rightThe Dalai Lama currently resides in Dharamsala, India. He lives in a modest yellow, low-roofed bungalow, known as The Heavenly Abode, set in a beautiful garden. He spends much of his time there in his meditation room, which contains some statues of Buddha, books and scroll paintings but otherwise is plain and spartan.The home of the Dalai Lama is part of a compound with a yellow temple and a concrete monastery for 200 monks. It is now surrounded by high walls, iron gates and armed Indian soldiers. In 1997, three of the Dalai Lama's closest religious associates were murdered in a room 100 yards away from his home.

The Dalai Lama turned 85 in 2020. He said at that time long plane flights were a strain and he did much of communications by video conference. He said his daily life was changed under the coronavirus lockdown and, as a Buddhist, the "mind is more important than physical" aspects of life, anyway. He He walks with a side-to-side gait, stooped forward, Abe Rosenthal of the New York Times said, "like a middle linebacker.”

Not all Westeners revere him Christopher Hitchens has charged the Dalai Lama with being a “hereditary king appointed by heaven itself” and enforcing “one-man rule” among Tibetan exiles. Because his English is sloppy and highly accented and he often breaks out into long bouts of laughing and giggling, he sometimes gives the impression, Pico Iyer, wrote, that he is “not the brightest bulb in the room.”

Websites and Sources: Official Dalai Lama site dalailama.com ; Early Dalai Lamas minnesota.publicradio.org ; Dharamsala (Home of Dalai Lama ) site mcllo.com ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Dalai Lama Quotes brainyquote.com ; Dalai Lama Foundation dalailamafoundation.org ; Nobel Prize Biography /nobelprize.org ; Tibet: Central Tibetan Administration (Tibetan government in Exile) www.tibet.com ; Chinese Government Tibet website eng.tibet.cn/; Wikipedia article on Tibet Wikipedia ; Wikipedia article on Tibetan History Wikipedia ; Tibetan News site phayul.com ; Books on the Dalai Lama: “The Open Road: The Global Journey of the Fourteenth Dalai Lama” by Pico Iyer (Knopf, 2008); “Kundun” by May Craig. The Dalai Lama’s autobiography is called “Freedom in Exile”. Film: “Unwinking Gaze”, a film about the Dalai Lama by Joshua Dugdale. Books by the Dalai Lama “Ethics for the New Millennium” by the Dalai Lama; “Freedom in Exile” by the Dalai Lama; “The Universe in a Single Atom” by the Dalai Lama; “The Wisdom of Forgiveness” by the Dalai Lama and Victor Chan; Book: “The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World” by Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu and Douglas Abrams (Avery, 2016]

Dalai Lama's Character and Personality

The Dalai Lama has been described as “impish, self-deprecating and an infectious giggler” and “an unorthodox exemplar with an insatiable scientific curiosity” who “is prone to choose science...when science contradict faith.” He comes across as a very cheerful, affable person. Chip Brown wrote on Smithsonian magazine: “I was struck by how happy he seemed. And it was not the witless cheer of a Pollyanna with no grasp of man’s cruelty. It seemed rather the happiness of someone who reveres life despite sound reason not to — a man whose philosophy has not left him to despair.”

People close to the Dalai Lama him say he never gets angry, "Part of his charisma is that he is genuinely gentle and humble. He really seems like a man in whom ego has been shrunk. People feel humbled when they meet him." The Dalai Lama's laugh has been described as his most effective weapon. Isabel Hilton wrote in the New Yorker, "It is certainly an agreeable laugh. His shoulders heave, his head goes back, and he rocks in his chair until it passes. It is a great full stop of a laugh, putting an end to further pursuit of a line of inquiry and deflecting impertinence and hostility." One monk said, the Dalai Lama uses his laugh “when he doesn't want to say anything.” John Peacock, a scholar of Tibetan Buddhism, told the Independent, "He speaks very differently to Tibetans and to Westerners. With his own people he behaves more like the previous Dalai Lama: he is more serious and more directive about what they should do. With Westerners he is altogether a more genial figure." He is famous for being on time.

