I was taken away by the police, the inmates and I myself was crying. The inmates told me to look after myself and that they would meet me soon. All the prisoners had become my dear friends who were close to my heart. When I was taken out of the prison there was a vehicle parked in front of the prison gate. Someone inside the car called out ³Tashi delegs!² (the traditional Tibetan greeting) and said ³Oh you have been so happy in prison.² With a smile on his face he asked me whether the food had been good in prison. I was so worried and scared about what the police were going to do to me. The police drove me to Penpo.

My arrival home

When we reached my home my father didnıt recognize me because I had become very thin and because I had been kept inside for so long my face had become white and my hair had grown long. The people in our village said that I was the same person as before. My father asked me whether he was dreaming and hugged me, crying. I also had tears in my eyes. I told my father that I was fine and that he shouldnıt worry about me and that I was sorry that I had caused so many problems for the family. My father said that he was delighted his son was still alive and that his son had done things for the people of Tibet. He said ³When you were in prison I could not sleep during the night and I could not eat during the day. There was gossip in the village that you were dead. But today as a father to meet you it is one of the happiest days of my life.² My sisters were also overjoyed to see me. I announced ³Today I would like to arrange for a good meal and stay with my family because I feel like a lamb who escaped from a wolfıs mouth. This has been an unbelievable experience.² While we were eating the people of the village came to my home with scarves, tea, butter, cheese and money and offered them to me.

Under house arrest

The next day, as ordered in a letter that was brought to me from County officials, one family member, my sisterıs husband, and I had to go to the county office at nine oı clock in the morning. There was a meeting around 9:30. The county police said that a lot of problems in society had been created as a result of ³splittist activities² in Penpo. They issued this statement:

³From 1992 to 1995 the monks of Nalanda monastery pasted and distributed many posters. As part of the splittist campaign in these posters it claimed that the PSB tortured these people. Even though there is religious freedom it stated that there is none and that the Tibetan people need human rights and independence. That made the society unstable. The facts of this case became clear through thorough investigation. However, the splittist named Londen has not confessed his crime of being involved in this issue and threatened some of the police. Yesterday he was released on medical parole in accordance with the well regarded and internationally recognized law of the Central Government of China. As we heard, while he was in prison he fought with people and has been punished. If you are not satisfied with this decision, there are higher levels of court to whom you can appeal. However, you are deprived of political rights for one year and you are no longer permitted to be a monk. Moreover, you are only to stay in your home and are not permitted to go out. You will need one person who will guarantee you will abide by these rules. They must put their fingerprints here. The people who have attended this meeting are not permitted to associate with people like Londen in the future. Village people are not to associate with people like Londen either. If there are any problems you will be sentenced to eight or nine years in prison. There are about three people who will always watch you.²

Then the meeting ended. Three Kardze Provincial officials, Public Security Bureau officials, Lhundup County police and army personnel attended the meeting. Also present was the head of the Lhundrup County PSB (Dawa Jutang), and Karma and Lobsang Choephel of the Lhundrup County PSB office. It was these two officials who would interrogate me on a regular basis. The head of Lhundrup County was also present.

Expelled from my monastery

After the meeting my sisterıs husband and I visited the county market. Some of my friends saw me and treated me well. Their attitude towards me seemed unchanged. They said I shouldnıt worry. When I reached home I thought very deeply that I was now a man who had no freedom because he had fought against the Chinese government. Whenever I remembered the bad actions of the Chinese, I was very sad and I felt fed up with this society. At that time my father tried to inspire me. I had the idea that I should begin studying early Buddhist teachings since I was not permitted to rejoin my monastery and was under house arrest. My father was very happy with my decision. He said that he would serve me while I was studying. I studied in the family home for just over one month (year?) during which time I constantly performed prostrations, recited the prayer of refuge, prayed the Vajara prayer and the prayer of offering to the assembly of Buddhas. I would wake early and sleep late at night. It was springtime in our village. While I was praying and studying the people from our village would come and make offerings to me.

Life outside the monastery

After the year in which I was deprived of my political rights had passed, I owned a restaurant where I worked very hard. I was able to help political prisoners in Drapchi and Gutsa prison financially. These people were my childhood friend and fellow Nalanda monk Legshey Tharchin, who was detained in Trisam prison and Nalanda monks Kelsang Bagdro and Sonam Khanga in Outridu prison. During that time I had long hair and would wear a coat and trousers. I also wore black glasses. I would always carry a long knife because I did not feel safe. This had never happened previously and never ever had anyone in my family behaved in such a way. I became that person because I did not have good quality friends. These friends would get into fights with armed police from Lhundrop County.

