The Highlands of Scotland aren’t usually top choice for world leaders on tour. But in June 2012 the city of Inverness found a living hero in its midst – an exiled Tibetan Buddhist monk turned globe-trotting man of peace and one of the world’s best known religious figures, the Dalai Lama.
BBC ALBA’s Trusadh: Là an Dalai – Dalai Day [Monday 22nd October, 21.00 – 22.00] is a heart-warming tribute to the day His Holiness the Dalai Lama came to town to give one of his most intimate public talks.
The spiritual leader and former Head of State for Tibet fled to India in the 1950s when communist China invaded. He’d longed to visit the Highlands of Scotland since childhood but had never made it beyond Edinburgh.
Trusadh meets the tour organisers as they explore the challenging logistics of transporting the famous holy man; and spends time with Zen and zany Highlanders as they prepare an occasion to remember – from Buddhist ceremonies to a rather unusual dog collar. It’s an unexpected and colourful gathering.
Edinburgh based Victor Spence, the tour organiser, is a busy man, coordinating a visit to three cities in two days with one Dalai. Suspense mounts – can he and his team make His Holiness’ first visit to the Highlands a success?
Victor says: ‘Travelling to Inverness is usually an easy task. But when you’ve got someone you really have to look after, and protect, you start to face challenges you wouldn’t normally. People are in such awe of this man that on many occasions individuals will walk out in the road or try and get close to him in his car and create a danger for themselves and others. He wants to engage with people but there are a lot of security risks involved.’
On the Dalai Lama he says: ‘I actually think that he’s a beacon of positivity. His presence seems to raise consciousness.’
Helen Macrae, a Tibetan Buddhist from Inverness, is helping organise the visit. She has recently retired from the hectic life of a newspaper editor but reveals that this visit has had its share of pressure, explaining: ‘Lots of work went on behind the scenes. Lots of emails and lots of letters that weren’t replied to and you thought nothing was happening. Then suddenly we got told that, right it’s all happening.’
Praising the Dalai Lama, she says: ‘He’s giving us values to live by – values that we haven’t necessarily lost because we know what we want, but we don’t know always know how to find them.’
Gavin MacLeod Humphreys [above], a Gaelic speaking Buddist originally from Inverness, thinks he will just be an average punter on the day but gets some unexpected good news. On meeting His Holiness, he says: ‘I could feel my face going red and I felt just like a little boy in his presence. He has faced many struggles during his life. I think he’ll leave a huge legacy behind.’
The programme also features Amy McCann, a schoolgirl from Nairn who was chosen to MC the event – a massive job at only 18 years of age; and George Ledingham, owner of Hamish the Dog. George can’t believe it when he gets a phone call from Victor asking if the Dalai Lama can meet his rare Tibetan Mastiff, Hamish. But will Hamish want to meet His Holiness?
Trusadh: Là an Dalai provides an insight into Scotland’s growing Buddhist community. It also explores the historic role of the Dalai Lama, whose peaceful appeal for Tibet’s cultural and spiritual independence is now supported by millions worldwide, striking a particular note with some Scots.
Note: The photographs accompanying this article are © Ewen Wetherspoon Photography (Inverness).