Filmmaker Joshua Dugdale, who made a film about the Dalai Lama, wrote in the Times of London, his “quietly, joyous charisma...is irresistible, ubiquitous and extended equally towards all guests irrespective of rank or standing. The intensity of his eye contact when he speaks to you is unnerving...When he talks he makes you feel like the only person in the room....And then there’s his sense of humor. His laugh...proved infectious wherever he went...Certainly he uses this humor to deflect unwanted questioning, occasionally hiding disappointment and frustration. But I came to believe that it was heartfelt, undermining an optimism about human nature and a complete conviction in his approach.”

Writer Deepak Chopra wrote in Time magazine: To me, the most mystical thing about him is also the most ordinary: the Dalai Lama is happy. He's happy in the midst of chaos and turmoil. The most inspiring thing he ever told me was to ignore all organized faiths and keep to the road of higher consciousness. "Without relying on religion, we look to common sense, common experience and the findings of science for understanding," he said. I do the same thing, but I still marvel at this model of calm and compassion. [Source: Deepak Chopra, Time magazine, May 12, 2008]

Dalai Lama’s Social Spirituality

leftEvan Osnos wrote in The New Yorker: “High Tibetan lamas traditionally carry themselves as remote, commanding figures. The Dalai Lama, by contrast, usually runs late, because he has a Clintonian appetite for handshakes. "We were in this hotel in downtown L.A., and they're trying to get him from point A to point B," Ronny Novick, who has frequently filmed the Dalai Lama, told me. "And, all of a sudden, boom! He breaks off and goes into the gift shop, where they're selling chewing gum and 'I Love L.A.' Teddy bears, just to say hello to the shopgirls." [Source: Evan Osnos, The New Yorker, October 4, 2010]

“For someone so involved in diplomacy, the Dalai Lama is willfully unconcerned with status. He tugs the beards of sombre religious clerics and holds hands with heads of state. He cuts short meetings with dignitaries whom he finds overly self-impressed. (When he settles deep into his chair, aides warn, he has lost interest.) Oprah once asked him if the whole world should meditate, and he replied cheerfully that it was a "stupid question." He then answered it in detail.”

“He tires of what he calls the "old courtesies," and one of the first changes he made after leaving Tibet was to declare, despite the protests of his retinue, that his visitors should henceforth be given a chair of equal height. Unlike many Buddhists, he eats meat, because, he says, his health suffered during a spell as a vegetarian. (Paul McCartney later wrote to him, urging him to reconsider. "It just doesn't seem right — the Dalai Lama, on the one hand, saying, 'Hey, guys, don't harm sentient beings. . . . Oh, and by the way, I'm having a steak,' " he told the Guardian.)”

“To get those around him to relax, he has honed a sense of "radical informality." He giggles, makes jokes about digestion, cleans his glasses with a handkerchief, and, if the meeting follows lunch, marches off to the washroom with a toothbrush and an admonition about oral hygiene. Spalding Gray, the late writer and performer, once asked him in an interview how he deals with distractions like "women in bikini bathing suits." The Dalai Lama, who has been bound by a vow of celibacy since childhood, responded, "Sometimes in my dreams, there are women. And, in some cases, fighting or quarreling with someone. When such dreams happen, immediately I remember, 'I am monk.' "

“He tends to make a deep impact on those he meets not only because of his spiritual stature but also because he is unusually interested in what they say. "It's quite disarming, because he'll say, 'Well, what do you think I should do?' " Robert Barnett told me, adding, "I've always wondered whether he would ask the same question if I were a nutcase, because as far as one can tell he listens patiently to them, too."

“The Dalai Lama's effect on others has drawn the attention of scientists. The psychologist Paul Ekman, a professor emeritus at the University of California at San Francisco, and a pioneer in the study of emotion, had long regarded Buddhism as "another crazy cult that was attracting people in the Bay Area." Then, ten years ago, he met the Dalai Lama at a conference and experienced what he calls "a sensation I've never had before or since." The best way to describe it, he told me recently, was "when you get a CT scan and they inject you with a radioactive fluid that makes your whole body tingle." Ekman, who went on to co-author a book with the Dalai Lama, titled "Emotional Awareness," said, "It is a concept you can find described all the way back in history: there were people whom others wanted to be around because it just felt good to be in their presence. They were usually spiritual leaders of one kind or another, and that's what he is. From my vantage point, it's a mutation."”

