The story

Gedun Gyatso, a 27-year-old Tibetan Buddhist monk, is so devoted to the Dalai Lama that when he was in prison, he placed a picture of him next to his pillow in open defiance of his jailers. The gesture earned Gyatso another month of incarceration on top of the three years he had served for his political activity.

But today, Gyatso stands in defiance of the Dalai Lama's "middle way" approach to the long struggle between China and Tibetans over the fate of their homeland. The Tibetan spiritual leader's moderation is being challenged by a new generation at odds with his willingness to accept Tibetan autonomy within China rather than push for full independence.

"His Holiness says it's up to the Tibetans to choose their future, and I choose complete independence, and so do most Tibetans. As we saw in the uprising last March," Gyatso said.

Gyatso is one of a new breed of Buddhist activists who are on the front lines of battles to win democratic freedom. These Buddhist warriors struggle to maintain their religious convictions of compassion and nonviolence while challenging powerful autocratic regimes.

CNN spoke to Gyatso as he and 80 other monks, who are living in exile from Tibet, were preparing to take part in an 850-mile protest march from Dharamsala, India, to the Tibetan frontier. Their march was timed to coincide with the run-up to the Olympics, to bring maximum exposure to their demands for Tibetan independence from China. See behind-the-scenes photos Read full article »

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