John Oliver traveled to Dharamsala, India for a hilarious, enlightening conversation with the Dalai Lama on Last Week Tonight. Tibet’s political and spiritual leader, whom Oliver dubbed the original “woke bae,” discussed Chinese oppression and the controversy over his future reincarnation.
The Dalai Lama has lived in exile from Tibet for over five decades, earning hatred from the Chinese government. Oliver opened their conversation with a frank statement: “The Chinese government absolutely hates you.” But the Buddhist leader laughed at being labeled a “demon” and responded with kindness. “Whatever they want to say, that’s their freedom,” he said. “I have no negative feeling. I just feel love. I practice taking others’ suspicion, distrust and giving them patience, tolerance and compassion. I practice that.”
Oliver inquired about the practice of self-immolating, a protest practice that has found 146 Tibetans in Tibet and China setting themselves on fire since February 27th, 2009. The comedian pressed the Dalai Lama on refusing to denounce the act, but the spiritual leader maintained that doing so would scar the legacy of the deceased. “Right from the beginning, when I first heard that, firstly I expressed my sorrow, my sadness,” he said. “In the meantime, if I say their action is wrong, then their family [would feel] very sad.”
Inevitably, Oliver broached the complicated subject of reincarnation. The Dalai Lama previously selected a six-year-old boy as the Panchen Lama, who by tradition searches to find the reincarnated Dalai Lama after death. However, the child was kidnapped by the Chinese government, who then named their own replacement. The Dalai Lama, now 81, has suggested he may not reincarnate, further complicating the situation. “If I become the last Dalai Lama, I feel very happy,” he told Oliver.
The host suggested that, with the Chinese government controlling the Panchen Lama, they could potentially name their own Dalai Lama – one subservient to their vision. The current Dalai Lama called this a “shortsighted,” “foolish act,” noting that the government isn’t “using the human brain properly.”
Oliver ended the segment on a lighter note. In the tradition of President Roosevelt, who gifted the Dalai Lama with a prized Patek Philippe pocket watch in the 1940s, the host unveiled his own treasure: a 1980s calculator watch.