Dalai Lama’s Views

“The Dalai Lama came under attack in 1998 when he publicly announced that Dorje Shugden practices should no longer be performed by any sect of Tibetan Buddhism. Shugden has been regarded as a protector spirit of the Geluk sect, to which the Dalai Lama himself belongs. However, after studying ancient texts and consulting the state oracle, the Dalai Lama is convinced that Shugden is a hungry spirit and therefore incorrect to worship and regard as a protector for the Buddhist. Due to the Dalai Lama's opposing view, he is accused by some Buddhists for being a religious censor. Since the Tibetan culture and religion is thought to be near extinction, the Dalai Lama attempted to set a level of commonality between all sects of Buddhism. The great controversy that resulted from this attempted act of unification, may have also been the cause for the deaths of three monks in the Dalai Lama's inner circle. See Dorje Shugden, Sects Tibetan Buddhism.

In 2020, the Dalai Lama said he was "uncomfortable" with Donald Trump’s view of putting "America first." "Now, in America, there's quite, I'll say, narrow-minded thinking," he said. "Black people, white people — we are same...human, brother, sisters," adding says treating people differently because of their race, or their faith or nationality, is "old thinking."

The Dalai Lama once said, “We are the superior species on Earth but also the biggest troublemakers.” He has made his share of errors. He endorsed the founder of Aum Shinrikyo, the cult that carried out the sarin gas attacks in Tokyo’s subways. He said this error offered proof that he was not a “living Buddha.”

On sex, the Dalai Lama said: “Every human being cannot be monk. And if human being becomes celibate, then humanity will cease, so better to have more reproduction.” He regards abortion as a sin and is against "violence to all sentient beings.” He has criticized the use of contraception and spoken out against euthanasia. He has also said that homosexuality conflicts with the teachings of Buddhism but has spoken out in favor of gay rights. He opposes oral and anal sex (“the other holes don’t create life”). He also opposes sexual freedom and divorce.

He has spoken at the annual meeting for the Society of Neuroscience in Washington D.C. And spoken in human rights and globalization in Germany.

Dalai Lama's Religious and Humanist Beliefs

right On reincarnation, the Dalai Lama once said, "The answer is not simple to give, but...I have no difficulty accepting that I am spiritually connected both to the 13 previous Dalai Lamas and to Chenrezig — and the Buddha."

Describing how to be happy the Dalai Lama wrote, "Generally speaking, one begins by identifying those factors which lead to happiness and those that lead to suffering. Having done his, one then sets about gradually eliminating those factors which lead to suffering and cultivating those who lead to happiness."

The Dalai Lama wrote in the Washington Post, “I often say that while one can adhere to the principle of “one truth, one religion” at the level of one’s personal faith, we should embrace at the same time the principle of “many truths, many religions” in the context of wider society...A deep sense if caring for others, based on the profound sense of interconnection, is the essence of the teachings of all great religion. In my travels, I always consider my foremost mission to be the promotion of basic human qualities of goodness.”

Dalai Lama on Happiness and Anger

During the 2016 tour for his book “The Book of Joy,” based on a series of conversations he had with South Africa’s Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the Dalai Lama said: ““Joy, yes! Happy! Not only just on the physical level, but mentally! Peace. Compassion. That’s the real joy. Everybody seeks happiness, joyfulness, but from outside -- from money, from power, from big car, from big house. Ultimate source of happy life, even physical health, [is] inside, not outside.” “The subject is very good“If some book about sort of anger, about war, I don’t want it.” [Source: CBS News December 25, 2016]

When asked if something annoyed him, the Dalai Lama said. ““A little bit, [but] very temporary, short. Some sort of reaction. Otherwise, no ill feeling. Through training, I think last 50, 60 years training, analytical meditation.” He said it doesn’t bother him that China views him as an enemy of the state, and seeks to block him from traveling to certain countries. “My main purpose is promotion of human value, or promotion of religious harmony,” he said.

