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The Wisdom of Forgiveness

by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Victor Chan



The following is an Excerpt from :
The Wisdom of Forgiveness

The most intimate conversation yet with the world’s most famous holy man


Telepathy in the Prague Castle
I noticed her in the crowd right away. She had pushed herself to the front, just behind the velvet restraining rope in the small banquet hall of the Prague Castle. She was an attractive woman, perhaps in her thirties, with short blonde hair and a purple scarf around her neck. Her face was animated with anticipation.

It was October 2000 and President Vaclav Havel had invited the Dalai Lama and many of the world’s leading thinkers to Prague for a symposium on education and spiritual values. To satisfy numerous requests for interviews, the Tibetan leader had scheduled a press conference. He had just answered a question from a Taiwanese journalist. There were half a dozen of them, and they all wanted to know what the Dalai Lama thought about China and Taiwan.

The blond woman took over the portable mike. She leaned forward, two heavy cameras dangling in front of her.

“We are living in the Internet age and you know so many meditation techniques. I’m sure you’re very familiar with telepatee…”

“Tela?” The Dalai Lama couldn’t understand the word; he looked puzzled. “Telepatee.” She repeated.

“Telepathy.” He finally got it.

“Yes…Give your thought to another person?” The woman stared intently at the Dalai Lama, her face solemn. From her accent, I guessed that she was either Czech or German.

“Me?” The Dalai Lama roared in his booming baritone, the word resounding in the large ornate room. The ninety or so journalists and camera operators burst into laughter. “No. Zero.” He was most emphatic. “I have no such power. But I hope that I have such power. Then, even before you ask the question…if I know the question, then it won’t cause me any trouble.” He couldn’t restrain himself. He threw his head back and laughed long and hard, his expressive face contorted with mirth. One Czech reporter wiped tears of laughter from her eyes. Everyone in the room was starting to enjoy the press conference.

The woman looked down at the floor for a moment. She was clearly disappointed by the Dalai Lama’s answer. But she was determined not to be deterred by the commotion. She pressed on: “My question is: Will you use email occasionally or do you still use telepatee?” She was obviously convinced that telepathy is part of the Dalai Lama’s arsenal of esoteric skills.

The Dalai Lama turned to Tenzin Geyche Tethong, his Private Secretary, for help. They spoke briefly in Tibetan. The woman’s face was flushed as she waited.

“Although His Holiness personally does not use the email, all the Tibetan offices are already on the Internet,” Tenzin Geyche explained in an even tone. The Dalai Lama added something in Tibetan.

Tenzin Geyche continued: “As far as the computer is concerned, His Holiness finds it difficult even knowing where to press the button.” In spite of himself—the Private Secretary usually kept his emotions under tight wraps in these public situations—he allowed himself a smile.

The Dalai Lama elaborated: “My fingers…” He put his hand up close to his face and stared at the splayed fingers. “Quite well, I think, quite suitable to use screwdriver.” Now he made like a carpenter’s tool with his right hand. The clicking of cameras went into high gear.

“Doing little something here and there…” The Dalai Lama continued as he peered raptly at his pirouetting fingers. “That at least I’m able. But for computer…” He clumsily punched the table a few times with his forefinger. “Hopeless.”

As the press conference ended, journalists crowded around to shake the Dalai Lama’s hand. The European woman was among them. He walked up to her, thrust his face inches from hers, and poked a finger firmly in her forehead. She shrieked. Her right hand shot out in a flash and grabbed his hand. The two of them laughed uproariously, without inhibition.

These days, in the eyes of the world, the Dalai Lama has become an international icon. The fact that he is the leader of the Tibetan people, that he is the most recognizable symbol of Buddhism, is of less importance to the public. In the West, he comes across as part ascetic superstar and part cuddly panda bear. When he came to New York in 2003, he gave a 4-day teaching to sell-out crowds at the Beacon Theater. The glittering marquee over the entrance proclaimed: On stage: The Dalai Lama. Coming soon : Twisted Sister and Hot Tuna.

The day after the teachings, the Dalai Lama gave a talk at Central Park. Under a brilliant sky, the East Meadow was blanketed with loyal fans, spiritual seekers, and the simply curious. An enormous stage, bracketed by two gigantic Videotrons, was erected for the occasion. Those who couldn’t find space in the grassy fields had to peek through dense foliage from beyond the tree-line. All told, 100,000 came for the event of the season. It was a mini-Woodstock choreographed by actor Richard Gere. Only Bill Graham and the Pope have drawn more people in Central Park.

