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"I believe that to meet the challenges of our times, human beings will have to develop a greater sense of universal responsibility. It is the foundation for world peace."

Author Thomas Laird shares lessons from Dalai Lama

November 13, 2008

by Teresa Tobat, CT features reporter
Collegiate Times
November 12, 2008

By the time author Thomas Laird was 20 he had already traveled from
Europe through Turkey, Persia, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India to
Nepal six times. Starting in 1979, he lived in Nepal for 35 years and
worked as a photographer, Himalayan guide and journalist. Laird's
work has appeared in the New York Times, National Geographic and Time.

Laird has spent more than 60 hours interviewing the Dalai Lama and
compiling the Tibetan history in his 2007 novel, "The Story of Tibet:
Conversations with the Dalai Lama". He spoke Tuesday at 7 p.m. in
Torgersen 3100 and discussed some of his experience abroad with the
Collegiate Times Monday night.

Q: Do you miss Asia?

A: I miss it a lot. I'm not going back as much as I'd like to. I
lived in Kathmandu, Nepal. I had phenomena four times because of the
air pollution. I don't miss that. I miss the mountains. I miss the
remote, pristine area of the Himalayas.

Q: What was it like completing your most recent novel, "The Story of
Tibet: Conversation with the Dalai Lama"?

A: "The Story of Tibet" was a real task, and a lot of work. I think
people think of Buddhism as New Age and very sort of ... stoned, or
loose. But The Dalai Lama is very pragmatic. I loved spending a lot
of time with him ... I think it will be in print 200 years from now.
It's not because of me. It's because of (the Dalai Lama). I recorded
his ideas. I said to him "I don't think a history of Tibet has to be
so complex." He looked at me in absolute seriousness and said, "Yes,
I'll do that with you." I had agreed to do something that was valuable to him.

Q: It says on your Web site that you had to try and understand the
Dalai Lama as a Western journalist. How did you bridge the gap as a
Western journalist?

A: I have to be very careful in my conversation with him, especially
when he would use the word "connection" in speeches. He would say I
felt a strong connection with that person or with another Dalai Lama.
After five to 10 hours of conversation with him, I realized that the
word "connection" to him means more than the English word. When he
says "I have a special connection" with the fifth Dalai Lama, he
means a past life with him. You have to understand this to get the
meaning ... He doesn't point it out. He's very casual.

Q: What was spending time with the Dalai Lama like?

A: Spending time with him was just amazing. A lot of Westerners I've
met who practice Buddhism seem flaky, and very serious and not
humble. But the Dalai Lama isn't like that. He's is like the best
person you'll ever meet. He's very funny and wise. You really feel
like maybe a little bit of it might rub off on you. He gives you the
feeling that you could be a better person. He gives you hope that
human beings can be better. He gives you hope that you could do
something important.

Q: Is the Dalai Lama the most impressive person you've ever met?

A: He is the most impressive person I've met. And I've met Princess
Diana, Oliver Stone and JFK Jr. He's not a rock star or a celebrity
... when you lean in close to him you can see he's wearing a T-shirt
underneath his robes. It's a frayed T-shirt that he's washed himself
a hundred times. He wears flip flops.

Q: What do we all have to learn from Tibetan culture?

A: Tibet is the canary in the coal mine ... The Chinese communist
party has killed 70 million people, including Tibetans. Every aspirin
and every shoe is from China. Look what's happening in Sudan and
Burma ... Chinese people are wonderful.

The Chinese people are the first victims. Americans should be asking
themselves the question, "Do we want to support a dictatorship? Are
we going to sell our souls for cheap shoes?"
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