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"As long as human rights are violated, there can be no foundation for peace. How can peace grow where speaking the truth is itself a crime?"

My Interview with the Dalai Lama's Youngest Brother

June 27, 2008

Lisa Katayama
Tokyo Mango Blog (USA)
June 24, 2008

Tokyo -- Tendzin Choegyal is the Dalai Lama's youngest brother. Aside
from being related to one of the holiest persons alive, TC is a
rebellious soul who dropped out of college, spent a couple of years
as a paratrooper in the Tibetan contingency of the Indian army,
survived alcoholism,and found peace through a blend of Buddhism,
lithium, and reading the news on the Internet. When I met him at his
home in Dharamsala, India­-the Himalayan town that houses the Tibetan
government-in-exile ­- we talked about reincarnation, war movies,
Steven Seagal's crazy outfits, and the preservation of Tibetan culture.

The following is a reprint of my interview with Choegyal, published
in Issue 52 of Giant Robot magazine. A feature-length profile will be
in the Fall issue of Buddhadharma, which goes to press in July.

GR: At a young age, you, too, were recognized as a reincarnate of an
important man, right?

TC: Oh, that's' bs'. I don't believe it. From a Buddhist perspective,
we are all reborn. But choosing a particular person as someone
special and saying he's a reincarnation of so-and-so is 'bs.' I don't
consider myself special. I'm just like you. I want happiness, and I
don't want suffering. I think it's just a sheer accident that I was chosen.

GR: What about your brother?

TC: Ah, that's different. He is on a completely different level -­ a
much higher caliber, and a lot of tests were done. It may be true for
others, but as far as I'm concerned, this is the greatest mistake of
the century.

GR: Are you and your brother similar?

TC: His Holiness' voice and my voice are similar, and we also look
alike. I also share his philosophy of life. I share his views
wholeheartedly. I mean, the guy cares, you know?

GR: Are you a practicing Buddhist?

TC: How do you define "practicing Buddhist"? Going to the temple
every morning is nothing. We ourselves are temples. Even a dog can go
to a temple. And as long as you have a little bit of money, you can
always make an offering. I do subscribe to basic Buddhist beliefs,
and the tenets of the teachings. I believe in taking refuge in the
Buddha, in his teachings, and in his spiritual community. But I have
to actualize all three within myself and enjoy the fruit of that development.

GR: What are your hobbies?

TC: I used to take photographs, and I used to like editing movies.
But right now, my hobby is reading. I'm reading a book in English
right now on Buddhism and world history. I don't read fiction­-my
time is mostly spent reading about Buddhism and inner transformation.
I also read The New York Times, The Herald Tribune, and the BBC on
the Internet. Oh, and People's Daily. I want to know what the Chinese
are saying!

GR: Anything else you're really into?

TC: I like useful tools. Until a few years ago, I used to fix my own
car -­ I was a good mechanic. I used to drive an old Land Rover; now
I drive a Suzuki station wagon. I used to wash my car every day, and
my friends used to say, "Don't do that, the paint's going to come
off." When I'm doing something, I do it whole-heartedly. And then
when I leave it, I just leave it. Just this evening my son called me
an eccentric. I think he's right. We all have our extreme sides. I
used to take an interest in anything that was mechanical, but now, I
don't think these material things are all that important. I'm
interested in human beings now.

GR: Do you like movies?

TC: Yes. This is going to shock you, but I like war movies, like
Saving Private Ryan. Like any kid or person who doesn't really think,
I used to like them just for the action. But Saving Private Ryan
shows how devastating and bad war is, and I think there should be
more movies like that. Entertainment plays a big role in the world.
Movies produced today with sex, violence, and drugs practically teach
youngsters how to do things the wrong way. I think the entertainment
industry holds a lot of responsibility.

GR: Have you met a lot of the celebrities who stop through Dharamsala
to meet the Dalai Lama?

TC: Celebrities? They're all human beings, what's the big deal? You
sit down with them, you start talking, and it's the same thing.
Richard Gere is a wonderful person-­very simple, modest, and natural
with whomever he meets. He's done a lot for the Tibetan community.
And then, on the other side of the scale, there's Steven Seagal. Oh
my god. I met him when he came here. He was wearing a funny coat, a
Chinese brocade, funny trousers, and funny shoes with that ponytail.
I asked him, "Why do you dress in such a peculiar manner?" He didn't
say anything. He's arrogant, and pretends to be a Tibetan
reincarnate. But why? He's a strange man.

GR: What do you think about the preservation of Tibetan culture in Dharamsala?

TC: I think we're losing it. Culture is not about dancing; it's not
about the songs you sing. I think we are starting to go mainstream
here­-people are wearing baseball caps and baggy pants. Human culture
keeps on changing-­it's constantly being modified. There's no such
thing as the "original culture"­-we are always in a state of flux. So
it depends on how you look at it. But no matter how you dress or what
kind of song you sing, as long as you can relate with other people, I
think it's okay. Any trend that is based on the mistaken view that
freedom under democracy is a license to do anything is dangerous.
You'll destroy yourself, your family, and your community, because
it's based on selfishness. Say somebody is very angry, and he just
can't listen to reason. That person's reason for not restraining
himself is, I'm free.I can to whatever I want. The restraining factor
is becoming smaller and smaller. We are becoming noble savages.

GR: Do you think a part of Tibetan culture is threatened by things
moving forward?

TC: I really love Tibetans. I really wish success to our cause and
our people. But I'm very concerned with the direction in which we are
heading. Young people are not taking interest in Buddhism as an
internal science. They see that Buddhism dispensed in the name of
religion by various institutions is not up to the mark. A good
example is the number of monks we have. Firstly, we have too many of
them. And then they're in monks' robes, but they behave in funny
ways. Whatever you do in life, you have to love it or leave it. If
you don't want to do it, don't do it. If you want to do it, do it
because you love it. Find meaning in it. Otherwise, you're tricking
yourself. You're tricking everybody.
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