In his latest column, international journalist Dan Wooding interviews George Patterson, a man who left a small village in Scotland in the 1930's on a quest to find God. When George challenged God to reveal Himself, the answer was "Go to Tibet." From that point he became embroiled in an adventure that was to result in him not only finding God, but also in his helping the Dalai Lama to escape to India.
At the Columbus Screenplay Discovery Awards, "Patterson of Tibet" (his book), took the top prize. His film "Raid Into Tibet" was awarded the "Prix Italia" in 1967.
George met and married Dr. Meg Patterson, a fellow Scot, and the two of them went on to help rescue drug abusers Eric Clapton, Rolling Stones bad boy Keith Richards, and The Who's Pete Townshend with their revolutionary detox treatment, which is called NeuroElectric Therapy (NET). They now live close to San Diego in California, where they continue their treatment for drug addiction in Tijuana, Mexico.
Dan Wooding: How did you from a Scottish village get involved with Tibet in the first place?
George Patterson: I had been preaching about an omnipotent God from my mid-teens to my mid-twenties and was increasingly disillusioned by the apparent lack of power in myself and my audiences. Eventually I concluded that the reason was that I had no experience of God like the Biblical servants of God, whose confidence and power came from a personal knowledge of a God who told them what to do and say. So I stopped all preaching and praying until I had a personal experience of a God who would actually tell me what to do and say.
DW: And did God actually talk to you -- and did he have a Scottish accent?
GP: Yes to your first question; and, to your second question, I understood him so maybe he did! Actually it was totally unexpected. I was reading a library book about mountain climbing in the Himalayas, when I was conscious of a voice saying something like, "I want you to go to Tibet". I assumed this was the usual daydreaming aspirations of an enthusiastic mountain-climber, and ignored it. But it happened again - and again - until I had to stop reading to assess what was happening. I was an avid reader of all kinds of literature and such an experience had never occurred to me before. Also, I knew nothing about Tibet -- except it was a remote country with unusual customs. But I was intrigued enough to return to the library and begin reading about Tibet, and to begin a personal dialogue with God on the basis that he was the one who had spoken to me.
DW: How long before you arrived in Tibet from that first episode?
GP: About three years. It was the near end of the War, that is World War Two, 1944 or so, and as an engineer in an armament factory I had been in a reserved occupation, well paid and with neither time nor opportunities to spend money. So, still in pursuit of my knowledge of a talking God in the middle of the twentieth century, I gave away all my money secretly, without informing family or friends, and arranged to attend a one-year's medical training course in London for missionaries to remote areas. My reason for this was to make certain that I was really in touch with God before I left the 'safe' native country; and also to see if God would miraculously supply all my essential requirements in UK before I went to a strange foreign country. Still under instruction from God eighteen months later, I arranged to sail for China on my way to a rendezvous with God in Tibet in late 1945.
DW: Why China? Wasn't there a war going on there at that time?
GP: Good question. I asked God about that, too. The cheapest and most reasonable route to Tibet would have been through India, where English was spoken and where I knew a few missionaries through reading and correspondence. But the voice of God was insistent on Tibet via China, and so I arrived in Shanghai at the end of World War Two with Germany and Japan, and the middle of China's revolutionary civil war between the Nationalists and the Communists. I didn't know it at the time, but it was my introduction to an involvement with revolutions and God. I stayed in China long enough to learn enough language to aid me in travel across the three thousand miles of war-ravaged China to the border of Tibet. If there had not been the war in China the Chinese officials would have stopped me getting to Tibet, as it was forbidden to foreigners to go there.
DW: Were you the first foreigner to go there?
GP: No, I was probably the eighth since the early part of the century. Several who had tried had either been robbed or killed or just disappeared. My own survival was because soon after I arrived, and had learned some of the language, I was on the streets inviting Tibetans to enter the small gospel chapel to hear me preach. Among those who entered was a heavily armed group of Tibetans, who were highly entertained at my struggle to describe the Prodigal Son's experiences. Their leader, called Topgyay, invited me to visit him and he would teach me Tibetan. I discovered that he was the leading revolutionary of Tibet, the chieftain of all the warlike Khambas, descendants of Genghis Khan's warriors, who occupied the two eastern provinces of Tibet and were historical enemies of the Chinese. He was considered the "Braveheart" of the Khamba Tibetan tribes, who only ten years previously had led an unsuccessful revolt against the Tibetan government in Lhasa, the capital, and was now preparing to lead another revolt.
