Dalai Lama Shares Unique Approach To Alcoholism With John Oliver

By William Georgiades 03/07/17

The Dalai Lama offered a bizarre trick that he says helped him get Mongolians to stop drinking so much.

John Oliver and Dalai Lama
Photo via YouTube

Last Sunday, on John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight, the comedian took a break from covering politics to visit the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala, India, where the Tibetan religious leader has lived in exile for the past 50 years.

In a wide-ranging interview that covered China’s portrayal of the Dalai Lama as a “demon” and an “evil wolf,” and the Dalai Lama’s successor, the interview took a bizarre turn towards an unusual approach to alcoholism in Mongolia, reports the Huffington Post.

“On one of my previous visits to Mongolia, they took a lot of vodka,” he said. “Then I suggested they drink much less vodka. Instead of that, drink horse milk.”

An incredulous Oliver asked, “Wait. Hold on. You tried to wean them off vodka by giving them horse milk?”

“Oh yes, they follow,” the Dalai Lama responded. “Since then, the majority of Mongolia, no longer any drink.”

In a 2010 report from the World Health Organization, it was found that 10.8% of Mongolian men had alcohol use disorders and a further 4.8% had alcohol dependence. 

In 2006 findings from the World Health Organization, it was found that 22% of Mongolian men and 5% of women were dependent on alcohol, a rate three times higher than in Europe.

And in a 2003 report, the BBC suggested that alcoholism in Mongolia had reached “epidemic levels.”

The Dalai Lama’s teachings on Buddhism have long contributed to the discussion of addiction treatment. In 2013, Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), met with the Dalai Lama to discuss the science of addiction, where he discussed the importance of prevention and education—though he acknowledged that when in the grips of addiction, medical science would be more help than Buddhism. 

On last Sunday’s broadcast, Oliver responded to the claim, “Not to labor the point, but I would see horse milk and I would think ‘Oh, that came from a horse. I don’t know how you get it out of a horse.’” To which His Holiness could only respond with laughter.

His larger point came towards the end, as the Dalai Lama responded to China’s portrayal of him as an “evil wolf.” Echoing his sentiments on addiction and the Buddhist belief that all suffering comes from craving, he said, “Whatever they want to say, that’s their freedom. I have no negative feeling. I just feel love. I practice, you see, taking others’ anger, suspicion, distrust, and give them patience, tolerance and compassion. I practice that.”

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William Georgiades is a former editor at EsquireBlack Book, the New York Post and the Grapevine and has written for several publications including New York MagazineVanity Fair, the London Times and GQ. He has been the features editor at The Fix since 2013. You can find him on Linkedin.