Riga, Latvia 9 September 2013
At the end of a long journey from India, His Holiness the Dalai Lama was warmly welcomed when he landed under bright skies in the northern European port city of Riga, capital of Latvia, yesterday. Members of the organizing committee for his visit, led by Janis Martins Skuja, met him at the airport and a smiling crowd of well-wishers awaited his arrival at his hotel.
His program today began with a meeting with the press. He opened, declaring:
“I’m very happy to be here for my third visit to this very pleasant city. Wherever I go I try to generate awareness of the sameness, the oneness of humanity. And as a Buddhist monk, I try to foster inter-religious harmony. All religions teach about compassion and to practice it we need tolerance and forgiveness which serve to protect our practice. Regarding Tibet, I retain a responsibility to try to preserve Tibetan Buddhist culture, which is a culture of peace and compassion.”
The journalists’ questions included enquiries about His Holiness’s attitude to money, to which he replied that we all need it. Even the Catholic monk he met in Barcelona who spent five years in retreat meditating on love and living mostly on bread and water needed some money. He said that the tendency for those involved in making money to think only of profit leading to the exploitation others and corruption is a problem. At work we need to be ethical, truthful and honest.
Asked whether it is better to respond to insults and abuse in silence, he said:
“We have mouths and we have wonderful languages; we should express ourselves.”
Regarding the apparent reluctance of political leaders to meet him publicly, he said that apart from his visits to Washington and Brussels his visits abroad are non-political. His main commitment is to engage with the public over matters of human values and religious harmony. In relation to the Tibetan cause he said he is not seeking separation but the genuine opportunity to preserve the Tibetan language and with it Tibetan Buddhist culture.
To a question about the power of an open mind, he said self-confidence is important and an essential factor in its development is openness and honesty. To another question about people trying to do spiritual practice without focussing on bodhichitta, the awakening mind, he said that developing a calm mind, a peaceful mind is good, and is the basis for developing the awakening mind of bodhichitta, which takes many years of steady effort to nurture.
Finally, His Holiness was asked his view of the prospect of Syria coming under international attack, and he suggested that violence never solves problems; the only solution is to use non-violence. Accordingly, in the twenty-first century, we need to resolve conflict through dialogue and discussion. The result of unleashing further force is unpredictable.
From the press conference at his hotel, His Holiness then walked, escorted by Latvian Parliamentarian Mr David Stalts, to the Freedom Monument, a memorial honouring soldiers killed during the Latvian War of Independence (1918–1920), which is an important symbol of the freedom, independence, and sovereignty of Latvia. He laid flowers and a silk kata at the foot of the monument and paused a moment in prayer.
From there he drove to the 90 year old Cinema Splendid Palace where he was to meet Buddhists and members of Tibet Support groups. In his introductory remarks he mentioned that this is his third visit to Latvia, having come previously in 1991 and 2001.
“Once again I have been touched by the warm and friendly feelings people have shown me from the moment I landed at the airport yesterday.”
For the Buddhists in his audience he offered a survey of the human development of religious sentiment and the place of Buddhism within it. He noted that he has worked for inter-religious harmony for the last 30 years and over the same period has also been conducting a dialogue with modern scientists. He compared healthy scientific scepticism with the Indian Buddhist master Nagarjuna’s critical appraisal of the Buddha’s teachings, stressing that study, reason and understanding are essential to be a Buddhist in the twenty-first century.
Turning to the Tibet Support Groups he expressed appreciation of their efforts on behalf of the 6 million Tibetans, noting again that preservation of Tibetan culture and inner values is the primary goal.
During an interview with Latvian Television His Holiness reiterated his principle interest in meeting the public rather than their leaders. He also explained that a factor in his decision to retire from his political responsibilities for Tibet was his sense since childhood that there had been too much power in too few hands. He described democracy as the best way to ensure rule of the people by the people, especially because it enables people to change their government.
Acknowledging that historically China, Mongolia and Tibet had been three powerful empires, he said that today, due to its poor material development, it could be in Tibet’s interest to remain within the PRC. He recalled the futility of raising the issue of Tibet at the UN and Pandit Nehru’s advice that dealing directly with the Chinese authorities would be more effective. A decision was taken in 1974 that sooner or later Tibetans would have to do just that. He averred that if the Chinese public knew that Tibetans were seeking genuine autonomy rather than outright independence, they would want to know why their government was not granting it.
