Aldershot, Hampshire, UK, 30 June 2015
Before setting out for the day’s events, His Holiness the Dalai Lama gave a penetrating interview to Emily Maitlis of the BBC’s Newsnight programme. She opened by asking what had been the hardest part of his job. He told her that the situation had become particularly difficult after 1950-51. He felt the Chinese communists’ original motivation had been good. As their leader, Mao Zedong’s motivation had been good, but gaining power spoiled it. Before 1949, Mao Zedong had considered Tibet to be a foreign country. That changed and between1956 and 1959, by some estimates, 300,000 Tibetans were killed. His Holiness said that those nine years in Tibet up to 1959 were very difficult.
“When I met Chinese leaders in China 1954-55, I really developed great hope that with the help of Chinese communists we could modernize Tibet. There was a Chinese general I met on the road who I told: ‘I came through here last year full of fear and apprehension, but I am returning instead full of hope and confidence.’ However, in 1956 things got worse and in 1959 I became a refugee. Although Mao had experience, the generations that have followed him have only been brought up on propaganda. They failed to understand that the people of Tibet and Sinkiang are, like the Han people, proud of their own culture, their language and literature. These hardliners thought only their values and way of life had any worth.”
Maitlis asked His Holiness if he is still the same leader, the same man he was then. He said:
“There’s a difference of age and I had more hair on my head. But although some say, ‘Time is money’ I say ‘Time is experience’ and difficult times are the best for gaining more experience.”
He repeated what he’d said the day before to Patti Smith and her band that although they showed signs of age in their grey hair, they were full of youthful energy, which he found inspiring. Maitlis asked if he would have done anything differently and he replied:
“No, I don’t think so. Some mistakes were made, but in general I think we did the best we could.”
When she asked about his early memories, His Holiness recalled that when he was too young to stand by himself, his cousin was a monk. When he accidentally spilled his cousin’s prayer book onto the floor, the monk was so cross he spanked him; and he remembers that. Another time he was squatting outside when a huge dark camel bore down on him and he ran away in fright.
To the question of whether he might be the last Dalai Lama, His Holiness said that some people speak as if the Dalai Lamas are indispensable to the survival of Tibetan Buddhism, but he pointed out that Buddhism itself has survived more than 2600 years without the presence of the historical Buddha. He conceded that the 5th Dalai Lama had been effective in repairing some of the disintegration that had occurred in Tibet and restored some sense of unity. However, now in the 21st century Lama institutions can be seen in the context of the feudal system. Consequently, since 1969 he has made clear that whether or not there is another Dalai Lama in the future rests in the hands of the Tibetan people. As far as His Holiness is concerned, Tibet should be governed by Tibetan people in the kind of democratic context in which people choose their leaders.
As to whether Tibet would be independent again in his lifetime, His Holiness expressed his admiration for the European Union, a body in which the common interest is regarded as more important than the sovereignty of individual states. He reminded the interviewer that all human beings are the same with the same rights and that since 1974 Tibetans have not been seeking independence.
Asked about the appeal of the Tibetan cause in the wider world, His Holiness drew attention to the richness of the Buddhist traditions of Nalanda and the Buddha’s unique advice to his followers not to accept what he said at face value. He advised them to investigate and examine what he had said and prove it to themselves. In this light, modern scientists are interested in what Buddhist knowledge has to say about the functioning of the mind.
Ms Maitlis asked His Holiness to explain about the protestors who now dog his travels wherever he goes calling for the lifting of a ban on the propitiation of Dolgyal or Shugden. He told her:
“There is no ban on their practice. If you go to South India you’ll find people who propitiate this spirit Dolgyal or Shugden have their own monastery beside the larger Tibetan monasteries. This matter has been controversial for almost four centuries. Over the last 80 years since the passing away of the 13th Dalai Lama it has flared up and is strongly associated with sectarianism.
“Until the early ‘70s I propitiated this spirit, but one of the results was that my right to receive teachings from other traditions was restricted because of fear of what this Shugden spirit might do. I decided to investigate, reading particularly the 5th Dalai Lama’s biography and other writings. When I gave up the practice I became free to explore other Buddhist teachings; while I still did it I had no such freedom. The 5th Dalai Lama called Dolgyal an evil spirit, so I consider it my duty to tell others of this reality. Whether they listen to me or not is up to them. These young people in monastic robes shout, ‘Stop lying’, but they don’t know the full history of the issue. They should do more research on its effects.”
Finally, in connection with a question about whether politicians can do any good, His Holiness replied that like any other activity, if the person has a good motivation, what they are trying to do will be good.
