Spirit in Exile: TIBETAN NUNS

Susan Lirakis Nicolay

“When I was fifteen, I joined a nunnery. I find that the circle of life is full of problems which have no ends, and problems women face when giving birth to children. I don't want to go through all this. So the circle of life is quite worthless, and I decided to practice religion and become a nun. This will help both in this life as well as in the next life.”

- A twenty-three-year-old Shugsep nun

“If we do something in Tibet, or say something in Tibet, then the Chinese collect these political prisoners like collecting stones or firewood. They will treat us like inanimate things. There are many prisoners in Tibet . . . who are struggling under the Chinese day and night . . . their life is horrible and intolerable under the Chinese rule. I feel that if my experience (in Tibet and particularly in prison) is of some use for the people who are left in Tibet, then I would be most grateful to people who listen to my story, which is an example of the Tibetan people.”

- Ani Gyaltsen Chotso

“I was seventeen . . . . and did [fieldwork on the farm] for five years [after graduating from school]. After seeing worldly ways and suffering, I wasn't happy with such a life. So I thought that I could become a very good nun; I can obtain a Buddhahood at any time, which is not only beneficial for oneself, but for all sentient beings. If I can't attain Buddhahood, I can have a very good life without harming others. My father was also a very religious-minded person. He used to tell me about leading a very religious life. So these two things moved me to become a nun.”

- Ani Ngawang Palmo

“I didn't have anger, but I felt scared when [the Chinese] were beating me. I feel pity for them because they are innocent and ignorant. . . . they don't follow any religion. They don't believe in life after death. They don't have any feelings toward fellow human beings. So they don't give any value for kindness and compassion in their life. In Buddhism, we try to accumulate as much merit as possible by being kind and compassionate in one's life so that we will have good human life in the next life. But they don't have such beliefs.”

- Ani Ngawang Palmo

“When you are the eyewitness to actual torturing and killing of your own people, you don't have time to think about your life and your family. This is what is happening in Tibet. . . . [Tibetans] sacrifice for the country. They sacrifice their lives for freedom and peace in Tibet. When you see your own people being tortured or killed and see the living conditions in Tibet, you can't sleep and your mind becomes restless. . . .Your feeling to your people will not allow you to sit around idle.”

- Rinzin Choenyi

“I went to Lhasa and stayed two months with relatives there. . . . I heard a speech by His Holiness the Dalai Lama on a tape recorder. . . . I learned that the Chinese were telling the world that the situation [in Tibet] has improved a lot, but His Holiness mentioned that there are still a lot of demonstrations . . . . His Holiness said that these demonstrations show that Tibetan people are not happy and free under the Chinese because people don't demonstrate and have an organized freedom movement when they are free and happy. So this speech of His Holiness gave me the courage and the inspiration [to take part in demonstrations]. . . . I realized there is no freedom in Tibet. . . . I felt that what His Holinesss said is real and trustworthy. . . . I got a sense of nationalism and patriotism. [I gained] the courage [to believe] that if I can't practice my religion, but if I can do something for my country, I will be glad and happy myself. So I joined other . . . nuns and participated in the demonstration.”

- Shugsep nun

“If anyone from the family is politically active, like taking part in the demonstrations, then the Chinese won't give you a job even if you have a good certificate and are qualified to do higher office work. In my family, they didn't give a job to my brother even though he was qualified. My friend's younger sister was not admitted to school. All this happened because my friend, Kalsang Palmo, her mother, and I were politically active. This is an example of what happens with Tibetans in Tibet.”

- Rinzin Choenyi

“I have not seen personally, but I heard from my fellow Tibetans that when any of the high-ranking Chinese officials need their organ (lung, liver, etc.) to be replaced, they exchange it with the prisoners. They bring a healthy prisoner and they tell the prisoner, 'You need to be operated on to cure your disease.' After transplanting the weak organ to the prisoner, he will be released. [The Chinese] say, 'If you are cured, you are fortunate; if you die, we are not to be blamed.' There are many cases like that. In this way, they are killing many of our people. I heard of two people who died due to organ exchange. They died two months after they were released.”

-Rinzin Choenyi

Susan Lirakis Nicolay is a professional photographer with a background in family services, living and working in rural New Hampshire. She has photographed extensively throughout the United States and abroad and has published a book on mothers and daughters.


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