Bern, Switzerland 16 April 2013
After several days in the predominantly French speaking part of Switzerland, today’s invitation to the University of Bern brought His Holiness the Dalai Lama to the country’s German speaking capital city. Prof Dr Martin Täuber, Rector of the University, received him as he arrived and introduced him to several colleagues before escorting him directly into the hall where he was to speak on the theme ‘Towards a Sustainable Future.’
In his introductory remarks the Rector explained that one of the University’s concerns is the state of the world and its potential for sustainable development. This includes studying disparities like those between North and South, rich and poor. He said the members of the University were excited to hear His Holiness’s views on these things. Science has had a huge impact on the human condition and will continue to be crucial to the future of the world. Students can learn about this in their studies, but they also need training in leadership and responsibility and there is a consensus in the University that His Holiness is an outstanding example of both.
Calling for a chair so the Rector could sit next to him on the platform, His Holiness began his remarks:
“Respected elder brothers and sisters and younger brothers and sisters, I am happy to be here with this opportunity to speak to you, particularly the younger generation. I often point out that my generation belongs to the twentieth century, which has now ended. I am nearly 78, but my physical condition is generally good, although my knees give me some trouble. If I was a sportsman this could be a problem, but my business is to talk: “blah, blah, blah.”
He told the students in the audience that they were truly the generation of the twenty-first century.
“Meanwhile the past is past, existing only as a memory about which nothing can be done, but the future lies ahead and we can hope that the twenty-first century will be happier. Historians have described the twentieth century as an era of violence and bloodshed during which 200 million people were killed. War is like a great fire for which human beings are the fuel – awful. If one person murders another, he can be executed or imprisoned, whereas someone who kills thousands is regarded as a hero. Something is wrong with this.”
He said that violence has long been a part of European history, but now has changed. Friendship between Germany and France, for example, previously unthinkable, has become a reality and instead of putting their own interests first, they now consider what benefits Europe. The nature of violence is unpredictable. People think it will only be limited, but once it starts it easily runs out of control. Consequently, there are reasons to hope that the twenty-first century will be different: an era of peace and dialogue.
“Peace is something we have to work to create. It doesn’t mean there won’t be problems, there will, but we should no longer resort to violence to solve it. When a conflict arises, our first recourse should be to dialogue. You young people have a responsibility to make this a more peaceful era.”
His Holiness suggested that if we stopped spending money on arms, we could invest it in renewable energy. If we transferred money and resources from arms manufacture to generating solar energy and water desalination plants, we could transform what are now barren areas into green land. This would be a contribution to a more sustainable economy.
Climate change is going to have far-reaching effects, he said, so the twenty-first century is not going to be easy. But again we have to be prepared to address our difficulties through dialogue. Instead of considering only our local requirements, we have to think on a global level and take account of the needs of humanity. We all want to live a happy life and avoid suffering and distress, but our future as individuals depends on the community in which we live. The future of that community depends on the nation and our national future depends on all humanity. With globalization, reality has changed and now our perceptions must adjust with it. Nothing takes place independently of everything else, so we need to take a much more holistic view.
As His Holiness finished what he called his ‘blah blah blah’, the hall filled with enthusiastic applause. Asked whether eating less meat was advisable, he said it was admirable, recounting his efforts to encourage vegetarianism amongst Tibetans while trying to adopt it himself. In answer to other questions he repeatedly highlighted the need to introduce secular ethics into the education system. These would be based on inner values, common sense and scientific findings.
Concluding his words of thanks, the Rector said he had a small gift to make. Switzerland is famous for watches and chocolate and, since one of the university buildings had previously been used for its manufacture, he offered His Holiness a large package of Toblerone chocolate.
The University then invited him to lunch, after which it was a short drive to the Swiss Parliament where he was received by HE Maya Graf, President of the National Council. They held consultations before she escorted him into the Parliamentary Chamber and meetings with members of parliament.
Addressing the Switzerland-Tibet Parliamentary Group that has taken up the issue of Tibet with the government for 25 years, His Holiness said it was a great honour to speak to elected representatives of the people. He described his efforts to foster democracy among Tibetans since 1952, culminating in his passing his political responsibilities to the elected leadership in 2011.
He stated that Tibet supporters were not so much pro-Tibet as pro-justice and reiterated that the Tibetan struggle was determinedly non-violent. Following appeals in vain to the UN in the 1960s, the Tibetan administration concluded in 1974 that sooner or later they would have to talk directly to China. At the time the Cultural Revolution was in full swing. In 1979, they made formal contact and in the 1980s Hu Yaobang visited Lhasa and apologised for what had taken place. However, policy hardened after he was dismissed and hardened further after the Tiananmen Square incident. His Holiness said that although contacts with China ceased in 2010, support for the Middle Way Approach has been growing among writers and intellectuals and other members of the Chinese public.
“It may be that the new leadership will take a more realistic view, but it’s too early to say. Meanwhile, among our concerns is the preservation of Tibetan Buddhism, an ancient culture that remains relevant today, and Tibet’s fragile ecology. At the same time generations change, but the Tibetan spirit remains strong.”
The final event of the afternoon was a meeting with the Press preceded by representatives of each of Switzerland’s seven political parties voicing concern about the ongoing situation in Tibet. They expressed support and solidarity with the
Tibetan people and called on the Swiss government to pay as much attention to respect for human rights, democracy and the rule of law as to Switzerland’s impending free trade agreement with China.
“I have visited this country several times since 1973,” His Holiness said, “and I’m happy to be here again. It seems that support for the Tibetan people is increasing thanks to you.”
He mentioned his retirement from political responsibility and sketched out his three commitments to promoting human happiness by talking about human values, fostering inter-religious harmony and that as a Tibetan, and someone in whom Tibetans repose their trust, he remains a free spokesman on their behalf. In conclusion he referred to meetings he has held with Chinese students and activists who have expressed support for the Middle Way Approach and stated clearly that if the Chinese people as a whole were aware of it, they would support it too.
Out on the sun drenched street, many Tibetans and their friends were gathered to see His Holiness off. He waved and smiled and as he got into his car the air was filled with loud cries of “Long Live the Dalai Lama.”