April 18, 2010

During my last visit to Haridwar and Rishkesh one person who left a deep impact on me was His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

This was not the first time that I had met the Dalai Lama. I have interacted with him many times earlier. Ever since he, along with thousands of his Tibetan countrymen, have been forced to flee Tibet and adopt India as their own country there have been many functions where we have been together. Between us there has always been bonds of affection and mutual esteem.

But the closer interaction with him that I had with him in the two days at the Kumbh enhanced my respect for him manifold. His humility, his nobility, his positivity – all are very transparent traits. At the function where the Encyclopedia of Hinduism was being released, we were on the dais together where suddenly there was a stir among the huge crowd of a kind that suggested that some celebrity had newly arrived.

And as the new arrival, Swami Ramdev ji, appeared on the podium, he was lustily cheered by the audience. Swami Chidanandji of Parmarth Niketan and the person who had initiated this stupendous task of having such an Encyclopedia prepared accosted Ramdevji and made him sit beside the Dalai Lama. And I was amazed to see the Dalai Lama first greet him as one does normally but without much ado, actually pull his beard quite vigorously.

Swami Ramdevji laughed out aloud and said to me: “That is his way, he always does it when he meets me. He is like a child. Indeed, it is Dalai Lama’s childlike simplicity that makes him so likeable.”

At the Rishkesh Ashram where I was staying there were many followers and admirers of the Tibetan Monk. One of them, a Chinese gentleman by name Victor Chan, presented to me an excellent book about the Dalai Lama titled “The Wisdom of Forgiveness: Intimate Conversations and journeys.”

Ramdevji’s reaction to the Dalai Lama’s mode of greeting him reminded me of an interesting paragraph I had read in that book. The paragraph was part of a chapter dealing with his visit to Belfast in Ireland. At this Belfast meeting attended by both Protestants and Catholics, the Dalai Lama found himself flanked by a Protestant Minister and a Catholic priest. The paragraph I was reminded about reads as follows:

“He pulled the two men close together and hugged them. Then with a mischievous glint in his eyes, he reached up and tugged their beards. The crowd was delighted. The Dalai Lama always has this thing about beards: he cannot resist playing with them.”


Victor Chan, originally from Hong Kong, now resides in Vancouver and works at the Institute of Asian Research at the University of British Columbia. In the introduction to his book he sums up his evaluation of the Dalai Lama’s popularity thus:

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, “I’d like to ask you a silly question.” The Tibetan leader was sitting cross-legged, as usual, in his corner arm-chair 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 meet someone for the first time, that someone not stranger to me. I always have impression: he another human being. Nothing special. Me too, same.”

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.”

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 horseplay and you don’t take yourself seriously.”

“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.”

“I have little doubt that 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.”


In the above passage from Victor Chan’s book, humility, laced with disarming candour, plus a lot of earnest introspection, emerge very clearly in the Dalai Lama’s responses to the author.

L.K. Advani
New Delhi

April 18, 2010

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