Cover image for Sorrow mountain : the journey of a Tibetan warrior nun
Sorrow mountain : the journey of a Tibetan warrior nun
Pachen, Ani, 1933-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Kodansha International, 2000.
Physical Description:
xxii, 293 pages : maps ; 24 cm
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DS786 .P24 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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"Ani Pachen has vivid memories of her life as a young girl in Tibet." "Her father, a powerful Khampa chieftain, died, and shortly after, the Chinese invaded Tibet. Ani Pachen relinquished her religious dreams and assumed her father's position, leading her people in the fight against the Chinese as one of only a handful of female resistance leaders. Her capture by the Chinese shortly after was only the beginning of twenty-one years of imprisonment and almost constant torture." "Several years after her release from prison, Ani Pachen finally realized her lifelong dream of meeting His Holiness the Dalai Lama. To hear her tell of their meeting is to realize the power of hope and prayer." "Through the writing of Adelaide Donnelley, Ani Pachen's story - the story of so many Tibetans - is brought to life."--BOOK JACKET.Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Pachen was imprisoned for 21 years by the Chinese because of her resistance to their invasion of her country. Fearful of recapture following her release in 1981, she escaped to India, where she practices her religion and advocates for Tibetan causes. In this book, she recalls a carefree girlhood as the only child of a Tibetan chieftain. When her father died, shortly after the Chinese invasion began, Pachen tried to merge her need to fulfill the duties of her father's only heir--to assist the resistance effort--and her personal spiritual needs. She helps assemble an army and plots resistance strategy. And although it is against Buddhist principles, she vows to kill, if necessary, to resist the Chinese invasion. When it comes, Pachen must flee her village and is later captured and imprisoned. Through her religion, she was able to separate the spiritual from the physical and thus endure brutal torture. Pachen intersperses the account of her life and spiritual journey with Buddhist prayers and dreams that show a desire for peace and enlightened spirituality. --Vanessa Bush

Publisher's Weekly Review

Born in 1933 as the only child of a Tibetan village chieftain in the eastern province of Kham, Pachen refused an arranged marriage in hope of leading a monastic life. As Chinese troops hardened their grip on Tibet in 1958, she assumed her father's role upon his death, helping to lead the Tibetan resistance until her capture by the Chinese in 1960. Told to confess her crimes against the Chinese army and that if she didn't yield she would die, the Tibetan stood her ground. "When our time comes, each of us dies. There is nothing we can do," she explains. Although hundreds of thousands of Tibetans were killed along with many wild animals (to teach Tibetans to surrender their "superstitious" reverence of living things), Pachen was imprisoned for 21 years instead. Near starvation, she would rejoice if she found a worm to eat in the soil that she worked at labor camps. (One prisoner died from gouging out the innards of a dead horse buried in the field and consuming them, feces and all.) Asked what saved her, she replied, "The wish to see His Holiness," the Dalai Lama. As Pachen, who was released in 1980, concludes in an account that is more notable for its wrenching drama and its author's courage than for the style in which it is told, "As for me, the story will go like this: She led her people to fight against the Chinese.... She worked to save the ancient spiritual teachings. When I die, just my story will be left." Agent, Eileen Cope of Barbara Lowenstein Associates; foreign rights sold in the U.K., Italy, Germany and Holland; 7-city author tour. (Feb.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

As a contented teen, Pachen, daughter of a Tibetan village chieftain, dreamt of a life devoted to Buddhist practice. But she encountered numerous, intractable obstacles. First, her father arranged an unwanted marriage--and, although he eventually relented, more troubles soon appeared. In 1958 the Chinese occupied Eastern Tibet; the resulting distress contributed to her father's death and prompted Pachen to take a leadership role in the resistance. She was captured and spent 21 years in brutal Chinese prisons as her country and culture disintegrated at the hands of the occupiers. This plain-spoken chronicle joins Palden Gyatso's The Autobiography of a Tibetan Monk (Grove, 1997) in illuminating the overwhelming religious, cultural, and human tragedy in recent Tibetan history. Recommended for all popular collections despite this reviewer's discomfort with Donnelley's (Boundary Water) admission that she has "taken liberties to include outside stories and details where necessary in order to give a fuller picture of the tragedy."