Can the Dalai Lama be in two different countries at the same time?

When I was working as the editor of Tibetan Bulletin in Dharamsala many years back, one of the things I enjoyed doing was writing a column, which I named “Last Page”. I used the column to focus on human-interest stories with a Tibetan twist.

Here is something that I wrote in 1994. If read in the context of our belief in the supernatural abilities of enlightened beings like His Holiness the Dalai Lama, you will get to appreciate it even more.

As a postscript, some time after this column appeared, I heard from a friend that some elderly Tibetans had heard about this story and they did not have any doubt about it happening.

The omnipresent Dalai Lama

by Bhuchung K. Tsering

Tibetan Bulletin, July 1994

This item comes without being discourteous to His Holiness the Dalai Lama. What would you say, if I told you His Holiness recently displayed his omnipresence by manifesting himself physically in two different places at the same time. Followers of Tibetan Buddhism would, without hesitation, say that this is possible given our belief in the divine power of His Holiness. In fact, we generally believe that beings like His Holiness, who have reached a certain spiritual level, can manifest themselves in as many places as they so desire. Doubtful Thomases may, however, say, “But this can’t be possible.” Yet, such an event really took place, and an Indian ambassador and a governor of an American state can testify to this fact.

After reading this story, even a confirmed atheist or a diehard rationalist will have to accept the fact that the incident indeed happened. The historic date for this phenomenon was April 14, 1994. In the afternoon of that day, while His Holiness was meeting with an Indian ambassador in one part of the world, he was also having tea around the same time with a governor of an American state in another part of the world.

Confusing, isn’t it? Well, if you still do not believe me, then check the tour programmes released by our offices in Tokyo and New York, because the incident took place during His Holiness’s tour of Japan and the United States in May this year (discerning readers would have noticed this in our report on His Holiness’s visits in our May-June issue). If you go by the programme of the Liaison Office of H.H. the Dalai Lama in Tokyo, His Holiness definitely received Indian Ambassador (to Japan) Prakash Shah at his hotel suite in Tokyo in the afternoon of April 14, 1994. But then, if you see the tour programme released by our Office of Tibet in New York, His Holiness definitely met Governor John Waihee of Hawaii at his official residence in Honolulu in the same afternoon. So, either His Holiness was in both the places at the same time (in which case you will have to indulge in what in literature is called “willing suspension of disbelief”) or else one of our offices is indulging in falsehood. Where lies the truth? Call Ambassador Shah or Governor Waihee to verify the facts! Confusing, isn’t it?

The truth, however, is simple. His Holiness was definitely in both Tokyo and Honolulu in the afternoon of April 14, 1994. But this something called the

International Dateline made all the difference. His Holiness was in Tokyo, meeting the Indian ambassador, among others, on April 14, 1994. He left the same evening (Tokyo time) for Honolulu. However, because he was flying in the easterly direction, he was able to gain an extra day after crossing the 180th meridian, i.e. the above-mentioned line. Thus, he reached Honolulu on the morning of April 14, 1994 (Hawaii time), in the process going a bit back to the past, as one would say. This enabled him to meet with the Governor of Hawaii, among others, in the same afternoon. Got it?

Imagine how a simple-minded Tibetan in a remote village in Tibet would react if he hears about His Holiness being in two different places at the same time? I would love to see his face.

By the way, the officer who maintains the appointment diary of His Holiness may need to order customised diaries in future which contain additional pages of certain dates to fill the necessity posed by events like the one mentioned in this item.

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