'The first thing the Dalai Lama thinks about is your welfare'
I rang my wife and said, "I'm not coming home: the Dalai Lama has
asked me to travel with him." That was when this book really took off.
We went round Europe and, for the first time, to Northern Ireland. I was the
only one in the entourage not from his inner circle.
When I first visited the Dalai Lama, I was struck by this quiet
Tibetan culture transported from the Himalayas: 80,000 people had
followed him into exile. Everyone seemed so smiling and gentle. I must have
seemed strange with my long hair, goatee moustache, and black ensemble from
That was more than 30 years ago. I had been travelling in
Afghanistan with two friends when we were kidnapped. One of the girls was on
her way to India with a letter of introduction to visit the Dalai Lama. After
we were released, I joined her on her pilgrimage.
The whole experience gave me the travel bug. But this was
diametrically opposed to the culture in which I was brought up. I was brought
up in Hong Kong, and had been schooled to go into a proper profession. I was on
a fast track to becoming a doctor.
Instead, I wrote a book about Tibet. I crossed the country
11 times in four years; it is roughly the size of Western Europe. There are no
roads to some of those sacred places. I got invited into people's homes, and I
was struck by how many people had pictures of the Dalai Lama. People seemed
devoted to him.
I presented my work to the Dalai Lama and suggested we worked on a
book together. He agreed without hesitation, but it didn't start well.
I felt he was getting bored with me. I spent time with him
in his home with two people translating into English and Chinese for me. But I
did not want his words filtered through translation, and I became quite
depressed about the project, until he suggested I travelled with him.
When he met up with Desmond Tutu in Oslo in 2001 they were like two
giggling schoolboys. It was the centennial celebrations for the Nobel
Peace Prize, with more than 30 living laureates. They all stopped to watch
these two because of the infectious energy they generated.
The Dalai Lama has always been very sympathetic to Christianity,
ever since he met Thomas Merton in 1968. They had a number of
discussions and worked to promote interreligious harmony. Last year I invited
both Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama for a dialogue in Vancouver,
where I live.
The Dalai Lama has meditated for 100,000 hours. He was
trained from a toddler and has transformed his mind. The first thing he thinks
about is your welfare - to him this is the most important thing, not politics
or interfaith dialogue.
As a joke, he is sometimes called the "Teflon Lama", because nothing
sticks. He has no ulterior motive. I find this rather depressing, as
it is a model I cannot aspire to.
I think by the time his 80th birthday comes, the Dalai Lama
may be back in Lhasa.
I love all Carl Hiaassen's books. He is very clever and
very funny. I have never found it easy to write, and still wake up in cold
sweats about my books. When I started to write I went on a course.
I met my wife immediately after the Berlin Wall came down.
It was her first time in Western Europe, and she was travelling around for five
days. We have two children, and two years ago we all spent six months visiting
the Dalai Lama.
President Vaclav Havel, the first President of the Czech Republic,
is someone who has greatly inspired me. I met him while he was in
power. He was utterly unassuming, very low-key, and his main concern was for
the well-being of his people.
I went to an Anglican school, and have fond memories of the morning
assemblies. But I was very rebellious when I was younger, and anything
I learnt in Sunday school I consciously eradicated from the hard drive of my
brain. My father was a Mormon and a freemason. When I went to college, I became
interested in the ideas of non-attachment enlightenment.
Happiness is something I find very elusive. There are
certain degrees of passion that can wear off, but I am probably happiest when I
am with my wife. When I am with the Dalai Lama, I am rather conscious of the
enormous gap between us.
I got very angry recently when a car cut me up. I started
to get out of the door, but my wife stopped me. That sort of action is very
The island where I live outside Vancouver is stunning. I
love the sea and mountains, but, having been brought up in Hong Kong, I do miss
the city and skyscrapers.
Victor Chan was talking to Rachel Harden. The Wisdom of Forgiveness
by the Dalai Lama and Victor Chan is published by Hodder & Stoughton.