Dalai Lama and Science

The Dalai Lama has always been fascinated by technology and mechanical things. He likes to relax by repairing watches or clocks. When he was young he was able to get an old movie projector to work without manuals. He once said, “If I didn’t become a monk, I would be an engineer.”

The Dalai Lama has told his Western followers not to embrace Buddhism. He told the Indian writer Deepak Chopra to disregarded organized religions and instead “look to common sense, common experience and the findings of science for understanding” on the road to a higher consciousness.

He has said that Buddhist scriptures disproved by science should be abandoned. He often prefers to talk about “global ethics” than difficult-to-comprehend Buddhist philosophy.

The Dalai Lama likes to use the words “logical,” realistic,” “analyze,” and “explore” when he talks. He has a model of the brain of his desk that he likes to assemble and disassemble and has said the Buddha is a ‘scientist.” Though he remains intensely interested in science, he has never entered the computer age. "His Holiness finds it difficult even knowing where to press the button," his longtime private secretary Tenzin Geyche Tethong once said. His blog and other online accounts are tended by others.

The Dalai Lama is especially interested in neuroplasticity, the study of who the brain is wired. He has spoken at the Society of Neuroscience despite objection by some supporters of mixing religion and science,, At the meeting the Dalai Lama said, “If a surgery of the brain could provide the same benefits as hours of meditation daily I would do it.”

Since the mid-1980s, the Dalai Lama has met periodically with internationally recognized scholars to discuss matters like quantum physics, cosmology and consciousness. In September 2004, he was grilled by Harvard psychology professor Alan Wallace while he sat on a stage during a Massachusetts Institute of Technology symposium on the pursuit of happiness.

Describing what happened when he “affectionately rubbed” hands with the Dalai Lama, the renowned psychologist Paul Ekman said, “I was inexplicably suffused with physical warmth during those five or ten minutes — a wonderful kind of warmth throughout my body and face. It was palatable. I felt a kid of goodness I’d never before felt in my life, all the time I sat there.”

Dalai Lama's Daily Life

The Dalai Lama rises at 3:30am, according to Pico Iyer, and then performs “mediation, prostration, reciting special mantras, then more mediation and prostrations, followed by reading Tibetan philosophy or other texts, then reading and studying and in the evening, some meditation — evening meditation — for about an hour." CNN once filmed him doing his prayers. He yawned occasionally. When asked what he was doing, he replied, ‘shaping motivation for the day.” He usually takes a shower and eats a breakfast of tsampa (roasted barely porridge) mixed with butter and honey. When he's on the road, he gets up at three o’clock every morning, and mediate for four or five hours, wherever he is — a temple, a hotel room, a car.

20080227-dalai lama com repair.jpg
Fixing a clock
When he is at home in Dharmasala, in his two-story stone-and-concrete bungalow, the Dalai Lama also prays, does full-body prostrations — part ritual and part exercise — and mediates for several hours at the end of the day. He often mediates on his death and rebirth. When asked why, he told Newsweek, "Because I still need a lot self-improvement in myself. Monk is my core identity.” When visitors come he greets them on a brown sofa chair, with a mug of plain hot water before him. In Dharmasala Osnos wrote in The New Yorker: Dalai Lama remains a venerated figure, and he is surprisingly present in their daily conversation. Families in Tibet routinely contact his office with the request that he name their newborns.

The Dalai Lama tries to make time for a half-hour workout on an exercise bicycle or treadmill and look at the BBC-television evening news brought to his house on a satellite dish bought by an American friend. He follows the news closely, reading several newspapers and confessing an addiction to morning broadcasts of the BBC World Service broadcast. Before breakfast, at five-thirty, he walks outside or on a treadmill. He tunes in to the BBC, and occasionally Voice of America's Tibetan-language broadcast, before returning to meditation and readings in philosophy. After a day of work and meetings, he performs a final hour or two of meditation before bed, at 8:30 P.M.

