Providence, RI, USA, 17 October 2012 – It was a brisk and bright morning as His Holiness the Dalai Lama drove along the Charles River out of Boston on the way to Providence, Rhode Island today. All along the route the trees wore an array of autumn colours.
His first engagement on arrival in Providence was a meeting with Lama Tsewang Tashi Rinpoche and members of the Da Nang Benevolence Association, many of whom are Chinese. He advised them of the need to be twenty-first century Buddhists; not content with having faith in the Buddha and his teaching, but understanding what the teaching means and how it can be put into effect on a practical basis. He also recommended studying the classic Indian Buddhist texts, which are written from a broader point of view that does not assume the reader is a Buddhist.
At a reception at the President’s House prior to his talk, His Holiness met local religious leaders and friends of Brown University. He gave them a brief account of his three prime commitments. The first is to promote an understanding of human values, bearing in mind that all human beings are fundamentally the same in wanting to live a happy life and avoid problems. The second, as a Buddhist monk, is advocating inter-religious harmony, in the belief that all the major religious traditions have the same potential to bring about inner peace. The third is to work for the cause of Tibet. However, with the election of a young, dynamic political leadership last year, His Holiness has felt able to retire from his political responsibilities. His spiritual responsibilities as Dalai Lama however, will continue for the rest of his life, in fact, he joked, into the next life too.
His Holiness had been invited by Brown University to deliver one of the Stephen A. Ogden Jr. Memorial Lectures, a series of lectures on international relations in tribute to a Brown student who died young in the 1960s. In the Providence Convention Center, 5600 people gathered to listen and many more tuned in to a live web-cast. His Holiness was accompanied to the stage by Peggy Ogden and was introduced by the Brown University President, Christina Paxson. He opened in his usual way,
“Brothers and sisters, respected President of this esteemed university, I am happy and honoured to speak to such a large gathering. Although it seems this is my first visit, I feel we already know each other because we are all the same kind of human being. Mentally, physically and emotionally the same.”
He explained that everyone wants to live a happy life and avoid problems. Indeed we all have a right to do this and this relates to peace. When we are upset we become tense; we need peace because we want to be happy.
Many people faced with problems think they can solve them by force. Their urge is to destroy the obstacle, whatever it may be. His Holiness said that at the age of 77 it seems that for most of his life he has observed a world dominated by violence. The twentieth century was an era of bloodshed, whose ramifications we continue to experience today. He suggested that today’s young people think seriously about how to make this century an era of peace. In the globalised world in which we live, we have become so interdependent that it is in our own interest to be concerned and respectful of the interests of others.
“When problems arise,” he said, “we need to deal with them in a mutually beneficial way, that is by talking about them. I say this century should become an era of dialogue. People of my age, 50, 60 or 70, belong to the twentieth century a time that is past. Those who are only 15, 20 or 30 today are the generation of the future. You are our hope.”
The past is gone, we may learn from it, but we cannot change it, although, His Holiness chuckled, certain totalitarian regimes still seem to think they can rewrite the past.
“What is important, however, is that the shape of the future is in your hands today. Whether it is happy or troubled is yours to decide. I appeal to you, to whom the twenty-first century belongs, to look at things in a different way. Look at the bigger picture and take the entire world into account.”
His Holiness mentioned that we need to consider the environmental situation for our own survival. Then, there is the looming problem of the huge and growing gap between rich and poor. This is a problem it is in our own interest to address.
Turning to the questions of science and spirituality, His Holiness commented that leading scientists have begun to understand that it is no longer adequate to take a mechanical view of human beings. It’s essential to acknowledge their mental and emotional life. Many people are beginning to understand the limits of material values. Placing too great a store on material development and sensory pleasure provokes jealousy, which leads to suspicion, mistrust, fear and ultimately loneliness. We need to adopt an approach to creating a better world that allows us to employ our human intelligence in cultivating greater warm-heartedness without reference to established religious tradition. His Holiness suggests we act out of a sense of what he calls secular ethics. He said,
“Success can’t be measured by how much money you have, but by whether you have inner peace in your heart.”
To a question about how young people can make the most of their lives, His Holiness replied,
“I believe the purpose of life is to be happy. Happiness is not guaranteed, we have to work for it. The most important way to do this is to cultivate concern for others. That’s how to take a wise approach to our natural self-interest.”
Asked how he advises Tibetans to maintain their identity and resist cultural obliteration and how he would advise other indigenous people, without hesitation he answered,
“When the new situation first developed in 1949 I urged Tibetans to show unity. Then once we became refugees the priority was education. Not only modern education, but also traditional Tibetan education. We stressed our unique identity, of which our language is an obvious expression, an important element of which is that we have our own form of writing.”
Finally, His Holiness was asked how people should respond to developments such as the threat of terrorism. He recalled attending a service to mark the first anniversary of the events of September 11th, 2001. He pointed out then that there are mischievous people in all faiths and communities and that to tarnish the reputation of all Muslims because of the wickedness of a few is just unfair. Consequently, he has made a point of defending Muslims whenever possible, because isolating them will only make things worse. He related this to the situation in Tibet,
“After the demonstrations that swept across Tibet in 2008, the Chinese authorities tried to give the impression that Tibetans are all against the Han Chinese. That isn’t true, but we will only overcome this mistaken impression by reaching out to them, which is what we’re trying to do.
“ Thank you.”