Dustin Hiles put the brakes on his singing career when he was only 21.
The fast-rising opera tenor who calls Maple Ridge home was working through alcohol addiction issues and although he didn’t stop singing completely, he thought, “If I don’t do something with my life I’m going to end up on Hastings, or dead in a ditch.”
He found himself on a spiritual journey and when he joined the Hare Krishnas in 2010, he had no idea then, that decision would lead to a personal meeting with the 14th Dalai Lama in 2020.
Hiles made his debut as a soloist when he was only 15 years old with the Vancouver Symphony at the Orpheum Theatre. It was George Frideric Handel’s oratorio Messiah. In 2010, when he was 21, he was received by and performed for Queen Elizabeth II at her Canadian residence, Rideau Hall, as a personal guest of Peter Milliken, 34th speaker of the Canadian House of Commons.
In 2015, he sang the French lyrics of the national anthem opposite Canadian tenor Richard Margison for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and more than 2,000 dignitaries and guest at the caucus Christmas dinner.
Throughout his career he also studied under the world-renowned Spanish opera singer Montserrat Caballé until she passed away in October 2019.
Most recently, he has performed in Paris for the former Queen of Iran and in Germany.
However, since 2012, Hiles has been spending up to six months a year in India, travelling the country, visiting ashrams and temples. Around four years ago, he even started a vocal program at the Mayapur Kirtan Academy where he trains singers and teaches traditional Hindu devotional poetry that is put to song.
In his spare time, he volunteers with a group called Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity where he feeds the poor, shaves the beards and clips the nails of men who have special needs. Hiles is currently in Sri Mayapur Dham in West Bengal, about four hours north of Kolkata.
He has been in India now for about two months. On Jan. 2, the Dalai Lama spent his first day of five days of teaching in Bodhgaya, Bihar.
Hiles and his friends decided to catch a train on Jan. 3 to the city where, he explained, Buddha attained enlightenment by sitting under a bodhi tree for 47 days.
The next day, Hiles approached a registration booth to try and sign up for one of the lectures being given by the Dalai Lama but was told that he had to register around 10 days prior, but if he gave them his information, they would contact him if anything changed.
The next day, Hiles received a message on Instagram asking to him to meet in front of a hotel. The man was a nephew of the Dalai Lama. They went up to his room and had tea where Hiles was told he would get five minutes with the man considered the patron saint of Tibet. Hiles was also put in a receiving line.
“This is the funny part, I didn’t even ask for an audience with the Dalai Lama or anything special. I just said I just wanted to get into one of the programs for the 10,000 people there,” said Hiles from India.
“I didn’t event expect to get within 10 metres of the Dalai Lama,” he said.
Hiles initially was part of a group of 50 people who were given a 45-minute private lecture by the Dalai Lama on Jan. 8, before meeting him. Hiles said the Dalai Lama blessed his mother, Stephanie, a practising Buddhist, and talked to him about his spiritual life.
“He was just so personable. He held my hand, he tapped my head. Like a loving grandfather who knows what you need,” said Hiles who said he felt like the whole universe stopped during the meeting.
Hiles will be in India until May. In February, he will be travelling to Auroville, a town in Tamil Nadu, India, that was founded in 1968 for people from all countries to live in peace and harmony together. There he will be given a tour and he will also be giving a lecture and workshop on singing.
When he returns to Canada he is hoping to perform in Toronto with the Canadian Opera Company and also perform some local concerts