The Dalai Lama was in good form that day. Standing just a few feet behind him, I could sense he was energized by the large crowd. As usual, he was self-deprecating, his humor gentle and his laugh hearty. Speaking without notes, he told his listeners, “Some of you come with certain expectations of Dalai Lama. The Nobel Peace laureate give some kind of exciting information or something special. Nothing! I have nothing to offer, just some blah, blah, blah.”

But then he went on to reiterate a favorite theme: “We have to make every effort to promote human affection. While we oppose violence or war, we must show there is another way—a non-violent way. Now look at humanity as a whole. Today’s reality: whole world almost like one body. One thing happens some distant place, the repercussions reach your own place. Destruction of your neighbor as enemy is essentially destruction of yourself. Our future depends on global well-being.”

Within a few minutes, he had the crowd’s undivided attention.

A Tibetan photographer, obviously in awe of the Dalai Lama, whispered into my ears, “He doesn’t need to read from the teleprompter. He is a living example of his wisdom—wisdom totally relevant to today’s world.”

I was curious if the Dalai Lama ever wondered why he is such a people magnet. In one of my interviews with him I said to him, “I’d like to ask you a silly question.” The Tibetan leader was sitting cross-legged, as usual, in his corner armchair in the audience room inside his residential compound in Dharamsala, India. “Why are you so popular? What makes you irresistible to so many people?”

The Dalai Lama sat very still, mulling the question over. He didn’t brush my question aside with a joke, as I thought he might.

He was thoughtful as he replied. “I don’t think myself have especially good qualities. Oh, maybe some small things. I have positive mind. Sometimes, of course, I get a little irritated. But in my heart, I never blame, never think bad things against anyone. I also try to consider others more. I believe others more important than me. Maybe people like me for my good heart.

“Now, I think at the beginning, they have curiosity. Then perhaps…usually when I met someone for the first time, that someone not stranger to me. I always have impression: he another human being. Nothing special. Me too, same.”

He rubbed his cheeks with his fingers and continued, “Under this skin, same nature, same kinds of desires and emotions. I usually try to give happy feeling to the other person. Eventually many people talking something positive about me. Then more people came, just follow reputation—that also possible.”

The Dalai Lama has his own inimitable way with the English language. I had trouble understanding him when I first sat down to work on the book with him; he could be frustratingly cryptic at times. Eventually I got used to his manner of speaking and am now thoroughly entranced by its charm and directness.

“Sometimes when people come into contact with you,” I said, “even without hearing you speak, just by watching you, they get emotional. Why?”

“I notice sometime, one singer or one actor,” the Dalai Lama replied. “When they appear, some people almost like crying, jumping and crying. Similar.” He bopped up and down on his chair and flapped his arms a few times.
“You’re like a rock star,” I said.

“Yes,” the Dalai Lama said matter-of-factly. “But there may be other factors. We believe in other lifetimes in the past. So maybe some karmic link, something more mysterious.” He frowned and looked into the distance. I had the impression he was trying to figure out for himself this more subtle explanation of his charisma.

He unwrapped his outer shawl and rearranged it around his torso.
Finally he said: “Now, this mysterious level. For example, some people get strange dream, then that dream open new future or new life or new connections with other people.”

He pointed at me as he continued with his train of thought. “Your own case. Somehow, unexpectedly, something brought you here. That kidnap in Afghanistan. If that not happened, you may not be here. Then you may not develop all these connections with me and with the Tibetans. So all these, I’m certain they have causes and conditions. From Buddhist viewpoint: there may be karmic links in many past lives. Perhaps that’s why many people feel close to me today.”

Yes, ‘That kidnap in Afghanistan’. In 1971, after finishing college, I had bought a VW camper in Utrecht and planned to make my way overland from Holland to India. After traversing Turkey and Iran, I stopped and took a half-year break in Afghanistan—a haven then for drop-outs and would-be adventurers.

It was near the end of that sojourn that I and two young women—Cheryl from New York and Rita from Munich—were abducted in Kabul by three Afghan men. Wielding one rifle between them, they forced us into a badly-rusted car and drove us to a small village high up in the Hindu Kush. After several days of captivity, we managed to escape when their car skidded on a hairpin curve and crashed into the side of the mountain.

Soon after, Cheryl and I decided to travel together to India. The New Yorker had a letter of introduction to the Dalai Lama who lives in exile in Dharamsala. We headed directly to the picturesque Tibetan settlement. A few days after our arrival we were granted an audience. On a crisp, overcast spring day in March 1972, I met the spiritual and temporal leader of the Tibetan people for the first time.

Fate. Karma. Whatever it is called. Yes, the Dalai Lama was right. If I had not been kidnapped I certainly would not have met the Dalai Lama then. Let alone collaborate on a book and ask him questions about his charisma.