Escape to India

Within a year my relatives told me that the police were going to arrest me again and that the police looked upon me very badly and wanted to get rid of me. They said that the Tibetan driver for the County police had told them this. ³The police have forced you to become friends with such people,² my family told me. They were upset at me and exclaimed that I was the first such person in the family. ³The police regularly tell us that you are not allowed to go to Lhasa. We really feel it would be better if you went to India. We thought about this more‹I agreed. The PSB would always make trouble in my restaurant and I was not like other citizens who had the right to travel. I also had no freedom of expression. I was not permitted to rejoin my monastery and was prohibited from remaining in robes. I could not get work and it was becoming harder and harder to make a living in my restaurant. I could not spend the rest of my life confined to the village with no hope of work or further study.

The journey

I decided that I had to escape Tibet. I made plans to travel to India. I traveled to Lhasa without the necessary permission from authorities and found a guide. In October 1998, I left Tibet for Nepal. I paid 700 yuan to a guide and 300 yuan for my travel. I traveled in a truck for five days and five nights. Then I walked twelve days and twelve nights. There were 45 people traveling in our group. When I think about the journey from Tibet, I still feel shocked when I recall how difficult it was. Too difficult to express in words. I remember one time when everyone was overcome with exhaustion and morale was low. I mustered my strength and started dancing in attempt to lift everyoneıs spirits. We crossed many large rivers and it was winter and we were all frozen. When we reached remote areas where there were no humans or animals, I missed my parents.


Having gone through such difficulties we finally reached the Nepalese border. But here all of us were arrested by Nepalese police. As I already had the experience of being arrested by Chinese police in Tibet and being tortured, I felt very afraid. However, the Nepalese police did not even speak to us harshly and I realized that Nepal was a democratic, free country. The Nepalese police then handed us over to the Tibetan reception center in Kathmandu. I was so happy it was like the sun was beginning to shine. There were three ex-political prisoners in our group of 45 people and two relatives of political prisoners and therefore we five were particularly supported by the reception center. There as a meeting in the reception center about the situation in Tibet and I was so inspired that I voluntarily worked at the reception center for one month as a cook for around 700 new refugees.

Delhi, Dharamsala and His Holiness the Dalai Lama

Then our group of 45 was taken to the Delhi reception center for Tibetan refugees. The next day we reached Dharamsala around 5am in the morning. We were accommodated at the Tibetan refugee center. On that afternoon His Holiness returned to Dharamsala and we had a quick audience. To receive an audience with His Holiness is the thing that the six million Tibetans inside Tibet dream about the most. Then we gradually had the opportunity to receive a teaching from His Holiness. This has been the greatest experience of my life.

My sister in exile

Later, I met my sister Phuntsok Kunsang who had arrived in India in 1994. We had not met for four years and to meet her was like a dream. I was so happy. I told her the situation of our family and about how our younger sister had gotten married. Now the situation in my family is as almost good as when Tibet was free and all the children have grown and gotten married. There is no longer a need for me to worry about my siblings now, however, I find it very strange that we Tibetans still do not have freedom.

Rejoining the monkhood

Later, I went to Nepal and joined Jamchen Lhakang Monastery as a monk. I stayed there for four years and during that time I served in the monastery. Jamchen Lhakang is affiliated with my old monastery in Tibet, Nalanda. It was the biggest monastery in Penpo of the Sakya school of Buddhism. Nalanda monastery is over 600 years old and was destroyed in 1959. The abbott fled to exile, where he established the Jamchen Lhakang monastery in Nepal.

Conflicts of interest

Even though I wanted to remain at Jamchen Lhakang monastery it was not possible because I would always recall my previous political activities in Tibet. Whenever w would have prayer meetings, people would donate 100-200 rupees and ask us to pray for their deceased ones. I could not live as a pure monk. The Tibetan people usually believe in karma and follow this philosophy in their lives. I also believe in karma and felt it would be wrong for me to accept such money if I was not performing these prayers with my whole heart and mind. I left the monastery in order to join the one-year education program offered by Gu Chu Sum and the Deparment of Health established to created opportunities for ex-political prisoners from Tibet. I am currently studying at Gu Chu Sum. I hope that the readers hace been interested in my story and I wish that by reading this there will be more harmony and understanding between people. I wish to meet my family soon.

Written by Penpo Londen, 22 January 2003

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