The renowned spiritual leader tells why material things can't satisfy the soul, why compassion can, and the startlingly simple secret to having no regrets.
He calls himself "a simple Buddhist monk"—a man who rises at 4 A.M. and spends hours each day in prayer and meditation. Yet his nonviolent efforts to free his country, Tibet, have made His Holiness the Dalai Lama an international symbol of peace during the past four decades. In the 46 countries the Dalai Lama has been invited to visit, thousands of people have flocked to hear him speak on what he believes is his most meaningful message—that compassion toward others is the surest path to happiness.

Born Lhamo Thondup in 1935 in the Tibetan village of Taktser, he was first recognized as the 14th Dalai Lama—the reincarnation of the 13th Dalai Lama—at the age of 2. (Several signs led a group of monks, who had been on a two-year search for their next leader, to the toddler.) The boy was taken to a nearby monastery for a year and a half and then moved to Lhasa, the capital of Tibet, with his family when he was 4. There, tutors prepared him to one day assume spiritual and political guidance of his country.

In 1950 the Dalai Lama was forced to take on that role at the age of 15, two years ahead of schedule. In an act of unprovoked aggression, China invaded and overtook Tibet. The Dalai Lama's peaceful attempts to regain his country's autonomy were to no avail. In 1959 tension between the Tibetans and the Chinese became so intense that, on the heels of violent outbreaks he had tried to prevent, the Dalai Lama fled for asylum in nearby India. More than 120,000 Tibetans have since followed. It is there, from the city of Dharamsala, that His Holiness has led the Tibetan people for 42 years.

It has not been a silent exile. During his early years in India, the Dalai Lama put forth a democratic constitution for a future free Tibet, based on Buddhist principles and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the United Nations. In Washington, D.C., at the 1987 Congressional Human Rights Caucus, he proposed a plan calling for the designation of Tibet as a zone of peace and for an end to the massive transfer of ethnic Chinese into his country. In 1989 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. He has written more than 35 books, including The Art of Happiness (Riverhead Books), which has been a best-seller in the United States since 1998.

I met with His Holiness during one of his many trips to Washington, D.C., a trip that also included his visit with President Bush at the White House. About a dozen Buddhists in colorful Tibetan attire waited in the hallways of the hotel where the Dalai Lama stayed, hoping for a chance to hear him speak. In our time together, we talked about everything from whether he harbors any regrets to what he considers a good day—and how every person can find the secret to a joyful life.

Start reading Oprah's interview with The Dalai Lama

Note: This interview appeared in the August 2001 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine.


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