May 30, 2010

Surviving the dragon

arjia rinpocheTsering Namgyal writes for today that Arjia Rinpoche, former tutor to the last Panchen Lama, spoke to the Tibetan community in Minneapolis this week about his book Surviving the Dragon: A Tibetan Lama's Account of 40 Years under Chinese Rule, published earlier this year. Arjia Rinpoche fled Tibet when he was asked to tutor the Panchen Lama's Chinese-appointed successor (the successor the Dalai Lama selected disappeared into Chinese custody in 1995 and hasn't been heard from since).

Arjia's story is interesting not just because, like many Tibetans, he endured harsh conditions during his imprisonment, but because after he was released he rose to the highest echelons of the Chinese government. In the intro to his interview with Arjia Rincpoche for Tricycle in 2007, Michael Dunham writes:

Arjia Rinpoche’s life became a series of extreme swings of fortune: first as a carefree child, then as a protected and revered incarnate lama, then as a youth singled out and ridiculed by the Communists, then as a forced laborer in a Chinese camp, then as a “rehabilitated counterinsurgent” released from hard labor at the age of thirty, and, finally, as a favorite of the Beijing hierarchy. He was named head abbot of Kumbum Monastery, a position that proved to be more political than religious; it paved the way for even higher positions, including vice-chairman of the Chinese Youth Association, vice president of the Central Government’s Buddhist Association, and member of Beijing’s Central Government.

Pretty fascinating stuff. You can read Dunham's full interview here.

Photo: Arjia Rinpoche with his parents in 1955 in Kokonor, Tibet. Courtesy the Tibetan Cultural Center, Bloomington, IN.

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