The 'Last Week Tonight' host traveled to India for an interview with Tibet's spiritual and political leader

By Joey Nolfi
March 06, 2017 at 10:04 AM EST
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The current Dalai Lama has met with and influenced countless public figures over the years. Lady Gaga met with him last year to pressure U.S. mayors to adopt policies of kindness and humanity, while, at the 1993 Oscars, presenter Richard Gere famously railed against Chinese occupation in support of Tibetan causes. But, the Dalai Lama’s likely never experienced a celebrity interaction quite like the one he had on Sunday’s episode of Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.

Oliver kicked off the March 5 episode of his HBO talk show with an introduction to the Dalai Lama’s status as a spiritual and political leader (a “popesident,” he says) of Tibet, a resource-rich territory embattled in a storied dispute with nearby China; Chinese military forces invaded Tibet in 1950, later imposing strict controls on Tibetan Buddhism amid the destruction of temples, monasteries, and the slaying of hundreds of thousands of Tibetan citizens. In protest, over 140 Tibetans have self-immolated since 2009, a “difficult situation,” the Dalai Lama told Oliver, which makes him feel great sadness.

“In the meantime, if I say [the immolation] is wrong, then their family will feel very sad, [because they’ll think] their family member did something against the Dalai Lama’s wish,” he said. “I don’t want to create that. But then, certainly, I cannot support that… from a Buddhist viewpoint… killing is not good… the best thing is to remain silent.”

One thing the Dalai Lama isn’t willing to keep quiet on is the Chinese government’s meddling with Tibet’s sacred act of transferring power among its Buddhist leaders, including the Dalai Lama’s identification of his forerunner’s (known as a Panchen Lama) reincarnated soul in the body of a living child. After the Dalai Lama identified his successor, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, Chinese officials kidnapped the 6-year-old boy as a means to select a different heir under their control.

To sully the Dalai Lama’s image, Chinese officials have since labeled him a demon and a “wolf wrapped in monk’s robes.”

“You don’t, to me, look like an evil wolf,” Oliver said, to which the Dalai Lama chuckled and posed his fingers atop his head as if they were horns.

“As far as my own rebirth is concerned, the final authority is my say, no one else’s. And obviously not Chinese communists’… Whatever they want to say, that’s their freedom. I have no negative feeling, I just feel a love,” the Dalai Lama continued. “I practice taking others’ anger, suspicion, and distrust, and give them patience, tolerance, and compassion. I practice that.”

Before parting with Oliver, the Dalai Lama continued: “I told [China] our brains usually have the ability to create common sense. The Chinese hardliners… that part of their brain is missing.”

Oliver then parted ways with the Dalai Lama by shaking his hand and thanking him for being his “demon friend,” which elicited a hearty laugh from the 81-year-old.

Watch Oliver’s full interview with the Dalai Lama above. Last Week Tonight with John Oliver airs Sundays at 11 p.m. ET on HBO.

Last Week Tonight With John Oliver

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