Gendun Choephel – Tibet (1903 – 1951)

Linked with Amnye Machen Institute (with its Centre for Advanced Tibetan Studies).

He was a Buddhist monk of Tibet. A film about him is called ‘the angry monk’.

He said: “In Tibet ist alles, was alt und traditionell ist, ein Werk Buddhas. Alles Neue hingegen ein Werk des Teufels. Das ist die traurige Tradition meines Landes” … and: “Now we’re fucked!” (at the occupation of Lhasa by the Chinese army).

Gendun Choephel was born in 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 developed 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. (full text).


Gendun Choephel – Tibet (1903 – 1951)

Apart from his occasional dabbling in poetry, Gendun Chophel wrote little in Tibet. By the time he returned from India twelve years later, he had authored a staggering number of works: a travelogue, an unfinished history book, an erotica literature, a pilgrimage guidebook; also an English translation of a Tibetan tome on history of Buddhism, Tibetan translations of Indian classics like Shakuntala, Bhagavad Gita and Ramayana, and the Pali Theravadin cannon, Dhammapada; numerous Tibetan newspaper articles and essays in English for one Mahabodhi Society Journal. His muse, in short, hit him bad when he was on the road. (full text).

Modern art in Tibet never seems to relate to the modern art movement in the outside world, seldom even participating in any contemporary art program in mainland China. So few people know the modern art of Tibet. It is like a strange creature, itself grown and developing without preparation, but it has just happened as a mingling of the red and blue neon lights of the nightclubs and the butter lamps and the Potala palace with the plastic evergreen coconut trees at its foot. (full text).

Read: Milarepa’s Reply, a poem by Gendun Choephel.

Look: at the beautiful pictures on the Gendun Choephel Artist’s Guild.

Gendun Choephel.

Excerpt of his Bio: … 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. 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’re fucked!”. (full text).

Look at ‘Extracts from Gendun Choephel’s Writings‘.

In his life Gendun Choephel scanned everything that passed by him and produced numerous books from Buddhist philosophy to the Tibetan art of making love. He wanted change in Tibet that never came. When he came out of Nangtse Shak Prison in May 1949, his hair was long and his manner strange. He took to drink and cigarettes to dispel his extreme disillusion. The brightest star that shone in the Tibetan sky exploded under constant poundings of censure, short-sightedness and the witless whims of a few elites. The demon was on the loose. Gendun Choephel passed away in Lhasa at 4 pm on 14 August 1951. He was 47. (full text).

  • - Gendun Choephel (Tibet, Amdo, nyönpa): crazy monk. Criticized Buddhism and government in Tibet, and said that Sri Lanka had the true Buddhism. Also lived in Kalimpong. (full text).
  • - Kalimpong, India & Tibet: Once part of Tibet, now in Sikkim, India. Kalimpong was a trade center and center of Buddhist studies. The Amdo monk Gendun Choephel lived there at that time. (full text).

Some about film on Tibetan Scholar Gendun Choephel ‘Angry Monk’:

  • - to Premiere at Sundance Festival January 20th, 2006; ‘Angry Monk’, a film on Tibetan scholar Gendun Choephel, by Swiss film maker Luc Schaedler is having its North American premiere at the prestigious Sundance Film Festival on January 22, 2006. (full text).
  • - The idea for the film “Angry Monk — Reflections on Tibet” originated during several trips to China, Tibet and India between 1988 and 1999. Without being aware of it, I travelled to the same places that the protagonist of the movie visited 50 years before. Since 1988 I have been studying the country of Tibet and how the western world perceives it. And I repeatedly came across the name of Gendun Choephel. (full text).
  • - short videos about films, click on ‘Angry Monk’.
  • - Plot summary for ‘Angry Monk’, Reflections on Tibet (2005) – advertisement Tibet – the mystical roof of the world, peopled with enlightened monks? Only one of them wouldn’t toe the line: Gendun Choephel, the errant monk who left the monastic life in 1934 in search of a new challenge. A free spirit and multifaceted individual, he was far ahead of his time and has since become a seminal figure, a symbol of hope for a free Tibet. A rebel and voluble critic of the establishment, Gendun Choephel kindled the anger of the Tibetan authorities. The cinematic journey through time portrays the life of this unorthodox monk, revealing a face of old Tibet that goes against popular clichés. The film makes an abundance of unique and rare historical footage available to the general public for the first time. But it does not dwell on the past; rather it skilfully oscillates between tradition and modernity. Archival images of ancient caravans and monasteries give way to scenes of discos and multi-lane highways in Lhasa, where pilgrims prostrate themselves as they circle the holy temple. ANGRY MONK offers a fascinating insight into a country whose eventful past is refracted in the multiplicity and contradictions of everyday life. Ultimately, this road movie also tells the story of a man who left home to search for something that could have liberated traditional Tibet from its rigidity. An outsider who was always open to new things, he eventually became a stranger in his homeland and homeless in foreign lands – a wanderer between worlds. Written by Grünfelder, Alice. (
  • - Luc Schaedler gathers footage for his film “Angry Monk” in Tibet. He and his crew posed as “video-crazy tourists” to go around the Chinese government in telling the story of the rebellious Tibetan monk Gendun Choephel. Those hurdles are nothing, though, compared with the lengths to which two Swiss directors went to make their respective films premiering at the Sundance Film Festival this year. Christian Frei, director of “The Giant Buddhas,” and Luc Schaedler, director of “Angry Monk – Reflections on Tibet,” had to deal with tribal Afghan “warlords,” tight-lipped Chinese government officials and arrests to get their respective films finished. (full text).

Uni Zürich: Der Film «Angry Monk» von Luc Schaedler ist auch ein Showcase für die Uni, ab Anfang September im Kino. Der Zürcher Ethnologe setzt sich darin anhand der Biografie des rebellischen Mönchs Gendun Choepel kritisch mit der Geschichte Tibets auseinander. Im unipublic-Interview spricht er über die Bedeutung des tibetischen Reformers, den Wert des Mediums Film für die Wissenschaft, und warum die Populärkultur keine geringere Aufmerksamkeit verdient als Kant und Hegel. (full text).

Zum Film selber (2005): Tibet, zu Beginn der 1930er Jahre. Der junge Mönch Gendun Choephel wendet sich enttäuscht vom buddhistischen Klosterleben ab. Er möchte verstehen, weshalb Klerus und Adel sein Land von der Welt derart radikal abschotten – und verlässt seine Heimat Tibet in Richtung Indien. Die neue Umgebung fördert seine geistige Emanzipation: Choephel zeigt sich von der kulturellen Vielfalt des Landes begeistert, er forscht in bislang als verschollen geglaubten Schriften und veröffentlicht seine Erkenntnisse in einer eigenen Zeitung. Mit Nachdruck propagiert er darin die Vision eines modernen und aufgeklärten Tibets. Erst wenige Jahre vor seinem Tod kehrt er in sein Geburtsland zurück – und wird sofort inhaftiert. Gendun Choephel stirbt kurze Zeit nach dem Einmarsch der chinesischen Truppen in Lhasa. (full text).

Siehe: ‘OutNow‘.


Radio Free Asia;;

Where is Ngawang Choephel;

Tibet links;

The Buddhist Community E-sangha;


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