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· Bio Gendun Choephel – am


Angry Monk

Bio of Gendun Choephel


Gendun Choephel’s Childhood in Eastern Tibet

Gendun Choephel (Chopel, Chöphel) was born 1903 in a small village in eastern Tibet, near the silk road, at the Chinese border, in a remote region populated by nomads. This region was inhabited by Muslims, Chinese and Tibetans that were constantly fighting each other. The villages often were attacked and looted by warlords. In this explosive and mixed cultural climate Gendun Choephel started to be interested in his Tibetan identity early on.

He received a traditional education as a monk in the most important monastery of the region, where he developped a friendship with an American missionary that the other monks and his family resented. In 1927 he left the monastery and moved to Lhasa with a caravan of merchants.

Monastery education in Lhasa

In Lhasa Gendun Choephel studied in Drepung, the biggest monastery in the world. His rebellious attempts to bypass the monastery’s rules annoyed the other monks. Ultimately, monastic life suffocated him too much in Lhasa as well and he left the monastery. Afterwards he survived as a portrait painter and artist for rich aristocrats in Lhasa. In 1934 he met Rahul Sankrityayan, an Indian researcher of Buddhist teachings who also was a communist activist for the Indian struggle for independence from British colonialists.

Journey across Tibet (1934-1938)

Rahul Sankrityayan and Gendun Choephel travelled together across Tibet searching for old texts that were destroyed in India centuries earlier but had survived in remote monasteries in Tibet. For Rahul, historical research is part of his political fight; for him researching history is the key to the present. Gendun Choephel was Rahuls translator as well as his mediator for Tibetan culture. At the same time the fascinating stories about India awoke his curiosity.

Journey across India (1938-1946)

In India, Gendun Choephel was confronted with a foreign world. For the first time he saw a railway and other technological achievements. India was then undergoing radical changes and, contrary to Tibet, the Indians took their destiny into their own hands. The fight for independece was at its peak. Gendun Choephel’s view of his own culture started to change; in India he experienced the most creative phase of his life.

He travelled across the country as a Buddhist pilgrim, lived in the crowded city of Calcutta, saw the ocean, visited brothels and libraries, wrote his first newspaper articles and translated the Kamasutra in Tibetan, enriching it with his own experiences. He sent many of his writings, notes and sketches back to Tibet in order to convey his impressions of a foreign world.

Return to Tibet (1946-51)

In 1946 Gendun Choephel returned to Tibet passing through the Indian-Tibetan border town of Kalimpong which, next to British and Chinese agents, was a nest of radical Tibetans who fell out of grace with Lhasa’s government. In 1939 they founded the Tibetan Revolutionary Party. Choephel got acquainted with the party and designed their logo: a sickle crossed by a sword. The Tibetan Revolutionary Party’s goal was to overthrow the tyrannical regime in Lhasa.

In Lhasa (1946-51)

When Gendun Choephel arrived in Lhasa the Tibetan government was already informed about his political activities. He began to write the political history of Tibet but this attempt was abruptly stopped by his arrest. He was accused of insurrection and thrown in jail for three years.

In 1949 he was freed. But his heart was broken and he drowned his desperation in alcohol. Soon afterwards the Chinese army overran the Tibetan troops in eastern Tibet and, in 1951, shortly after the occupation of Lhasa by the Chinese army, Gendun Choephel died. Supposedly he commented on the political events of his era in this way: «Now we are in deep shit!»


More on Gendun Choephel:

Gendun Choephel by Donald Lopez Jr.
(Chicago University Press)

Gendun Choephel (Chopel, Chöphel) 1

Gendun Choephel (Chopel, Chöphel) 2
Treasury of Lives

Gendun Choephel (Chopel, Chöphel) 3

Gendun Choephel (Chopel, Chöphel) 4
(Rigpa Wiki)


Biography - Gendun-Choephel - Angry Monk - Biographie

Gendun Choephel shortly before his death, 1951


Biography - Gendun-Choephel - Angry Monk - Biographie

Gendun Choephel, 1940’s


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