[Marxism] The Angry Monk

Louis Proyect 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 

full: http://louisproyect.wordpress.com/2007/02/28/the-angry-monk/



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