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The Dalai Lama


Last month, during February blogging madness, I mentioned that I had interviewed the Dalai Lama a few years ago. (Above photo was taken in 2007 in Toronto by my former colleague Adrian Wyld of The Canadian Press.)

Fellow blogger Annie (Churches in Venice) http://www.slowtrav.com/blog/annienc/suggested that I write a bit about the experience. And it was quite an experience! The Tibetan religious leader spent more than a half hour speaking with me, and I have to confess, I was pretty awe-struck. At that point, in April 2004, I had been a journalist for more than 15 years, including about five years as a national affairs reporter in the Canadian capital. Yet I was still quite intimidated by the Dalai Lama!

He is often in the news. In fact, earlier this week, at a ceremony in India to mark the 50th year of his exile from Tibet, an emotional Dalai Lama complained that China was oppressing his people and deliberately misrepresenting his dream of Tibetan autonomy.

When I met the Dalai Lama, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989, he was visibly tired by the time we sat down. At times, we needed a translator as certain English words eluded him. Yet, he remained charming, with a quick sense of humour and a delightful giggle. That is an aspect of his personality that is often mentioned in describing the Dalai Lama -- he is a perennial optimist, he loves to laugh and make small jokes.

He exuded a remarkable air of peace and compassion. At the end of our interview, he presented me with prayer shawl, much to my amazement.

We talked a great deal about human rights and his work for peaceful change. Because I needed to file a news story immediately after, I decided to focus on his opinions concerning Canada's peaceful experience with very serious, heated referendums on the country's future. Twice, people in Canada's francophone province of Quebec have voted to stay in Canada, rather than separate.

These votes have been held without violence, but that hasn't always been the case in other parts of the world.

"Canada's maturity in democracy was really displayed when there was a Quebec referendum...there were not shots, no arrests,'' the Dalai Lama said.

The strain of the Dalai Lama's life in exile shows, as does his age (he is now in his mid-70s). China sent its troops into Tibet in 1951 and the Dalai Lama fled his homeland several years later, in 1959. Since then, he has lived in exile, traveling the world to promote peaceful, patient change and greater attention from the world to human rights and religious tolerance.

It was quite a happening when the Dalai Lama visited Ottawa in spring 20004 (the time of my interview with him) particularly after then-Prime Minister Paul Martin decided that he would be Canada's first prime minister to officially meet Tibet's religious leader.

It was a politically difficult choice, in that national leaders across the world have faced enormous pressure over the years from Beijing to snub the Dalai Lama. However, as more leaders have stood up to Beijing, others have followed suit.

Canada's current Prime Minister Stephen Harper met with the Dalai Lama in 2007, in federal government offices. That marked another first for Canada, as the former PM Martin met with the Dalai Lama off Parliament Hill, in the private home of a Canadian archbishop. Harper's meeting came after former U.S. President George W. Bush and German Chancellor Angela Merkel also met with Dalai Lama in official venues.

Beijing objects to foreign leaders meeting with the Dalai Lama, because they accuse him of fighting for independence for Tibet from Chinese rule. The Chinese government fears that meetings with senior political leaders around the globe give the Dalai Lama and his cause greater legitimacy.

However, the Dalai Lama insists he only wants greater autonomy for Tibet under Chinese rule, and not independence.

Comments (14)

Great post Sandra, thanks for sharing your very special encounter.

Sandra, thank you so much for this post! What an amazing experience. I admire him so much. I don't really understand why China is so afraid of him - it's a bit bizarre. I read an interview with him one time that said that he now sees the invasion as a blessing, because before, Tibet was very isolated and him being forced to go on the road has brought their beliefs and teachings to the rest of the world. What a great outlook!

And how wonderful that he gave you a prayer shawl! Thanks again, I really enjoyed reading this.


Hey Sandra,

Thank you for writing this. I've always had a soft spot for the Dalai Lama and I remember that visit so clearly. It's not my beat, but I went to his news conference, which lasted for almost an hour. That laugh of his is so infectious; I have a smile on my face even as I type this. I hung around near the elevator after the newser, when most people had left, like a star- struck teenager. He saw me, came up and shook my hand. I walked on air the rest of the day.

We really have to catch up soon - it's been a while.


Hi Candi, thanks for stopping by!

Annie, I really admire the Dalai Lama as well. Beijing is a bit of puzzle in terms of why they fear and hate him. I guess that with such an enormous population to try to keep under tight control, too much free speech threatens to unravel the fabric of their tight net.

It is impressive how the Dalai Lama can try to be positive about almost anything, even invasion!

Nirmala, I missed his newser but was the pool reporter when he and Martin met at the archibishop's house. Which was also interesting. The newser sounded like it was actually fun (especially compared with the usual suspects!)

I can just see you, hanging around the elevator at the NPT -- and I'll bet you weren't alone.

I'd love to get together soon -- definitely before the next FAD!

Yes, the "tight net" makes sense.

It's very cool that his laugh made such an impression on both you and Nim - so many spiritual leaders are way too serious.

Forgot to ask, what do you do with the prayer shawl? Do you wear it?

Kathy (Trekcapri):

Hi Sandra, great post! What an amazing experience to have interviewed him! And how very special that he presented you with a prayer shawl! I found it really cool that he has a good sense of humor.

Thank you very much for writing this!

Thanks for sharing this very special experience! How cool to get to meet someone so special.


Annie, I have the prayer shawl tucked away in a safe place. But I should actually find some way to display it, it has so much significance to me!

I think what China is doing to Tibet is truly horrible and there seems no way to stop them from completely taking it over.

Thanks, Kathy -- he really is a fascinating person with such a great sense of humour!

Hope you have a great weekend.

Thanks Chiocciola -- it really was an honour to meet him.


About 10 years ago the Smithsonian featured Tibet in the annual Folklife Festival. My cousin from CA was in town, and she went to the Festival one day. Crowds gathered at one point, more than usual. Then a limo drove in slowly, and out popped the Dalai Lama, greeting people, smiling, and shaking hands, one of them my cousin's. Even though I wasn't there, it's such a fantastic memory!

What an honor and amazing experience to meet the Dalai Lama. Had I met him, I'd be walking on air for much of my life.

I'd love to see a photo of the prayer shawl. I’m sure it is a most treasured memento.


Hi Vicky! What a wonderful memory for you and your cousin. He seems to draw a lot of energy and enthusiasm from meeting people (I, on the other hand, would probably find that horribly exhausting!)

Maria, it is a wonderful memory. I must find some way to properly display the shawl, and then I can take a photo and post it.

It must have been so amazing to spend half an hour talking to the Dalai Lama. I would also love to see a photo of the prayer shawl.

There was a show about Tibet on the Travel Channel this weekend, and I watched some of it (missed the beginning). But it said that the melting glaciers and rivers of Tibet provide water for over 300 million Chinese, which explains some of why China is so intent on hanging onto it. The show was interesting - I hope they'll rerun it so I can watch the whole thing.


Hi Girasoli! I'm definitely going to take some photos and do a prayer-shawl update.

Annie, that must have been such an interesting program. I've always thought Tibet looks so beautiful. You raise an excellent point -- its vast water resources would be important to China. I think Tibet also boasts some mineral riches and is a strategic buffer between China and other states such as India.

I believe China also considers Tibet to historically be part of its empire, and nationalism is very important there.

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