Palden Gyatso is a Tibetan monk who suffered 33 years in prison in Tibet. He attributes the work of human rights organizations for his release — everyday people using their voices to support him. Today, there are still hundreds of political prisoners in prisons in Tibet.
At 80, Palden is full of life, wit and wisdom. He campaigns tirelessly for political prisoners, human rights and awareness for Tibet. A life-long Buddhist, Palden is a gifted speaker on meditation. He says that only through meditation was he able to survive his sentences, and have compassion for his oppressors.
Palden had a profound effect on my life — in fact, profound is an understatement: he has literally changed it. Three years ago, on my first trip to India, I read a copy of Palden’s book. I cried page by page, appalled that one person should suffer so much for their dedication to their country, teachers and religion — and nakedly aware of the atrocities one human can inflict on another.
I would frequently see Palden on the streets, and I would look at him silently in awe, cursing myself for not being able to speak with him in Tibetan. His book recounted hellacious experiences: starvation, numerous means of torture, witnessing executions and forced labor. I struggled to initiate a conversation.
Over the next three years, I was fortunate enough to be in his exiled hometown of Dharamsala, and soon, we became friends. I’ve interviewed him on numerous occasions, but my fondest thoughts are of the afternoons we would spend having small tea parties in his house — talking through my friends who translated, and me speaking in broken beginner Tibetan.
It was Palden, his endurance of imprisonment, his brave escape to exile and his relentless testimony for human rights that led me to start my own NGO, Built on Respect. He was the spark that fueled my relentless work to speak for the voiceless, the constant reminder that no matter what me or my friends and family experienced, it paled in comparison to his suffering. He changed my life, and taught me compassion, skillful action and happiness.
Earlier this year, Palden asked me to coordinate a speaking tour for him in the US, and I’m humbled to say that today, he has arrived in the US for a four month visit. Built on Respect has coordinated a series of speaking engagements for Palden, kindly assisted by Care2 and the Robin Reed Trust. The tour is a combination of private and public events, including top socially conscious technology companies, cultural institutions and two unique teachings at San Quentin Prison hosted by the Insight Prison Project.
I highly encourage you to attend one of these amazing events, and to continue to check back for updated dates:
Monday, June 13th 7:15-9:15pm – Spirit Rock Meditation Center
5000 Sir Francis Drake Boulevard
Woodacre, CA 94973
Sunday, June 19th 5-7pm – Tibet House US
22 West 15th Street, New York, NY 10011
Thursday, June 23rd 8-9:30pm – Jivamukti Yoga
841 Broadway # 2
New York, NY 10003-4704
Saturday, June 25th 1:30-3:00pm – Jacques Marchais Museum
338 Lighthouse Avenue
Staten Island, NY 10306-1217
Photo credit: Built On Respect