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Watching TV

There are a number of Dalai Lama jokes and puns in circulation. There's a fast food restaurant in Hong Kong called the Deli Lama. In the from Caddyshack a golf course groundskeeper played by Bill Murray said he once caddied for the Dalai Lama and said he was a “a big hitter” who gave “total consciousness..on your deathbed.” as a tip. Once at a press conference, Stuttering John" Melendez, a side kick of radio shock-jock Howard Stern, asked the Dalai Lama "What it was like to wake up one day and realize that you were God?" The Dalai Lama reportedly leaned forward into the microphone, stunned. Melendez then asked, "Do people ever say to you, 'Hello Dalai?"

“10 Questions for the Dalai Lama”, a film by Rick Ray, was described by the New York Times as an “anything-but-tedious film” that “expertly merges the mystical and mundane” and “presents a warm and well-rounded portrait of his subjects, Buddhist philosophies and the painful circumstances of his exile.”

The Dalai Lama has been featured in an Apple computer advertisements as has Picasso, Alfred Hitchcock, Amemlia Erhart, John and Yoko Lennon, Gandhi and Muhammad Ali. Larry King once called the Dalai Lama a Muslim on CNN. When the Dalai Lama’s 1966 Land Rover went on sale on eBay, the auction was announced by Sharon Stone, who said, “You’ll just laugh the whole time you’re in it!” On another occasion she introduced the Dalai Lama at a fund raiser as “Mr. Please, Please, Please Let Me Back Into China!” (She meant Tibet).

In 2015, the Dalai Lama visited the Glastonbury music festival for the first time."Everyone has the right to achieve a happy life," he told hundreds gathered at the Greenfield site, some distance away from the main music stages. “He was treated to a rendition of "Happy Birthday" by the crowd in honour of his 80th year, and urged them to "think seriously about how to create a happy world, a happy 21st century — that's the best gift for me". China has criticised Glastonbury organisers for inviting the Dalai Lama to speak, saying they were offering him a platform for what it calls his "separatist activities". [Source: AFP, June 29, 2015]

Dalai Lama on Tour

The Dalai Lama does one or two big U.S. tours every year.Evan Osnos wrote in The New Yorker: “The Dalai Lama was booked for two days in front of a sellout crowd of about three thousand people” at the University of Indiana. “After Bloomington the Dalai Lama was booked at the Indianapolis arena that is home to the Pacers of the N.B.A. Signs advertised upcoming visits by the gospel singer Bill Gaither and the W.W.E. SmackDown World Tour. One of the Dalai Lama's strengths as a speaker is his ability to tailor different products for different audiences. In Bloomington, he gave a formal Buddhist teaching on "The Heart Sutra," but for the stadium crowd in Indianapolis he sat forward on a plush burgundy armchair with a tiny headset microphone protruding from under his left ear and deployed a reliable laugh line: "Some people may have the feeling that the Dalai Lama has some kind of miracle power. After 2008 October, I went through surgery. Gallbladder." Beat. "So that scientifically proves Dalai Lama has no healing power." [Source: Evan Osnos, The New Yorker, October 4, 2010]

“During the next hour and a half, he conducted a high-speed tour of his vision of the good life, rooted in his conviction that, "physically, mentally, emotionally, we are the same." He staked out the widest possible circle of agreement — praising believers of all religions as well as believers of none. He was animated and jokey, folding his hands into paws to act out the role of a kitten whose survival depends on a mother's compassion. To drive home his point that a "happy life is entirely dependent on the rest of the community," he held his wrist in the air and said, "I love my watch, but if I kiss my watch the watch has no ability to return affection." It was vintage Dalai Lama: light on eloquence, and alive with energy and common sense. The crowd was absorbed.”

Afterward, during a question-and-answer period, a woman in a yellow T-shirt and jeans asked about managing anger toward others, adding, "Like, maybe, in my instance, an ex-husband?" The Dalai Lama smiled, straightened his back, and answered by drawing a comparison between her divorce and the fate of Tibet. "We lost our own country, we lost our freedom. Everything. But then think about the situation: this is something beyond our control. No use for too much worry."

The Dalai Lam was made an honorary citizen of Rome in February 2009 and was given a small statue of the she-wolf that symbilizes Rome.

Dalai Lama Fans

Some Christians regard him as a kind of management consultant for the soul. "There's a whole group of us out there who consider ourselves Christian Buddhists," Lisa Morrison, an Indiana Christian told The New Yorker. "I believe in Jesus Christ — that he lived is not a question, it is a fact — but I have also been touched so deeply by His Holiness."

