Chatting with the Dalai Lama - Macleans.ca
 

Chatting with the Dalai Lama

Feel free to export to China, he says–but sell them on your democratic values too


 

Photograph: David Kawai

The Dalai Lama was in Ottawa to speak to 7,000 people at the Civic Centre. He did not intend to bring controversy. It follows him anyway. For days there was speculation about whether Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader would meet Prime Minister Stephen Harper. It would be their first meeting since 2006, when Harper was in the business of snubbing China’s ruling regime and gave His Holiness honorary Canadian citizenship.

Now, Harper is conspicuously in the business of cozying up to China’s rulers. He has steered clear of the ageless Buddhist cleric whose continued existence vexes Beijing. But in the end, wary of upsetting allies who used to like the old, anti-Communist Harper, the prime minister welcomed the Dalai Lama for a private “courtesy visit.”

The next morning as he prepared to address the crowd at the Civic Centre, the Dalai Lama dismissed the whole business with a trademark chuckle. “I don’t think about controversy,” he told Maclean’s. “I think some people, out of their fear or anxiety, create a sort of controversy. To me, no differences: Queen, prime minister, president, beggar, AIDS patient. No differences. So there is no basis for controversy.”

Richard Gere, the Hollywood actor and practicing Buddhist who was travelling with the Dalai Lama, had publicly complained that the meeting wasn’t public. The Dalai Lama disagreed. “No differences” between a public and private meeting, he said. “Meeting. Person to person. That’s important. Talk. I don’t like formality. Formality, no help. Chinese leaders, too much formality. Even to the point of not knowing how to breathe.” That laugh again.

He takes great pleasure in needling Beijing, when stronger emotions do not get the better of him. The International Campaign for Tibet says 34 Tibetans have set themselves on fire since 2011 to protest conditions there. He still believes he will see Tibet again. He has not been there since 1959. “Of course, situation in Tibet is very sad. Really desperate. But the new generation’s Tibetan spirit is getting stronger, stronger.”

Canada’s role? He has no patience for any notion of isolating China. “It is extremely important, close ties with Chinese government, for economy reasons. It’s mutual benefit. Canada needs Chinese market. China needs Canadian resources.” But also Canadian values. “Western nations, democratic nations, your principles — democracy, freedom, liberty — these must stand firm.”

Harper is still trying to find his way as he engages more closely with China. The political headaches are as potent as the economic payoff. On this Saturday morning, the Dalai Lama sounded like an ally, not another problem. “I think fairly speaking, whom to meet by prime minister is your business, not China’s business. Chinese control over who you can meet, that’s interference into your own affairs. After all, the Canadian government made me honorary citizen of this country. So prime minister meeting another Canadian person.”

How does he feel about his Canadian citizenship? “OK.” A shrug. “I always consider myself a citizen of the world. And then Canadian people, Canadian government decided to give special treatment to me. Happy. And also: Canadians, land of snow. We Tibetans: also land of snow.”


 

Chatting with the Dalai Lama

  1. I see the Dalai lama has you laughing too Paul. How long did that take i wonder. If only such men and women truly ran the world.

  2. I find it interesting that he said on two consecutive days, if he were to join a political party it would be the Greens. He has honorary Canadian Citizenship. Maybe Elizabeth May should have given him Honorary Advisor to the Green Party.

  3. Wells Just read your tweet about doing you bit in next issue to help choose next Lib leader – is the Dalai Lama about to quit his day job and run for Lib leadership?

      • Justin Trudeau!? I was closer than I thought. Dalai Lama, Trudeau, same difference.

  4. Mr. Wells would look good in the robe. We could quote lines from
    Kipling.

  5. His Holiness is a truly funny guy and his smile is freaking awesome! just lights you up inside.

    And he’s right about the spirit in the young generation. I have been fortunate to meet some of the Tibetan community here in Calgary and they’re very committed to the cause. Even got to tag along to see his Holiness Sakya Trinzin which was absolutely great.

  6. Wells, what the hell happened?
    You’re one swollen hog in that photo…

  7. There should be a contest amongst the public…

    Which journalist has the mug shot that is furthest from their current appearance?

    Wells just entered the top 10 or so.

    Dimanno of the Star is so far from the image readers see of her it isn’t even funny.

  8. but “…Now, Harper is conspicuously in the business of cozying up to China’s rulers….”
    Ha ha ha, yep, Harper is such a spineless puppet-knob.
    That pipeline to nowhere is going to be Harper’s demise.

  9. What a wonderful photo Paul!
    I hope you are getting this blown up, framed and hung on your wall. Years from now people will always ask what the two of you were talking about and why is the Dalai Lama shaking his finger at you, lol.