In case you haven’t heard, His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama is
coming to Maui. He will be speaking April 24 and April 25 at the War
Memorial Stadium. Originally, he was scheduled to speak at the Maui
Arts and Cultural Center, but public response was so great that
organizers had to book a bigger venue.
This response isn’t necessarily surprising to me—I mean, it’s Maui
and we enjoy a certain level of “enlightenment”—spiritual, but not
Anyway, the real problem I had with all this hubbub about the Dalai
Lama is that it made me feel secretly stupid. See, I don’t really know
a damn thing about the Dalai Lama except that he has a buzz cut, wears
a lot of robes and is kind of adorable.
I figured I must have missed something severely important in my
World Religion class while I was busy making out behind the
weight-room, because obviously (according to ticket sales, at least)
everyone and her fifth grader knows all about the Dalai Lama.
Sometimes it’s fabulous to be wrong.
“Oh, yeah! The Dalai Lama is cool,” said my brother, who has a
degree in philosophy. “I’ve seen him speak before on Maui. He’s really
Actually, this is the Dalai Lama’s first visit here. But my brother
isn’t alone: when I asked a bunch of people about their thoughts on the
Dalai Lama, I discovered that the majority are either really confused
about him, have mistaken him for someone else or would rather die than
risk sounding stupid on the record by answering the question.
For instance, a good friend of mine instant-messaged me his
thoughts: “[W]ell he likes to golf… he is verrrrrry funny, always
telling us jokes when we are having prayer… im not a tibetan monk ya
And then there is my husband… When I asked him about the Dalai
Lama he was like, “Is that just one guy or is it like the Pope? You
know how lots of different people become the Pope?”
He graduated from Kamehameha School, by the way.
Maybe I just surround myself with dummies. Then again, it made me
feel a hell of a lot better to find out that I wasn’t the only one with
a less than average understanding of who the Dalai Lama is and what
makes him so special.
That’s the problem. The Dalai Lama is special. You can’t argue that
point. It would be a real shame if we all just sat here and pretend to
be all knowledgeable and subsequently miss out on a potentially really
cool experience because of a little pride.
Okay, that was a little dramatic. So without further ado, here is
everything you need to know about the Dalai Lama so that you can go and
see him speak and actually feel good about it.
The Dalai Lama is a Buddhist from Tibet. He has been living in exile
in India since 1959. There have been 13 other Dalai Lama’s before him.
Each is believed to be incarnations of the other. Therefore it’s like
the same guy in a different body in a different time. The Dalai Lama is
believed to be the human incarnation of Avalokiteshvara—“The Lord who
looks down”—or the Buddha of Compassion.
The proper way to address and refer to the Dalai Lama is “His
Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama.” If you check out any books that he’s
written, you’ll see “HH” as part of the author name. That means “His
Holiness,” which I think is kind of endearing.
His name is Tenzin Gyatso, but he was born Lhamo Thondup on July 6,
1935 in a small farming community in Taktser, Amdo in northeastern
Tibet. That makes him a Cancer born in the Year of the Boar.
At the age of two, it was decided that he was the incarnation of the
13th Dalai Lama who had passed away a few years before. Basically what
happened is that the Tibetan government formed a search party to find
the new incarnation of the Dalai Lama and several strange things
First of all, while the 13th Dalai Lama was lying in state, his head
turned from facing south to northeast. The government took this as a
sign that maybe they should start looking there. Then a senior lama had
a vision that led them to the door of young Lhamo Thondup’s family.
They were farmers. His mother gave birth to 16 children—seven of which
The search team brought in a bunch of earthly possessions that had
belonged to the late 13th Dalai Lama and set them down with other
objects in front of the young Lhamo Thondup. He was about two at the
time, but he apparently then picked up the stuff that had belonged to
the 13th Dalai Lama and said, “It’s mine! It’s mine.”
The Dalai Lama speaks English, as well as many other languages.
“I’ve been a practicing Buddhist since I was 13,” Wailuku attorney
Lance Collins told me. “In 2006 I was in India for a Lalachakra
initiation with the Dalai Lama. He speaks English, but if he is talking
about something very technical, according to the level of discussion he
will do it in Tibetan and have a translator relay the message to the
We’ve all seen the “Free Tibet” bumper stickers. Yeah, this is Dalai Lama stuff. But what does it mean?
“Tibet was an independent country and then the Chinese army entered
Tibet in 1950,” Collins said. “For seven years, the Dalai Lama tried to
work with them toward a peaceful solution, but it didn’t work. The
Chinese were very oppressive. In 1959 Tibet officially ‘fell’ when the
Dalai Lama and about 100,000 other people left for India. He left Tibet
because his life was in serious danger.”
In 1950, the Dalai Lama assumed full political power as Head of
State and Government of Tibet. In 1963, while already in exile, he made
a draft constitution for a future Tibet that is very democratic in
nature. It states that the political power the Dalai Lama holds can be
taken away by a two-thirds majority vote by members of the Assembly.
HH has referred to himself as “a simple Buddhist Monk” and has been
quoted on his website as saying, “Regarding Politics, I have no modern
education except for a little experience… It is a big job for someone
not so well equipped…I feel that the institution of the Dalai Lama
has served its purpose… Half jokingly and half seriously I say that I
am now in semiretirement.”
Semiretired or not, according to Collins, China is still out to get
HH. “There is a group of people—religious zealots—who are sponsored by
the Chinese government that tend to start making threats toward the
Dalai Lama before major international appearances.”
On April 6 of this year, the Gulf Daily News
reported that, “Tibetan officials in exile in India have stepped up
security for the Dalai Lama following media reports that he faced
threats from Islamist militants, police said yesterday. The Tibetan
government-in-exile based in the north Indian hill station of
Dharamsala, where the Dalai Lama lives, had increased the number of
guards at his palace while police had raised alert levels around the
Where the threats are originating from is unclear, but the bottom
line is that the Dalai Lama is still a very watched political leader.