Evan Osnos wrote in The New Yorker: “His success is due in part to the West's long-standing fascination with Tibet as the "cure for an ever-ailing Western civilization, a tonic to restore its spirit," as the Buddhist-studies scholar Donald Lopez said in his book "Prisoners of Shangri-La." Many Americans were introduced to Tibet by the novelist James Hilton, who conjured up an earthly paradise in the Himalayas which he called Shangri-La, in his 1933 novel "Lost Horizon." [Source: Evan Osnos, The New Yorker, October 4, 2010]

One the woman who asked the Dalai Lama a question at a stadium appearance — a thirty-eight-year-old certified dog groomer named Erin Pattison’told The New Yorker afterwards: "what I'm doing is what I should be doing." After her divorce, she'd begun studying to become a veterinarian. "It's like what His Holiness said to me: The worst is nothing compared to losing your country. I'm blessed with what I have."

Dalai Lama and his Hollywood Friends

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Dalai Lama meditating

On visits to the United States, the Dalai Lama is often escorted by Richard Gere. Both Gere and Harrison Ford have spoken before the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee pleading for more support for the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan cause. Harrison Ford’s screenwriter former wife, Melissa Mathison, Alec Baldwin, Carmen Electra, Barbara Streisand, Todd Oldham, Oliver Stone, Sharon Stone, Willem Dafoe, Dennis Quaid, Meg Ryan, Steven Seagal, and Goldie Hawn are among the Hollywood stars that have voiced their support for the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan cause. The Dalai Lama also considered Pope John Paul II a friend.

In 1993, while presenting the award for Best Art Direction at the Oscars, Richard Gere said, “I was wondering if something miraculous and really kind of movie-like could happen here where we could all kind of send love and truth and a kind of sanity to Deng Xiaoping now in Beijing that he will take his troops and takes take the Chinese army away from Tibet and allow these people to live as free, independent people again.”

Richard Gere chairs the board of the International Campaign for Tibet and helped turn Tibet into a favored cause in Hollywood. The told The New Yorker his goals are much more modest than they once were: "We're working with every government and saying, 'You have to bring up Tibet. In every discussion, that's the minimum.' And they all say they do it." He added, "Whether it's just checked?'O.K., we spoke the word "Tibet," “or how deep are they getting into it? That's a state secret." [Source: Evan Osnos, The New Yorker, October 4, 2010]

Lady Gaga Banned from China for Meeting with the Dalai Lama

In June 2016, before the Dalai Lama was set to deliver the keynote address at the annual United States Conference of Mayors in Indianapolis, the 81-year-old Buddhist leader met with Lady Gaga. According to the Washington Post: The Dalai Lama fielded questions Lady Gaga had sourced from fans on social media. The result was a nearly 20-minute-long conversation, posted to Facebook and viewed more than 3 million times, that meandered through suicide, yoga, meditation and advice on how to face the current horrors of the world.[Source: Ben Guarino, Washington Post, June 29, 2016]

After that Gaga was banned from performing in China. The State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television now legally forbids Lady Gaga and her music from appearing on the radio or TV. Her downloadable albums will be removed from online stores. The Guardian said that Lady Gaga had been added to a “list of hostile foreign forces.” This is no insignificant threat, as the musician is arguably the most popular Western singer in China, according to the BBC. On social media, Lady Gaga was both applauded for meeting with the Dalai Lama and excoriated by Chinese fans who say she gave them up.

“It is not the first time China has censored Lady Gaga. She was subject to a three-year ban that ended in 2014, though that was because her music posed a threat to Chinese “cultural security” rather than because of meeting with political figures.

Dalai Lama's Celebrity

On the Dalai Lama’s relationship with Hollywood, Sinolgist Orville Schell told Newsweek, "Since he doesn't have embassies, and he has no political power, he has to seek other kinds. Hollywood is a kind of country of its own, and he's established a kind of embassy there." The Dalai Lama did not visit the United States until 1970. At that time he gave highly technical discourses on Buddhist philosophy which left many listeners completely baffled. There were neo celebrities connected to the Dalai Lama at this time. Except for Richard Gere the Dalai Lama only began to be embraced by western celebrities after he won the Nobel Prize in 1989. His message was simplified and secularized.

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Conducting a ritual
On the Dalai Lama’s popularity in Hollywood Evan Osnos wrote in The New Yorker: “As a cliché, it is usually invoked in service of one skeptical view or the other: either to point out how far the Tibet issue has drifted from the people and places at the center of it, or to suggest that the Dalai Lama is too eager or willing to associate with big names simply for the sake of it...Neither is quite right: the Dalai Lama has a more subtle understanding of the role of the press and power than either his fans or critics usually expect.” [Source: Evan Osnos, The New Yorker website, September 28, 2010]

“Regardless of whether you adore or resent him,” Osnos wrote. “The Dalai Lama’s sheer portability and adaptability is one of the most important facts of his life. The Chinese government blames him for courting supporters in the West, and yet, by any political calculation, he has no alternative. After centuries in which previous Dalai Lamas never set foot beyond their own kingdom, this Dalai Lama spends his life ambling from one subculture to another.”

