I have been puzzling about the relationship of the Dalai Lama to Qincheng Prison. I don't think he was ever imprisoned there, but, of course, hanging a picture such as this fine portrait might just land the art enthusiast in prison and it is entirely possible that the Eleventh Panchen Lama, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, born April 25, 1989, may already be in that notorious prison. Not for posting a portrait but for being acknowledged by the Dalai Lama. Gedhun Chekyi Nyima disappeared from public view in 1995 after the Dalai Lama confirmed that he was indeed the Panchen Lama, and where he is today remains a mystery. Just six years old when he was spirited away (together with his parents), he has completely disappeared from public view.
Chinese officials disparage the notion thta he has disappeared, describing him instead as an 'ordinary' Tibetan young man, happy, healthy and attending school but refuse to identify his location or to provide any proof of his current life. After the disappearance of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, the People's Republic of China declared Gyaincain Norbu to be the Eleventh Panchen Lama, but many reject that notion, preferring to think of Gedhun Chekyi Nyima as the Panchen Lama. If he were alive, which is not known, he might very well be imprisoned in Qincheng. Sadly, the isolation of that sometimes terrifying place may be what this now young man knows of the world.
Qincheng Prison is a maximum security, soviet designed prison where many political prisoners live isolated from one another and the world. The Tenth Panchen Lama, Choekyi Gyaltsen, was locked in Qincheng for 13 difficult dark years from 1964 to 1977, and it is certainly logical and possible that the disappeared Eleventh Panchen Lama may also be there. We simply don't know, but this simple portrait reminds us of that possibility and also of all those political prisoners who have spent time in the barren cells of Qincheng . . . and of those who are still there, divided from one another by thick walls and rank. Yes, it's true, those of higher rank are granted better food, improved living conditions, and longer times in the exercise yard. Not very Marxist.
I enjoy having the Dalai Lama gazing kindly on the street, looking past the Bike shop and over to the Revolution Cafe with its great Goose nesting on the roof . His presence reminds me to cherish our own freedoms -- no one will be locked in solitary confinement for pasting a portrait of the Dalai Lama on the wall for all to enjoy. We need his compassion and kindness in the neighborhood and we also need to be reminded that as tough as life might seem here, conditions are far worse elsewhere for others who continue to struggle for the right to live simply and kindly within centuries old traditions, to live for peace, to believe that human community matters more than commerce and increased consumption of manufactured goods. What he tells us is simple. We can listen, we can hear, we can do. He reminds us that we can live without religion . . . but we cannot survive without human affection.
This, he says, is my simple religion. No need for temples. No need for complicated philosophy. Your own mind, your own heart is the temple. Your philosophy is simple kindness.