--James R. Kuhlman, Univ. of North Carolina Lib., Asheville (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Chapter One Dharamsala I hear footsteps on the cement floor outside my room. Someone is coming down the walk. Tat-tat, tat-tat. Getting closer.     I see a shadow outside the door. Om Mani Peme Hum. I tighten my stomach against what is to come.     "Lemdha Pachen," a voice calls out. The door swings open.     In the familiar room of ropes, bamboo rods, and iron pails, of bloodied walls and urine-stained floors, they tie my hands behind my back. They hoist me up by my wrists. Once again flame shoots through my shoulder, bile fills my mouth.     I swing, senseless, and the room fades into darkness. I awake out of breath. Tat-tat-tat. Tat-tat.     Someone is knocking on the door to my room.     I tighten my stomach and wait.     Tat-tat-tat. Tat-tat.     I shrink toward the wall.     "Pachen ... Ani Pachen ... are you there?"     I turn my head to listen.     "Ani Pachen-la ..."     Blessed Jewels, it is Dechen, the nun from next door. I sink back onto my pillow.     I'm in Dharamsala, I remember with relief.     "Ani-la ..." Dechen's voice is urgent.     "Lo ...," I call out. My skin sticks to the bedding as I turn. "What is it?"     "He is coming, Ani-la.... He is coming today."     "Today?"     "Yes."     "Praise to the Three Jewels."     "No need to get up," she whispers, "there is time yet."     "Ah lay."     He is coming home at last! My heart speeds up, blending with the tapping of rain on the tin roof above.     I turn and stare at the wall. In places where the graying paint has chipped and fallen away, the plaster is crumbling and worn. Small beads of moisture rise up through a crack like liquid in an open wound. My eyes follow the crack to the ceiling where it joins a welter of lines crossing one over another like scars left by bamboo rods. In the corner, a dark shape clings to the wall, its legs bent, its body glistening. I pull the covers over my head. I try not to move.     "Om Mani Peme Hum." So many things in India are still difficult to accept. Rains beat down day after day, mud grabs hold of my feet, thick, hot air leaves me gasping for breath, and spiders ... I cringe as I think of the creature over my head. Mama was afraid of spiders. "A spider!" I cried out one day, and she ran screaming into the house. "I'm only teasing," I called after her. I couldn't stop laughing, but she wouldn't come out.     Mama. Her face spins slowly around. In a darkened corner of my mind, a small patch of green appears. I watch it grow brighter, larger, until a vast green meadow stretches out at my feet. The meadow is dotted with clusters of flowers and is treeless, except for a willow or two. To one side, a river winds quietly through; on its bank is a village.     At the far end a house rises taller than the rest. An old house, like a fortress, whitewashed. On its eastern wall, above slits that once served as lookouts, there are places where red soil shows through, gashes from long ago, scars of an ancient attack. And at each corner of the roof, prayer flags stand like spirit sentinals. Their long, silent shapes wave slowly in the breeze, unfurling prayers on the breath of the wind.     Below, to the side of the house, a small group of people sits in the morning sun. Steam curls from pots of tea at their feet and glistens as it catches the light. On a bench an old woman with a child in her lap makes tsampa. Folded into my Anya's soft lap, between her large strong arms, I watch her twisted fingers mixing tea and flour in a small earthen dish. In a circular motion she scoops it away from the side of the dish and squeezes it between her fingers. Scooping, squeezing the warm, moist dough, she kneads my morning tsampa. Behind her a fire is crackling, and the smell of hot milk is sweet in the air. The room begins to lighten. The posters I've hung to cover the cracks on the walls regain their color. The small yellow bird on the garden poster emerges from out of the dark green branches. The letters m-o-t-h-e-r-I-l-o-v-e-y-o-u on the American poster become clear.     He is coming today! I remember and get out of bed.     I straighten my yellow undershirt, wrap an orange underskirt around my waist, and climb onto the end of my bed, my legs crossed under me. I take up my Mani beads and begin my morning prayer. Homage to the Buddha, the Dharma, the Sangha, In whom I take refuge. May I achieve Buddhahood so I can benefit all living beings. On the altar above my bed, pictures of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, the Lord Buddha, and Padmasambhava sit in a row. I stand and bow to each. "Let the essence of your teachings be expressed in my mind, my speech, my body."     