Over the course of the next seventeen months, I traveled to Dharamsala whenever the Dalai Lama had time to see me. He is monk and has spent his life studying Buddhism, not history.
"Actually, I am not very interested in history," the Dalai Lama told me initially, "mainly because I don't know too much. When I was young, my teachers did not make any special effort to teach me about Tibetan history. I was trained as any ordinary monk at the time; my curriculum was devoted to Buddhist philosophy. As a boy, I learned about history from paintings and people talking, from world events. But it was not a subject I studied. After the Chinese invasion, after I left Tibet in 1959, I grew more interested in history. But I want to make it clear I am not a historian. In some cases I don't even know the details."
He laughs at the absurdity of the situation. The Dalai Lama's laughter is infectious, one of the first things I learned from working with him. It rumbles up from deep in his belly, beginning as a low note that shakes his whole body. By the time it reaches his face-and he takes off his glasses to wipe the tears away—high-pitched laughter, mine included, fills the room.
When we are both composed again, he continues.
"My teachers did not spend the time to teach me about history. But if someone asks my interpretation, than of course I have my own opinion. Sometimes I think my opinion could be sharper than others'." The frustration that crossed my face at his apparent contradiction amused him and he laughed again.
It was impossible not to join in, but even as I did so, I began to realize there would be obstacles to overcome in trying to bridge the gap between his beliefs as a Tibetan monk and my own beliefs as a Western journalist. He is, after all, a monk first.
The Dalai Lama spends four or five hours every day doing Buddhist meditation. One of the ideals—he would say practical attitudes—he cultivates through meditation is lack of attachment.Thus he is not easily angered or startled in most situations, and he does not blame others or outside events for his own reactions, as most of us would do.