tenzin choedrak - rainbow palace (322p

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This moving and powerful book charts Choedrak's painfully deprived Childhood in rural Tibet, the harsh years of training in the monastery and his eventual rise to become a Lhamenpa, personal physician to the Dalai Lama. But unfortunately, this personal achievement only marked the beginning of his greater struggle. The Chinese occupied Tibet in 1950 and the country descended into violence and chaos. Choedrak, among thousands of others, was imprisoned under the most cruel and repressive conditions imaginable. The events he was forced to be witness to and endure were so appalling that it is hard to believe he managed to retain his humanity let alone his religion. Yet Choedrak managed not only to find incredible reserves of bravery and strength but compassion for his torturers whom he ended up tending as patients. This book is not only a humbling and inspiring personal testimony but a historical account of the Chinese oppression of Tibet: a horrific and systematic breach of human and civil rights that the international community has left shamefully unchallenged. Choedrak's life, and those of other Tibetans who have suffered under occupation is both a terrible measure of the cruelty of which human beings are capable and the incredible resilience of the human spirit and its will to love.--Rebecca Johnson



    TENZIN CHOEDRAKWith Gilles Van Grasdorff

    Preface by the Dalai Lama


  • THE RAINBOW PALACE Le Palais des Arcs-en-Ciel

    A BANTAM BOOK : 0 553 81303 X

    PR IN TIN G H ISTORYAlbin Michel edition published 1998

    Bantam Books edition published 2000

    1 3 5 7 9 10 8 6 4 2

    Copyright Editions Albin Michel S.A., 1998 English language translation Judith Armbruster 2000

    The right of Tenzin Choedrak to be identified as author of this work has been asserted in accordance with sections 77 and

    78 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

    Condition o f SaleThis book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, re-sold, hired out or

    otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition

    including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.

    Set in ll/1 3 p t Palatino by Kestrel Data, Exeter, Devon.

    Bantam Books are published by Transworld Publishers, 61-63 Uxbridge Road, London W5 5SA,

    a division of The Random House Group Ltd, in Australia by Random House Australia (Pty) Ltd,

    20 Alfred Street, Milsons Point, Sydney, NSW 2061, Australia, in New Zealand by Random House New Zealand Ltd,18 Poland Road, Glenfield, Auckland 10, New Zealand,

    and in South Africa by Random House (Pty) Ltd, Endulini, 5a Jubilee Road, Parktown 2193, South Africa.

    Printed and bound in Great Britain by Clays Ltd, St Ives pic.

  • To the Tibetan people, to the Tibetan culture and medicine,

    with a very special thought for the monks of Chothey, and for Men-Tsee-Khang.

  • As long as there are suffering beings,And until their illnesses are cured,

    May 1 be their physician, their remedy, their servant

    Chantideva,'Initiation into the practice of the Bodhisattva'Chapter III, Strophe 8

  • Contents

    Preface by the Dalai Lama 9Foreword 11Translator's Note 12

    Part One: 1922-19501. Return to the Human World 152. My Childhood as an Orphan 233. First Steps to the Monastery 334. A Young Monk at the Monastery of Chothey 475. 1 Will Be a Doctor 646. 'I Bow Before You and All the Buddhas' 817. Student of Tibetan Medicine 988. The Purification of Mercury and Other

    Medicinal Plants 1129. 'May I Be . . . Their Physician, Their Remedy,

    Their Servant' 129

    Part Two: 1950-197610. And I Became a Lhamenpa 139

  • 11. The Day Everything Toppled 15512. In the Hell of the Chinese Prisons 17913. Drapchi: the Death Camp 20214. Survival at Yititok 218

    Part Three: 1976-199815. Caring for One's Enemies 23716. Twenty-one Years Later 25617. Again with Kundun 27518. Epilogue: On the Threshold of the Great Voyage 293

    Endnotes 297Glossary 304Bibliography 310Tibet: Geography and Demographics 315Acknowledgements 317



    I welcome the publication of Dr Tenzin Choedrak's autobiography. Dr Choedrak's story epitomizes the suffering of thousands of Tibetans over the last five decades. I hope this book will help create greater awareness of Tibet in the world.

    Ironically, while in prison in Tibet, Dr Choedrak treated and cured many Chinese officials, winning the grudging admiration of his captors. The fact that hardened communist ideologues went to Dr Choedrak for treatment and cure - that, too, in the period when everything old and traditional was considered anathema - shows the efficacy of our medical system.

    What is remarkable about Dr Choedrak, or many other Tibetans for that matter, is the fact that he harbours no feelings of hatred for his captors. All the time while he was being subjected to incredible hardship and torture, he did not lose faith in the Buddhist teachings that his tormentors were also human beings, having the seeds of Buddhahood, and like every


  • one of us had fallen under delusion and adverse conditions. This belief saved the life and spirit of Dr Choedrak and many other Tibetans.

