News & Politics

No, You Can’t Kiss the Dalai Lama

His Holiness visits a DC homeless shelter as part of his trip to the capital

The Dalai Lama pets Daisy, held by Washington Humane Society President and CEO Lisa LaFontaine. Photo by Zaid Hamid

Tenzin Gyatso—the Dalai Lama, as he is known here, or Kundun to his own Tibetan people—has a particular take on greetings: No kissing, even on the cheek—“I am a monk!” And no European-style cheek-to-cheek greetings, either: “I feel cautious because you”—he points to a member of the audience with a goatee—“have facial hair.”

The exiled Tibetan religious leader visited N Street Village, a homeless shelter for women near Logan Circle, Friday morning as part of his trip to DC to receive the Congressional Gold Medal. He expressed solidarity with the women who had gathered to see him. “I was asked if I would like to visit with those who are homeless,” he said. “Anyways, I myself am homeless! At 24 I lost my own country. At 16 I lost my freedom. Now over 72, things are difficult, but we never shirk our hope or determination. Keep our determination. Hope is very essential.”

The Dalai Lama professed his thanks for the opportunity to meet people going through difficult times. Hugs and handshakes—again, no kissing—offer calmness and confidence to the two parties, he said. He added that meeting people who are experiencing hard times fulfills a moral responsibility to offer his experience and strength. This “practice of compassion” gives the practitioner inner warmth and strength, he said.

The Washington Humane Society sponsored the event at the shelter. In Buddhism, the Dalai Lama pointed out, one must be compassionate to animals because they all “share the same sense of being.” A homeless woman who has worked with animals at the Humane Society posed onstage with the Buddhist monk and a puppy while 20 cameramen jostled to capture the moment in the crowded room.

The Dalai Lama’s speech seemed off the cuff—he conferred with a translator on several English words—but used humor to acknowledge cultural differences, all the while building common ground. “We all have the same right to be happy human beings,” he said. “The future depends on everybody’s children.”

On the perceived divide between Christianity and Islam, he said, you can’t judge a religion by a few “mischievous” members: “Totally unjust, totally wrong.” Take that, Christopher Hitchens.