Hangin' with His Holiness
The Palm Beach Post[Thursday, September 23, 2004 02:11]
By Paul Lomartire

The Dalai Lama is speaking, but you can't hear the words.

"No problem," as His Holiness is fond of saying. The 14th reincarnation of Buddha is used to his guests freezing up, whether it's Pierce Brosnan, Muhammad Ali or a nobody. He melts that panic by meeting your eyes and giving you a soul-stirring smile and a little giggle.

It's Monday. His Holiness is halfway through his five-day South Florida visit, and he's sitting comfortably in a straight-backed chair, his bare feet folded under him. The sun shimmers into his 19th floor, $5,000-a-night Presidential Suite at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel.

At 8:30 a.m. the Tibet leader-in-exile has been up for five hours and has moved through his daily pre-dawn meditation and his usual breakfast of oatmeal, toast and tea with hot milk. He has agreed to start the public portion of his day with a visit from Victor Chan.

Chan flew to Miami from his home near Vancouver, B.C., to deliver an autographed copy of his book about the Dalai Lama, The Wisdom of Forgiveness: Intimate Conversations and Journeys. Chan spent weeks in the past five years hangin' with His Holiness. He was given unprecedented access to the Dalai Lama on tours and at in northern India, where Tibet's leader-in-exile has lived since 1959 when China invaded his country.

Chan, who teaches Tibet studies at the University of British Columbia, looks great in a dark suit and red tie. No one would know that this trip is sending him into debt. After the $600 airfare, he took up residence at a Miami Beach hostel, $20 a night, to sleep on bunk beds breathing the stink of strangers in a room where the lights stay on all night.

But it's a small price to pay for Chan, who is obsessed with having the Dalai Lama answer one simple question: Does he like the book?

For Chan, it's all about trust. His Holiness let him into his life, and Chan takes readers behind the curtain, revealing details of the Dalai Lama's life that no one knew. He hates to exercise, for example, and the only TV he watches is animal programs.

Chan, who is neither Tibetan nor a Buddhist, hands the Dalai Lama a copy of the book.

"A peaceful sleep," says His Holiness, staring at the photo of himself. "I don't know if I am asleep or meditating."

The Dalai Lama is listed as Chan's co-author, just as he is on Howard Cutler's series of books that include The Art of Happiness, which has sold 1.3 million copies. The deal is always the same. An author pitches an idea to His Holiness. If he says yes, he'll sit for interviews. The author writes the book. Someone on the Dalai Lama's staff reads a final draft and rarely asks for any edits. The profits, if there are any, are split 50/50.

The Dalai Lama trusted Chan to write a good book, and the time is now to find out if he did.

"I read chapters," His Holiness says, before turning to his trusted secretary, Tenzin Geyche Tethong, a small man in a sharp suit, to say something in Tibetan.

Tethong, who speaks just above a whisper, says to Chan: "His Holiness says he couldn't put it down."

The relief on Chan's face shines like a death-row call from the governor minutes to midnight.

The Dalai Lama smiles. He's not a laughing, big-belly, Buddha caricature come to life. He can be playful, having delighted in this little drama he created. Letting his adoring public see all of his life will continue, he adds. He is allowing Swiss photographer Manuel Bauer to shoot a behind-the-scenes photo book of his life.

His Holiness is shrewd, as you find out when he is asked why he allowed Chan so deeply into his life.

"His parents are Chinese," begins His Holiness. "He grew up in Western atmosphere, but he is Chinese. I always believe in understanding. The Chinese living in America, it is very, very important to have one single Chinese, to have close contact, and a better understanding of Tibetans. Whenever they find opportunities to meet Chinese brothers and sisters showing interest in me and Tibet, to tell them the truth. I'm very happy.

"Secondly, (Victor) came to Dharamsala several meetings, on a few occasions he showed very strong emotions, so that means he's very sincere, not artificial, not cheating.

"Heart sincerity, that's important. Not important is being poor, education, believers, nonbelievers, the president, beggars, no difference. What's important is a warm heart."

On Monday, His Holiness is well aware of a power shift in China. A former Communist Party leader assigned to Tibet, Hu Jintao, is now the undisputed president of China.

His Holiness is asked: Is that a good thing?

''Too early to say," says the Dalai Lama. "Too early to say if chance come to make provision with those in power in China."

The news bubbling under his South Florida visit is that his envoy is in Tibet talking to the Chinese, and that invitation came from Beijing.

Since 1959, when China invaded Tibet, the Dalai Lama has been a leader-in-exile. He tours to tell the world not to forget Tibet. He won a Nobel Prize with his nonviolent pressure to get the Chinese to negotiate and let him return home to rule his people.

And the more he tours, the more books are written and the more arenas are filled.

His five-day visit to South Florida is run like a Rolling Stones or Bruce Springsteen tour. His staff of 12 includes three martial-arts-expert bodyguards who wear backstage passes that read "ENTOURAGE." At each of his World Peace Through Inner Peace appearances, tour T-shirts cost $20. After Miami, His Holiness hits Puerto Rico, Costa Rica, Guatemala and Mexico before going home to northern India.

"Mindfulness. I have to examine myself, my motivation," he says. "These are important. Some say the Dalai Lama is very nice, some say not so nice. I think some even say evil. OK. Doesn't matter.

"I'm just a human being," he says. "No problem. Whatever some people say, the truth is truth. I am just a simple Buddhist monk. In the meantime, there are some Tibetans, some believers, who consider me as a living Buddha. That's also an exaggeration. Still, I'm just a Buddhist monk.

"Therefore, at the time I received the Nobel prize, I described myself as a simple Buddhist monk. No more, no less."

A simple Buddhist monk wouldn't have three U.S. State Department special agents posted outside his door with others patrolling the 19th floor or have Miami cops working the hotel lobby with bomb-sniffing German shepherds or have Richard Gere stopping at the concierge for directions.

When trusted secretary Tethong looks at his watch, Chan knows the sign. He

rises to say goodbye as His Holiness reaches for a book, opens the cover and begins writing in Tibetan.

"To My Friend, Victor Chan, The friend who has known me for a long time. May he live a long life and be of benefit to others. Dalai Lama."

With a smile, bow, and hug, His Holiness gets up to leave for another full arena. Another day in exile