After the guards finished beating me, they brought out an iron clamp for my feet and threw it in front of me. I thought they were going to chain me again, but they didn’t. “Your prison term has been increased by three years,” the short, fat officer told me, “and you will spend the next nine months in isolation.”

They opened a small wooden door and threw me into the room. I fell onto my hands in the darkness and felt the dirt of an earthen floor. Behind me I heard the door close. There was a dull scraping as the key turned in the lock. I lifted myself onto my knees trying to see where I was, but I could see nothing but blackness all around me.

My knees were damp. As the moisture seeped through my chupa [traditional Tibetan dress], I took off my shirt and put it under me. I felt with my hands for the wall. It was close around me on all sides, only a bit larger than the size of my body. Several times I felt the wall with my hand, like a blind man trying to locate himself in a new surrounding. Down one side, across, up the other. I stood up slowly so as not to hit my head and found that the room was just high enough to stand.

When I turned to look around, the walls seemed to move closer. The ceiling seemed to have dropped. In a panic I brought my hands to my mouth. “Guru Rinpoche, help me!” I called out. I fell to my knees and began to sob. I cried for my family, I cried for my home, I cried for my teacher, Gyalsay Rinpoche. After I could cry no longer, I prayed:

Beloved teacher, like a great ship crossing the perilous ocean to the dry land of liberation, dispel the darkness of ignorance. . . . Like a father and mother, give your love to all sentient beings. . . . Like a river of compassion, soothe the torments of those caught in the cycle of worldly existence. . . . Release the beings in all realms. May they attain freedom.

The next day I found that the cell was just large enough to do prostrations. As soon as the guard left my breakfast and I heard the key turn in the lock, I began. I put my feet against the back wall, brought my hands above my head, to my mouth, my chest, then bent to the ground, stretching out the length of the room, my hands joined above my head.

“In reverence, I prostrate with my body, speech, and mind,” I whispered.

Over and over I raised my hands, I stretched out across the ground. I prayed that the bad karma from many lifetimes that was causing this suffering would be washed away by prayer. To accomplish this, I vowed to prostrate one hundred thousand times.

Halfway through my nine-month confinement, I started to worry that I might not be able to finish the one hundred thousand prostrations that I had vowed to complete. Therefore, each morning I prayed that I would not be removed from the cell until I had reached that number. And each day, I pushed myself to do more.

Because of the small amount of food that I was consuming, I began to weaken. One day as I was prostrating, I suddenly became dizzy. The room was hot; I couldn’t get enough air to breathe. I wavered to the side, then fell forward. When I came back to my senses, I was lying on top of the toilet pot. The pot, emptied every two weeks, was swarming with worms. My clothes, my body, and the entire floor were covered with its contents.

That night when they brought me tea, I had just enough to wash my hands in it, but I couldn’t wash the rest until months later when I was finally released. For days, flies flew around my head and crawled on my body. I took consolation from the fact that I was able to continue my prostrations. I considered my suffering an atonement for the evil that had befallen all of Tibet.

Thank you for subscribing to Tricycle! As a nonprofit, to keep Buddhist teachings and practices widely available.

This article is only for Subscribers!

Subscribe now to read this article and get immediate access to everything else.

Subscribe Now

Already a subscriber? .