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.”
“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
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
“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.
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,
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
“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
“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
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.”
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
“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
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