Audience for Shillong’s Tibetans and an Interfaith Meeting

February 5th 2014

Shillong, Meghalaya, India, 5 February 2014 - About 1000 Tibetans have settled in Shillong, among whom the first four families arrived in 1947. When His Holiness the Dalai Lama heard the Settlement Officer say this during an audience for Tibetans at the State Central Library in Shillong this morning, he wanted to know if there were any members of those families still here. Two hands went up.

After the Settlement Officer had read his report about the local community, including their plans for a Tibetan Community Centre, His Holiness began to speak


His Holiness the Dalai Lama speaking to the Tibetan community in Shillong, Meghalaya, India on February 5, 2014. Photo/Tenzin Choejor/OHHDL
“It’s now nearly 55 years since we came into exile and yet I’ve not been here before. I haven’t had the opportunity before, but today I am here and able to meet the Tibetan community. Although there is no formal settlement, you’ve found ways to make your lives here. Once we came into exile we were able to set up an administration and there are now 100,000 Tibetans in India doing quite well.

“As you know, since 2011 I’ve passed political responsibility completely to the elected leadership. Not only have I retired, but I have also voluntarily put an end to the tradition of the Dalai Lamas being involved with Tibet’s temporal affairs. In the past we had a tradition of a Lama taking this kind of responsibility, such as when Reting Rinpoche and Tagdrag Rinpoche acted as Regent. They were great Lamas but those who worked under them exercised undue influence. Some of them abused their positions. As a child I used to play with the sweepers, most of whom came from outlying villages. I used to ask them questions about what was going on and they would answer me frankly. When I asked the appropriate officials they would tend to duck the issue.

“In 1951, Tagdrag Rinpoche resigned and I took responsibility. We left for Dromo. When we got back to Lhasa in 1952, I set up a reform committee. Ngabo took charge of it and began to implement changes. We set up a Justice Commission headed by Yuthok. We achieved some reforms, but ran into trouble because the Chinese didn’t like it. They wanted any changes to be done their way, so the project wasn’t successful.”

His Holiness said that when he returned to Tibet in 1957 after his visit to India, he began to prepare for his exams. He took his final Lharampa exam in 1959. After escaping to India, in Mussoorie work was reassigned to the remaining Kalons and the exiled administration began to grow.


His Holiness the Dalai Lama speaking to the Tibetan community gathered at the State Central Library in Shillong, Meghalaya, India on February 5, 2014. Photo/Tenzin Choejor/OHHDL
“As for my devolution of authority in 2011, I didn’t do it reluctantly, but gladly and deliberately. This boy from Amdo may not have been very effective, but at least he had not proved to be a disgrace. The Ganden Phodrang Government set up by the 5th Dalai Lama nearly 400 years ago, came to an end under the 14th Dalai Lama, while the people still had confidence in it.

“In the past, I used to be a little anxious about flying. I worried about what would happen to the Tibetan cause if something happened to me. I don’t worry about that any more. In fact an American politician told me that my devolution of authority sent an effective message to the Chinese leadership. Indeed, many Chinese I know are hopeful that democratic change in China could begin with this example among us Tibetans. I certainly didn’t retire because I’ve given up hope.”

Turning to the question of education, His Holiness said that over the last nearly 55 years, Tibetans in exile have overcome illiteracy. Compared to the situation in Tibet people in exile have done better in education, although there are some problems due to lack of facilities. He spoke about his recent visit to Bhandara in Madhya Pradesh where the Religious Instructor at the school is a nun who graduated from Dolmaling Nunnery. She is now preparing to become a Geshema. The schoolchildren gave an impressive debate performance as a result of her training them, which is a first. In the past, Religious Instructors thought their job was just to teach prayers, but, His Holiness said, their responsibility is actually to teach people what Buddhism really means. Children need not only a modern education but also an understanding of the Nalanda tradition.

“In the monastery yesterday, I said it shouldn’t just be a place for prayers and rituals. It should be place to learn. I will provide a set of the Kangyur and Tengyur to the monastery, but I hope it will be used for study, not just as an object of respect. We will also shortly be publishing a two volume set of materials about Buddhist science extracted from the Kangyur and Tengyur and I hope you will read that too.


