John Oliver’s latest deep dive on Last Week Tonight concerns the Dalai Lama, a revered spiritual leader who is thought of highly by your average person — as demonstrated by interviews with random passersby in the streets of New York City — even if most people don’t fully understand the Dalai Lama’s role or his tumultuous history with China. As Oliver explains, the Dalai Lama is something like a cross between the Pope and President of Tibet, a “Popesident,” if you will (but you shouldn’t, so please don’t), a territory that was seized by China in 1951 and now ranks just behind Syria in terms of political rights and civil liberties.
Until recently, the Dalai Lama had ruled Tibet remotely from India after having fled China in 1959, but at 81-years-old, this Dalai Lama is getting a bit long in the tooth for a Dalai Lama. As Buddhist tradition would dictate, when he finally passes he would be reincarnated into a child as the next Dalai Lama.
There’s only one small problem with that. See, the Dalai Lama must appoint a Panchen Lama, who in turn appoints the following Dalai Lama and so on (“basically playing a Buddhist version of hide-and-seek”), and the current Panchen Lama has not been seen or heard from in 20 years since he was kidnapped by the Chinese government at 6-years-old. And in the interim, China went ahead and appointed its own Panchen Lama.
So where does this leave the future of the Dalai Lama? As Oliver points out, we may be left with two competing Dalai Lama, or perhaps even no Dalai Lama. To get to the root of this very complex issue, Oliver hopped a 14 hour flight to India to talk to the Dalai Lama himself to try to sort this all out. He may not have asked the Dalai Lama any crack pizza jokes, but it’s a pretty insightful and funny interview in its own right.