So much so, in fact, that the Chinese have undermined the Dalai Lama
by kidnapping a leader he appointed and replacing him with one of their
own. Called the Panchen Lama, he’s the second-highest-ranking lama
after the Dalai Lama in the Gelugpa sect of Tibetan Buddhism.
“When a lama dies, the other lama’s will find him,” Collins said.
“There’s a specific way that the Tibetans have to doing this. When the
Panchen Lama died, the current Dalai Lama was part of the group that
found and recognized his reincarnation. Then, the new Panchen Lama was
kidnapped by the Chinese government. It’s been about 10 years and he’s
never been located. The Chinese then appointed their own Panchen Lama,
but he has not been recognized by most of the Tibetan people as the
Lama Dhondup Gyaltsen, the head of the Tashi Pendy Society in
windward Maui agreed. “The Panchen Lama appointed by the Chinese is
only posing,” he said. “The Tibetans outside [of Tibet] have never
believed, but the people inside do not have a choice but to recognize
him as a political leader, but we never believe that he is the true
HH has written about 70 books. Many are geared toward an American audience and have hit bestseller status. The Art of Happiness is extremely popular. “I have read all of his books that have been printed in English,” Collins said. “My favorite is probably The Wisdom of Forgiveness.”
The Dalai Lama is a man on a mission. Seriously. He works 17-hour
days. He’s said he spends “80 percent of my time on spiritual
activities and 20 percent on Tibet as a whole.”
According to HH’s official website (you better believe that he has
one), he explains his commitments: “Firstly, on the level of a human
being, my first commitment is the promotion of human values such as
compassion, forgiveness, tolerance, contentment and self-discipline.
All human beings are the same. We all want happiness and do not want
suffering… Secondly, on the level of a religious practitioner, my
second commitment is the promotion of religious harmony and
understanding amongst different religious traditions. Despite
philosophical differences, all major world religions have the same
potential to create better human beings… My third commitment is to
the Tibetan issue. I have a responsibility to act as the free
spokesperson of the Tibetans in their struggle for justice. As far as
this third commitment, it will cease to exist once a mutually
beneficial solution is reached between the Tibetans and Chinese.
However, my first two commitments I will carry on till my last breath.”
Over the course of his life, HH has received nearly 90 awards from
various nations. While they’re all prestigious, it would bore your
socks off if I listed all of them. The most notable are: The Nobel
Peace Prize in 1989; The Distinguished Peace Leadership Award in 1991
from the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation; the International Valiant for
Freedom Award in 1993 from The Freedom Coalition in Melbourne
Australia; the World Security Annual Peace Award, on in 1994 from the
New York Lawyer’s Alliance; the Man of the Year award in 2002 from the
Croatian Academic Society; the Human Rights award in 2003 from the
International League for Human Rights.
Of all the Dalai Lamas, HH the 14th is the second oldest to date.
Turns out many Dalai Lamas—physically, at least—don’t live very long.
In fact, the 9th Dalai Lama died at the age of nine, and four others
never saw their 30th birthday. According to my math, the average
lifespan of a Dalai Lama is 42 years.
As a child, HH the Dalai Lama insisted his teeth were in a box. When
the box was located it was found to contain the old dentures of the
13th Dalai Lama.
HH the Dalai Lama had a brother who was recognized as the incarnation of another high lama.
According to Barry Wurst, a former Mauian and film professor in
Colorado, “The Dalai Lama became a visible personality in Hollywood
during the late 1990’s, befriending Richard Gere, Harrison Ford and,
most importantly, Ford’s then-wife, Melissa Matheson (who wrote the
screenplay to E.T.). She wrote a script detailing the tumultuous life
of His Holiness, called Kundun, which became a hot project for Disney. Not to be outdone, Sony greenlit the much-hyped Seven Years in Tibet
and both films were released within months of each other in Fall 1997
and were expensive flops (it should be noted that the Martin
Scorsese-directed Kundun is extraordinary, while the Brad Pitt-starring Seven Years is extraordinarily boring).”
When HH the Dalai Lama is “at home” in India he often uses a treadmill and listens to the BBC World News in English.
Contrary to popular belief, he is not a strict vegetarian.
He never eats dinner.
HIS MAUI VISIT
Rinchen, from the Maui Dharma Center in Paia, says that the Dalai
Lama will be on Maui for less than 48 hours: “His flight details are
confidential, but from here he will be speaking in San Francisco on the
Most of the details of HH the Dalai Lama’s Maui visit are
confidential. What is clear is that he will not be staying at the Maui
He will bless the stupa that is being built in Paia the morning of
Apr. 24 in a private ceremony. Motorists should expect delays as
Baldwin Ave. will be closed for an undisclosed amount of time. Details
of the road closure were not available at press time.
After blessing the stupa, HH the Dalai Lama will hold a free public
talk on “The Human Approach to World Peace” at the War Memorial
Stadium. Rinchen encourages people to arrive when the gates open at 10
a.m. even though the speech doesn’t begin for another four hours.
“We’re expecting a lot of people,” Rinchen said. “There will be food
and drink, and although it’s a long wait the atmosphere should be very
On Apr. 25, HH the Dalai Lama will discuss, “Eight Verses for
Training the Mind: A Buddhist Philosophical Discourse” at the War
Memorial Stadium. The cost for this event is $20.
So now after reading this I hope you no longer feel like a complete
idiot (like I did) when people start talking about the Dalai Lama. In
fact, next time someone asks you about the Dalai Lama you can give him
a knowing smile and chew their ear off until they scream.
No need to thank me. And Happy Enlightenment. MTW