Tibetan Monk Gatzo: No Matter How Hard, People Can Endure

New York, N.Y. Do you know a Tibetan monk named Palden Gyatso? He was arrested by the Chinese government for being “a crime” as he had a picture of Dalai Lama when he was 28 years old, and then he was imprisoned while being tortured for 31 years. The state of torture at that time was so severe that he was hesitant to write or speak.


He was hung upside down from the ceiling and burned, and electrical machines pulled out all of his teeth as he was interrogated. He was often naked, hung from the ceiling, with hot water poured over him.

But Palden survived without bending over for a long period of over 30 years with strong mental and spirtual power. His half-life has been published in an autobiography Fire Under the Snow, and although it has been temporarily out of print, it is reprinted and can still be read in Japanese.

After being released in 1992, he escaped from China-occupied Tibet, and was finally exiled to the Dalai Lama’s North Dharamsala. He then traveled to many countries, testifying to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, and spoke during the Torino Olympics (2006), with long demonstrations of fasting, hunger strikes, and many other energetic activities for peace in Tibet.

Reunion in New York Before Dying

Recently, about a week before the World Religious Conference, I received a message from Dharamshala from someone who had taken care of Mr. Palden, who wanted to meet me suddenly. And so he came to New York.

When I met him, I felt that he was sick and I was worried. When I thought about it, I was quite lost. I would like to treat him with a feast, but he likes simple udon and ramen. In Tibet, there is a food called “Tsumpa” — hot water put onto barley powder, stirred and stirred, making something like dumplings. Such simple food is usually a monk’s main food. Lama Palden liked noodles more than luxury food. So, we just had soba noodles at a Japanese restaurant on Columbus Circle, and both of us were happy.

Palden-GyatsoVen. Palden Gyatso holding Tibetan flag with handcuffed hands to demonstrate the
inhuman treatment by China in Tibet. Photo/Designed by Tenzin Jigme Taydeh/CTA.

I said to him “I would like to talk about you at the religious conference in November.” He was delighted and brought me a copy of his movie, The Flame Under the Snow. We then said goodbye to each other. He died last Thursday (November 30, 2018), only few days after I saw him. Maybe he came to see me before he died… I feel such deep sorrow.

The first time I met Palden was when a story about filming his autobiography came up. A director named Tsumura Masako came to me to make a film; she said she wanted to make a film but didn’t have the funding. It was the beginning of Palden and my deep friendship.

After the movie was made and the book was published in Japanese, I took Palden to Japan and we traveled together while he gave lectures around Japan. We visited a lot of places. I personally learned a lot about him and Tibetan Buddhism. I remember it was very much fun as well.

Fire Under the Snow

When I spoke about him at the religious conference, no matter how hard I felt, when I talked about an episode when Mr. Palden said, “I didn’t feel pain in the way I had mind-heart,” everyone was moved to tears.

He continued, “Even when I was tortured with great force, I thought I feel sorry for those who were torturing me, and I felt they were also rather sorry. When I focused on how I was in this world because I had received such karma from past lives, miraculously, the torture became less painful.”

“I was being tortured by being told to forget and denounce H.H. the Dalai Lama, and it was a miracle I survived over thirty years being forced into labor or tortured, leaving such a world as it was then…”

The other day when we met, when we said goodbye, he said, “Thank you very much.” He put a long kata (Tibetan white scarf) around my neck and held both of my hands. We both bowed deeply. “Thank you, you have opened my eyes,” I said – and tears pted down my face.  “It was a hard, hard life, but I was able to shut my life quietly under the Dalai Lama. I am so peaceful. I am so grateful for you.”

Palden lives in my heart forever and lead me always.

Originally published as Vol. 56 in Weekly Biz, January 19, 2019; translated by Jim Luce.

See: Dr. Kazuko Hillyer Tatsumura Column in Japan’s Weekly Biz



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About Dr. Kazuko Hillyer Tatsumura

View all posts by Dr. Kazuko Hillyer Tatsumura
Dr. Kazuko Hillyer Tatsumura
Dr. Kazuko was born into a distinguished old family in Kyoto, Japan, and graduated from Toho conservatory of Music in Tokyo. In 1961 she came to U.S. as a pianist sponsored by the Boston Symphony. She studied at Boston University, New York University, and received her Ph.D. in Oriental Medicine from New York State University and the International Academy of Education in Tokyo. From 1968 to 1992, she promoted cultural exchanges from East to West and vice versa, and became a world famous impresario, producing 2,000 events each year all over the world encompassing over 140 countries. In this connection, in 1972, she went to Dharamsala to find the lost Tibetan Folk Opera, and met His Holiness the Dalai Lama, with whom she remains a lifelong friend. In 1973 and 1991 she arranged and funded personally the tours of the Folk Opera of Tibet to the West. She has received many medals and honors from different countries. Her tireless life long work in Philanthropic field is vast and well known ranging from Save the Beacon Theater, Save the Boat People, Help the Homeless, natural disasters of earthquakes and tsunamis, as well as relief to AIDS and HIV positive children in Africa. She has been a dedicated Board Member to both the J. Luce Foundation and Orphans International for years. Her work focuses on the Tibetan people; Tibetan children remain especially strong in her heart. She raised fund for the new academic building for Manjushree Orphanage in Tawang, India and supported many aspects of the school. See HuffPo pieces entitled Japanese Holistic Healer in NYC to Build School for Tibetan Orphans in India, A Japanese Dinner with Raul Castro’s Daughter, and NYC Gala in Support of Tibetan Orphans Set for January.

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