The Dalai Lama usually wears a maroon robe with a yellow shoulder band and his trademark glasses. Even though was described by Rupert Murdoch as a "very political old monk shuffling around in Gucci shoes," the Dalai Lama usually wears Doc Martens, modest, teacher-style loafers, sneakers or flip flops under his robes. When he sits on a chair he often tucks his legs underneath him in the lotus position.

Dalai Lama’s Health

In the past decade or so, the Dalai Lama has also required hospital visits for a pinched nerve and dysentery. But otherwise is in pretty good health. “If I don’t commit suicide,” he told an Indian talk show host on his 75th birthday in 2010. “then otherwise my body is very healthy. Another ten to twenty years . . . no problem. Maybe thirty years!” If his prophesy holds, he will be a hundred and five. .

The Dalai Lama told The New Yorker: "Some Chinese — I think, ten years ago — created a rumor: 'Dalai Lama is suffering from cancer, only a few months left!' " He said that he had been having regular checkups. "According to physicians, my body is very good. But it seems the Chinese know more about my condition!" He erupted in laughter. [Source: Evan Osnos, The New Yorker, October 4, 2010]

The Dalai Lama turned 74 in 2009. In 2002, he was hospitalized and had to cancel a trip to the United States and took a three month break to recover from a bowel infection.

in August 2008, the Dalai Lama was admitted to a hospital in Mumbai, complaining of abdominal discomfort. Doctors said his health was good and that all he needed was some rest. In October, he had surgery in Delhi to have a gallstone removed. A spokesman at the hospital where the procedure was performed said it was a ‘simple routine procedure.”

Afterwards the Dalai Lama canceled some foreign trips, citing exhaustion after a grueling schedule to drum up support for the Tibetan cause before the Beijing Olympics. Questions were raised about the Dalai Lama’s health and retirement, The Dalai Lama began describing himself as semi-retired but also said that he had no plans to retire. He said, “There is no point, or question of retirement. It is my moral responsibility till my death to work for the Tibetan cause.

Dalai Lama’s 75th Birthday Party

Evan Osnos wrote in The New Yorker,” The Dalai Lama's birthday party, an event he has never much cared for, was set to begin at 9 A.M. on July 6th, in the Indian Himalayan town of Dharamsala, where he lives. He skips the party most years, but he had promised to attend his seventy-fifth, so five thousand people turned up at the temple that morning, in a humid downpour, to await his arrival.” [Source: Evan Osnos, The New Yorker, October 4, 2010]

“A few minutes after nine,” Osnos wrote, “A band with drums and bagpipes marched into the temple courtyard, playing the Tibetan national anthem, which is illegal in Tibet. After the band came a throng of monks in maroon-and-saffron robes, and at its center was the Dalai Lama, ambling up the path from his office...At the stage, he pivoted to face the audience with a look of wide-eyed astonishment, an expression that he applies to many things. He sat down beneath a banner inscribed in his honor: “The sun in the sky, the jewel of the world, the light of our hearts, may you live a long life.”"

“The festivities that followed seemed to owe less to temple rituals than to those of a Midwestern ice-cream social. The Dalai Lama took in some school-dance-troupe performances, greeted members of the local Lions Club, and handed out public-service prizes. Then came some of the supremely odd moments that one has come to expect in the company of the Dalai Lama: A smiling Indian man approached the stage and unrolled a gift, a large portrait of the birthday boy, which the artist had painted in his own blood. Later, the Dalai Lama accepted a present from an eight-year-old Indian girl who is regarded as a prophet. She once predicted that he would fall ill, and he subsequently contracted a gallbladder infection. (Recently, she prophesied that Tibet would be an independent country by 2016.)”

Dalai Lama's Activities

The Dalai Lama spends several months out of the year on the road, mainly giving lectures on Buddhism but also speak about what he calls the suffering of the Tibetan people under Chinese rule. A typical visit involves some unofficial meetings with politicians in the country he visits, the dedication of a Buddhist temple, visits to several cities and a six-day teaching cycle.