DW: Are you saying you learned the Tibetan language from this revolutionary Tibetan?
GP: Not only the language, but also how to ride and shoot and hunt Tibetan fashion, and about the life and culture and religion of the Tibetans. His brother was a noted scholar, also a rebel, who had translated important radical political works into Tibetan, and who spoke fluent English. So, between them, I had the best of Tibetan instructors.
DW: Why did you leave Tibet?
GP: After three years of learning and traveling and medically training Tibetans, I ran out of medical supplies. By that time, 1950, the Chinese Communists had defeated the Nationalists and were in power in Peking. They announced that they were next going to conquer Tibet and their armies were moving towards the Tibetan border. My Tibetan friend, Topgyay, was approached by the Chinese Communists to join the Chinese Liberation Army and fight against the feudal Tibetan Government. He was caught between the suspicions of his own feudal government and the advancing Chinese Communists, and so he asked me if I would go as their emissary to India, to alert the outside world regarding their perilous situation and to seek aid from the super-powers, while at the same time I was ordering fresh medical supplies for the anticipated war with China.
DW: Didn't you feel this was incompatible with your missionary calling?
GP: Yes, very. But, remember, I did not go to Tibet as a typical nineteenth-century colonialist missionary. I went there on a personal mission from God to "know and understand and serve God in the twentieth century". After a prayerful struggle I decided that this was a spiritual crisis experience that would forever change my perceptions but not my commitment.
DW: How were you received when you arrived in India with your report?
GP: With incredulity! Remember, I was an unknown missionary, from an unknown village in Scotland, claiming to have traveled for several months over a previously unexplored region of the most remote country in the world, burned deep brown by the sun-and-snow and with a three-year growth of hair and beard, claiming to represent a group of unknown Khamba tribesmen who were planning to battle with an all-conquering Chinese Communist army. Only God could have written the script for such a drama!
DW: How did you go about your task? Did you just knock on the door of an embassy or what?
GP: Virtually. I went first to the British High Commission and asked to speak to an official about Tibet. I actually got a First Secretary who listened to me for two hours, made notes, was incredulous but not skeptical, and who set up a meeting in his own home for me to meet with officials from the Indian and US governments. An interesting side-bar of that meeting was that twenty years later I met this official and his wife in London, when they told me they had since become Christians because of the interest developed from that first meeting!
DW: Did anything substantive develop from those meetings?
GP: At the time, no. I met with top Indian and UN, British and US officials, in discussions of possible implications of my report, but their conclusions were that China was not likely to attack Tibet as they were too occupied in supporting North Korea in their war. When I was convinced that there was no hope of interest or help, I prepared to return to Tibet. Before I could do so the Chinese attacked Tibet, as I had predicted, within the time frame I had reported, and there was total confusion in top levels of the governments I had consulted. I was once again sought for my opinion and advice in a critical situation where India especially was directly threatened by the advancing Chinese Communists who boldly announced that they were going to recover all territories formerly acquired by foreign imperialists. The geopolitics of the major Western powers were in an uproar.
DW: And it was in this situation you were asked to help the Dalai Lama to escape from Tibet?
GP: Yes, as it ratcheted upward several times in intensity. The Chinese Liberation Army had to halt their invasion several times because of unfamiliarity with the 15,000-feet-altitude and savage road-less terrain - and the harassing tactics of the Khamba tribes en route. When they reached the headwaters of the Yangtze River, they halted their advance at a famous Tibetan monastery, Kumbum, and there they became acquainted with the Dalai Lama's older brother, Taktser Rimpoche. They proposed to him that he go ahead of the Chinese Army to Lhasa, and inform his brother and the Lhasa Government of their imminent arrival, and that if he cooperated with them in their occupation of the country, then they would appoint him as Regent, or some form of leader of Tibet.
