A few days ago I was idly watching a morning current affairs programme when to my pleasant surprise an interview with the Dalai Lama was shown. He had been in the UK, and the good old BBC had recorded an interview that he gave with Andrew Marr. Mr Marr is renowned for taking no prisoners, especially when he is interviewing politicians.
Two things struck me about the Dalai Lama during the course of that brief interview. Firstly, I was really surprised that his command of the English language was not to the standard that I had assumed it would be. Having said that, I don’t speak Tibetan, so we can safely say that his English blows my command of his own Mother Tongue completely out of the water. The other thing was that he didn’t seem to have much of a personality. These are not judgements you understand, but merely observations. I was actually a bit disappointed that I could not imagine myself enjoying witty banter with him over a mug of green tea and a plate of Cadbury’s Chocolate Fingers.
Andrew Marr seemed to be having difficulty understanding him, and although more restrained than normal, he managed to ask His Holiness one very leading question during this all-too-brief interview. Well, I suppose he had to, didn’t he? Otherwise he wouldn’t have been Andrew Marr. Mr Marr asked His Holiness if it was true that he’d enjoyed a very cordial relationship with the late Mau Tse-Tung (or Chairman Mau as he was know), the Chinese Communist revolutionary and founding father of The People’s Republic of China. Mr Marr offered that it seemed rather unusual for the Tibetan leader of the Buddhist religion to be “snuggling” up with the leader of a country that was responsible for inflicting such terrible suffering on his own. I must admit that it certainly was news to me and I also thought it to be strange to say the least. Unruffled, His Holiness simply answered rather enthusiastically in the affirmative, and then went on to share an anecdote with the now rather bewildered looking Mr Marr. He went on to say that the relationship between him and Mau was so good in fact that when, on occasion, they met up for meals, he had food served to him by Mau personally. Not only that, the good Chairman would use his own chopsticks to put food in the Dalai Lama’s bowl. His Holiness went on to say that in his mind he would be privately horrified that the Chairman might also have been serving up some of his germs too. This little anecdote was completely lost on Andrew Marr who greeted the revelation with all the enthusiasm of a turkey waiting for Christmas.
……. And then it was all over. Mr Marr said “thank you” and The Dalai Lama, ever cordial, raised his hands towards him in the namaskar position as they exchanged polite goodbyes.
The whole thing seemed a bit surreal to me, and I actually felt quite disappointed that the holy man was not how I imagined him to be. Not only that, he was also prone to “doing lunch” with a tyrant. Let’s face it, China’s record on human rights, to this day, does leave something to be desired. However, it was either the next day or the day after when I had one of those eureka moments. The penny dropped! How could I have been so blind to have missed what was actually going on right before my eyes. One of the most important and basic fundamental principles of Buddhism is non-judgementalism. The Dalai Lama was simply demonstrating that he was true to his religion and himself. It reminded me a bit of what Gandhi said just prior to India gaining independence. There were those who wanted to go down the terrorist route and were trying to encourage Gandhi to side with them. But even though he had been beaten and unjustly thrown into jail on countless occasions by the British, he said “no, we want the British to leave as our friends”.
What the Dalai Lama did during that interview was actually to demonstrate why some people (him for instance) are spiritual leaders, and others (me for instance) are spiritual aspirants. He of course was, and is, well aware of the plight of his country and its people, caused solely by the actions of the Chinese. But he did not pass judgement on Mau Tse-Tung. Instead, he accepted the friendship of someone he simply saw as another human being. Yes, they don’t call him The Dalai Lama for nothing.
If you can cultivate the right attitude, your enemies are your best spiritual teachers because their presence provides you with the opportunity to enhance and develop tolerance, patience and understanding – The Dalai Lama