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"For a happier, more stable and civilized future, each of us must develop a sincere, warm-hearted feeling of brotherhood and sisterhood."

Charm, Confusion, and Lots of Sweeties

May 25, 2008

Simon Hoggart
The Guardian (UK)
May 23, 2008 

The MPs were thrilled. The Dalai Lama made his way down the corridor towards the Boothroyd room in Portcullis House bowing to everyone he passed. Several people bowed right back. The Dalai Lama, or Jetsun Jamphel Ngawang Lobsang Yeshe Tenzin Gyatso as his friends call him, has held the job since the age of four, so is adept at avoiding an embarrassing clash of heads. For someone who has been in place for effectively all his life, he wears his dignity very lightly.

He took his seat facing the foreign affairs committee. They wriggled with pleasure - why, nine out of 14 of them had actually troubled to turn up, in spite of the Crewe byelection. It's not every day that they have the incarnation of Avalokitesvara, the Buddha of Compassion, in for a grilling. The triangular Toblerone name-bar in front of him announced "His Holiness the Dalai Lama". He was the holiest person any committee has had since Frank Field came in.

Before turning up I studied the Dalai Lama's 18 rules for living. Some of them seemed rather good. "Learn the rules so you know how to break them properly," was one. "Once a year go somewhere you have never been before," is another. Clearly the Boothroyd room fitted that bill.

There was a crack team of four Hansard writers, with two reserves waiting. His Holiness's English is excellent, but his accent is thick and hard to follow. Now and again the stenographers would peer at each other in bafflement. He began by transfixing the committee by fossicking about in his crimson robes.

"I am looking for something," he said. "Certainly not the Daily Mail," said Andrew Mackinlay MP. Or the Dalai Mail, as we call it.

Finally he found a small object wrapped in foil. "A sweetie!" he announced triumphantly. He explained that he had to eat plenty during the day, since "Buddhist monks - no dinner! So I always carry something." The committee relaxed. Clearly the witness was both a spiritual leader and a good egg. He was cautious about the Chinese, or "our Chinese brothers and sisters" as he called them. They don't appear to reciprocate his kindness. "They call me demon, or wolf. Okay, no problem." He chuckled.

He did quite a lot of chuckling. Clearly it was a means of deflecting difficult questions. Tories on the committee wanted him to criticise Gordon Brown for meeting him at Lambeth Palace rather than No 10. Tony Blair had had him in. "No difference!" said His Holiness. "With Clinton, they call it a 'drop-in'. I am meeting with vice-president Gore, and President Clinton came, called a 'drop'." He beamed at his own cleverness at getting rid of that poser.

He was very careful not to say anything too horrible about the Chinese, with whom he clearly hopes to cut a deal one day. This involved at times making very long and convoluted replies, ignoring his own precept No 10, "silence is sometimes the best answer". The committee kept their rictus grins of welcome. Then the session was over, but he showed no sign of leaving.

He put his hands together and bowed to the chairman. Then he bowed to each MP. Then he bowed to the public at the back of the room. Then he turned to the Hansard reporters and bowed to them. They certainly deserved it. In fact, a box of sweeties would have been nice.
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