I raise my hands above my head, kneel until my head touches the floor, and prostrate three times in front of the altar. "May the source of happiness and well-being be experienced by all."     Six metal bowls on the altar are still filled with yesterday's water. I empty them into a pitcher and take it outside to pour on a bush at the bottom of the stairs, chanting, "This ground anointed with incense and strewn with flowers." Farther down the path, in a darkened room, I fill the pitcher, "... adorned with Mount Kailash, the four continents, the sun and moon ..."     And back in the room, refilling each bowl, "... may all beings be blessed." I continue my morning tasks, my tea, my tsampa, and later the dough for my bread, which I fry in the skillet over my old rusted burner. Every day the same. Predictable. Known. Small comforts, after years of uncertainity. "Ani-la! People are gathering! He will soon be here!"     "Ah-lay!"     I leap up and open the trunk at the foot of my bed. A rush of cool air pours out, carrying smells of damp wool, aging silk, sheep skin, incense, tarnished silver. I run my fingers lovingly over the clothes at the top. My only possessions.     I take out a yellow silk blouse, put it under my long brown dress, my chupa, with a pouch of blessed seeds around my neck. Though the day is hot, I pull on a pair of white socks banded in red. "Those are socks for sportsmen," an American tourist once told me. "What does it matter," I said, "they cover my feet."     About to go out, I take an umbrella off the hook in my closet, just in case. And a small tan hat for the sun.     A mirror, set on the table by my bed, catches my reflection as I pass by. For a minute my stomach turns over. In the faded glass, I see a parched landscape. Deep furrows, crisscrossing lines, spreading brown spots, like earth dried out by the summer sun. I pull the skin taut at the corners of my eyes and squint, trying to see some sign of the face that was once there. "You are my beautiful girl," my father says, stroking my forehead. "The most beautiful girl in Kham." I rest my head on his shoulder and smile. The foreigners bring me pictures. "There!" they say. "Aren't you beautiful!" "Beautiful?" I say. "All I see is a face full of wrinkles." I wrinkle my face even more, to quiet them.     "Beauty!" I think to myself. What do they know?     I feel a heat rising in my chest and I take my Mani beads from my neck.     "To give protection against anger, practice tolerance and patience ..." the words of my lama come to my mind ... "Develop acceptance of all situations, all people, without judgment, experience them free from limiting thoughts."     My mind softens, but the heat in my chest remains, its sharp little fingers pull at my heart. Om Mani Peme Hum, I say to myself. Forgive my thoughts. Especially today.     A rush of hot air hits me on the landing outside my room. I take a key out of my pouch and lock the door. It gives me a feeling of happiness to watch its dull metal shape turn in the lock. Even after so many years in Dharamsala, my heart still leaps as I turn it myself. I am free, I think. My beauty has faded, my youth has gone. But I'm free. At the end of the path there is much commotion. A long-horned cow runs wildly through the street. On either side the vendors shout in Hindi, "Bago, bago! Chalo!" A stream of children follows behind, throwing stones, laughing, calling. Mud, fruit, vegetables fly in all directions. After they pass, I step over a stream of water still flowing from last night's rain and walk quickly into the street.     The road to the nunnery is lined with Hindu merchants. I lift my chupa, stepping carefully through the darkened slime at my feet, between the faded mats of fruits and vegetables, until I see my favorite vendor, a one-eyed man with a lilting voice. He is crouched, as he always is, behind a high stack of fruit.     I point to a cluster of apples. He nods his head back and forth in a snakelike motion as I take several in my hand, turning each over and over. This one, this, and this, I will take these. Gifts for him .     I give the merchant one coin. More, he starts to protest, but I shake my head, and tuck the fruit in my chupa and walk on. The street is full of vendors, beggars, nuns, monks, schoolchildren, foreign tourists. I make my way through the crowded street, bowing here and there to people I know. I tousle the hair of two children and run ahead as they chase me. At the end of a row of buildings I turn onto the main road. Already people are gathering at either side of the road. Women in bright colored chupas. Men in billowing white shirts. Some crouch down, fingering their Mani beads, some hold sticks of incense, others pile boughs of juniper over earthen pots, preparing to light them. A group of young nuns run ahead of me, carrying yellow silk banners and baskets of flowers. The road, where paved, is covered with large white chalk letters, and overhead prayer flags stretch across on poles and trees.     