[Marxism] The Angry Monk
lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Feb 28 12:28:10 MST 2007
For most people, including me, Tibetan politics consists exclusively of two
radically opposed camps.
On one hand, there is the traditional Buddhist leadership of the Dalai Lama
that is highly visible in the West and that enjoys a reputation as
spiritually enlightened and politically progressive. With celebrities like
Richard Gere spreading the word and a Nobel Peace prize belt under his
belt, the Dalai Lama is lionized everywhere he goes. There is occasional
grumbling about his adherence to traditional Buddhist teachings that
homosexuality is impure (but not for non-Buddhists, bless his heart) but
nothing sufficient to drag him down to the level of ordinary mortals.
On the other hand, there is the perspective of the Chinese government,
especially when it had some kind of leftwing credentials, that the Buddhist
priests were a kind of a parasitical feudal growth that needed weeding.
When the Red Army poured into Tibet in the early 1950s, this was
interpreted by Maoist-leaning radicals as something like the Union army
taking control of the South during Reconstruction.
It is to the enormous credit of Swiss director to reveal another player in
Tibetan politics in "The Angry Monk," his excellent documentary now
available from First Run/Icarus Films. This is a portrait of Gendun
Choephel (1903-1951), a legendary figure in Tibet, who was opposed to both
the religious elite and to forced Chinese assimilation. The film not only
sheds light on a most unique personality. It also is an excellent
introduction to Tibetan culture and politics.
Choephel began life as a Buddhist monk but evolved into a scholar of
Tibetan history and a political activist during his extended visit to India
in the 1930s, where he became inspired by Gandhi's revolt. He decided to
travel to India after coming into contact with Rahul Sankrityayan, an
Indian researcher of ancient Buddhist texts in Tibet. Surprisingly,
Sankrityayan was also a Marxist revolutionary who fought for Indian
independence. (It should be mentioned that many of these texts were burned
in huge bonfires during the Chinese Cultural Revolution, a barbaric act
that rivals the Taliban's destruction of ancient statues of Buddha in
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