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Ani Pachen, Warrior Nun in Tibet Jail 21 Years, Dies
3. Ani Pachen, Warrior Nun in Tibet Jail 21 Years, Dies
By DOUGLAS MARTIN
New York Times
February 18, 2002
Ani Pachen, celebrated as the warrior nun who led her Tibetan clan in armed
rebellion against the Chinese invaders until she was captured and spent 21
years as a prisoner, died on Feb. 2 in her home in exile in Dharmsala,
India. She was 68 or 69.
John Hocevar, executive director of Students for a Free Tibet, said she
became ill with what were thought to be stomach problems, and her heart
failed. He explained that she, like many Tibetans of her generation, did not
know her specific birthday. She was born in 1933.
She was given the name Pachen Dolma at birth, but became known as Ani Pachen
after becoming a Buddhist nun.
Her name translates roughly as Nun Big Courage.
Its aptness was suggested by her leading 600 resistance fighters on
horseback against the tanks of the invading Chinese Communists, prompting
some admirers to caller her Tibet's Joan of Arc. In prison she withstood
being beaten and hung by her wrists for a week and spending a year in leg
"I felt terrible for those who imprisoned me," she said, and also expressed
sorrow for the captors who tortured her, saying she held the Buddhist belief
that their cruelties resulted from karma from their past lives.
Pachen Dolma was the only child of a local chieftain from Gonjo in the
province of Kham in eastern Tibet. She grew up surrounded by lamas and a
loving family, said William Edelglass, a professor of philosophy who
specializes on Tibet at Emory University. She learned to ride and shoot,
even as she was drawn toward a spiritual life.
At the age of 17, she overheard talk of plans for an arranged marriage to
the chieftain of another clan. She fled to a distant monastery and became a
Buddhist nun. When her family relented on the marriage plans, she returned
home and divided her time between learning from her father how to be a
chieftain and religious studies.
The Chinese, who had invaded in 1950, were desecrating monasteries and
killing Tibetans as they steadily advanced toward Kham. In 1958, Ani Pachen
sat at her father's side in the war councils as the clan decided to fight
Later that year, her father fell ill and died. She reluctantly decided her
Buddhist pacifism must give way to warfare as the only way to save the
religion in Tibet.
When Gonjo was overrun, she fled to the hills with her family and led the
fighting. Her troops ambushed Chinese convoys and destroyed their camps, but
were gradually defeated. In 1960, she was captured while trying to flee on
foot over the Himalayas with her mother, aunt and aged grandmother. She was
25 when she began her 21-year imprisonment.
"When they arrested me they bound my hands and feet and hung me upside down
and interrogated me," she said in a speech reported in the Buddhist magazine
Shambhala Sun. "They beat me continuously. I would pass out and they would
throw water on me and beat me some more. They shackled me for a year. They
put me in a hole in the ground and forced me to live in my own feces."
She told her story in an autobiography, "Sorrow Mountain: The Remarkable
Story of a Tibetan Warrior Nun," written with Adelaide Donnelly (Doubleday,
2000). Richard Gere, the actor and a Buddhist, helped get the book printed
and wrote a preface.
"Rarely has the injustice of Chinese occupation been so movingly, or
graphically exposed," said a review in The Sunday Times of London.
Ani Pachen told how she was so hungry that she would rejoice when she found
a worm in the soil. She said her Buddhist faith kept her alive: for
instance, she was determined to complete 100,000 ritual prostrations during
nine months of solitary confinement.
Ani Pachen was released from prison in January 1981. Instead of returning
home, she remained in Lhasa and took part in several large demonstrations.
Tipped off in 1988 that she was at risk for rearrest, she fled for the
border. She settled in Dharmsala, joining other supporters of the exiled
Dalai Lama, whom she had long dreamed of meeting. Her mother, aunt and
grandmother had died. She left no survivors.
Ani Pachen traveled the world to speak for the Tibetan cause. For all her
apparent equanimity, she acknowledged resentment over losing her youth in
"I have not reached enlightenment - the absence of negative feelings," she
wrote. "I want to have full compassion, but I spent half my life in prison
and I still have some anger."
Articles in this Issue:
- Computers altering Tibetan lifestyle
- Which doctor? Russian shamans spell out alternative to modern medicine
- Ani Pachen, Warrior Nun in Tibet Jail 21 Years, Dies
- Ani Pachen Dolma: Tibet's "warrior nun"
- Six Tibetans arrested
- Uneasy Times: A Buddhist Lens
- Pro-Tibet Protesters Arrested at Embassy
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