On Monday, the morning of his 80th birthday, His Holiness the Dalai Lama sat down with TIME in Anaheim, Calif. The Tibetan spiritual leader shared his advice on growing old and mending a broken heart and talked about maybe meeting Pope Francis. Below are excerpts from the conversation, which has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
The gap between the Tibet cause in exile and the situation on the plateau is widening. Some say that your message — which is so cheerful, hopeful, and, as we see here in Anaheim, appeals to upper-middle-class Westerners — is so counter to the situation on the ground in Tibet, where some feel that the exile government isn’t doing enough for Tibetan Buddhists themselves. How do you see that tension, and its future?
It seems that regardless of how much censorship they impose, the people in Tibet do seem to be able to get the news … Inside Tibet, is physically distant … but there’s a few who get some information, then that spreads … There are organizations, their main responsibility is to look after the Tibetan refugee community, their education, and also the way for preservation of our own culture, mainly, and monastic institutions, to carry our tradition and culture — I think quite sophisticated knowledge about the tradition. So then we are not representing, directly, inside Tibet. We have no direct responsibility like that, so by the way, say in our last, I think, 30 years, many Tibetans have the opportunity to come to India and join our school. … So then after they get some education level, they return, they carry [that] inside Tibet … Then these people now carry the main responsibility for teaching … More of these connections are taking place on the personal, individual level, organic process, not so much through the centralized institution.
You have not yet met Pope Francis, correct? If you could have a meeting with Pope Francis, what would you want to talk with him about?
Yes, not yet … Recently he also has been showing genuine concern about the environment. Wonderful. A spiritual leader should speak — these are global issues. So I admire [him].
How do you find sense of purpose as you age, especially if you live in a Western society that values youth?
I believe in also telling people, when you are young is its own special beauty, doing active things. Then, getting older, its own beauty, more experience to share with other people. One time in Sweden, I noticed, one small group of people, they have some kind of program, those retired people should take more active role taking care of young children. I think that is very good. Old people play, mixing with young children, the old people themselves feel something fresh. Sometimes, children see more love with grandparent rather than parent, that also happens. So I think children may do not attraction external beauty, old people, no longer any beauty, but smile, play, make joke, some sort of short stories, then children looked at. So if you age but then still feel bitter because you are not able to lots of things you could do when you were young, that is total, silly, unrealistic. Of course, the wider experience, the young people, youth, cannot do that — not yet.
I don’t know if you’ve ever been in love, but I’m wondering — how do you heal a broken heart?
Actually, you see, practice celibacy … If you look at the nature of strong attachment, underlying that strong attachment is a clinging, grasping, and if you look at other reactive emotions that arise, actually it is strong attachment that underpins hatred, anger, jealousy, and so on, so if you somehow are able to look at this and recognize that a large part of the reception is perception, that could lose some of this strong grasping. I always remember, in a dream, if … a beautiful woman or something like that, I remember I am a monk. It is very helpful.
And if you aren’t a monk?
I think the desire for sex goes extreme, always creates some trouble. So that I think, in Western culture, there is a lot of emphasis on sensuality, and sexuality is part of that.