When the interviewer wanted to know if His Holiness had added any other hobbies to his earlier interest in watch making, he replied that these days he spends his time in reading and meditation. When she asked for a message to the Latvian people, he said:
“It is a mistake to rely only on money to live a happy life. Please pay more attention to your inner world, learn to deal with your own mind, that’s how you can learn to tackle whatever problems you face.”
He continued this theme in a subsequent interview for a Latvian magazine when asked what people can do to find peace in their hearts.
“The opponent of peace of mind is not something external, but within us. As the American psychologist Aaron Beck pointed out to me, when we are angry, 90% of our anger is our own mental projection.”
Asked if he was prepared for his death, His Holiness replied that he rehearsed the process five times every day in his daily meditation practice, visualizing the dissolution of the body’s solidity, liquidity, heat, energy and mind, of which there are four levels, the grosser mind dissolving into the subtler. To the question why he does this he answered:
“To control death; to prepare for rebirth.”
Another interviewer for an Estonian magazine asked how best to help Tibet and other beings. His Holiness told him he appreciated the support and repeated that his main concern is not only about Tibetans’ political rights, but about preserving Tibetan Buddhist knowledge and culture. He requested Estonians to see how they could contribute to preserving this culture of peace and compassion.
At the Arena Riga in the afternoon, following a performance by an electric band with a string quartet, Janis Martins Skuja, founder of the Latvian Tibet Union, introduced His Holiness in Latvian. A stream of members of the audience came forward to place white lilies on the edge of the stage in front of him. He was invited to present the Dalai Lama Award for Youth Compassion to this year’s winner, Tereze Telpe, for her compassionate work in her locality, following which he began his public talk:
“Latvian brothers and sisters, I am very happy to be here once more with the opportunity to share some of my experience with you. I want to thank the organizers, despite the inconveniences and obstacles they have faced, for arranging this event. And I thank all of you for coming even though today is a working day.
“Whenever I have the chance, I talk about our inner values. We have a largely materialistic lifestyle characterized by a materialistic culture. However, this only provides us with temporary, sensory satisfaction, whereas long-term satisfaction is based not on the senses but on the mind. That’s where real tranquillity is to be found. And peace of mind turns out to be a significant factor in our physical health too.
“Whether our work is constructive or destructive depends on our motivation. When we concern ourselves with what others need, there’s no room for bullying, cheating or deception. Learning to lead our lives more transparently leads to trust, and friendship is based on trust.
“We need to make clear which of our emotions are harmful and which are helpful. We need to cultivate those that are conducive to peace of mind. Often, due to lack of knowledge, we accept anger and hatred as natural parts of our mind. This is an example of how ignorance is the source of our problems. We can reduce our destructive emotions by strengthening the positive ones. By initiating such emotional hygiene we can contribute to a healthier society.”
Among the questions from the audience was one about fear. His Holiness said that the fear that makes us run from a mad dog is useful and necessary, whereas fear rooted in mistrust is unhelpful and needs to be overcome. To another question about why there seem to be so many narrow minded, short-sighted, educated people, he answered that it is because of a lack of inner and moral values. Also, he remarked, it can occur when religious faith is too strong.
Asked what the point of such a life is, when he has neither wife nor family, His Holiness said that married life is more colourful, but it also has its ups and downs, whereas the celibate life is less colourful, but is steadier and more conducive to developing peace of mind. Another questioner wanted to know what he’d learned from other religious traditions and he acknowledged the hard work Christian brothers and sisters have done throughout the world to spread education, which is an inspiration.
Finally, asked the meaning of life, His Holiness replied:
“I usually say the aim of life is to be happy. Our existence is based on hope. Our life is rooted in the opportunity to be happy, not necessarily wealthy, but happy within our own minds. If we only indulge in sensory pleasure, we’ll be little different from animals. In fact, we have this marvellous brain and intelligence; we must learn to use it.”
In conclusion he appealed to his listeners to think more about what they’d heard, to discuss it with their friends and if it made sense to apply it in their own lives. However, he said that if they found it of little interest it would be quite all right to just let it go.
Before His Holiness left the stage to much acclaim, the organizers announced that anyone interested would be welcome to join the casting of the white lilies into the River Daugava at five o’clock.