The Wisdom of Forgiveness, by the Dalai Lama and Victor Chan


By the Dalai Lama and Victor Chan. Riverhead Books, 262 pp, $36, hardcover.

Six years ago, Bowen Island's Victor Chan, already an expert on Tibet from his years researching Tibet Handbook: A Pilgrimage Guide, asked the Dalai Lama if he would collaborate on a book. No writer--no outsider, in fact--has had a fraction of the time Chan has spent with His Holiness since then. Chan has logged hundreds of hours as part of the Dalai Lama's entourage, travelling worldwide to conferences and Buddhist ceremonies, and conducting scores of daily interviews at his residence in Dharamsala, India, observing and chatting with the Nobel Laureate. The Wisdom of Forgiveness: Intimate Conversations and Journeys is not a traditional book on Buddhism at all, but instead an unprecedented look behind the scenes of the world's most admired man. It is a book about philosophy in action, as the Dalai Lama reflects on life, food, sickness, his own spiritual epiphanies and failings, the famous personalities he meets, the value of compassion, the dangers of western cynicism, the role of mental attitude in health, modern physics, and the advantages of forgiveness over revenge.

It is clear from the book the two men are good friends. There are no secrets, no taboo topics--and a lot of joking. When Chan struggles with the Buddhist concept of emptiness, the Dalai Lama teasingly rolls his eyes and says, "Hopeless student." When Chan asks His Holiness about his dedication to proper monastic practice, the Dalai Lama confesses he sometimes sneaks illicit crackers in the evening--a no-no for monks. When the desperately ill Dalai Lama is being flown to Mumbai by Indian Army helicopter in 2002, he spots a worried-looking Chan in the crowd and takes his Vancouver friend in his arms. Chan couldn't believe it: the Dalai Lama was comforting him!

Often their conversations--provoked by some specific incident--revolve around how people have found in selflessness the route to transcend anger. The Dalai Lama recounts the story of a Tibetan monk, imprisoned and tortured by the Chinese for 18 years before his release, who tells the Dalai Lama his worst fear during the time was he'd lose his compassion for the Chinese. "Altruism," says the Dalai Lama, "lies at the root of true happiness." In a world where anxiety and selfishness seem to dominate, Forgiveness provides a fascinating insight into one man's abiding faith in love. The book is a powerful antidote to 21st-century angst.

Tendzin Choegyal, 15th Ngari Rinpoche, brother to the Dalai Lama and his closest confidant, appears in Vancouver Tuesday (February 22) at a Vancouver Institute lecture (Woodward Instructional Resources Centre, 2194 Health Sciences Mall, UBC) at 8:15 p.m. He also gives three talks--February 24, March 3, and March 10--at the Institute of Asian Research (1855 West Mall, UBC), beginning at 1:30 p.m.