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Lions Roar : September 2006
SHAMBHALA SUN SEPTEMBER 2006 69 He told it simply, careful to add that qualifier of “I was told.” I waited a second to see if he would go on, ready to ask my first potentially upsetting question, which would have been, “Do you believe that story?” Before I could, however, he paused with perfect Borscht Belt timing and added, “Who knows?” Then he let out his sig- nature laugh, a rippling giggle that went on so long it seemed to have a life of its own. Though obviously a believer in reincarnation, he looked at such divinations with a certain realism. Then I pulled out my tape recorder. “Now I have a message for you from someone you know in Takt- ser,” I said and handed him the earphones, which he took and adjusted on his head without hesita- tion, apparently happy to play along. For no par- ticular reason, it was an odd sight: the Dalai Lama wearing a headset. Very un-Dalai Lama-like. I put on the tape of his 58-year-old nephew, Gongbu Tashi, whose message in Tibetan had been translated to me this way: “Every day we are waiting and hoping and ex- pecting you. You are my uncle and you are get- ting older and it’s time for you to come back. The statues of Buddha and pictures you gave me in India, we put up and every day a lot people come to this place to worship. Not a few—a lot. Here especially we are free to believe in Bud- dhism or whatever religion. It’s pretty good now. This is from the bottom of my heart. Now the government is doing really good job and gave us all freedoms.” The segment lasted about three minutes. Dur- ing that time he listened intently, his face soften- ing, his brows furrowing at one point. He smiled, and nodded. “Every day they are thinking that way,” he said. Then he went silent. “Walking up to that village,” I said, “I thought, ‘How amazing that from such humble beginnings a man could rise to such world renown.’ Does it ever amaze you too?” “Yes, if you look back, a person from very small village eventually reaches Lhasa with the name of Dalai Lama. So then in the last few decades the Tibetan nation’s interest is some- how very connected with that village boy.” He laughed, as though the implausibility of it just struck him. It made me think of Abraham Lincoln, who ev- ery American kid knows was born in a one-room log cabin to poor Kentucky farmers and from whom every American kid of humble roots takes hope that he or she too could rise to be president of the United States. I mentioned this to His Holi- ness, then recalled Lincoln’s nickname, the Great Emancipator, being widely regarded as a cham- pion of freedom for American slaves of African PHOTOBYJIALIMING In Taktser, Tibet, Garfinkel teaches the Dalai Lama’s great-grandnephew Tenzin Sonam the ways of the West: how to high five.