Sat, Jan 22, 2000 - Page 8 News List

Letters

Beatings are nothing new

In response to a letter to the editor from George Lytle (Letters, Jan. 20, Page 8), Richard S. Ehrlich replied: As you can read in the sentences immediately above the quote from the scab-covered monk, the story also tells of another Tibetan who told me:

"He stopped being a monk after five years because his monastery's senior lama beat novices with a stick during scripture examinations. Tibetan Buddhist monasteries often mete out such child abuse. During the Dalai Lama's time, before he fled Tibet in 1959, head lamas in his Potala Palace beat errant monks for gambling or other naughty behavior."

George, if you delve into Tibetan affairs a bit deeper you'll discover Tibetan monks beating their students in monasteries in and out of Tibet is nothing new.

For example, in 1993, a famous former political prisoner named Jampa Phuntsok -- who was one of the Dalai Lama's devoted lamas inside the Potala Palace in the years up to and including the Chinese invasion -- told me in an exclusive interview that he initially didn't like being a student in the Potala but had to go because his parents forced him.

But the rebellious Jampa ran away from the Potala several times. He gambled with cards and dice inside its sacred chambers with a handful of other unruly young novices. One day, when Jampa was 16 and especially naughty, his angry teacher sent him to the Potala's "gaygur," a traditional disciplinarian who meted out corporal punishment.

When the feared gaygur, appointed by the Dalai Lama, brandished a leather whip, Jampa told himself he would prove to the other boys that he wasn't a baby and wouldn't cry. But the gaygur was determined to break the troublesome boy's spirit. After whipping him with the required five lashes -- and still unable to make him cry -- the gaygur decided to whip Jampa until he would cry. But when he finished whipping Jampa 25 times and didn't get the boy to weep, the stunned gaygur relented.

Jampa's defiance, even in pain, had started. And that was inside the Potala, while the current Dalai Lama was ensconced there.

Perhaps you also would be interested in a photograph I shot while inside the main Tibetan-built "dzong," or fortress-monastery, in Punahka, Bhutan, in 1984 which shows a senior monk with a huge, black, leather bullwhip in hand lording over some cringing, scab-covered, maroon-robed Buddhist students in a prayer hall. While I was there, the students had been called for prayers and the last stragglers were repeatedly threatened with the raised stick-end of the well-worn bullwhip.

You may realize that with millions of kids being sent to Tibet's monasteries during the past several hundred years by parents, there are of course various problems with discipline.

You made no mention of your having ever been to Tibet, or how long you spent traveling there on your own without a guide, but the obviousness of what were thousands of monasteries managing so many children for so many hundreds of years may eventually lead you to understand why corporal punishment has always been relatively common, especially among Tibetan monks, who even fought each other for their monastery's supremacy before China invaded.

By the way, Jampa was repeatedly imprisoned for anti-Chinese demonstrations, became an Amnesty International prisoner of conscience, and now lives at the side of the Dalai Lama in McLeod Ganj, India, near Dharmasala, if you would like to confirm it with him -- which may also relieve you of your admitted plight of being focused so much on CNN, which you indicated was not helping you perceive the world around you.

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