The Dalai Lama, in the Buddhist way of mastering contradictions, took his nonpolitical politicking to the politicians yesterday, as he visited Capitol Hill for congressional meetings and receptions.
Only a small bubble of excitement passed from place to place with the Tibetan holy man in an otherwise calm Washington afternoon. His visits were unannounced and only a few passers-by and knowledgeable staffers waited on the curbs and in the hallways for him to appear.
"Excuse me," one gray-haired lady asked another in front of the library of Congress, "But why are these people waiting here?" The small crowd had grown by one more. "How exciting!" said the lady.
After greeting a group of Asian specialists from the library staff outside, the Dalai Lama walked quickly through the building, stopping for a glance at a few books from the library's valuable Tibetan collection and to see the list of his own books under his real name -- Bstan-dzin-rgya-mtsho -- on the computerized catalog.
Apparently the State Department is much less excited to see the Dali Lama in town, said Rep. Charlie Rose (D-N.C.), who has been the holy man's congressional host.
"We called the State Department to ask them to declare the Dalai Lama a foreign official, so that he might come under the Foreign Officials Protection Act and be offered security services by the State Department. They tell me that this kind of thing is regularly offered to soccer players, and everyone else. But they refused to give it to the Dalai Lama."
One of the spokesmen for the Dalai Lama's party also said he had had plans to visit NASA facilities but the plans were canceled because of "Chinese sensitivity" and the State Department's objection.
The Dalai Lama is the self-exiled political and religious leader of Tibet, but is not recognized as official ruler of Tibet by either the People's Republic or by the United States. The Dalai Lama fled Tibet in April of 1959 when the Chinese crushed a popular revolt in Tibet.
"For fear of offending the Chinese," said a spokesman for the Dalai Lama, "the State Department, which at first was going to help with the visit and provide protection, is now trying to stay out of things entirely."
Congressmen were not deterred, however, even by the lack of alcohol at the grape juice and Seven-Up congressional reception. More than 180 congressmen accepted Rose's invitation to the reception, and it took more than an hour for them to pass His Holiness in the reception line.
The common lines of the week were heard often in the reception line, including the question of whether one should greet him with "Hello, Dalai. "The stars must be in some kind of spectacular conjunction," said former Congressmen Gilbert Gude, "to have the Dalai Lama this week, and the Pope two weeks from now."
During the afternoon press conference, the Dalai Lama had sat in the chair of Agriculture Committee Chairman Tom Foley, "I told Tom Foley," said Rose, "that now that the Dalai Lama has sat in his chair, it is blessed, and all his bills henceforward will pass."
The Dalai Lama ended the day at a reception in the Georgetown home of William H. Crocker, anthropologist at the Smithsonian Institution. The Dalai Lama held court in the living room from the comfort of a big easy chair, while guests commuted between the presence of His Holiness and the candlelit dining room, where the cheese, stawberries, cake, and non-alcoholic drinks were laid out.
The guests included congressmen, scholars of Asian culture and at least one White House aide.
It was at this reception that the serious political conversation, apparently, finally commenced. An hour after the party began, everyone gathered around the Dalai Lama in the living room and the press was asked to leave.
The Dalai Lama will leave today for Charlottesville, and then tour other parts of the country including Wisconsin, California and Michigan, ending his U.S. visit in Massachusetts on Oct. 19.