Inter-religious Dialogue and Public Talk on the Art of Happiness in Zacatecas

October 17th 2013

Zacatecas, Mexico, 16 October 2013 - A short drive through the cobbled streets of the historic town of Zacatecas, which is recognised as a UN World Heritage Site, brought His Holiness the Dalai Lama to the Antiguo Templo de San Agustina. Once a church, the restored building now serves as a venue for art and cultural exhibitions. Today, however, it was the location of an Inter-Religious Dialogue hosted by Monsenor Sigifredo Noriega Barcelo, the Bishop of the State of Zacatecas. As His Holiness arrived a large brass band played on the square and excited school children lined his path to the door, where the Bishop received him and escorted him inside.

In his passionate welcoming address, Monsenor Sigifredo spoke of the malevolence and bad conduct abroad in the world and asked why we don’t organise ourselves for goodness. He mentioned a pledge the Catholic Bishops of Mexico have taken to work for peace and human development. He told His Holiness that everyone in the audience was eager to hear what he had to say about the complex reality we find ourselves in today.


His Holiness the Dalai Lama addressing the Inter-Religious Dialogue at Antiguo Templo de San Agustina in Zacatecas, Mexico on October 16, 2013. Photo/Jeremy Russell/OHHDL
“I prefer to speak standing,” His Holiness began, “so I can see the faces of the people I’m talking to. Spiritual leaders, brothers and sisters, I am happy to be here. The points you have just mentioned are a fair assessment of reality, things that cause us all concern. On the surface material development seems beautiful, but underneath are problems of injustice, exploitation, corruption and conflict, all of which give rise to anxiety and unease.

“Spirituality, on the other hand, is a real source of inner peace; something machines cannot provide. Inner peace derives from the practice of compassion. So in the twenty-first century alongside material development spirituality retains a valuable role, but if we are going to pursue it we need to be sincere. The other day at the Universidad Pontificia de Mexico I mentioned that we may feel especially pious when we’re wearing religious robes in church or temple, but little purpose is served if, when we take them off, ready to resume our lives outside, we take off our religious and ethical feelings too.

“The message of spirituality - love, compassion, tolerance, self-discipline and truthfulness should be part of our day to day life. If they are, they will impel real change.”

Another point His Holiness wanted to make was that until not long ago, just as Tibet was a predominantly Buddhist country, Mexico was a largely Roman Catholic country. Now however, we live in a multi-religious world, which is less a cause for suspicion than of enrichment. Pope John-Paul II took the initiative in to convene the Assisi meeting in 1986 when many religious representatives came together to get to know each other and express a message of peace. There are philosophical differences, but, he clarified, these are just differences of approach to the practice of love and compassion.

“Many of the problems that confront us are our own creation. The Bishop asked how we can work together to create a more peaceful world. Each of us has the potential to create peace in our own minds.”


His Holiness the Dalai Lama meeting with members of the press at Antiguo Templo de San Agustina in Zacatecas, Mexico on October 16, 2013. Photo/Jeremy Russell/OHHDL
Everyone present joined in the recitation of a prayer for peace. In the room next door, His Holiness met the press, telling them of his commitment to promoting human values, the causes of inner peace, to inter-religious harmony and, as a Tibetan, to the preservation of Tibetan culture; a culture of peace and non-violence, based on compassion.

The first question was about creating peace in a country so riven by inequality. His Holiness agreed on the need to try, pointing out that if you believe in god then allowing the gap between rich and poor to fester is to go against god. When he was asked about the origin of social and economic problems in Mexico, he said the existing education system is oriented towards materialism and lacks any sense of warm-heartedness.

During the course of lunch, attended by 250 dignitaries, artists and representatives of various NGOs, His Holiness spoke of becoming a refugee more than 50 years ago. He said that on the one hand it was sad, but for him personally the experience had been helpful because he was no longer bound by protocol and formality as he would have been if he had remained in Tibet. He was asked again about relations between different religions and jokingly replied that we should think of other religions as the enemy and make an effort not to live together. Then he conceded that all religions share common practice when it comes to generating love and compassion.

After lunch, His Holiness was invited to give a talk at the Zacatecas Convention Center where he addressed 4200 people.

“Dear brothers and sisters, I’m very happy to be here among you. Wherever I go I try to promote human values as a source of happiness and to foster religious harmony. This is my last day in Mexico on this trip, during which audiences have been attentive and responded with warmth. I leave for the USA tomorrow with many happy memories.

“I believe it is worth working to develop a happy attitude because even if it doesn’t solve your immediate problems it helps you keep a calm mind and a calm mind is important in allowing you to see reality more clearly. We have two levels of experience, that which is sensory, such as physical pain, and mental experience like frustration, sadness and stress. Of the two, mental experience is more effective because while physical pain can be subdued by mental satisfaction, mental unease is not relieved by physical comfort.”


His Holiness the Dalai Lama speaking during his public talk on The Art of Happiness at the Convention Center in Zacatecas, Mexico on October 16, 2013. Photo/Jeremy Russell/OHHDL
He observed that when we face problems we turn to prayer and that prayer and meditation can be very helpful on a personal and individual level, but they may not be so effective when it comes to social change. If we pursue a materialist lifestyle without any thought for our inner values, he said, we are not much different from animals. By way of contrast he recalled meeting a Catholic monk in Barcelona who had spent five years in retreat, living simply, mostly on bread and water, meditating on love. When His Holiness met this hermit, he was struck by the sparkle in his eyes and the deep sense of happiness in his demeanour.

His Holiness reported that some of his friends say that ethics should be based only on religion, but he disagrees, if for no other reason than the problem, in a multi-religious world, of deciding which religion it should be. This is why there is a need for a code of secular ethics. Simple warm-heartedness leads to a sense of inner peace and self-confidence that ensures less fear and the securing of a calm mind. He said that in his experience, it is peace of mind that is the key to leading a happy life.

After nearly a week in Mexico, during which he has spoken and interacted with 42,000 people, His Holiness flies to New York tomorrow where he is due to give several Buddhist instructions in the course of the coming days.
 

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