Still pondering my question about his larger-than-life personality, the Dalai Lama continued, “Also, many people like my laugh. But what kind of laugh, what kind of smile, I don’t know.”

“Many people have commented on this laughter,” I said, “this sense of play that you have. You’re close to seventy, but you still love horse-play and you don’t take yourself seriously.”

“First, Tibetan people, generally more jovial,” the Dalai Lama said, “In spite of many difficulties, they usually ready to laugh, something like that. Then my family. All our brothers, except for Gyalo Thondup [his second oldest brother], like that,” the Dalai Lama said. “Our eldest brother, Norbu, always make fun, always joke. My immediate brother, the late Lobsang Samten, very dirty jokes, great fun. And me. Then youngest brother, Tenzin Choegyal; younger sister, Jetsun Pema; also late eldest sister, all not serious. Our mother also. Our father also—short temper but very light heart.”

“In my own case, my mental state, comparatively more peaceful. In spite of difficult situation or even sometimes very tragic sort of news, my mind not much disturbed. For a short moment, some sad feelings, but never remains long. Within a few minutes or a few hours and then it goes. So I usually describe something like the ocean. On the surface waves come and go, but underneath always remain calm.”

People who come into contact with the Dalai Lama seem to sense that he is “for real”, as Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa had said to me. And without exactly knowing why, they are affected by him, drawn to his larger-than-life humanity, even from a distance.

I have little doubt the Dalai Lama’s vigorous presence has something to do with his deep well of spirituality. His legendary warmth is simply a manifestation of his spiritual attainment.

Perhaps the Dalai Lama’s vigorous presence has something to do with his deep well of spirituality. Could his legendary warmth be simply a manifestation of his spiritual attainment?

There are no easy answers.

I’ve known the Dalai Lama for over three decades. He calls me his ‘old friend.’ During the last few years I’ve been given unprecedented access to him while co-authoring this book. I’ve observed the Dalai Lama at close quarters, traveled with him as part of his entourage, and spent time with him at his home. But I find it difficult to describe, let alone pinpoint his remarkable magnetism. To try to understand his essence we have to look at his half-century-long Buddhist training and the singular way he relates to the world around him.

Much of his approach to life is fueled by a handful of fundamental but difficult-to-relate-to insights. On several occasions, he has told me something about interdependence and emptiness, two ideas that are of critical importance to him. I have listened carefully and taken notes. I must admit it was a struggle to understand these concepts. But by being his shadow, by being with him for hours on end, I came to identify some of the qualities that define him. His principles of compassion and non-violence give shape to the Dalai Lamas’s global vision. And his unrelenting pursuit of forgiveness as a solution to conflict, conditions the way he acts.

One thing I know for sure. I feel good around the Dalai Lama. I know people feel good around him. Perhaps we intuit that he walks the talk. We sense an uncommonly pure center inside him. Like a mirror reflecting light, it allows us to see and get in touch with our own humanity.

Desmond Tutu, his good friend of many years, had this to say about the Dalai Lama when they shared a stage in Vancouver, Canada in front of a crowd of 14000:

“A few years ago, I was in San Francisco when a woman rushed up to greet me very warmly. She said to me, 'Hello, Archbishop Mandela!" Sort of like getting two for the price of one.

“I’m quite certain that no one is likely to make that mistake about His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

“Isn't it extraordinary, in a culture that worships success, that it isn't the aggressively successful, the abrasive, the macho who are the ones that we admire. We might envy their bank balances, but we do not admire them.

“Who are the people we admire? Well, there are many things you might say of a Mother Teresa, but macho is not one of them. All of us revere her for having been such a spendthrift on behalf of derelicts. We admire her because she is good. We admire people such as a Nelson Mandela for being an icon of magnanimity, of forgiveness, of reconciliation.

“And we revere the Dalai Lama. He is about the only one, one of the very, very, very, very few, who can fill Central Park in New York with adoring devotees.

“But why? Why? Because he is good, he is good, he is good. I have met very few other persons as holy as His Holiness. I have met very, very few who have his serenity, his deep pool of serenity.

“And his sense of fun. He laughs easily; he is almost like a schoolboy with his mischievousness. Fun, fun, bubbling, bubbling joy.

“And that's odd. That's odd for someone who has been in exile for 45 years. By rights, he should be filled with resentment, with anger, with bitterness. And the last thing he should be wanting is to extend compassion and love to those who have treated him and his people so abominably. But he does. He does.

“And aren't we all proud to be human? The Dalai Lama makes us feel good about being human. About being alive at a time when someone like him is around.” 



Intimate Conversations and Journeys   

By The Dalai Lama and Victor Chan
Riverhead Books



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