Tibet: March 1959
At first light, Selpo Rinpoche woke to the roar of his monastery’s warning gong. Thinking fire, he threw open the shutters and scanned the temple, the library and the labyrinth of monks’ cells until movement outside the walls caught his eye. A monk was running barefoot down the mountain, maroon robes flying, blood staining his trail in the snow.
Later, while doctors tended his wounds in the warmth of the great kitchen, the monk told Rinpoche the Red Army had invaded his monastery over the mountain, corralled monks and villagers in the courtyard and demanded his senior lamas bow down to Mao Tse Tung. When the lamas refused, soldiers shoved pistols into the hands of the novice monks and ordered them to kill their teachers. But in keeping with their vows, the boys turned the weapons on themselves. The soldiers emptied their guns into the crowd, then dragged the women and girls to the temple, laid them on their backs under the statue of the Buddha and raped them.
All that day Rinpoche walked the halls, rallying monks and laypeople as they passed supplies and relics hand-to-hand out the Eastern Gate to the parade grounds, where porters loaded a caravan of yaks. Close to midnight, he waded through the crowd in the moonlit courtyard and mounted the horse his attendants had packed for his escape south, over the Himalayas.
Reins in hand, he peered through the juniper smoke at the ancient square—the raised plaza where he had learned to debate the fine points of wisdom, the prayer wheels he’d turned as he circumambulated the statuary hall, the banners and gargoyles and, on the roof, the golden Wheel of Peace. He saw, too, tomorrow’s courtyard awash in blood. Centuries of labor and devotion were about to be swept away.