DW: How did you know of this if you were in India at the time?
GP: I didn't, of course. But, several months after the Chinese proposal to Taktser Rimpoche, after he had arrived in Lhasa and informed his brother and Tibetan government officials, he left for Kalimpong, a small but important town on the Indian border where there was a growing Tibetan refugee community. I was living in Kalimpong from the time of the initial Chinese invasion of Tibet, where members of Topgyay's family had residences and trading offices. Topgyay's older brother, Yangpel, the Tibetan Minister of Trade, was in Kalimpong at the time and, through him, I learned that the Dalai Lama's brother, Taktser Rimpoche, had arrived secretly in Kalimpong and wanted to meet with me. When we met, he told me of the Chinese plans, and that the Dalai Lama's response had been to request Taktser Rimpoche to travel to the USA secretly with two letters; one, a letter of accreditation for Taktser as the Dalai Lama's official emissary; and the second a letter for the US President seeking sanctuary for the Dalai Lama.
DW: How was it possible for you to arrange such a project secretly?
GP: Difficult, but not impossible. First, I had to translate the documents in order to establish their credibility for response. Then I had to pay an initial visit to Calcutta to meet with top US, Indian and British officials for discussions that would not leak to the media - and the Communists. Then I had to arrange a channel of communication between the Dalai Lama and myself directly, once I had arranged for Taktser Rimpoche to secretly leave India for the United States. This was probably the most difficult part of the whole exercise, as no one, not even his family, is allowed to enter the Dalai Lama's presence on their own.
DW: So how did you do it?
GP: I did it through his trusted personal tutor who saw him daily. Unfortunately, when all was ready, and arrangements made with the Indian and neighboring Bhutan governments to transport the Dalai Lama secretly by air to the United States, the State Oracle of Tibet, and the three Abbots of the leading monasteries, all persuaded the Dalai Lama that they had "consulted the gods" by trance-possession and the message was that he must return to Tibet.
DW: So your great plan failed after all?
GP: On that occasion, yes. But it laid the foundation for the subsequent years when the Khambas launched their revolt against the Chinese Occupation Army. In addition to my earlier contacts with the Khamba tribal leaders, I now had top-level informed and secret contacts with the official members of the Tibetan government in Lhasa and India, and was able to keep up a continuous series of media reports to the outside world negating Chinese propaganda. Consequently, too, I was the only newspaper correspondent to report the Khamba's plan to remove the Dalai Lama safely from Lhasa and the Chinese Occupation Army to India . My reports of this so annoyed the Indian Prime Minister, Nehru, that he placed me under expulsion, because, he said: "Patterson continues to publicize bizarre rumors as facts: What is taking place in Tibet is a clash of will, and not of arms." When he sought to justify his action in the Indian Parliament, it was on the very day that he was forced by circumstances inside Tibet to announce instead: "I have just been informed that fighting has broken out in Lhasa and the Indian Consulate has been bombed, and all communication has been cut off." There was pandemonium in the Indian Parliament as members accused him of either inexcusable ignorance, impotence or duplicity; and his excellent reputation as a statesman from that time never recovered, as shortly afterwards war broke out on the Sino-Indian Border.
DW: You have recently published your autobiography, PATTERSON OF TIBET: Death Throes of a Nation; I suppose you cover details of this and other adventures in it?
GP: Yes, I give all the details of my own involvement, and also the CIA's misadventures, which led to the US betrayal of Tibet.
DW: Finally, what about God in all this?
GP: I discovered in a unique way how God operates in a twentieth century society, as he did in the times of the Old and New Testaments; and also to "know and understand him" as the former servants of God did in their generations.
George Patterson's autobiography, PATTERSON OF TIBET: Death Throes of a Nation, is obtainable from ProMotion Publishing: 3368 F Governor Drive, Suite 144, San Diego, CA, 92122, USA. Or through their web site: www.promotionpub.com: or in North America by calling 1-800-231-1776.
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