What was your first impression of the Dalai Lama and how real was he compared to your perception of a Godman?
I first met the Dalai Lama in India in 1986. I was very much moved by the energy of his very presence and by his bearing. I later learned the Tibetans sometimes call him Kundun, which means "the presence". I was impressed by the intense way he paid attention to each question I asked, and the way he answered honestly and directly. I was no statesman or business figure or celebrity, but he nonetheless gave me his entire attention for the hours I spent with him at our first meeting.
As a Ninja you are a man of war while The Dalai Lama is the ultimate symbol of peace. How did the two meet and what was your common ground for conversations and camaraderie?
My martial art is a way to make peace when others might choose violence or conflict. As a ninja I am trained to be a protector. Training to fight wars or fight as a competitor in a cage is very different, not what my martial art is about. I first met the Dalai Lama in 1986, when I came to India following a one-month visit to Tibet. I believe he agreed to meet me as a way of asking for my insights as to how things were in Tibet. I met him again in 1987 in Indiana in the USA when he was there to visit his brother. I happened to be at a small conference in California with the Dalai Lama in 1989 when he received news that he had won the Nobel Peace prize, and I helped his staff with some of the unexpected security concerns when all the reporters arrived. After that, throughout the 1990s I travelled with the Dalai Lama as a security escort when he was in the USA.
Did His Holiness ever suggest a path away from the martial arts?
No. He always accepted that martial arts were the path of discovery of my youth. It was how I came to be the man I am today. I teach others how to be so strong that they can chose compassion and patience out of strength instead of from fear. At the same time, he always displayed the speech and actions of one committed to peace. That of course had an effect on me. Today I still teach martial arts around the world, but I also spend a part of every year in India or Nepal studying with Tibetan Buddhist teachers that the Dalai Lama introduced me to.
What is His Holiness like, away from the concerns of an exiled head of state or faith?
I always tell my friends that His Holiness the Dalai Lama is one of the few human beings I have ever met who totally lives up to his billing. He is so reassuring in his sincerity and compassion for all, and that is surprising for one who was born to be the spiritual king of his country. One might expect a more autocratic or impatient or haughty demeanour of a king, but none of that is there.
His Holiness has this amazing affinity and connection with the West, perhaps more so than any other Eastern Leader. What is the secret?
I think the key to the Dalai Lama's popularity in the West is his ability to speak from the heart in words that truly address the spiritual distress that people in the West feel today. He speaks in the common person’s common sense language, and his suggestions for spiritual peace do not come across as rigid religious commands. In that way he includes all people. Perhaps some other religious leaders present a strongly one-way view of how spiritual life must be, and that alienates all but the member believers..? The Dalai Lama does not do that.
His earnest speech allows many Westerners to be drawn to him, but at the same time I must mention that when he addresses higher level audiences of religious scholars, he exhibits an awe-inspiring knowledge of the depths of Buddhist teachings. He has the wonderful capacity to command both popular and scholastic presentations.