Glastonbury, Somerset, UK, 28 June 2015
It was raining when the helicopter carrying His Holiness the Dalai Lama from London landed on a high field near the village of Pilton, site of the Glastonbury Festival. He was welcomed on arrival by Michael Eavis, the founder of the Festival and owner of Worthy Farm on which it takes place, and his third wife, Liz. The two men soon discovered that they are both 80 years old this year. Robert Richards, principal organizer of the Festival led His Holiness to his car. They drove to the Festival Viewing point from where there is a clear view over the Festival area, the main stages, including the Pyramid stage, and camping grounds. This year 203,000 people are attending the event.
His Holiness and his party drove through the main Festival area to the King’s Meadow, site of a modern megalithic stone circle, now also adorned with a Tibetan style chörten or stupa. The BBC’s Alan Yentob met him and escorted him to a small wooden stage from where he introduced him to an audience of about 5000.
“Brothers and sisters,” His Holiness began, “I can see you’re enjoying this Festival, on my way here, I noticed that everyone seems to be full of joy. I’m happy to have been invited to this Festival of people. As I always say, the purpose of life is to be happy. Who knows what tomorrow may bring, but we live in hope. Without hope our lives have no direction. The 7 billion human beings like us alive today all have a right to be happy. And it’s sad to note that while you are here enjoying yourselves, in other parts of the world like Syria, Iraq and Nigeria, people are killing each other. Therefore, we need to promote a greater awareness that we are all human brothers and sisters, that we belong to one human family.”
He remarked that in the past inhabitants of the British Isles had been content in isolation and later embarked on a period of imperialism governed largely by self-interest. Now, however, we live in a globalized world. We exist in a global economy. Climate change is something that affects us all. For this reason we have to think about the well-being of the whole of humanity. Nature is telling us we have to find ways to protect the world.
Noting that a lot of the problems we face are our own creation, he said that one of the worst things happening today was people killing each other in the name of religion. Why is this? Because people lack moral principles. We neglect the sense that we are all the same as human beings.
“I speak to you now just as another human being. Like you, I too am subject to mental disturbances. Like you I love my life, in fact everyone loves their own lives and everyone has a right live a happy life. And yet, we tend to make problems for ourselves. What we need to do instead is to promote greater human affection. Problems like killing, cheating and exploitation arise when we only think in the short term. Our education systems are oriented towards materialism. We need to change this to a greater focus on the long term and teaching about inner values, secular ethics. This entails simple warm-heartedness and a real sense of brotherhood and sisterhood. On such a basis we could demilitarise the world and use the money saved to close the gap between rich and poor.
“I don’t expect to see real change in my lifetime, but if you young people, people who belong to the 21st century start to make efforts now, the later parts of the century could see a happier more peaceful world. Please think seriously about this. This is something I am committed to, just as I am committed, as a Buddhist monk to promoting religious harmony and as a Tibetan to the preservation of Tibetan religion, culture and language. Tibetan culture is characterized by peace and compassion, which makes it something worth preserving.”
Alan Yentob put several questions submitted by members of the audience to His Holiness. He asked him about the secret of his good humour and he replied:
“Faced with difficulties I take the advice of Shantideva, an 8th century Indian master who said ‘Think carefully about difficulties you face – if they can be overcome, there is no need to worry. What you need to do is make effort. If they can’t be overcome, worry is of no use.’ This is practical advice that I follow myself. My other secret is that I get nine hours sleep.”
Yentob asked when he gets up.
“I get up at 3am and I do about 5 hours mediation, mostly analytical meditation. I analyse who I am, and what the world is; the idea of interdependence.
“The real meaning of the word ‘jihad’ is not doing harm to others, but engaging in combat with your disturbing emotions. Every day I try to do this. Whether we are angry about some things or attached to others, our feelings about them are exaggerated. As an American psychiatrist told me, our feelings like this are 90% our own mental projection.”
Asked if he had greater faith in basic human nature than in religion, His Holiness said that society is the basis of our happy future. Out of concern for ourselves we are better to be concerned about others. He said, friendship is important in a happy society and that friendship is based on trust. And building trust is not something we can expect the UN or local government to do. It’s something we have to do ourselves as individuals.
His Holiness enjoyed a wholesome lunch at the Greenpeace Field, provided by Greenpeace volunteers, in the company of several of the Festival organizers. Afterwards, at William’s Green, he joined Guardian editor-in-chief Katharine Viner, Guardian columnist George Monbiot and director of 350.org May Boeve for a panel discussion about who can fix climate change moderated by James Randerson.
Randerson asked the panel what gave them hope and Viner replied, “The Pope”. Monbiot cited public awareness and His Holiness mentioned inner peace. As to what the UN discussions on climate change need to tackle, His Holiness said that countries tend to put their national interests first and ignore what is in the global interest. However, he said that national interest actually depends on global interest. Monbiot stressed that the onus should not be on consumption, but on keeping fossil fuels in the ground. May Boeve advocated divestment from fossil fuels, citing the examples set by Stanford University and the Guardian Media Group.
His Holiness expressed his agreement with the Pope’s recent aspirations to stem climate change. He pointed out how, despite the existence of a global economy, we think too much in terms of ‘us’ and ‘them’, when what we should be doing is considering everyone as part of ‘us’.
“At the recent Nobel Peace Laureates’ meeting in Rome we declared the need to address the elimination of nuclear weapons. We agreed that the time for just talking is over; we need to set deadlines for action and meet them. World peace likewise cannot be achieved by prayer alone, we have to take action. And we need to think about the world as our only home. We can’t escape to the moon. This planet is our only home and we have to take much more serious care of it.”
Arriving at the Pyramid Stage, Robert Richards explained to His Holiness that whatever profits Glastonbury Festival makes go to charities such as: WaterAid, Oxfam and Greenpeace. When Patti Smith, who has played benefits in support of the cause of Tibet for sixteen years, met His Holiness backstage she told him that she’d been a 12 year old girl in 1959 when Tibet was in upheaval and His Holiness escaped. One of her prime concerns was his safety and welfare. She went back out on stage to perform and shortly afterwards His Holiness came up to watch and listen.
Between songs Patti Smith announced His Holiness’s presence to the 60,000 strong crowd and suggested it would be nice if they welcomed him and sang to celebrate his approaching 80th birthday. She read a poem in his honour and then led him out onto the stage to cheering approval. The crowd sang ‘Happy Birthday’ as a gorgeous cake bedecked with fruit and a single candle was presented to him. He addressed the audience:
“Dear sisters and brothers, I really appreciate it when so many of you express your warm feelings to me and I reciprocate. Every day I dedicate my actions of body, speech and mind to the benefit of others. When you show me such warm affection it strengthens my enthusiasm.
“I’ve watched you musicians here and see that although your hair is white, your voices and physical actions are youthful. That encourages me in turn, although I’m now 80, to be more active like you.
‘We are all the same as human beings. We all want to lead a happy life. We can think of every day as a new day, as a birthday. When we wake up we can remind ourselves – ‘I need to be happy, I need to have warm feelings towards others. This will build self-confidence, honesty, transparency, which leads to trust. And trust is the basis of friendship. We are social animals and we need friends. This is a source of happiness that I wish to share with you. Thank you”
The response was a great roar of applause. Patti Smith resumed her set. His Holiness left the stage and drove back to the helipad where he boarded a helicopter to return to where he’s staying in London. Tomorrow he has been invited to visit Aldershot in Hampshire.