Clearing Out The Lama Notebook

The Dalai Lama speaking at Stan Sheriff Center. Nathalie Walker photo

There wasn’t enough space in our Dalai Lama cover story to include every nugget in my notebook, and then I dashed off to Japan for 10 days. So – before getting to my Japan travels in coming columns – here’s clearing a few items from the lama notebook. Most of this information is courtesy of my new friend Victor Chang, the D.L.’s friend of 40 years, co-author with him of two books, and founder of the Vancouver, B.C.-based Dalai Lama Center for Peace and Education.

* No, the Dalai Lama has never seen the movie Caddyshack, nor heard Bill Murray’s hilarious riff about caddying for the lama in the Himalayas: … big hitter, the lama, long … “He has no interest in popular culture, movies and music, and no time for it,” Victor says. Likewise for sports, “but living in India means he has had to attend a cricket match or two.”

* Whether at home in Dharmsala, India, or traveling, the Dalai Lama rises between 3 and 4 a.m. and meditates for two to three hours, “often on his own mortality.”

* Lunch is his big meal, and he usually skips dinner. “But maybe he steals a cookie or two in the evening.” And the Dalai Lama, like other Tibetans who live at high altitude, is not a vegetarian. A favorite dish, in fact, is pasta Bolognese.

* At 76, he still prostrates himself in his prayers and meditation, meaning to cast himself on the ground from a kneeling position. “It’s actually a part of his exercise, too,” Victor says. “And he walks two or three times around his complex, which is quite substantial.”

* To reach Hawaii, first the Dalai Lama flew into New Delhi, then to Japan, then to Honolulu – an arduous multi-day journey for anyone. “But he never experiences jet lag,” Victor says. “It’s mind control.”

* If you noticed the Dalai Lama occasionally scratching his head, it’s because he suffers from eczema. So at one of his public talks in Europe, when a Polish woman insisted that the Dalai Lama was capable of telepathy, he replied that he is not, because he is merely a human: “If I had such powers, don’t you think I’d cure myself?”

* How Victor came to meet the Dalai Lama is also worth telling. It was 1972, and Victor, who grew up in Hong Kong, was living in Europe when he and two friends, a man and a woman, decided to drive to Afghanistan. There, they were kidnapped, and driven up into the Hindu Kursh. Though it sounds terrifying, Victor says the setting “was actually quite beautiful, romantic even.” Thus it was that he and the young woman fell into an intimate relationship. Days later, their captors were driving them higher into the Himalayas, Victor and his friends’ fear rising with the altitude, when they crashed the car into the side of the mountain, which flipped the car. The bad guys with guns in the front seat were injured and unable to get out, but Victor and his two fellow captives were able to escape, run back down the mountain and hitch a ride to Kabul in the back of a truck. “As it turned out,”

Victor says, “(his female friend) had a letter of introduction to meet the Dalai Lama in New York City. Being Chinese, I was a little concerned, but it was never an issue for him.”

Twenty years later, now happily married to an East German woman he met in Italy during her first trip abroad after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Victor and his wife were in India attending a cultural performance of Indian song and dance. As it happens, seated directly behind him was that same woman who had introduced him to the Dalai Lama.

Small world?

Maybe, but a basic tenet of Buddhism is that there is no such thing as a coincidence.