The sun shone as His Holiness took the short drive to Aldershot, commonly known as the ‘home of the British army’, where he was the guest of the largely Nepalese Buddhist community. They had invited him to inaugurate the Buddhist Community Centre of the United Kingdom that they have established there. Immediately on arrival His Holiness formally inaugurated the Centre at the door. In the grounds outside he also inaugurated and consecrated a chörten or stupa and statue of the Buddha. Coming into the temple of the new Tashi Dongak Choeling Monastery he paid his respects before the images of the Buddha, Avalokiteshvara and Guru Padmasambhava, as well as the collection of Kangyur and Tengyur scriptures and lit a lamp before them.
President of the Buddhist Community Centre, Kaji Sherpa, welcomed His Holiness and invited him to address the gathering.
“I am very happy to have come here once more,” His Holiness responded. “Nepal is traditionally a Buddhist country and I’ve noticed that like Vietnamese and Koreans who are living elsewhere, Nepalese keep up their faith and culture. I appreciate the statues you have established here, but as I said when I was asked to consecrate a colossal statue of Guru Rinpoche in Tso Pema in India, the statue is wonderful and may last 1000 years, but in that 1000 years it will never speak. The Buddha encouraged us to examine his teachings, to exercise our intelligence. Knowledge is the key factor.
“We have preserved the ancient Nalanda tradition, which contains rich knowledge of the mind and emotions, as well as the more subtle levels of consciousness. So, these days whenever I visit new monasteries and centres like this, I suggest that the priority should be for them to become centres of learning, not only for Buddhists, but for everyone. Our main aim should be study and education.”
His Holiness reiterated that all the Tibetan Buddhist traditions have their source in the Nalanda tradition. Kaji Sherpa, the Centre’s President presented him with a certificate of patronage. In his turn, His Holiness said he was offering the Centre a statue of the Buddha and copies of a set of new books that contain the scientific knowledge to be found in the Kangyur and Tengyur.
He stressed the importance of maintaining harmony amongst religious traditions, noting that the pro-Shugden protestors, whose raucous presence on the street outside everyone was aware of, would remove the photographs of Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche and the Karmapa that he could see on the wall, but perhaps leave the photographs of the Sakya masters. He told them that he also used to do this Dolgyal practice, but stopped in the ‘70s when he discovered that it had been controversial for nearly 400 years. He told the gathering that the 5th Dalai Lama had described Dolgyal / Shugden as a harmful evil spirit.
“It’s my duty to make this clear, but whether anyone listens to what I say is up to them. They shout, ‘Stop lying’, but I’m confused what it is they think I’m lying about. This tradition is very sectarian and it was only after I disassociated myself from it that I was able to take teachings from masters like Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche and Chopgye Trichen Rinpoche. So I complain that while I did this practice I had no religious freedom. Thank you.”
His Holiness was entertained to lunch at Aldershot Football Club. Afterwards he walked to the small stage and pavilion that had been set up at one end of the football ground, while the audience of about 6000 sat in the stands. A minute’s silence was observed in memory of the victims of the recent earthquakes in Nepal. This was followed by the playing of the Nepalese and British national anthems. The Chairman of the Buddhist Community Centre welcomed His Holiness and several other religious representatives who were seated with him on the stage. The Mayor of Rushmoor also welcomed them all to Aldershot.
In his talk, His Holiness stressed that he always considers himself to be just one of 7 billion human beings, who are mentally, physically and emotionally the same. He said that while everyone wants to be happy, many of us neglect the inner values that are the real source of happiness.
“If we think seriously about it, the key to happiness is peace of mind. But you can’t buy it. Inner peace is something that has to be cultivated by each of us from within. All our religious traditions, despite philosophical differences carry the same message of love and warm-heartedness that is the source of such peace of mind.”
He said that today scientists are showing interest in the rich knowledge of the mind and emotions revealed in the Nalanda tradition. From this, one of the things we can learn, he said, is that just saying prayers or making offerings is not enough. It’s out of date. What is important in the 21st century is study. He repeated that what Buddhists have to do is to learn and understand what the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha are and what the Buddhist teachings mean.
There was time for His Holiness to answer several questions from the audience before a reading of a financial statement, which made clear that the balance of funds raised for the event would be used for charitable purposes, especially in Nepal. Words of thanks were said. In connection with the noisy pro-Shugden protests that persisted throughout the day, even during the observance of the national anthems, Buddhist Organisations in the UK have issued a statement that can be read by following this link: