Faith, Peace, Human Rights and Mutual Understanding

March 2nd 2014

Minneapolis, MN, USA, 1 March 2014 - His Holiness the Dalai Lama arrived in Minneapolis from Los Angeles yesterday, to find bitterly cold temperatures and the land white with snow as far as the eye could see. The Nobel Peace Prize Forum, which inspires peacemaking by celebrating the work of Nobel Peace Prize winners, invited His Holiness to Minneapolis to give the Laureate address today on the first day of the event.


His Holiness the Dalai Lama delivering the Laureate Address at the 26th annual Nobel Peace Prize Forum in Minneapolis, Minnesota on March 1, 2014. Photo/Jeremy Russell/OHHDL
“Brothers and sisters,” he began, “wherever I go, whoever I meet, I remember that we are all the same physically, mentally and emotionally. From my own experience when I was younger, I know that to focus on such differences as my being a Tibetan, a Buddhist and even the Dalai Lama creates anxiety. It can lead to pretentiousness and hypocrisy. Gradually I came to realise that on a basic level of reality we are all the same as human beings. When we focus on the secondary differences that distinguish us, we rapidly decline into a sense of ‘us’ and ‘them’, which easily leads to cheating, exploitation and even killing one another. Each one of the 7 billion human beings alive today depends on the rest of humanity. If humanity is happy and prosperous, each human being benefits.”

He went on to say we all have the same human rights, because we all want to be happy; something we’re all entitled to. Our human rights relate to the oneness of humanity. As human beings we have creativity. In order to exercise it we need freedom, so we need to protect those rights.

“We all come from our mothers and grow up under the shelter of her affection, something each of us has enjoyed. Those who receive such affection grow up to be happy. Unfortunately, in the case of unwanted children who lack such affection, they tend to grow up hampered by suspicion, fear and insecurity. Experience suggests that while we’re still young we appreciate the need for loving-kindness, but as we grow older this fades. This is partly because our education system is oriented towards material rather than human values; our education is focused on material success. Modern society has developed a materialistic culture in which our good qualities become dormant.”


Members of the audience at the Minneapolis Convention Center listening to His Holiness the Dalai Lama deliver the Laureate Address at the 26th annual Nobel Peace Prize Forum in Minneapolis, Minnesota on March 1, 2014.
Photo/Jeremy Russell/OHHDL

His Holiness spoke of human beings as social animals, who like ants and bees have to ensure the welfare of their community by co-operating with each other. He said that he was so fond of bees that he has feared there was a risk of being reborn as one. Unfortunately, his physicians have advised him to cut down on sweet things, particularly honey, so now he feels liberated from that danger.

Regarding education, His Holiness has friends engaged in serious discussions about how to introduce ethics and human values into the modern education system. There are limits if this is based on a religious tradition. Although all religions convey a similar message of love, compassion, tolerance and forgiveness, because of their different philosophical views, no one of them can be universal. What is required is a new secular system that is universally acceptable. He clarified that he uses the word secular in the Indian context that far from implying disrespect or dismissal of religion, implies an unbiased respect for all faiths and even for those people who profess none. A secular approach is useful for promoting ethics and deeper values within secular education, with a view to ensuring happier individuals, families, communities and nations. Fear, suspicion and distrust tend to lead to anger, which damages our physical health, whereas a compassionate mind promotes and protects our immune system.

Differences of time, location and climate have given rise to different ways of life and even different mental dispositions. This is why different philosophical views have arisen too. But their purpose is the same: to ensure the promotion of human values and the achievement of a happy life. Therefore, harmony based on mutual admiration and respect among our religious traditions is essential.


His Holiness the Dalai Lama answering questions from the audience during the 26th annual Nobel Peace Prize Forum at the Minneapolis Convention Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota on March 1, 2014. Photo/Sonam Zoksang
His Holiness said that was all he had to say and invited questions from the audience. One asked how he manages to overcome despair and he replied that there is no choice. He joked:

“If you want to die early, meditate on pessimism.”

Another questioner wanted to know the hallmarks of compassion and he told her it was a genuine sense of concern for others’ well-being. In the light of this he clarified that forgiveness is not about accepting someone’s wrong doing, rather it’s about remembering that he or she is a human being. Another question came from Mayor of Minnesota prompting His Holiness to remark that people talk about dirty politics and yet politics by itself is not dirty. It only becomes so when practised by devious people, which is true of other activities too, even the practice of religion. Asked how we can remain hopeful, His Holiness pointed out that whereas the 20th century had been a period of immense violence, the 21st century should be an era of dialogue. Pressed to describe the world today in one word, he said: “Complicated,” which evoked laughter from the audience. Finally, someone invited His Holiness to give his blessing and he replied that as a Buddhist he is sceptical about so-called blessings, feeling that real blessing is derived from our own good actions, our good motivation.


