Spending 33 years in Chinese prison and labor camps would fill any person's heart with rage. Only the strongest spirit could survive such treatment. But Palden Gyatso not only survived, he continues on as a practicing Buddhist who wouldn't wish harm on anyone.
When he was finally released from prison in 1992, Gyatso fled to India to find some sense of freedom. Since then, he has spent his time testifying before the United Nations, writing an autobiography and touring the world telling his story. He was one of the only prisoners to keep some of the instruments of torture the Chinese were fond of at the time (pictured below), which he used to show the United Nations what was done to him.
We have the local nonprofit organization Bodhi Heart to thank for this rare, intimate chance to hear Gyatso speak. Prayers for peace and compassion seemed like a good idea to event organizers at the group's Buddhist center. Barbara Standley of Bodhi Heart says of Gyatso, "His visit coincides with the National Day of Remembrance of the Holocaust, and his story is one of great courage and perseverance. In this time of war and sadness, this is a great opportunity to meet this man, who suffered much and retained all that is good about humanity."
In addition to hearing Gyatso's story, you can hear 12 monks from the Drepung Loseling monastery in India share their prayers for peace and humanity. They also appear at the Scottsdale Center for the Arts on May 2. We've seen these monks perform before, and it's an extraordinary tapestry of song, costume and prayer.
Gyatso has something to teach us all. Whether the lesson is forgiveness, survival, compassion or honesty -- we could all stand to listen.