Perspective: Irene Hong talks about her meeting with the Dalai Lama

Irene Hong is one of the lucky students who joined the stage with the Dalai Lama at the 2006 Vancouver Dialogues. Irene, 16 at the time, took part in a dialogue which was one of the few times ever that His Holiness has shared the stage with a panel made up solely of youths. 

Irene, who now attends the University of California, Berkeley and hopes to enter either law or publishing, received the unique opportunity by taking part in an essay competition. 

Turning 20 in October, Irene has had some time to reflect on her experience at the Vancouver Dialogues and she agreed to speak with the Dalai Lama Center and share what she learned from her meeting with the Dalai Lama

DLC: Describe your experience with the Dalai Lama in 2006.

Irene: Meeting the Dalai Lama has definitely been a life changing experience for me. It sounds completely clichéd, but one encounter can really shake up the way you see the world and allow you to view the same things with a different perspective. It’s not to say that I’m out on the streets advocating for political change or protesting on the weekends, but I feel as though I’ve been given a glimpse into another dimension or way of life. I’m just a normal college student who had the incredible fortune of having a personal encounter with a world-renowned figure at an impressionable age. For example, one of the things I remember most clearly is just how nervous I was before going on stage. I was about to meet someone who had a great influence on world politics, and share my life story with him in front of hundreds of other students. I managed to walk across the stage – albeit a bit shakily – and waited for His Holiness to enter the stage. The minute he stepped on stage, came towards me and grasped my hands while touching my forehead with his, all nervousness dissipated. My blood was pounding in my ears, yet somehow, it all stopped and I felt completely at ease. I remember marveling at this phenomenon and am still grappling with understanding just how he was able to soothe me without even a word.

DLC: You asked the Dalai Lama about the importance of tolerance; how has his response played a role in your life?

IH: I remember His Holiness saying that when there is a conflict, people either attack the situation or become submissive, and that neither situation is ideal. The best remedy is to use tolerance in order to resolve the issue. I think, unconsciously I have taken his advice to heart, as I rarely get aggressive when dealing with a conflict, and yet do not submit to the opposition.

DLC: How do you think education plays a role in the promotion of peace?

IH: I believe that education plays an immense role in promoting peace. However, when I use the term education, I am not simply referring to academia. Educational institutions are important so that we can try to learn from the history of past generations’ mistakes and truly understand why peace is so necessary. However, I think that when concerning peace, different modes of education such as social learning, come into play.

DLC: What is the one part of your education that you would like to see changed and how might that change be implemented?

IH: Prior to coming to university, we were taught about certain cultures or disciplines in a very linear manner. One culture was divided from another by timelines or units in textbooks and history was never really seen from a holistic perspective. I think that this causes barriers in our minds, and creates the notion of race and differences, all of which could contribute to our noticing discrepancies between ourselves and others and thereby fostering prejudice and disharmony. I think that classes that focus on comparing cultures and pointing out similarities could be implemented, to emphasize that we are all in the end, quite similar.

DLC: What is the one moment or piece of advice from the Dialogues that resonated with you the most?

IH: I remember His Holiness telling me that I had to have compassion and empathy for my enemies in order to have true compassion for all others. That really struck a chord with me, as I had been harbouring resentment towards the boy who bullied me about my cultural identity. After hearing what His Holiness said – I believe he could sense that I had never truly let go of my bitterness – I began to rethink my habit of holding grudges. If I can be empathetic and understanding towards my friends, should I not at least attempt to extend the same courtesy to those I may not necessarily get along with?

Irene at the 2006 Vancouver Dialogues

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