The Dalai Lama on the coronavirus, Donald Trump and the “old thinking” in the United States

Tokyo – Maintaining optimism and calm in the midst of a pandemic is not easy. But the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibet’s Buddhists, says there are still reasons to be grateful.

The Dalai Lama is kept safely isolated from the coronary virus at home high in the Himalayas, but technology helps keep you connected. We spoke through a video link about compassion, racism in the United States, and President Trump, among other topics.

Living in exile from Chinese rule, the Dalai Lama lives and prays at his residence in North India, and his message of compassion and altruism remains unchanged on the eve of his 85th birthday. He says that little has changed in his daily life also under the coronavirus blockade and, as a Buddhist, the “mind is more important than the physical aspects” of life, anyway.

Isolation is nothing new to the Dalai Lama.

He fled Tibet in 1959, after China invaded and annexed his country. Since then she has lived in exile in Dharamsala, India. But he watches the news every day, and is very aware of the suffering in the world.

“Now, in America, there is quite a bit, I will say, narrow-minded thinking,” he says. “Blacks, whites, we are equal … humans, brothers, sisters.” The Dalai Lama says treat people differently because of their race, or your faith or nationality, is “ancient thought”.

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So how can the world overcome that old thought?

“I think we should emphasize unity, equality … emphasize that,” says the Nobel Peace Prize-winning monk. Sometimes, he says, too much emphasis is placed on our “little differences” and “that creates problems.”

“You see, a strong feeling of difference, that’s short-sighted, narrow-minded.”

The Dalai Lama, along with the more than 3 million people in Tibet, have been marginalized by China. Beijing has imprisoned Tibetans, diluted the Tibetan language with Mandarin Chinese, and even made the images of the Dalai Lama illegal, replacing them with images of Chinese President Xi Jinping and other Communist Party leaders. China insists that Tibet is and has always been an integral part of the country.

Countries around the world have paid little more than lip service.

When asked what he would like the most powerful country in the world to do to support Tibet and ensure that its cultural identity survives, the Dalai Lama suggests he would start with a broader world view. It has been “awkward,” he told me, ever since President Trump made it clear that he was putting “America first.”

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He didn’t really say if he would be interested in meeting Mr. Trump personally, but notes that at his age, a long flight to Washington was not really feasible. Perhaps he did not rule out meeting him in India, but pointed out with a smile that talking to the American leader could be “somewhat complicated.”

On July 6, the Dalai Lama will celebrate his 85th birthday. To mark the occasion, the spiritual leader releases his first album. Entitled “Inner World,” the Tibetan Buddhist leader’s first foray into the music industry will be a mix of him reciting mantras with drum and bass rhythms.

You are never too old to do something new.