Executive Times






2008 Book Reviews


The Open Road: The Global Journey of the Fourteenth Dalai Lama by Pico Iyer








Click on title or picture to buy from amazon.com






Pico Iyer’s new book, The Open Road: The Global Journey of the Fourteenth Dalai Lama, presents the subjective from a variety of perspectives. Iyer first met the Dalai Lama thirty years ago through his father, an Oxford don from India. After decades of observation and engagement, Iyer describes the Dalai Lama as a monk, as a politician, as a philosopher, and as a global icon. The sum of these descriptions present the simplicity and complexity of the Dalai Lama for readers to sort out. Here’s an excerpt, pp. 69-71:


In Tibet, and among Tibetans around the world, not least in his exile home of Dharamsala, the Dalai Lama is revered as a god, quite literally; every shop in Dharamsala has at its center a framed picture of him, and even the most renegade Tibetans, jiving before Western girls to the latest song from the Red Hot Chili Peppers, grow silent, almost teary-eyed, if asked about the Dalai Lama (who is, to some extent, their homeland, as well as their faith and their sense of self) . In the Tibetan community the Dalai Lama still officially settles every institutional dispute, has ordained a whole gen­eration of monks, and carries such ritual authority that even the most cocky, Columbia-educated Tibetan kids (I have seen) are too nervous to translate for him and reflexively bow their bodies before him, as subjects used to do before kings. In exile, more than ever, he's the Tibetans' main external asset.

But in the larger world the Dalai Lama is merely an icon, a secu­lar divinity of sorts, and for that there is less precedent. The Dalai Lama remains intensely pragmatic about the uses the world makes of him—if it helps people to use his smiling face as a screen saver, he says, or if it does some substantial good to broadcast his Speeches on the dance floors of London discos, then let them use him or anything that is "beneficial"; beyond a point he can't control the ideas people have of him or the hopes they bring to him, and a physician's job is to try to offer help wherever he is needed. Still, one effect of this is that he offers forewords even to books about young Tibetans' impatience with his policies and, as one close friend asserts, "answers questions he shouldn't answer."

It might almost, I sometimes think, be a kind of riddle that people of this kind pose for us: how much will we respond to their essence, the changeless core of what they are saying, and how much will we merely read them through the keyhole of our own priorities? I remember, in my own case, being moved and humbled, meeting him the day after his Nobel Prize had been announced, when the Dalai Lama spoke to me as openly and directly as if we were equals, not even stopping to remove any bar­rier between us, as if he seemed to see none. But the incident I probably spoke of more widely that year was his fifty-fourth birth­day party in the hills of Malibu, a few months earlier, when mortals like me got to stand for hours next to such figures of glamour as Cindy Crawford and Tina Chow. Everyone we meet we tend to cast in the light of our own tiny concerns.

As I watch the Dalai Lama and Tutu proceed out from the large auditorium and follow them into a small room nearby where they will be conducting two TV interviews (with Ebadi, also) for con­sumption across Canada, I cannot help but notice how they speak for the "same aim" but in radically different voices. Tutu uses the whole register of his rolling, musical voice in English to call upon powers hidden in the language that bring Shakespeare in union with the King James Bible; he gets the audience to move in by making his voice very soft, and then he steadily raises the volume so we climb and climb with him. The Dalai Lama speaks, especially in English, much more slowly and carefully, in precise, rounded phrases, as if offering the stones out of which he's built his thinking. Tutu is a figure of jokes and flights, of silvery expansiveness and shine, and the effect of listening to him, as he repeats and repeats phrases, is of seeing light stream through a stained-glass window; the Dalai Lama speaks as logician more than as poet and (true to his Buddhist principles) offers statements that seem almost simplistic until you dig beneath each word to see the reasoning behind it.

And yet the biggest difference between the two visitors, at this point in history, is simply that they're standing on opposite sides of the struggles they stand for. Archbishop Tutu's task is to some extent over; his battle has been won. Thanks to his efforts, and those of Nelson Mandela and many others in South Africa and outside, apartheid has been lifted, and although the violence and danger and confusion in the country may at times be even worse than before, the outside world has done its bit to put power back in the hands of the majority. So when he goes up to the podium, what he says is "Thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you." Thanks to those in Canada and elsewhere, he says, South Africa is celebrating its tenth anniversary of freedom a week from now. It's hard not to glow when such a dignified man offers thanks.

The Dalai Lama, by contrast, is saying, "Please." Please help my people in Tibet even though you may seem to lose the support of the world's largest nation in the short term. Please rise to your highest selves in seeing that responsibility is an assertion of enlightened self-interest. Please try to see that if you think we really inhabit a global universe, then your welfare depends on that of Tibet, as much as its welfare depends on you.

No one likes to hear a plea, especially from a guest, and least of all from a man she likes and respects; the natural impulse is to look past the plea to the liking and respecting (especially if that man seems so in command of himself and his philosophy that it's easy to imagine he can help you much more than you can help him) . The very fact that the Dalai Lama tells the world he needs it moves many in the world to assume that he must, in fact, be above it.


Any reader intrigued by the Dalai Lama will enjoy reading The Open Road.


Steve Hopkins, July 18, 2008



Buy The Open Road

@ amazon.com

Go To Hopkins & Company Homepage



Go to 2008 Book Shelf

Go to Executive Times Archives


Go to The Big Book Shelf: All Reviews





*    2008 Hopkins and Company, LLC


The recommendation rating for this book appeared

 in the August 2008 issue of Executive Times


URL for this review: http://www.hopkinsandcompany.com/Books/The Open Road.htm


For Reprint Permission, Contact:

Hopkins & Company, LLC • 723 North Kenilworth AvenueOak Park, IL 60302
Phone: 708-466-4650 • Fax: 708-386-8687

E-mail: books@hopkinsandcompany.com