The Dalai Lama in Scotland

His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama has thrown his weight behind the Scottish devolution model, declaring that he believes a version of it might bring peace to Tibet. "I think so. Scotland has its own tradition, its own heritage, something unique in its identity there. The UK works in different parts and with different accents, like in Scotland. These differences are not imposed but come from nature and fit the local people. These are things that give that uniqueness of identity. But it is very important not to forget the bigger picture, the common interest of the whole. This I think is not only now relevant to some individual countries but to the whole world, to think in the global sense. Each country should consider itself to be a member of that whole humanity."

People at large, His Holiness feels, are less concerned about nationalist issues than they once were. Public interest in politics has been mellowed and diluted by greater multi-racialism and a more profound understanding of global, universal values.

Dalai Lama "At one time in Europe, it was all about sovereignty and complete independence. Now people don't so much care about complete sovereignty. So I think the idea is different ethnic people united for common interest, common benefit, common good, remaining under one country. I think this is very good. Individual autonomy can remain within the union."

That will not be music to the ears of the SNP. The vision of the Dalai Lama will always be upon the wider world, not the narrower issues of national identity.

The Dalai Lama is giving teachings on Buddhist scriptures for three days before coming to Edinburgh on Tuesday evening. He will visit the Scottish Parliament on Wednesday, Dunfermline Abbey and the Usher Hall on Thursday, and will be seen by at least 28,000 people during his six days here, including the main faith leaders and the First Minister. The open venue at Pittencrieff Park in Dunfermline is free to visitors and can accommodate anything up to 50,000 people. Police and Fife Council are estimating that some 15,000 will come.

His Holiness's first engagement at Scotland was at the SECC in Glasgow where he addressed over 9000 people. With his characteristically radiating smile and aura of calm, he sat down upon a gold-upholstered Queen Anne style chair on the stage, bent down, untied his laces, removed his shoes, tucked his 68 year old feet underneath himself and declared, "now I'm comfortable and can talk for three hours!"

The UK, he says, is like a second home to him. He feels at ease, comfortable. "Scotland is very welcoming, very nice people here, always very warm. Today I have arrived in this beautiful city of Glasgow and many thousands of citizens have welcomed me and I would like to express my deep appreciation of such a wonderful welcome. I thank you for your Celtic song and for your pipes."

Next morning, we meet at 9 am. His Holiness has slept for nine hours and meditated for four as is his normal practise. His mental discipline, learned over the years, must help? "I make very little progress. No good. Waste of time!" he laughs. "I have nothing special to offer, no miracles, nothing."

His penetrating insight and capacity to delve below the obvious doesn't, he thinks, mark him out as anything special. "We are all the same. We all have the same potential. Good, bad. Constructive, destructive."

It is a fundamental tenet of Buddhist thinking. Everyone has the capacity to reach enlightenment though it may take several incarnations. This wider vision leads on to a level of religious tolerance rather less familiar in some countries, including Scotland. Could a more Buddhist led approach help toward reconciliation?

"I think firstly you use common sense. Whether you like it or not, there are a variety of people, of faiths. All humanity cannot be Catholic or Protestant or some other tradition. I always believe that it is better to keep one's own tradition. Through centuries, different faiths remain in spite of conversion, but to convert all human beings to one religious faith is not practical. The reality is what we have, so many different faiths. That is good.

"We have full democracy, liberty, freedom of thought. There is much more harmony. Protestant and Catholic are the same. They all follow Jesus Christ and the Trinity and the 10 Commandments, so what is the problem? There is no need for this distinction.

"It's like with food. Even in one family, there is one member who wants spicy and another who doesn't. I think it is foolish to create a quarrel on a basis of 'I like this' and 'you like that.' To fight on this basis is foolish. Some like Protestant, some Buddhist, some Protestant, some are complete atheist. No one has the right to impose a religion. Not only no right, but also, practically, this is causing trouble. Making quarrels."

The Dalai Lama knows a great deal about division. Tibet was viciously divided by the Chinese People's Army when it invaded in 1950, cutting a swathe through the ethnic Tibetan community and killing a million people in the ensuing years.

Even so, His Holiness continues to refer to "my brothers and sisters in China" and refuses to countenance anything other than the most benevolent of attitudes. As head of the Tibetan Government in exile in Dharamsala for more than 50 years now, he is still trying to build negotiations with the People's Republic. He has withdrawn from any demand for total independence but still seeks a Tibetan Autonomous Region which will protect traditions, culture, language and the Buddhist tradition.

In Scotland, there are over 6,000 Buddhists and most don't come from Buddhist ethnic origins but are converts, largely from Christianity. Given his preference for people to remain within their own faith traditions, what is his advice to Scottish Buddhist converts?

"Some individuals really do not have much interest in their own tradition, or they have no tradition at all, or they have an interest, a curiosity, about Buddhism. Some have a dissatisfaction with materialistic life and perhaps Buddhism is one of the choices.

"If they want to practise the Dharma, my suggestion is study. First, know before you make a decision. Have the knowledge of what Buddhism is and of the whole structure. It is not just to recite a few prayers. It is not sufficient. I think it is much better to study the whole thing, get a sense, then start to practise, otherwise sometimes without knowing the whole system, it is a fashion only - a few prayers, a few meditations with some expectation of change, some kind of improvement in a short period. It won't be that. That I think is really a waste of time and a waste of energy!"

While he is perfectly content for people to draw on certain elements of Buddhism to integrate into their daily lives, what he will not accept is the idea that they can therefore describe themselves as Buddhists. "Remain something like sceptical, that is okay. Take something that is suitable to you, but then perhaps you call it New Buddhism or something like that. No, there is a strong tradition, a long history. There are New Age people who take something from here, something from there, so in reality everything is mixed and if you call it New Age that's okay, but not to call it Buddhism."

According to the Dalai Lama, the most important tenet of Buddhism is "compassion and a warm heart." He is, he says, "a simple Buddhist monk with nothing special to offer," but his penetrating wisdom will remain strong in the minds of those who meet or hear him in these days.

Written by Maggie Stanfield

Maggie Stanfield is the Chief Executive of Written Words - a full communications service based in Edinburgh. They write in a wide range of newspapers, magazines and online - and they write for business clients, devising marketing literature, composing speeches, newsletters, corporate communications and features. Find out more at their website: