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A monk’s embrace: Marching for a free Tibet

August 1, 2008

From Walworth County News
By John Halverson

He pulls me toward him, folding me in his arms. My hand grips his bony back as he engulfs me in boundless warmth.

As our embrace loosens, his hands cup mine and he searches my face as though it were eternity.

His name is Palden Gyatso, but those who know him preface it with “Venerable.”

I like, many Americans, maintain a healthy skepticism toward leaders of all kinds, especially those wearing vestments.

At a church in Elkhorn Thursday night the 77-year-old Buddhist monk told us, through a translator, stories of his 33 years as a political prisoner in Tibet and explained why he wants his nation free of Chinese rule (see related story).

But as someone who has grown up on made-up violence, one example of real-life evil sounded a lot like the next.

And then his ready smile, which had merely entranced me. turned it into a tragicomic mask when he pulled the false teeth from his mouth while explaining that his real ones had been destroyed by torture.

His greatest fear, it turns out, was not physical, but that he might lose his faith. It never happened.

He doesn’t hate his captors–only their policies.

Despite these telling stories and his sad-happy smile, I maintained my reporter’s emotional distance until after his speech when I approached him for a handshake.

His unasked-for embrace made my 33 years of reporting experience no match for his 33 years of hell on earth.

And so it was that this 77-year-old Buddhist monk hugged new life into a common man whose name he didn’t know, whose language he didn’t speak, in a city thousands of miles from his home.

He made me feel like the only person in the room–an emotion, I’m sure, which I shared by everyone else who shared such a close encounter.

Can Tibet ever escape the clutches of the Chinese?

Until that moment, I was skeptical.

Then I realized that his home may be held hostage by a country so large, it can only be dwarfed by one thing.
Indomitable spirit.

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