The Dalai Lama travels the world to raise support for the Tibetan cause. He participates in meetings with religious leaders, presides over ceremonies for Tibetan Buddhists living abroad, appears at mass rallies, lectures businessman on "Ethics and the Bottom Line," attends fund raisers with Hollywood celebrities, and gives lectures on Buddhism ethics and religious practices. When he speaks at public gathering he usually speaks in Tibetan, which is translated into English by his translator, but occasionally breaks into English himself.

The Dalai Lama has a busy schedule. During one day of a visit to Melbourne he had 17 appointments, beginning with a meting at 7:50am with a rabbi and ending with lecture before 20,000 on "Inner Peace, World Peace." On a trip to Jerusalem in 1999, the Dali Lama donned a skull cap at the Western Wall and posed for photographs with black-robed priests at the tomb of Jesus and toured Islam’s third holiest site. In recent years the Dalai Lama has spoken out on a number of environmental issues. He has told Tibetans to stop wearing fur to protect endangered animals and called on all humans to do something and greenhouse gases and climate change.

The Dalai Lama has written three dozen books, including his autobiography, The Art of Happiness, written with psychiatrist Howard Cutler (Riverhead, 1998), and Ethics for the New Millennium (Riverhead, 1999). The Art of Happiness was on the New York Times best seller list for more than 40 week. Ethics for the New Millennium was also a New York Times best seller.

The Dalai Lama has traditionally relied heavily on the "state oracle," a deity called Nechung, who communicates through a human medium, usually a monk.” According to the Dalai Lama's description in his memoir, the medium slips into a trance "with bulging eyes and swollen cheeks. . . . His breathing begins to shorten and he starts to hiss violently." The Dalai Lama poses questions, and the oracle responds with enigmatic advice. [Source: Evan Osnos, The New Yorker, October 4, 2010]

Murder Near the Dalai Lama's Home

On February 4, 1997, three of the Dalai Lama's closest religious associates were murdered in their monk chambers about 100 yards from the Dalai Lama's home. One of the murdered men was 70-year-old Lobsany Gyatso, the Dalai Lama's close friend and confidant. [Source: Tony Clifton, Newsweek, April 28, 1997]

Each victim had been stabbed 15 to 20 times and the attack was so violent that blood was splattered high on the walls. Police believe five to eight assailants carried out the crime, but have no clues as to why the crime was committed. Cash and gilded Buddhas at the scene were not touched. A dispute over religion seems like the most likely motive.

Police believe that one reason why Lobsang Gyatos was singled out was because he was one of the Dalai Lama's main intermediaries with the Red Hat sect. Since the murder the Dalai Lama has beefed up security around his home and increased the number of bodyguards that accompany him when he travels.

The main suspects are the Shugdens, a faction of the Yellow Hat sect that worshiped a fierce Tibetan deity called Dorje Shugden. Five suspects connected the sect in New Delhi were questioned about the murder but no one was arrested.

An Indian superintendent told Time in September 1998: "The link is clearly established between the murderers and the Dorje Shugden. The killing was religiously motivated.” American Buddhist scholar Robert Thurman told Newsweek: "I think there's no doubt that Shugden was behind the killings. The three were stabbed repeatedly and cut up in a way that was like an exorcism."

Shugdens as a Religious Cult, See Sects, Tibetan Religion.

Dalai Lama Marks 87th Birthday in 2022 by Opening the Dalai Museum

In July 2022, the Dalai Lama marked his 87th birthday by inaugurating a library and museum in Dharmsala. Associated Press reported: He was cheered by a large number of followers, including American actor Richard Gere, a longtime disciple. Hundreds of schoolchildren, monks and local residents prayed for the Dalai Lama's health and life at Tsuglakhang Temple near his residence. [Source: Ashwini Bhatia, Associated Press, July 6, 2022]

The Dalai Lama Library and Museum contain artifacts, his teachings, and books on his life and struggle for Tibetan autonomy and protection of its native Buddhist culture. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke to the Dalai Lama by phone and wished him well on his birthday.

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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