On the appearance of the Dalai Lama at an event in Bloomington, Indiana hosted by rock star John Mellencamp and his wife, model Elaine Irwin-Mellencamp, Osnos wrote: “The Dalai Lama, as usual, was running late, and Elaine calmed the guests with an update: “As soon as His Holiness is done speaking then I think we’ll be able to hit the buffet.” When the Dalai Lama arrived, John Mellencamp, a bantam of a man with a black pompadour, picked up an acoustic guitar and welcomed him with a hoarse folky tune from his latest album... Everyone applauded, including the Dalai Lama. Then he clasped Mellencamp’s cheeks like a toddler’s, and leaned in so close that his forehead grazed the prow of Mellencamp’s hairdo. It was not at all clear how much he knew — or needed to know — about the singer before him. He was on the move, leaving deep impressions in his wake. By the time people hit the buffet, he was out the door enroute to the next gig.”

Evan Osnos wrote in The New Yorker: “The Dalai Lama's romance with the West makes him vulnerable to detractors: learned Buddhists who cringe at the sound of Scripture being boiled down to bromides; liberals who point out that although the Dalai Lama calls for full legal rights for gay men and women, he cites Buddhist doctrine, which condemns anal and oral sex, and considers it unsanctioned for Buddhists; decided atheists like Christopher Hitchens, who called the Dalai Lama's following "a Hollywood cult that almost exceeds the power of Scientology." [Source: Evan Osnos, The New Yorker, October 4, 2010]

Comedian Russell Brand Joins Dalai Lama Tour

In June 2012, the BBC reported: “Comedian Russell Brand has fulfilled his role as an unlikely compere for the Dalai Lama in Manchester, as part of the Tibetan spiritual leader's UK tour. Brand introduced the Dalai Lama's address entitled Century Of Dialogue - Stand Up and Be the Change. The Dalai Lama's tour aims to spread the 76-year-old Buddhist's teachings of peace and understanding to youngsters. Brand told the audience he had just met the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate for the first time and found him "amazing". [Source: BBC, June 16, 2012]

The crowd at Manchester Arena was mainly made up of under-25s who were given free tickets for the event. The Dalai Lama told the audience the future was in the hands of young people who could make change happen. "The 21st Century belongs to you," he said. "My generation belongs to the 20th Century, it has already gone so my generation are ready to say bye bye. "You are the main people who really create the better shape of the world so therefore I think quite certain this century can be more pleasant, more peaceful and more equal." He said vision, warm-heartedness and determination were necessary to attain those goals and that young people were more open-minded.

“Dialogue was the key to avoid violent conflicts, he said. "At the age of 16 I lost my freedom. At the age of 24 I lost my own country. During these 50 or 60 years I have faced a lot of problems but I never give up hope. Hope based on truth, hope based on reason." The Dalai Lama was asked what message he would give to the youth of Manchester following last summer's riots in the city. Demonstration and protests were sometimes warranted but never violence, the Dalai Lama said. Beard tug

During the event Brand and the Dalai Lama appeared to form an unlikely double act. At one point the Dalai Lama playfully tugged Brand's beard on stage, and the comedian responded: "Not really a lot I can do in a situation like this. I just have to go with it." Originally from Essex but now living in Los Angeles, Brand is known for his eccentric behaviour and for several controversies, including prank telephone calls he made to Andrew Sachs on BBC Radio 2, and for his marriage, and subsequent divorce, from pop singer Katy Perry

Brand described the Dalai Lama as "intense and sort of mellow, which is what you expect of someone who meditates five times a day". He then said: "Going from junkie to Shagger of the Year...three times... to now introducing the Dalai Lama. It has been an interesting journey." The Dalai Lama described Brand's introduction as "completely informal", and Brand responded: "Did you pick up any spiritual tips?" The Dalai Lama replied: "I think your openness transfers wonderfully.”

“The pair went on to talk about their contrasting sleep times, with the Dalai Lama arising early in the mid-morning, something that was not typical of Brand's lifestyle. "Day is for work, night is for sleep but you can do what makes you happy," said the Tibetan leader. "Thank you for sanctioning my lifestyle," replied the comedian. The comedian, who has been a long-term supporter of the Tibetan cause, thanked the Dalai Lama as the two-hour event drew to a close. "I have found it very inspiring and helpful," he said. "We need to look within ourselves.”

Image Sources: Dalai Lama com

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated September 2022

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