‘Dalai Lama Lite’ (2003)

Written by Rob Hogendoorn

1 minute

In 2003, author Patrick French of Tibet, Tibet: A Personal History of a Lost Land (2004) published the op-ed ‘Dalai Lama Lite’ in the New York Times. The full article can be read here. About the Dalai Lama’s pronouncements on homesexuality and sexual misconduct, French said:

“But the risk of the Dalai Lama’s ever growing celebrity is that it distorts what he really represents, namely an ancient cultural tradition that is not always appealing to the Western world. In short, the Dalai Lama—or a simplified version of him—has been appropriated by the American people over the last decade. A chain e-mail message recently circulated with his “millennium mantra,” offering advice such as ‘Approach love and cooking with reckless abandon’ and ‘Once a year, go someplace you’ve never been before.’ This e-mail message was in fact a hoax, but it nevertheless was widely circulated. During his United States tour in 2000, after being briefly mistaken for a Muslim by Larry King on CNN, the Dalai Lama had to endure being introduced to a crowd in Los Angeles by Sharon Stone. Barefoot and draped in a feather boa, she described him as ‘the hardest working man in spirituality’ and as ‘Mr. Please, Please, Please Let Me Back Into China!’ That he came from Tibet was momentarily lost.

The Dalai Lama has become whoever we want him to be, a cuddly projection of our hopes and dreams. This enthusiasm, though, has not translated into any tangible political benefit for Tibetans. He has been seen on advertisements for Apple computers and SalesForce.com software; significantly, he was not paid for either of these uses of his image. Some of the books that purport to be written by the Dalai Lama are scarcely by him at all, but have his face on the cover to increase sales.

In reality, Tibetan Buddhism is not a values-free system oriented around smiles and a warm heart. It is a religion with tough ethical underpinnings that sometimes get lost in translation. For example, the Dalai Lama explicitly condemns homosexuality, as well as all oral and anal sex. His stand is close to that of Pope John Paul II, something his Western followers find embarrassing and prefer to ignore. His American publisher even asked him to remove the injunctions against homosexuality from his book, ‘Ethics for the New Millennium,’ for fear they would offend American readers, and the Dalai Lama acquiesced.” (links added.)

About the author

Rob Hogendoorn

Investigative reporter and academic researcher Rob Hogendoorn (b. 1964) began researching the reception of Buddhism in Western society and culture in the early 1990s. His modus operandi remained the same ever since: independent, inquisitive and provocative.