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Saturday, April 05, 2008

Searching for the Dalai Lama

Do you get the impression that the Dalai Lama is not exactly the brightest bulb in the room?” a journalist asked Pico Iyer after both men left a speaking event by His Holiness. We know what he’s getting at. At a certain angle, the chirpy aphorisms, the generous stream of book forewords, the Hollywood entourage, all conspire to cast a hue of superficiality that few global pop icons escape.

Photograph © 2008 The Richard Avedon Foundation

His Holiness the Dalai Lama at the Gyume Tantric Monastery, Kamataka, India, Jan. 6, 1998.
Photograph by Richard Avedon.

In that light, it is possible to forget that the Dalai Lama is, in fact, a titan: a head of state, a doctor of metaphysics, a prolific author, a hyperrealist, a newshound, a godhead to the Tibetan people and the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize — a man who embodies a “simplicity that lies not before complexity but on the far side of it.”

In “The Open Road,” Iyer takes a long, hard look at the many meanings of this deceptively simple man. At first blush, one might wonder why Iyer, best known as the author of many travel memoirs including “Video Night in Kathmandu” and “Sun After Dark,” would take on such a subject. The answer lies in the understanding that Iyer is not just a travel writer, and the Dalai Lama is not just a monk.


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