Tibetan spiritual leader the 14th Dalai Lama, in an interview with Yap Mun Ching in Dharamsala, muses on shared values, youth empowerment and the importance of non-violence.
EVEN before he stepped into the room, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, held our undivided attention. In the corridor outside the visiting room, the Tibetan leader was being interviewed by the BBC on the spate of self-immolations by Tibetan monks and nuns which have shocked the world.
As we strained to hear, he paused briefly before replying with a question of his own – probably the most difficult one facing someone who has led resistance to the Sinicisation of Tibet for his entire adult life: “There is courage – very strong courage. But how much effect? Courage alone is no substitute. You must utilise your wisdom,” he said.
It is this position that has put the Dalai Lama increasingly at odds with younger Tibetans who are beginning to chafe against the non-violent approach he espouses.
Yet, it would be a mistake for anyone to write off his relevance. That the Dalai Lama is a figure that looms large in Tibetan consciousness is evident from the way the newly-elected Tibetan government-in-exile leadership lapses into deferential silence in his presence.
Even more so when one considers the deep admiration and love that he inspires in ordinary Tibetans, many of whom carry his photograph as personal talismans.
During a meeting with a group of young Asians at his adopted home base in Dharamsala, India, his charisma was all enveloping as he stepped around the room, greeting each of his guests with a firm handshake and a crinkled-eyed smile.
Answering questions in all seriousness, he was nonetheless able to put his visitors at ease with his booming laughter which came as unexpectedly as it was infectious.
Drawing on lessons from a turbulent Middle East, despairing Europe and uncertain Asia, the spiritual leader of millions around the world shared the message that all is not lost and a way out is always available when one is ready to take it.
What shared values do we need to bring the different peoples in the world together and what advice can you give to young people living in today’s turbulent world?
I believe that young people under the age of 30 belong to the 21st century. I am someone of the 20th century and that is gone. The real responsibility for making a better, more peaceful and more compassionate world belongs now to the new generation.
I often tell young students that there are a lot of possibilities for them to build a build a happier and more peaceful world. I may not see it in my lifetime but it is possible within this century. When it materialises, I may not be here. I may be in hell or heaven, I don’t know (laughs) but wherever I am, I will be watching to see whether you are (doing your best) or not.
Many problems in the world are our own creation – problems like war, the growing gap between rich and poor, corruption and injustice. Natural disasters are also often a result of human activity. The poorest always suffer the most. The rich may appear (unaffected) but it does not mean they are mentally happy. They live with too much jealousy and distrust.
Since humans created these problems, logically, they have the ability to overcome them. It boils down to the issue of moral ethics. We have to be honest, truthful and transparent. These values create a sense of brotherhood or sisterhood. This is important because at the fundamental level, we are all the same.
Differences, such as nationality, race or political systems, they are all secondary. All of us work to overcome suffering and to achieve happiness.
When people chase after money, they don’t care about others. They take or exploit. But if we have basic human values, it makes a difference.
We have to put effort to be honest, truthful, and compassionate towards others. Once you are genuinely concerned about others, there is no room for you to bully, cheat or exploit them. You love them and respect them. When you have nothing to hide, it is easy to act transparently.
Without trust and compassion, there can be no human harmony. Harmony cannot materialise if you use force. The Chinese Government has tried this for 60 years but it is impossible.
Why do you continue to advocate non-violence when so many struggles against oppression have been won recently using violence?
Gandhi jee (Mahatma Gandhi) used non-violence to oppose colonialism and India is a stable democracy now because of this. India also has a good relationship with Great Britain as part of the Commonwealth.
If the fight for freedom had been violent, India may not be as peaceful as it is today. In Tibet’s case, because we practise non-violence, many (ordinary) Chinese express their support for us. If there is bloodshed, they would not support us in the same way.
Sometimes, people use violence because they are desperate. Libya is like that now and there is too much violence. I pray that eventually, there will be peace but my fear is that violence becomes a habit. When people are used to killing, it will be very difficult for them to change. If you use violence, you may get temporary victory but it will not be very sustainable because violence has many side effects.
In the 20th century, there was much violence and bloodshed. Two hundred million people were killed. If it brought about a better world, then maybe we can justify it. But this is not the case. We continue to face violence and people are unhappy because of the symptoms of past mistakes and negligence.
When I meet businessmen, I ask them what is the reason for the global crisis. They themselves say it is because of too much greed. We have too many people who are short sighted and do not think of long-term benefit.
Everything is done for immediate gain without caring about the problems that the next generation will face. This is one form of ignorance. We see this in how we make problems for the (environment). Corruption is also a form of violence caused by too much exploitation.
How do you think as individuals we can help reduce pain and suffering in the world?
We must promote human values and secular ethics. Not through rigid religious teaching but through education based on moral ethics.
The existing education system focuses too much on brain development and not enough on moral ethics. This system is based on a western model but historically, moral ethics in European society were taught by the church and families, not schools.
We have many problems now due to a lack of moral principles. If we promote teaching based on religion, we have to use a multi-religious approach. Otherwise it cannot be implemented. I am not against religion but I am for multiculturalism. We must accept non-believers too.
I have been invited to meet with scientists and teachers (in Canada and India) to discuss secular ethics. There is dissatisfaction with the education system. In India, we recently had a meaningful discussion. (Educationists) are researching how to implement moral ethics purely based on secularism. I prefer to use a secular way to promote human values which are fundamental to a happy individual, family and society.
India is a good place to start because this is a multi-religious country and secularity is the foundation of the Indian Constitution. Moral ethics should be universally spread through education and not through religious quotation. If we use common sense and scientific thinking, it increases our awareness that with honesty, truth and compassion, we become happier people. If you agree with me, please implement. If you don’t, let it be (laughs).
Many people often focus on external beauty. They use cosmetics to make themselves look (better). That is good but it is even more important to value inner beauty. If we manage that, our beauty will be long lasting.
What experiences have you had that you consider to be lessons in humility?
I meet many people, presidents, kings but also beggars. I look at them the same way. There is no difference. I see them as human beings. When others show genuine friendship, I feel happy. When they are arrogant, I think they are silly!
Even religious leaders, when they act arrogantly, I am laughing inside (chuckles). When I talk to people, I am just talking to another human being, whether it is to one person or 100,000 persons. Emotionally, mentally, physically, we are all the same. We all want to end suffering.
Once, I met some officials and their wives in Bombay. One of them had a little girl carried by a nanny. I shook hands with the official, with the wife but when I wanted to shake hands with the nanny, she was reluctant. I felt sad. I considered her to be the same but she herself felt that she was lower than others. This is not good and we must change that.
I have great admiration for India and I consider myself a son of India. Every particle of my mind is filled with Nalanda thought (Nalanda in Bihar, India, is an ancient Buddhist centre of learning ). I received my Masters there.
India has been very kind to Tibetans but there are also contradictions. Many people worship God but they don’t care about corruption. If there is God, there is no room for corruption. If you want to be corrupt, stop worshipping God. You can cheat people but you cannot cheat the Buddha.