His Holiness the Dalai Lama meeting with members of the State Council on Asian Pacific Minnesotans in Minneapolis, Minnesota on March 1, 2014. Photo/Sonam Zoksang
Meeting with members of the State Council on Asian Pacific Minnesotans and fielding their questions, His Holiness took the opportunity to clarify his retirement from political responsibility.

“Since my childhood, I felt it was wrong to concentrate power in too few hands. I set up a reform committee in Tibet with limited success because the Chinese wanted any reforms to be done their way. As soon as we came into exile we began to democratize our system. In 1960 we established an assembly of elected representatives. This process culminated in the first direct election of the leadership in 2001, after which I semi-retired. After the leadership election in 2011, I decided not only to fully retire myself, but also to retire the institution of Dalai Lamas from any political role in the future.”

In their thanks, the State Council invited His Holiness to come again.

A meeting with Chinese students was convened by the Tibetan American Students Association (TASA), bringing together more than 330 students from 13 colleges among whom more than 250 were Chinese and 50 Tibetan. Addressing them His Holiness said that he always considers himself to be just another human being because when we fail to appreciate the oneness of humanity, we tend to see people in terms of ‘them’ and ‘us’. Such a narrow, short-sighted view is the basis of conflict. He chuckled and admitted that if he was still living in the Potala Palace in Lhasa he might not have understood this, noting that while great misfortune had befallen Tibetans, it was not entirely without opportunity.

“Human problems must be solved by taking a human approach,” he said, “and dialogue is a way to find an agreeable, mutually beneficial solution.”

He explained that as early as 1974 Tibetans in exile decided not to seek independence. The Chinese constitution describes autonomy for counties, districts and so on and clearly lays down conditions for religious freedom. The trouble has been in the failure of narrow minded officials on the spot to implement these provisions. His Holiness pointed out that it was not until the Tiananmen incident in 1989 that Chinese began to express support for Tibetans. Those events overcame a long-standing misapprehension that Tibetans were against Chinese. Clearly Chinese leaders need to adopt a broader point of view. His Holiness remarked:


His Holiness the Dalai Lama meeting with Chinese students organised by Tibetan American Students Association in Minneapolis, Minnesota on March 1, 2014.
Photo/Sonam Zoksang

“The People’s Republic of China has great potential to contribute to the world, but I remember the Malaysian Leader Tunku Abdul Rahman telling me that China fills its neighbours with fear. This needs to change; China needs to become more open and transparent. The generation of the 21st century are a source of hope. Such Han brothers and sisters have the opportunity to change the world for the better. Regarding the Tibetan issue, we have to find a peaceful solution. Thank you.”

The first question from the audience was from a young man three of whose friends have recently died. He wanted to know about the afterlife. His Holiness told him it depends on how they led their lives, whether they were generally more helpful or harmful to others. Either way as a friend he could make prayers on their behalf. A young Chinese woman said she had realised how ill-informed Chinese could be, but that her Tibetan friends could be very emotional. His Holiness told her that most of Tibetans’ supporters in Japan, Australia, New Zealand, the USA and so on are not so much pro-Tibetan as pro-justice. But they also make clear that should the Tibetan struggle cease to be non-violent, their support will lapse. He added:

“You young Chinese shouldn’t just listen to what the government says. You have two eyes and two ears; make use of them. The 1.3 billion Chinese people have a right to know what’s really going on and have the ability to judge right from wrong. Therefore, censorship is morally and practically wrong.”

About the self-immolations that have taken place in Tibet, His Holiness repeated what he has previously said that they are very sad and from the start he has expressed doubts about their effectiveness. However, this is also a sensitive political issue and he has now retired; whatever he says hardliners attempt to manipulate.

About Xi Jinping, His Holiness acknowledged the courage with which he is tackling corruption and the positive references in the recent third plenum to rural people’s needs and the functioning of the judiciary. Observing how China has changed over the different eras of the respective leaders, His Holiness mentioned that Hu Jintao’s slogan about harmony was a good idea, but remained largely unfulfilled because he had employed the wrong method. The use of force only inspires fear and unease. Harmony on the other hand has to be based on trust.

When one young Chinese woman asked if prayers to the Buddha and to God amounted to the same thing, His Holiness recommended she study to find out and gave her a copy in English of Shantideva’s ‘Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life’. He commended Chapter 6 for its advice about anger and Chapter 8 about self-centredness and altruism. He laughed and told her that Chapter 9 is very complicated and she can approach it after some time.

Asked how to create inner peace, His Holiness half jokingly replied:

“Good food and good sleep.” He added, “Warm-heartedness is important and study with a view to closing the gap between appearance and reality.”

His Holiness told his listeners he appreciated their interest and their questions. A representative of TASA spoke about how honoured they were that His Holiness had attended their first organized event, assuring him that they will hold more such meetings in the future. He concluded with prayers for His Holiness’s long life and the fulfilment of all his wishes.
 

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