Dalai-fe of Brian

The Unwinking Gaze is a new documentary that follows the Dalai Lama for 18 months as he goes about his business as, well, the Dalai Lama. It is a fascinating film about a fascinating man. China won't speak to him, or let him into China, describing him as a politician who advocates Tibetan independence. He himself describes himself as a spiritual leader, and says that he is not motivated by independence, but by securing freedoms for Tibetan people.

One of the many extraordinary things about him was his patience. His secretary joked that he would have snapped years ago, but somehow the Dalai Lama carried on being phlegmatic and calm about people misinterpreting his intentions. His patience was also evident every time he met the Tibetan people. It was strangely reminiscent of Monty Python's Life of Brian. Every time he encountered the public they treated him like the Messiah, whilst he tried to behave like a 'normal' person, advocating sensible, practical solutions to their problems. It seemed as if many of them would happily sit on a nail and howl unless he told them not to:

BRIAN: Good morning.

FOLLOWERS: A blessing! A blessing! A blessing!...

BRIAN: No. No, please! Please! Please listen. I've got one or two things to say.

FOLLOWERS: Tell us. Tell us both of them.

BRIAN: Look. You've got it all wrong. You don't need to follow me. You don't need to follow anybody! You've got to think for yourselves. You're all individuals!

FOLLOWERS: Yes, we're all individuals!

BRIAN: You're all different!

FOLLOWERS: Yes, we are all different!

DENNIS: I'm not.

Like most of us would, Brian rather loses his rag, whereas the Dalai Lama seemed to accept everything calmly as part of his role. At one point a man arrived to see the Dalai Lama, holding his daughter, one of whose arm bones was jutting out through the flesh. "Only you can save her, your holiness," he said. The Dalai Lama's response was an incredulous "Is that her bone? Take her to a hospital immediately! She needs urgent medical attention!"

At another point he argued very coherently against trying to free Tibet, pointing out that the Chinese would not allow this, and it would inevitably lead into a war of independence that the Tibetans simply couldn't win. Instead, it was argued that freedoms could be won by undermining the Chinese desire to increase its economic power. Peaceful political pressure, dialogue, winning the battle of ideas, these were his messages, and it seemed to rile many people, especially those running the "Free Tibet" campaign.

What intrigued me particularly was whether he was chosen as the Dalai Lama because he already had extraordinary qualities, or whether he acquired them along the way? Whatever the reasons, he is such an exceptionally rare type of leader that he should be supported by all people who value freedom and enlightenment. Sadly, it seems as if many of those who claim to do so don't actually listen to what the great man is saying. It's perhaps rather fortunate that he is able to always look on the bright side of life.