Ani Pachen: ‘Tibetan Joan of Arc’

Ani Pachen was a Tibetan tribal princess who became a  Buddhist nun and led her tribe against the Chinese.

Pachen Dolma was born in 1933 in Eastern Tibet. Her father was the leader of her tribe. As a girl growing up she learned how to ride & shoot, but Pachen (Ani) had a desire for a more peaceful life.

When she was 17 years old she heard of plans to marry her to a chieftan from another tribe. She wasn’t keen on the idea so instead she took tried to run away and join a Buddhist monastery, she wanted to become a nun. The name she is now known by ‘Ani Pachen’ means simply ‘Nun, Big Courage’. Her father send some of his men to bring her back home; he told her he missed her terribly and agreed to call off the marriage he had arranged. Over the next few years of her life her Buddhist practice deepened and she learned how to meditate and live a peaceful life.

However everything changed in 1958 when her father died. The tribe needed a leader, especially as the Chinese had invaded Tibet and were getting closer to the region where Ani and her family lived. Ani took up her father’s mantle in leading their people. She said,

“I was the only child in the family, and since my father had so much love for his country, I had to carry on what he left behind; the task, the struggle against the Chinese.”

She gathered over 600 of her tribe and formed a resistance force, leading them in rebellion against the invading Chinese, who were destroying ancient Buddhist monasteries and killing many of her people. They lived in the hills and rode on horses fighting the Chinese. Ani knew that violence was not the way of Buddhism, but couldn’t by stand and watch as her country was destroyed. She later said,

“To be truly a Buddhist, you must be loving and all compassionate. But I was faced with a particular situation and I thought I did what was right at the time.”

She was the only female leader amongst the rebelling tribes, and she noticed that when she met with the other rebel leaders they looked at her “with a mixture of curiosity, disbelief, and dismay on their faces, as if they thought their meetings were no place for a woman”. The Chinese were equally as confused it seems, she said, “Because I’m a woman, they think I’ll hand over the weapons of my people. It’s an insult.”

Despite her ‘big courage’, the struggle of the Tibetan people against the Chinese was inevitably to fail. Ani Pachen decided the best thing she and her family could do was to flee, as thousands of other Tibetans had, however as she was trying to escape she was captured by the Chinese. It was 1959 and she was only 25 years old.

The next 21 years of her life were spent in prison being questionned and tortured by the Chinese. She was forced to endure horrific suffering at the hands of the Chinese. Years later, after her release, she told people what it was like;

“I went into prison a young woman and came out an old woman. No one in my family survived but me. When they arrested me they bound my hands and feet and hung me upside down and interrogated me. They beat me continuously. I would pass out and they would throw water on me and beat me some more. They shackled me for a year. They put me in a hole in the ground and forced me to live in my own feces. All other prisoners suffered the same.”

She later wrote, in her book Sorrow Mountain; the Journey of a Tibetan Nun, that her Buddhist practices & meditation helped her to survive. She envisioned a day when she would be free and dreamed of one day meeting the Dalai Lama.

Eventually, in 1981, she was finally released. She returned to her village and found only the remains of what used to be. While she had been in prison all the rest of her family had starved to death. Despite the years of suffering she had endured at the hands of the Chinese, as soon as she was free she once again took up the struggle against them – speaking out against their oppression of the Tibetan people and culture. Soon however she heard rumours that she was going to be arrested again, so she decided the time had come for her to leave Tibet.

She walked for nearly a month until she eventually arrived in Nepal and was then flown to India. Just a few weeks after her escape the dream she had held for so long was finally realised when she met the Dalai Lama. She would meet him many times over the rest of her life, as she became a global voice for the plight of Tibetans. She travelled the world telling people her story and in America led several huge marches to raise awareness. She spoke of her effort to forgive those who had tortured her,

“Sometimes I felt such anger for the Chinese… my life, like so many others, passed in suffering. His Holiness said that we must not hate the Chinese. Even after my time in the caves [where she meditated], I still struggle with anger.”

She eventually settled in India, in Dharamsala so she could be close to the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government in exile. As more and more people heard her story she became a heroine (or you could say shero) of the Tibetan people. She died peacefully in 2002. 

 

Find out more….

Why not read Ani’s story in her own words? You could buy Sorrow Mountain; the Journey of a Tibetan Nun or get it from your local library. You can read my review of the book here.

You can read interviews with Ani Pached here and here.

Find out more about the continuing struggle to free Tibet and how you can support the cause here.

 

 

 

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