Elderly members of the audience listening to His Holiness the Dalai Lama speaking during his meeting with the Tibetan community in Shillong, Meghalaya, India on February 5, 2014. Photo/Tenzin Choejor/OHHDL
“As a child I was interested in science and when I was older decided I’d like to talk to scientists to find out more about it. An American Buddhist warned me that science was a killer of religion, but I thought about the Buddha’s admonition not to accept his teachings at face value but to examine and test them, to analyse them and experiment. I decided there wasn’t a risk and 30 years ago began discussions with scientists.

“At a Mind & Life meeting in the USA in 1989, a woman who was a reputed scientist looked askance at the prospect of discussions with Buddhist monks. But she asked me, in your tradition do you believe in a creator, I said “No”. She asked if we believed in a soul, and again I said “No”. She said that it seemed as if our Buddhist tradition wasn’t what she thought. Gradually her interest was sparked and she continued to press me with questions even during the tea breaks between sessions of discussions.”

His Holiness recalled that in the 1960s the Chinese authorities produced a paper describing Tibetan Buddhism as mere blind faith. It asserted that they did not need to take any action because it would wither away naturally of its own accord. It must surprise them that more than 40 years later there is serious dialogue going on between Tibetan Buddhism and modern science. This culminated last year with a Mind & Life meeting at Drepung Monastery in Karnataka. The Buddhist side includes a great deal of profound knowledge about the workings of the mind and emotions.

Very few Tibetans are coming out of Central Tibet these days. Some people come from Kham and Amdo, but people from Central Tibet are rare. His Holiness pointed out that the Chinese number 1.3 billions, whereas Tibetans are only 6 million. If action is taken that angers the Chinese, the people who suffer directly are the Tibetans in Tibet.

“If we make enemies of them it doesn’t do any good, but if we can get the Chinese people on our side it will help us. The new leader Xi Jinping uses Deng Xiaoping’s old slogan ‘Seek truth from facts’. He seems to be more realistic like Hu Yaobang. We should not lose hope; the power of truth will ultimately prevail.”


His Holiness the Dalai Lama posing with members of the press after their meeting in Shillong, Meghalaya, India on February 5, 2014. Photo/Jeremy Russell/OHHDL
At a meeting with the press, His Holiness expressed his happiness at having come to Shillong, telling the journalists how much he has enjoyed his visit. He explained his three commitments to them, that firstly as human beings we all want happiness. And in the pursuit of happiness he wants to help people understand that although material development will yield physical comfort, real happiness comes from cultivating inner values. As a Buddhist monk, who has learned that, despite philosophical differences, all religions have the same goal of encouraging the cultivation of love and compassion, he works to foster inter-religious harmony. Finally, as a Tibetan he is concerned to preserve the Tibetan religion, culture and environment.

He also encouraged the media to take responsibility for informing the public of the importance of inner values. He said they also have a role in fostering inter-religious harmony. He reminded them that the media have a special role to sniff out what’s going on and to inform the public accordingly, without bias or hypocrisy.

Among questions he was asked, the first was about his maiden visit to Shillong and he replied that it is a beautiful place, the sky is clear and blue and wherever he went people lined the streets showing warm feelings of friendship. About what unites Tibetans he said language and culture, but also pointed out that Chinese suppression has been particularly successful in reinforcing a sense of Tibetan unity. He recalled ineffectual attempts to rally support for Tibet at the UN, but also Mao Xedong’s statement that China regarded Tibet as a special case. In 1974 decisions were made about the need to talk to China, which began the preparations of the Middle Way Approach. This has gradually gathered popular support.

Regarding what to do about corruption, he said there is a need to educate people, but pointed out that it is not only India that is affected. Corruption is like a cancer across the world. While His Holiness responded to a question about Indian democracy by expressing his admiration for it, to the second part of the question, what about it does he most dislike, he answered, “Too much freedom, exercise of freedom with no discipline or sense of responsibility”.


His Holiness the Dalai Lama and other representatives of spiritual traditions lighting candles at the start of an interfaith event in Shillong, Meghalaya, India on February 5, 2014. Photo/Tenzin Choejor/OHHDL
His Holiness’s final engagement in Shillong was an interfaith event. Tibetan MP Yangchen Dolkar introduced the occasion saying that the meeting had been convened keeping in mind His Holiness’s custom of respectfully visiting other tradition’s places of worship. Representatives of various spiritual traditions each lit a candle as if to illuminate friendship and placed it at the front of the stage. One by one, members of several Christian denominations, ladies representing Islam and Jainism, representatives of Sikhism, Hinduism and Buddhism stepped forward to voice greetings and prayers.

