Rolling Stone interview with Dalai Lama, a dharma bum critique

Posted on August 20, 2011


I read Rolling Stones’ interview with the Dalai Lama today. He’s retiring from political leadership of the Tibetan government and has been in the news. I respect the interviewer, Melissa Matheson, who wrote the screenplay for ‘Kundun’, a biography directed by Martin Scorsese. The thing is even with all her research into the man I feel I know him better than she does.

In the interview’s preamble Matheson refers to ‘karmic merit’. There is a inaccurate tradition in western culture that karma somehow refers to ‘payback’ or ‘what goes around comes around’. Even with my rudimentary understand of Buddhism, I know there can be no ‘merit’ associated with karma, which simply means doing in Buddhist terminology. There can be no merit because in Buddhism there is no ‘self’.

I like the Dalai Lama because he’s a man not an icon. He’s not a celebrity who imagines himself to be like his image in a magazine (The American playwright Edward Albee said actors soon come to resemble their photographs). Like any other man the Dalai Lama gets frustrated, and I can sense his frustration in the interview. I imagine him squeezing his fists and thinking, ‘I’m the Buddha of Compassion, dammit. It’s other people I care about!’ 🙂 He gives Matheson plenty of clues: telling her he didn’t even read the document handing over power to the new government, saying that returning to Tibet, or being buried in Tibet wasn’t important, telling her that his ‘legacy’ or what people say about him after he dies is equally unimportant. Over and over again he told her he doesn’t think of himself as an important person and I don’t think she got it.

‘Oh, East is East and West is West, and never the twain shall meet’ Kipling wrote over a century ago. Today East meets West every day, except perhaps today in the Rolling Stone.

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