[P]erhaps the most surprising thing about the Dalai Lama’s sojourn at the A.E.I., which took place at its downtown 17th Street headquarters on February 19 and 20, was that the relationship between spiritual leader and think tank began at his behest, not A.E.I.’s. In the very days last autumn, as Congressional Republicans were charging down the political blind alley of the government shutdown, Pletka and A.E.I.’s president, Arthur Brooks, were meditating with His Holiness at his base in Dharmsala, India, in the Himalayas. They were there at his invitation, which had been conveyed through mutual contacts at Radio Free Asia, the U.S.-government-funded broadcaster.
There was something, it seemed, about the A.E.I.’s message under Brooks’s leadership that had prompted the Dalai Lama to reach out. Part of it, I later learned, was Brooks’s assertion that the ultimate goal of public policy should be to maximize human happiness, not material wealth. Indeed, the title of one of Brooks’s books, published in 2008, is Gross National Happiness—a phrase that is also employed as the official metric of prosperity espoused by the rulers of the Buddhist kingdom of Bhutan.
Meanwhile, Brooks has been spending a lot of time trying to develop what George W. Bush once termed “compassionate conservatism.” Brooks believes that the only way the American right can regain both moral stature and political energy is to prove itself more effective at eliminating poverty than the left has been. Conservatives, he says, need to be able to go to bed each night knowing they did something that day to help the poor.
It need hardly be said that compassion has always been the human quality preached most insistently by His Holiness. It extends even to the people of China, which has occupied his country, often brutally, since 1951. To illustrate the point, he likes to recall a conversation he had with a monk who had been a political prisoner in a Chinese labor camp for 18 years, and told how this had exposed him to danger—not physical peril, but “the danger of losing my compassion for the Chinese.”
“Strictly speaking, I am socialist,” he told me in our interview, “so I am leftist. Some people say, this organization [the A.E.I.], is more rightist.” But that did not preclude a dialogue: “I have a very good impression [of Brooks], so therefore I accept his invitation. I felt, rightist also human being . . . Their main purpose is how to build happy society. So it doesn’t matter.”
Nor did he plan to try to convert A.E.I. and its wealthy business donors—some of whom were attending the A.E.I. event—to socialism: “No, no, no. They have own way of thinking. Their own way of belief. The important thing is, I am Buddhist, but I should never restrict my talking to Buddhists: totally wrong. So you have your own view, your own way of thinking: O.K., then that way you make a contribution.
“I have many friends among both parties, from Republicans and from Democrats . . . The most important thing is oneness of humanity. America is [the] leading nation of free world. American principles, democracy, liberty: right now these things [are] very important.”...Wow. It's truly shocking to consider that the Dalai Lama, an avowed socialist, "gets" the American ethos of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness far better than most Democrats--including Barack Obama--do.