    Since his arrival in India, Dr Choedrak has worked as my personal physician and Chief Medical Officer at the Tibetan Medical & Astrological Institute in Dharamsala, where many young Tibetans are being trained in the traditional Tibetan medical science.

    I have no doubt that many readers of this book will be moved and inspired by his example of endurance and generosity. This book, I hope, will also encourage greater international support and concern for the plight of Tibet.

    Tenzin Gyatso Fourteenth Dalai Lama


  • Foreword

    Knowledge of Tibet, its history, culture and religions is recent. Each piece of research that is carried out represents another stone in the construction of the edifice. This book is intended as a contribution to that process. Tibetology progresses with tentative steps, gradually bringing to light a country and a people threatened with extinction.



  • Translator's Note

    The Rainbow Palace was originally created from extensive tape-recorded interviews conducted by Gilles Van Grasdorff with Dr Tenzin Choedrak, in Tibetan. The tapes were transcribed into English and subsequently translated into French for the French edition of the book, Le Palais des arcs-en-ciel (Albin Michel, Paris, 1998). The present English translation is based on the French edition. Every effort has been made to use the accepted English spelling of the Tibetan words. The translator is especially indebted in this, and other technical matters pertaining to the text, to jack Palmer-White, Paris, Tsering Tashi, Director, Tibet Center, Chicago, and Mary Alice Parsons, Chicago.


    In order not to interrupt the reader, footnotes and a glossary of names and words in common usage can be found at the end of the book.


  • Part One


  • 1Return to the Human World

    My name is Tenzin Choedrak. By the Tibetan calendar, I was born the 15th day of the second month of the year dog-water. That would be April 1922.1 was born to a poor family in a simple house in the heart of a country so old that it feels eternal. The mountains around us were majestic, covered with immaculate snow; the rocks were massive, and the vegetation was sparse. Our surroundings were rugged, but also rich with history.

    My birth was premature. Amala [the familiar Tibetan name for 'mother'] had carried me only six months when I was born. On the day of my birth thunder rumbled so fiercely in the mountains that the villagers thought it might be the distant roaring of a dragon, provoked perhaps by my unexpected arrival.

    The birth process is easily explained by reference to Tibetan medical texts. However, explaining the precise causes for a particular individual's birth is more complicated. Imagine the moment is at hand for your rebirth: you are in bardo*, the intermediate state between

    * Words followed by an asterisk the first time they appear in the text are explained in the Glossary.


  • The Rainbow Palace

    life and death. Your spirit's need for a physical support grows more urgent. Impelled by karmic* energy, you approach your future parents at the moment of their sexual union.

    Seeing them like that, you are seized by a strong emotion, you naturally experience a certain attraction for the one and aversion for the other. The Gyushi* says:

    Three substances are necessary to the formation of a body: first, a perfect sperm without defect from illness; second, menstrual blood [the Tibetan term for the ovum], which must be at the right moment of its cycle and also free of defect; and third, the spirit of the being in bardo impelled by its karma. The five elements and their natures - earth, water, fire, air, and space - are also necessary to a being's physical existence. These are the conditions required for conception. Further development into male or female depends on the connections the being will make in its intermediate state. If it feels drawn to the mother and feels aversion for the father, it will be born male. On the other hand, if it is drawn to the father and feels anger toward the mother, a girl will be born.

    In my case I was born a boy. Was I meant to come back to pursue my spiritual path and help others? Only the human world permits this kind of progress. Toward the end of the pregnancy, the uterus becomes like a prison to the baby, full of revolting substances. In this dark fortress the baby feels intense sadness, repulsion, and uncleanliness. Only then does it prepare to leave its mother's abdomen. The moment of birth is a painful trauma for the infant. The Gyushi says, The sensation of


  • Return to the Human World

    birth is similar to being skinned alive, or being stung by wasps, and when the infant is bathed, contact with the water gives the sensation of being struck.

    I do not know what I might have done in a previous life to be born prematurely. The explanation would be tied to my parents' actions and to the karma accumulated over the course of my earlier lives.

    My family has always been very respectful of Tibetan customs and traditions. After Amala gave birth to me, she did not touch her hair or in fact any object. To do so too soon after my birth would be to risk losing whatever she touched. Mola, my grandmother (I prefer to use the Tibetan word for it is also an expression of respect), went to Amala's bed and had her rub her hand over a small stone.1 The third day2 after my birth my family held the purification ceremony to free me of the birth impurities. It was still forbidden for anyone to visit the house because Tibetans believe the atmosphere inside the dwelling is still impure. Thus, it is necessary to wait unti