His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Thomas Merton met in November 1968 in Dharamsala, India where the Dalai Lama was living in exile.
His Holiness and Thomas Merton had three lengthy meetings during the eight days Merton was staying with the exiled Tibetans. After their final meeting Merton wrote:
It was a warm and cordial discussion and at the end I felt we had become very good friends … I feel a great respect and fondness for him as a person and believe, too, that there is a real spiritual bond between us. (1)
The feeling was undoubtedly mutual. In his autobiography, Freedom in Exile, the Dalai Lama described Merton’s visit as one of his “happiest memories of this time” and said that it was Thomas Merton who “introduced [him] to the real meaning of the word ‘Christian’.” (2) Later, in an interview, when asked the three most influential people in his life His Holiness replied his Dharma teacher, Chairman Mao Tse-tung and Thomas Merton.
Again and again over the years in his public teachings the Dalia Lama has held up Thomas Merton as a model for interfaith dialog and world peace.
At the Abbey of Gethsemani in 1996 the Dalai Lama said:
I always consider myself as one of [Thomas Merton’s] Buddhist brothers. So … I always remember him, and I always admire his activities and his life-style. Since my meeting with him … I really follow some of his examples … So for the rest of my life, the impact of meeting him will remain until my last breath. I really want to state that I make this commitment, and this will remain until my last breath.