Dalai Lama India

His Holiness the Dalai Lama in Person

I’m not one to get celebrity struck. Mathew Perry was the first one I saw, not long after I moved to Los Angeles. One of my friends literally tripped over a curb, her eyes glued to him, completely in awe that he happened to be at the same shopping center as us – one of the most popular in the city.

As I bent to pick her up, she was still fumbling for words as I calmly replied, “Oh yeah, that’s the guy from Friends, right?”

Several more encounters with people of such status would occur over the next three years, but none would make an impact as profound as His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

The Dalai Lama

I was at the annual international literature festival in Jaipur, India, famously known as The Pink City. I was complaining to my host, Pushpendra from Couchsurfing.org (an Indian male model – yeah, he was really hard on the eyes!), about my disappointment that the buildings are in fact not pink, but orange, and even a view from the lookout tower made it hard to decipher which part of the city was supposed to be pink. It looked nothing like the photos I’d seen.

“You should go to the festival I told you about,” said Push. “The Dalai Lama will be there!”

I went. I saw. I caved.

It turns out, I can be celebrity struck. For a man of such world renown, he’s humble. For a man with such responsibility, he’s charismatic. For a man with such high expectations, he exceeds.

Born Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama was at the festival for a live interview with author, Pico Iyer, mostly to promote one of his recent books, “Toward a True Kinship of Faith” which in itself is a feat. He’s written over 100 books (110!!), many of which were first drafted in English, his second language.

I’m not particularly religious, but I do agree with a lot of Buddhist principles. One of the reasons I’m so drawn to Buddhism is because it’s a way of life, almost more than it is an organized religion. To be a devout Buddhist means to do good upon others, to be conscious of your karmic footprint in this world, to overcome negativity, to live a happy life, made happier by a lifetime of learning and, in The Dalai Lama’s own words, “to respect all religions and at the same time, respect the nonbelievers.”

But perhaps my favorite part of Buddhism is what the Dalai Lama encourages all his followers to do: “Never accept my teachings on faith,” he says. “Test with your own knowledge.”

Dalai Lama India

A firm believer in seeking your own truth, the Dalai Lama was a young boy when he discovered how much he loves learning. He understands that knowledge is perhaps the best gift a person can receive, which is why a lot of his work now is dedicated to promoting the importance of learning – whether it’s religion, language, science or otherwise – and it’s something I wholeheartedly agree with.

I’ve mentioned more than a few times on this blog how much teaching in Thailand frustrates me; how much I wish the kids understood the importance of learning. Why don’t they understand how lucky they are to have a school filled with teachers, unlike these kids who voluntarily study under a bridge in India? I wonder. But then I remember that I was once their age, and in their shoes. I had a school filled with eager teachers and very little concept that there are many children in the world who don’t.

I too questioned my days in high school. Why do I need to learn math if I’m never going to use it? And just last month, I had to teach math. This English class isn’t helping me, why try? Now, I write a blog about teaching and learning, and I’m going back to school to earn an English degree.

On top of promoting education, the Dalai Lama is most famously known for his teachings on happiness. Perhaps his most popular book, “The Art of Happiness” (and several others on the topic), is a testament to his knowledge of the subject, but listening to him speak on stage is all one needs to see he practices what he preaches. He’s a jolly, carefree man with an undoubtedly very hectic schedule.

Since he was discovered in a small village of Tibet as a young boy, and believed to be the 14th reincarnation of the Dalai Lama after a series of tests (including recognizing his predecessor’s toys as his own, and even calling by name people of the Dalai Lama’s staff whom he had not met), he’s given up many things in life – a traditional childhood, eating meat, relations with women, even his birth country, after being forced into exile from the Chinese invasion (another story entirely), but he remains ebullient, and it’s clear it’s not an act.

Needless to say, I find the Dalai Lama and his work inspiring, but seeing him in person even more so. I was fortunate to be nearly 20 people back, with a good standing view. And I stood, for the entire two hours, hanging onto every word – he’s the kind of guy who can make a crowd of thousands listen intently. A Nobel Peace Prize, on top of all his other accomplishments, helped make him into one of the world’s most prominent religious figures, and certainly anybody, religious or otherwise, would be fortunate to hear him speak.