When his turn came, His Holiness greeted the respected representatives of the several different traditions and his brothers and sisters in the hall. He said that he had first met leaders of other spiritual traditions when he came to India to attend Buddha Jayanti celebrations in 1956. Later he met and got to know the Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury. He said:

“All religious traditions speak of love, often describing the creator in terms of infinite love. Belonging to these traditions are people who dedicate their lives the service of others. Look for example at the great work Christian brothers and sisters have done in remote places around the world for health and education. We Buddhists have no achievements like this.”

He mentioned a journalist who had been in Iran at the time of Ayatollah Khomeini. He told him that although the overall view of the Ayatollah in the foreign press was negative, he observed how Mullahs under his guidance received donations and redistributed them to help the poor.


Members of the audience listening to His Holiness the Dalai Lama during an interfaith event in Shillong, Meghalaya, India on February 5, 2014. Photo/Tenzin Choejor/OHHDL
“Thomas Merton was the person who really introduced me to the value of Christianity. We spent several days in discussions, exchanging views. We found many similarities in our practice, which remind me of a visit I made to a monastery in France where I told the monks, who spend their life in prayer, that I was struck by the thought that it seemed as if our monastic traditions derived from a common source. The pattern of Merton’s daily life was much like my own. I get up around 3am and he got up at 2am, an hour earlier. Like me he would go to sleep in the early evening.

“Martin Luther King and his struggle for civil rights is another source of inspiration, and of course Mahatma Gandhi. He was a Hindu, but cherished a profound respect for all religious traditions. There is no basis for conflict between religions; relations between them should be governed by harmony.

“When we say religious traditions have a common message, but there are also significant differences between them, I agree. In terms of philosophical views there are differences, but their aim or purpose is the same, to protect the practice of love. These are different methods with the same goal. This is why I am fully committed to encouraging religious harmony.

“The Tibetan tradition belongs to the tradition of study and practice we derived from the traditions of the ancient Indian University of Nalanda. We begin by memorizing the fundamental text books, which is not easy when you don’t understand them, then we study commentaries to them and learn to debate about what we’ve understood. This is how we study about 40 volumes over a period of 20-30 years. It is on the basis of such study that we have been able to enter into dialogue with modern scientists, for while science has great knowledge of the workings of the physical world, this ancient Indian tradition has immense knowledge of the workings of the mind.


Musicians performing traditional songs at the conclusion an interfaith event in Shillong, Meghalaya, India on February 5, 2014. Photo/Tenzin Choejor/OHHDL
“This knowledge is of great relevance today.  I appeal to you Indians to take a secular interest in the ancient heritage of your country, with its knowledge and experience of consciousness and emotions.

“I would like to thank the organizers of this event and I’d like to thank all of you for coming.”

The Pro-Chancellor offered a vote of thanks in which he expressed particular appreciation of His Holiness’s presence. The event was concluded with several musical and dance performances by students of the Meghalaya Institute of Arts and Culture, a Tibetan troupe, the group Na Rympei and the Serenity Choir. His Holiness personally bid farewell to each of the religious representatives, before returning to Raj Bhawan. He will leave early in the morning for Guwahati, from where he will fly to Delhi and on to Dharamsala.
 

Latest News

His Holiness the Dalai Lama Congratulates Malala Yousafzai & Kailash Satyarthi
October 11th 2014
Dharamsala, HP, India,10 October 2014 - Immediately on receiving news of the announcement of this year’s Nobel Prize winners, His Holiness wrote to both of the laureates. “I am writing to congratulate you on your being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. It is a matter of great joy to me that the work you have both been doing in your different circumstances to support children and their education should have been acknowledged today.”

His Holiness the Dalai Lama is Offered a Long-life Ceremony
October 8th 2014

Tibet's spiritual leader commences teachings for Taiwanese devotees
October 7th 2014

His Holiness the Dalai Lama Expresses his Sadness at the Passing Away of Ama Wäger
October 3rd 2014

One World, One Vision, One People
September 23rd 2014

Explore