That One Time I Met The Dalai Lama

Marty Smiley recounts that one time he met the Dalai Lama.

What does one ask the Dalai Lama? 

It’s a pretty big question, right? The man is one of the people that makes the universal “ultimate dinner guest” list, next to Kurt Cobain, Jesus and Amanda Bynes. To be in his presence, for some, is enough to experience spiritual enlightenment. I was about to have my own moment in his divine light.

I met with the Dalai Lama during his recent tour of Australia to promote his ‘Beyond Religion’ conference (a show title which he admitted he didn’t choose… and didn’t like – great job PR team) and for some ungodly reason I was granted permission to ask him one question. I deliberated long and hard on what I should ask His Holiness. “Are those robes comfy?” “Does meditation ever get a bit boring?” “How are you coping without new episodes of Game of Thrones at the moment?” But finally, I settled on a question that I felt was light-hearted, but interesting enough to maybe get a chuckle out of him. Then that morning show buffoon/legend Karl Stefanovic stole it.

Alas, this forced me to reassess my position and I instead settled on asking something that was a little bit more in my ballpark – music. 

Everyone loves music! Seeing as his Tibetan monks are doing a set at Glastonbury this year and the Red Hot Chili Peppers recently performed specially for him I figured he’d surely have something deep and meaningful to say on the language that speaks when words fail.

So when it came to my time, I raised the mic and meekly asked, “What music have you listened to before?” AND ‘What were you like as a young person?’ (Boom – asked two questions.) However, before he answered, he started laughing at me. Perhaps it was my accent, my Carl Weathers tribute t-shirt or simply the sight of my face, I don’t know but the next thing I knew he was in hysterics.

Finally he answered, “When I was young I visited a cinema. There was music also there. I also look at television. Now in the last few years, I no longer watch television or listen to music. The main thing is I analyse.”

Okaaaaaaaaaaaay. So, it wasn’t quite the answer I was hoping for. But what was I expecting from a man that prides himself on his detachment to the things society is obsessed with – movies, music, television and everything in life we deem as “important” to our meaningless, materialistic lives? He wasn’t going to suddenly proclaim “’I Am A God’ off YEEZUS is my jam!”

The next question in the press conference came from Kamahl.

Wait, what? This guy?

I’m not sure how he got an invite but he was one of the “esteemed” guests that were blessed at the beginning of the conference. ‘The Elephant Song’ singer and Vanilla Coke endorser offered the Dalai Lama an album of his Greatest Hits as a present and said, “Now I know that you’re not allowed to listen to music, but here is some spoken word over an instrumental. Poetry with a few instruments in the background…” 

WTF!? Did Kamahl even listen to the Dalai Lama’s answer to my dumbass question? I was thinking, “Are you seriously, shamelessly attempting to trick Tibet’s spiritual leader, His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama into listening to your music!?”

If this wasn’t cringe-worthy enough, Kamahl pressed on and instead of asking something spiritual or meaningful, he dropped his friggin’ classic catch phrase. ‘Why are people so unkind?’

Then the Dalai Lama did something that made him the coolest person in the room. Perhaps fed up with the time Kamahl had already taken up he simply ignored him and talked about something else.

Maybe I am being a little unkind. I may not have been as quick to judge the Hey, Hey It’s Saturday, Big Day Out novelty act if it weren’t for the fact that organisers played a ‘Kamahl’ song as His Holiness’ exit music.  I thought I’d rub it in a bit when the Dalai Lama came over to where I was seated and shook my hand one last time. I stood up and drew his attention to the music with a cheeky, “Mmmmm, you lovin this?” He laughed and walked away.

In the aftermath of meeting one of the most peaceful entities on the planet, I wasn’t sure if I was feeling enlightened or confused. Either way, there is no denying that the guy is a magnetic force to be around. He kept the room lighthearted and was always beaming a smile or chuckling away. Even though at times I couldn’t understand a word he said, his attitude, humour and presence was something you simply wanted to get on board with. 

When Kamahl’s poetry over instruments finally drew to a close I pondered what the importance of our meeting really meant. Had I squandered an opportunity to gain some serious wisdom? Did I throw away a golden chance at achieving enlightenment? Should I have thrown Stefanovic to the wind and just asked the pizza question after all?  I dunno. I guess it’s something I’ll have to meditate on…

Marty Smiley is a Presenter on Channel [V] at FOXTEL. He would like to thank the Reach Foundation for giving him the opportunity to gain enlightenment.