The Dalai Lama

And you don’t have to go to India to do so. The Dalai Lama is currently on tour in the U.S.A., and is scheduled to be in Portland, Oregon on May 9 – 11. He’ll be in New Zealand after, and several other stops. Here’s a link to his schedule of upcoming teachings/lectures. If you have the chance to visit, I highly recommend you do.

Sidenote: This post is in lieu of the weekly guest post because it serves as my entry into the “Win a Trip to TBEX Contest” sponsored by WeHostelsWebjet, and TBEX.

TBEX is to travel bloggers what The Dalai Lama is to Buddhism – it’s a conference with workshops and lectures about how to better at what we do. Bow to Buddha for me, or just wish me luck, will ya?

His Holiness the Dalai Lama in Person
Written by:Jessica J. Hill


  1. Kris Sonsin says:

    I’ve seen HHDL speak twice and both times it was an amazing, unforgettable experience. The energy in the room was something I’ve never experienced elsewhere. Your story took me back. Keep sharing it and spreading the love!

  2. plhuyoung says:

    I’m not Buddhist either, but I love the teachings of this religion. It’s so neat you got to see him!

    The Dalai Lama was at my alma mater, William & Mary, in Williamsburg, VA this past fall! I wanted to go, but the tickets sold out so fast in our small little auditorium. I love how he is willing to make an appearance and talk to audiences whether at a small, public liberal arts college, or to thousands of people at an international conference. He’s great!

    Here’s a link about the speech he gave at my school, if you’re interested in reading!


    • plhuyoung says:

      Oh apparently, they moved it to our large arena…I know I still couldn’t get tickets!

      • jessicajhill says:

        Haha, I was fortunate I guess. The lit festival was free and anybody could go in and watch, but his auditorium was much fuller than all the other authors in attendance!

    • jessicajhill says:

      He really is great about speaking to any audience willing to listen. Such a cool, well-rounded guy. Thanks for the speech; I’ll check it out. I’m sorry you couldn’t attend – perhaps you can see him next time he’s through?

  3. Kris says:

    How wonderful that you got to see this amazing man. He changed my life, started me down the path to Buddhism, and I am forever grateful. Your post made me smile just thinking of his great smile and happy attitude that is so contagious 🙂

    • jessicajhill says:

      Wow – he really is an inspirational man, isn’t he? I love that Buddhism is rising in popularity right along with him – it’s such a great way to live life! Thanks for commenting.

  4. Tammy Barrett says:

    Love your travel stories so much! Always feel as if I was there with you. Thanks for sharing. Stay safe out there in this big ol world.

    • jessicajhill says:

      Thanks Aunt Tammy! You stay safe in the brand new truck. Glad you get to go home soon. Will you be home at all this summer? I still haven’t met the two newest babies!

  5. Jenna@Webjet says:

    Wow! What an interesting story and how lucky you were to have seen the Dalai Lama – that is a once in life time opportunity! Thank you so much for sharing this story and entering our TBEX! Good luck Jessica and watch out as we are picking the winner tomorrow 🙂

    • jessicajhill says:

      Thanks so much for commenting, Jenna! It really was a one-in-a-lifetime experience…one of many that travel affords us. I’m a lucky girl. I can’t wait to hear who the winner is!

  6. I’m not a Buddhist but I like many principles of Buddhism and the fact that, like you say, it is a way of life as well as a religion. The Dalai Lama is so inspirational and you’re lucky to have heard him speak in person! 🙂

    One of my favorite Dalai Lama quotes is “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion”. He is filled with wisdom.

  7. Edna says:

    Great write-up Jessica, and what a great memory for you! On a separate note, I’ve always wondered how the Dalai Lama travels so much, who covers his flights and where does he stay…?

    • jessicajhill says:

      Thanks, Edna! Those are all very interesting questions, especially because he travels with such a large entourage. He probably makes a good amount of money with his 100+ books, and I’m sure many of the speaking events/lectures he attends have paid him accordingly. Plus, like all monks, they receive money from the temples (and Buddhists give A LOT of money), and I’m sure the Dalai Lama’s cut is pretty substantial. I’ll look into it more thoroughly though. Now I’m curious!

  8. robyn says:

    Wow.what a blessing.

  9. Ashley says:

    I’m jealous. Sigh.

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