Victor Chan bio

Victor Chan

Victor Chan was born and raised in Hong Kong. After high school he attended colleges in Canada and the US.

In 1971, needing a break from his studies, Chan bought a VW bus in Utrecht, Holland and planned to make his way overland to India. A few months into the trip he found himself spending half a year in Afghanistan, then a haven for dropouts and would-be adventurers.

At the end of his sojourn he was abducted, together with two fellow travelers, Cheryl from New York and Rita from Munich, by three rifle-wielding Afghan men. They managed to escape after three days and Chan traveled with Cheryl to India. It turned out that she had a letter of introduction to the Dalai Lama.

It was in March of 1972 that Chan, an ethnic Chinese, sat face-to-face with the exiled Tibetan leader for the first of many encounters. This unusual story is first told in the Wisdom of Forgiveness: Intimate Conversations and Journeys (Riverhead Books, 2004), a book co-authored by the Dalai Lama and Chan. The book was short-listed for the Best Spiritual Book of 2005 (Nautilus Prize, New York) and translated into 14 languages.

The Dalai Lama and Chan’s new book, the Wisdom of Compassion: Stories of Remarkable Encounters and Timeless Insights, will be published by Riverhead on Dec 27, 2012.

According to the Kirkus Review, “The authors—Chan previously co-wrote The Wisdom of Forgiveness (2004) with the Dalai Lama—bring forth numerous stories of empathy and consideration that they have personally witnessed. Believing that a person's goal in life is to be happy, and that the causes of unhappiness are primarily internal bouts of anger, attachment and ignorance, the Dalai Lama has spent more than 50 years practicing and promoting his wisdom to millions of people around the world. From watching the Dalai Lama interact with young children with serious illnesses to recording the wise words of his good friend, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Chan portrays a rarely seen, intimate side of the Dalai Lama, a life full of wit and lightheartedness balanced by wisdom and compassion. Regardless of religious beliefs, readers will gain a deeper understanding of human nature and our capacity to show consideration and benevolence to those around us as they follow Chan and the Dalai Lama on a global tour. ‘For the Dalai Lama,’ writes Chan, ‘compassion and wisdom are the fundamental building blocks of society. In our homes and in our schools, he believes, we should systematically nurture a culture of warmheartedness, a culture of kindness. They are essential elements, critical to having a happy life.’ The first place this bond of compassion is formed is when a baby nurses on her mother's milk; as such, women are by nature compassionate "life-givers.

“Although readers may not be able to spend five hours a day in meditation and prayer like the Dalai Lama, they will come away with a better sense of the importance of communication, forgiveness and empathy, regardless of the circumstances.”

To research these two books, Chan has travelled and interviewed the Dalai Lama extensively. They were together at many remarkable gatherings in Asia, the Indian sub-continent, Europe, North America and inside the Arctic Circle. They also had numerous one-on-one conversations at the Tibetan’s residence in Dharamsala, India.

In the eighties, over a period of four years, Chan made 11 visits to Tibet. He covered 42,000 kms on foot, bicycle, horseback, and by coracles, trucks and buses. He crossed over 200 high Himalayan passes on foot and was the first person to reach Lhasa from Kathmandu by bicycle. He is also the only non-Tibetan to reach all three of the most important Tibetan pilgrimages, Mount Kailash (see Peter Snelling’s The Sacred Mountain), Lapchi and Tsari. These visits led to his 1100-page Tibet Handbook: A Pilgrimage Guide (Moon Publications, 1994). It is recognized as the most comprehensive guide to the history, culture, art, and sacred places of Tibet. It provides extensive information on Tibet’s most important monasteries, hermitages, and pilgrimage sites.

The late Professor Michael Aris (St. Antony’s College, Oxford) and husband of Aung San Suu Kyi of Burma, wrote: “This is by far the most detailed and comprehensive guide to Tibet ever to appear in a Western language—a monument to the labors of the intrepid Victor Chan, who is a worthy successor of the great explorers of the 19th century. It will be a long time before this indispensable work is superseded.”

In 2005 Chan, together with the Dalai Lama, founded the Dalai Lama Center for Peace and Education in Vancouver, Canada. He has hosted the Tibetan spiritual leader three times in the city. In 2004 he was the chair of the Organizing Committee that convened the symposium on “How to balance educating the mind with educating the heart” which featured the Dalai Lama, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Shirin Ebadi and Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi.

In 2006 the Dalai Lama returned to Vancouver to participate in the Vancouver Dialogues, a forum dedicated to promoting the Dalai Lama Center’s key themes of compassion, peace and education of the heart. 

In September 2009, the Dalai Lama once again visited the city to be a keynote speaker of the Vancouver Peace Summit. The conference featured a total of five Nobel Laureates: Mairead Maguire, Jody Williams, Betty Williams, Murray Gell-Mann and the Dalai Lama. Panelists included prominent change agents like Sir Ken Robinson, Eckhart Tolle, Sir Bob Geldof, Martha Piper, Kim Campbell, Maria Shriver, Mary Robinson, Sir Fazle Hasan Abed, Ela Bhatt, Peter Buffett, Pierre Omidyar, Craig Kielburger and others.

Chan and the Dalai Lama Center are currently working to bring the Dalai Lama back to Vancouver in the near future.