Sunday, March 11, 2018

My Meeting with the Dalai Lama

Dharamsala, in the northern Indian Himalayas, is the home of the Tibetan government-in-exile. Word has it that if you stick around Dharamsala long enough, you're bound to see the Dalai Lama. Sure enough, within 48 hours of arriving in Dharamsala, I saw the Dalai Lama.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
(Photo: Screenshot from Interaction with Foreigners in Dharamsala video.)

I don't recall when I first learned of the Dalai Lama. Nor do I recall the origin of my fascination with the Tibetan people. I do know that the first thing I did when I moved to Washington in 2006 was attend the Tibetan Festival at the Seattle Center. And I do know that the first sketch I drew in My New Drawing Book in 2014 was of a Tibetan woman holding a photograph of the Dalai Lama.

My drawing of the Dalai Lama.

So, you ask, how was it that I came to see the Dalai Lama?

My first morning in India, I was having breakfast at the Peace Cafe with a fellow traveler I had met on the plane ride from Delhi. The cafe proprietor informed us that the Dalai Lama would be meeting with foreigners the following day. If we were interested in attending, we needed to register with our passports at the branch security office. My new friend and I exchanged glances. With big smiles on our faces we said: "Score!" Immediately after breakfast, we registered for the event.

Notices of the public audience for foreigners
were posted all over Dharamsala.

At 8:30am the next morning, the foreigners visiting Dharamsala lined up outside the Main Tibetan Temple. We were asked not to bring bags or electronic devices to the meeting, including mobile phones and cameras. For more than an hour, we stood in line waiting to go through security. After walking through a security detector, each of us was then given a pat-down.

As the Dalai Lama wanted photographs with us, once we were all inside the large presentation hall, we were instructed to organize ourselves in groups around the room. For countries with a large representation, such as the United States, we stood as one country. For countries with smaller representation, such as those in Africa, attendees grouped themselves as a continent.

There were foreigners in attendance representing all walks of life. Listening to the many different tongues being spoken was like listening to the most gorgeous of hymns. There was an incredible energy in the room. There was so much anticipation from so many compassionate followers. Many attendees had been waiting their entire lives to meet the Dalai Lama.

The United States contingent.

Once we were organized, the Dalai Lama entered the room. He was surrounded by a large group of people -- guards, officials, and other monks. In a sea of crimson, gold, and shaved heads, the Dalai Lama was easy-to-spot; his beaming face is one of the most recognized in the world.

The Dalai Lama opened the meeting with a brief introduction. He explained that his primary commitment is to promote a sense of oneness in the world. All seven billion people who reside on this planet are the same -- mentally, emotionally, physically -- and we all have the right to achieve a happy life. Nearly 83 years old, the Dalai Lama explained that it is getting more difficult to travel long distances. He decided to hold the meeting with foreigners as he feels it is his duty to say hello to those who have travelled from afar.

In reference to the photos he had just taken with all the foreigners, the Dalai Lama added another reason for the visit. "I want to show my smile," he said, as he broke into a cheesy smirk, accompanied by an equally cheesy laugh. He wanted to "advertise his teeth."

After the introduction, the Dalai Lama opened the floor for questions. What is your hope for the future of mankind? What advice can you give about inner development? How can I maintain spiritual integrity while being competitive? How can I prepare my children for the suffering of the world? Are secular ethics sufficient? What is wisdom?

The Dalai Lama shares his wisdom.
(Photo: Screenshot from Interaction with Foreigners in Dharamsala video.)

The core of the Dalai Lama's answers are as follows:

Conflicts must be resolved through dialogue.

Dialogue is the key to resolution; violence does nothing but promote more violence.

This wisdom was particularly meaningful as I reflected on my visit last fall to Catalonia, where dialogue is a critical missing element in the struggle for independence. (See A Stormy Situation in Barcelona.)

Education should include hygiene of both the physical body and emotional body. 

The Dalai Lama emphasized the importance of learning about emotions and how to use our minds to analyze emotions. We should consider questions such as: What use does anger serve? The Dalai Lama joked, "Those people who have a lot of anger should go to heaven or hell -- sooner the better." We become slaves to our negative emotions, and so we need happiness to bring inner peace. In order to see reality objectively, we must also learn how to be emotionally neutral. Anger, and even compassion, can be a hindrance to seeing reality.

Real potential is in the mind -- not in the senses.

The Dalai Lama said that western psychology looks like kindergarten compared to ancient Indian psychology. We rely too much on sensory experiences and the pleasures derived from those experiences. We should strive, instead, for experiences at the mental level and use analytical meditation to create happy and peaceful lives.

We should base our decisions on science.

The Dalai Lama, who considers himself to be half Buddhist-monk and half scientist, emphasized the importance of making decisions based on reasoning and science rather than religion. He said that many problems in the world are caused by fear-based faith, factions, and an us-versus-them mentality.

Though the Dalai Lama spoke of deeply profound topics, he had a heartfelt way of lightening the conversation with humor. At one point in the meeting, an Australian man asked a question. The man was wearing a stocking cap that covered his ears. The Dalai Lama asked the man to show his ears. "You. Wonderful ear. You should not hide." At another point, a woman from Cyprus asked a question. The Dalai Lama commented that she had a big nose. He then asked her to touch her nose against his, just as the Maorians do when they greet one another.

I'm grateful the meeting was videotaped by the Dalai Lama's staff, as I had a few "little nothings" to contend with during the presentation. For one, there were some crazy-loud birds arguing outside the temple. For two, there was a woman in front of me who was translating for the monk sitting aside her. These interferences, coupled with the Dalai Lama's occasional broken English, sometimes made it difficult to process what the Dalai Lama was saying in the live presentation. It was hard to get upset about the birds or the ongoing translations. What use does being upset serve?

Little nothings at the meeting.
(Photo: Screenshot at 1:40:38 of the Interaction with Foreigners in Dharamsala video.)

If there's one thing this world could desperately use right now, it is for the Dalai Lama to be the fully-recognized leader of Planet Earth. The Dalai Lama is wickedly brilliant -- both emotionally and intellectually (he broke into a side topic about quantum physics and how nothing exists objectively without the presence of the observer). The Dalai Lama is compassionate -- he recognizes the value in everyone and everything. He recognizes the gravity of global warming and its impact on the future of humankind. The environment has no nationalities or boundaries, he believes, and so we have to think about the well-being of the whole world.

His Holiness has characteristics that are sorely missing from many political and religious leaders around the world. Most leaders are concerned about the well-being of their respective nations; His Holiness is concerned about the well-being of the world.

One of the women who asked a question was from Mexico. The Dalai Lama said "American government try to build wall." He stuck out his tongue and dismissively waved his hand. Call me silly, but the Dalai Lama is the true stable genius.

If you have the time and interest, you won't regret watching the Dalai Lama's meeting with foreigners below:


  1. What an amazing opportunity. It brings me joy to know you had this experience. Thank you for sharing, my friend.

    1. You are most welcome. And thank YOU for reading my post. You would have LOVED to have been there, Erich.

  2. Oh wow! I felt honored to be at Seahawk stadium with him speaking! This is amazing! He truly is a wonder and makes each and every person feel like he is speaking to him or her alone!

    So glad you got to see him!

    1. A number of the attendees commented that this was a rather intimate meeting for the Dalai Lama. I totally agree -- it felt as though he spoke directly to me. His charisma is incredible.

  3. Thank you for sharing this, Sarah. What a special opportunity for you!


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