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Life and times of Dalai Lama
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution[Saturday, October 13, 2007 11:39]

Life and times of Dalai Lama: Typical day, hobbies and more

Emory prepares to welcome him next week


He is a Nobel Peace Prize winner, is respected internationally for his policies of nonviolence and regularly meets with political and religious leaders. Next Wednesday, the Dalai Lama will receive the Congressional Gold Medal before coming to Atlanta Oct. 20-22 to be installed as Emory University's Presidential Distinguished Professor.

With help from Emory lecturer Geshe Lobsang Negi, chair of the Emory-Tibet Partnership, and Jeffrey Hopkins, who has interpreted for and written books with the Dalai Lama, here's a backgrounder.

• Who is the Dalai Lama?

The Dalai Lama pays a visit to Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., earlier this week. (Photo by Kevin Rivoli/AP)
The Dalai Lama pays a visit to Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., earlier this week. (Photo by Kevin Rivoli/AP)
Tibetan Buddhism recognizes the Dalai Lama — which means "Ocean of Wisdom" — as the spiritual and political leader of Tibet. The office dates back to the 15th century. Dalai Lamas are believed to be manifestations of Chenrezig, the Buddha of Compassion and patron saint of Tibet. In 1959, after a failed uprising against Chinese rule, the Dalai Lama fled Tibet to India to escape and set up a government-in-exile. He has not returned to Tibet since.

• How did he become the Dalai Lama?

The Dalai Lama was born Lhamo Thondup in 1935 to a farming family in Taktser, a small town in the northeast of Tibet. After the 13th Dalai Lama died in 1933, a search began for his reincarnation. Signs and dreams led a search party to Taktser and ultimately the Dalai Lama's house. According to the story, the Dalai Lama, barely 3 years old, recognized the search party leader. He later identified and claimed items belonging to the 13th Dalai Lama as his. He was soon acknowledged as the incarnation and began his education.

• What's a typical day like for the Dalai Lama?

When home, he rises at 3:30 a.m. for prayer and meditation, followed by a walk. (Unless it's raining, in which case he uses a treadmill.) Breakfast is at 5:30, then more meditation and prayer. From 9 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., he studies Buddhist texts, then has lunch, his last meal of the day. In the afternoon, he schedules meetings, audiences and interviews. He retires for the evening at 6 and has more meditation and prayer. He is in bed by 8:30. His schedule varies, obviously, when he travels.

• What does the Dalai Lama do for leisure

"His Holiness has often [said] how he loves doing gardening," said Geshe Lobsang Negi, an Emory University lecturer and chair of the Emory-Tibet Partnership. "He has a very beautiful garden and all kinds of flowers." Negi and Jeffrey Hopkins, who has interpreted for and written books with the Tibetan leader, also said that the Dalai Lama is a tinkerer and enjoys trying to fix watches. He also reads for pleasure and listens to the BBC.

• Why has he been in exile?

China has ruled Tibet since 1950, claiming that it was liberating the region. Human rights groups say that China has persecuted Tibet's culture and people. The exiled government claims that China has destroyed thousands of monasteries and that at least 1 million Tibetans have died as a result of the occupation. The Dalai Lama has said he is willing for Tibet to remain a part of China if it is granted autonomy. However, China has labeled him a "separatist" and protested his being awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, which will take place in Washington next Wednesday.

• What does the Dalai Lama do?

He has three principal commitments, according to Negi, as a human being, a Buddhist monk and a Tibetan. First, he teaches values such as love, kindness and forgiveness. As a monk, he promotes harmony and mutual respect among the world's religions. As the Tibetan leader, he has long sought an autonomous relationship with China. "He is someone who, through his teaching, through his talks, writings, interactions with people, he makes it very clear that what is important is not what religion we follow or not, but rather the basic human values that are so crucial for the survival of our humanity," Negi said.

• What is it like to be around him?

Hopkins said the Dalai Lama has a self-deprecating sense of humor and called him, among other things, warmhearted, kind and modest. "He's often asked if he's really a god-king, and he says, 'No, I'm a simple monk,' " Hopkins said. Negi said he has never seen him upset. "There's not a shred of pretension or negativity," Negi said. "There's so much joy there and that openness and that great sense of humor."

• How much does he travel?

The Dalai Lama logs many miles for speaking engagements and conferences and to meet dignitaries. He traveled 174 days last year, according to his Web site. Most of his trips were around India, but he visited 16 countries in 2006. From now until the end of October, his schedule calls for him to be in New York; Washington; Atlanta; Bloomington, Ind.; West Lafayette, Ind.; Ottawa; and Toronto.

• Why Emory?

It's a long story. In short, Negi and Robert "Bobby" Paul, then an Emory professor and now a dean, struck up a friendship when the two met in Atlanta in 1990. That led to the Dalai Lama asking Negi to establish a Buddhist institute in Atlanta, Emory establishing a study-abroad program in India and, in 1998, a formal agreement between the Dalai Lama and Emory.

• Will he teach at Emory?

Not really. The school hopes the Dalai Lama will visit annually to give lectures. Emory has a study-abroad program in Dharamsala, India, where the Dalai Lama's exiled government is based. Emory students and faculty receive teaching sessions from him there and are invited to attend his lessons to Tibetan monks and nuns.
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