A half-mile down at the gate to the main temple, monks are wrapping pillars at either side with colored brocades. They set a table with vases of flowers and fruit. Great urns to the side have begun to billow with smoke.     "Ani-la." Someone is calling my name. I turn and see Yeshe Dhonden, an old monk, beckoning to me from the side of the road.     "Tashi Delek, Ani-la."     "Tashi Delek, Yeshe Dhonden."     For a moment our eyes lock. Looking into his dimming eyes, past the faded white at their rim, past the drooping lids, past the thin lines of sorrow beneath, I see the eyes of a young man. Clear. Proud.     I see him bend from his galloping horse to pick up a scarf on the ground and raise it with pride high over his head. I see him ride at the head of a long line of men, leading them into the hills. I see him enter the Great Hall at Chamdo, a Chinese soldier at his side, a gun pressed deep in his ribs. And in his eyes, furthest back past their faded lens, I see his body lying limp on a concrete floor, curled in on itself.     In those few seconds, each of our stories, the stories of our people, pass between us, as swiftly as wind through trees. There is no need to say more. He points to a space by his side. Silently I take it and crouch down on my heels.     "It won't be long now," a woman to my right whispers. I touch my chupa to be sure the scarf and incense are still there, then settle back against the hill to wait.     People pass by. Several men and women stop to talk. A young Tibetan man in Western clothes, a pressed white shirt, gray wool pants, shiny black shoes, walks quickly from the gate of the temple up the road, motioning people to either side. A murmur runs up and down each side. Far in the valley below, I hear the honking of horns. People fall silent, straining to hear.     The honking stops and for moments it is silent. A hawk flies above, circling the smoking urn. Far beyond, dark clouds move slowly over the high mountaintops, a gathering storm.     I shift uneasily from foot to foot. An old woman darts across the road. The young man in Western clothes walks briskly back toward the gate. Monks and nuns have gathered at either side. They stand, adjusting their robes, whispering to one another.     Thick blue smoke rises up from juniper boughs burning along the side of the road. A stick of incense is lit and passed through the crowd. Soon hundreds of fine thin plumes rise toward the sky.     Suddenly, as if out of nowhere, a car appears at the top of the hill, moving slowly down the road. It is large, tan, rounded on top, worn. On either side, above the outside mirrors, two small Tibetan flags are fluttering. Silently it advances, as people at each edge of the road bend down. As it draws closer, my heart begins to pound, my breath catches in my throat.     Slowly, inch by inch, as if crossing centuries of time, the car moves toward me. I lean forward, straining to see. The boughs of the overhanging trees cast shadows on the windshield. Through the shifting reflections I think I see the forms of two men, the one on the right closest to me bent slightly forward. Reflections of clouds, of birds, of sky slide toward me, as if carried on a golden throne moving silently closer.     Two people away. One. Now right in front. A shiver runs through me, as it does each time. There before me, looking directly at me, with an expression of indescribable compassion, His Holiness, Gyalwa Rinpoche, Jenzin Gyatso, Ocean of Wisdom--the Fourteenth Dalai Lama. My beloved master.     He raises his hand in a gesture of greeting, and in less than a breath passes by and is gone. The monks and nuns at the gate bow as his car enters the temple grounds. A caravan of cars, jeeps, trucks rush after. Men with radio phones, women in Western dress, monks, their robes flapping as the trucks sweep by.     In a few minutes it is over, like the storms that come out of nowhere and are gone. The brocade on the pillars comes down, the table with fruit taken away, and having welcomed him home, the crowd starts up the hill. Tomorrow they will return for his teachings. I walk for a time with Tashi Norbu from Gonjo and Thinley Tashi from Kanze. They too are in Dharamsala near His Holiness, with thousands of Tibetans who fled the Chinese. We walk together in silence, but after a while I fall behind, lost in thought.     His Holiness's face is still before me. Whenever I see it, my sadness disappears, the loneliness and longing from so many years falls away. His face, like a radiant sun, has burned through the darkness. With his guidance, after so many years, I am finally free.    "You have seen Tibet's tragedy," he once said. "You have lived its suffering. You must tell your story so others will know." Copyright © 2000 Tibet Fund. All rights reserved.