His Holiness Highlights Need for Religious Harmony at Chicago Public Talk by Theosophical Society

July 18th 2011

Chicago, Illinois, USA, 17 July 2011 - On July 17th His Holiness the Dalai Lama left Washington, D.C. for Chicago in the morning. On his arrival in Chicago, he was received by the President of Theosophical Society of America, Mr. Tim Boyd, Mrs. Nina Schroeder, Executive Producer of the Visit Host Committee, leaders of the Tibetan Alliance of Chicago, and a representative of the Consulate of India in Chicago.


His Holiness the Dalai lama with Illinois Governor Pat Quinn in Chicago on July 17, 2011. Photo/Richard Shay
In the afternoon, His Holiness left for the University of Illinois in Chicago, the venue of his public talk on “Bridging the Faith Divide.” Mr. Tim Boyd, President of the Theosophical Society in America, welcomed him.  His Holiness first greeted some benefactors of the event and was greeted by Illinois Governor Pat Quinn. His Holiness and the Governor spent some time together before His Holiness went on the stage.

Prior to His Holiness’ arrival on the stage, young members of the Tibetan Alliance of Chicago performed a song, Aa Ka Ma, referring to the three letters seen by the Regent of Tibet in a vision at Lhamo Latso (Lake) while searching for clues to the reincarnation of the 13th Dalai Lama.  These led to the eventual finding of the present 14th Dalai Lama.


Jennifer Beals introduces the InterFaith ARTreach Collaboration before His Holiness the Dalai Lama's talk in Chicago on July 17, 2011. Photo/Richard Shay
Thereafter, American actress Jennifer Beals introduced the InterFaith ARTreach Collaboration.  This initiative resulted in the production of icons by organizations belonging to different religious tradition as their representation of the symbolism of the 12 of the world’s religions. Altogether 200 people worked on these sculptors.

Theosophical Society President Tim Boyd next took the stage to introduce His Holiness the Dalai Lama. He gave the history of the relationship between His Holiness and the society. He recalled His Holiness visiting the Society’s headquarters in Adyar in southern India in 1956 and later in 1959.  President Boyd read His Holiness’ impression of his visit to the Theosophical Society’s headquarters in 1956 found in his book,” Toward a True Kinship of Faiths.”  His Holiness wrote, “Looking back to this trip in 1956, I realize that my visit to the Theosophical Society in Chennai (then Madras) left a powerful impression. There I was first directly exposed to people, and to a movement, that attempted to bring together the wisdom of the world’s spiritual traditions as well as science. I felt among the members a sense of tremendous openness to the world’s great religions and a genuine embracing of pluralism.

“When I returned to Tibet in 1957, after more than three months in what was a most amazing country for a young Tibetan monk, I was a changed man. I could no longer live in the comfort of an exclusivist standpoint that takes Buddhism to be the only true religion.”


Theosophical Society President Tim Boyd introduces His Holiness the Dalai Lama in Chicago on July 17, 2011. Photo/Richard Shay
President Boyd called His Holiness one of the greatest people on earth and that the greatness has been earned with qualities that make us all human.  He then invited His Holiness on the stage.

His Holiness first presented Khatas formally to Governor Quinn (giving another to him saying it was for his wife), Jennifer Beals and President Boyd.

In his address, His Holiness talked about his admiration of the Theosophical Society recalling his visits to its headquarters in India.  He said he was happy to be speaking at the Society’s event in Chicago, a city that also witnessed the speech by Indian interfaith leader Swami Vivekananda at the Parliament of the World's Religions (in 1893).

His Holiness then told the gathering about how glad he was to learn from Governor Quinn that Illinois State has abolished the death penalty. Saying he was a signatory of Amnesty International’s campaign to abolish the death penalty, His Holiness said that most religions believe a distinction needs to be made between the sinner and the sin. While the sin  has to be opposed, the sinner needs forgiveness, he said.


His Holiness the Dalai Lama speaking during his public talk "Bridging the Faith Divide" in Chicago on July 17, 2011. Photo/Richard Shay
His Holiness said that at different times different teachers have highlighted the wonderful spirituality, the message of harmony. He said it was understandable when there was conflict over money or power, but conflict over religion was not understandable because the very purpose of religion was to create inner peace.  He added that most conflicts in the name of religion are actually not based on religious faith but because of power and money.

His Holiness said most of the misunderstandings over religion is on account of the lack of awareness. He cited his own experience to substantiate this.  He said when he was in Tibet, he used to feel that his religion, Buddhism, was the best religion and that other religions were “so so.” He added that it was only after coming over to India and interacting with people of other traditions, like the late Thomas Merton and Mother Teresa, that he has come to appreciate the significance of all faiths.  He recalled his conversation with Islamic scholars who said the accurate definition of Jihad was attacking one’s own destructive emotion.

His Holiness said all religions promoted the same practice of love, forgiveness, tolerance, self-discipline, moral principle, truth and justice. He said there was philosophical difference among religions, pointing out that all major religious traditions could be divided into two categories: theistic and non-theistic religions.


His Holiness the Dalai Lama during his public talk at the University of Illinois Chicago on July 17, 2011.
Photo/Richard Shay
His Holiness then highlighted the need for several religious traditions in this world. He said the concept of One Religion, One Truth may seem contradicting with the concept of Several Religions, Several Truths. However, he said that at the individual level having clarity with One Religion, One Truth may be more suitable, while to a community and the society as a whole, Several Religions, Several Truths was something that nobody could ignore. He said in the stadium where he was giving the talk there must surely be people from all religious traditions, which thus showed the reality. He gave the example of the impossibility of having just one medicine for all illnesses.  Different illnesses needing different medicine and even the same illness needing different medicines based on the patient’s condition.  He added that if physical illnesses was such then the mind was much more complicated.

His Holiness then explained the development of human society. Initially, people depended on prayers to resolve all problems. He talked about Tibetans depending on rituals for solution to their problems. Gradually, with scientific and technological development, people began to repose faith in science.  His Holiness said that towards the end of the 20th century people began to realize that material development alone did not have all the answers. This is indicated by people who succumbed to such addictions as tranquilizers, alcohol and drugs, particularly among the younger people.

His Holiness said there was a close connection between people’s mental wellbeing with their physical health. He said that too much fear, and anger were bad for people’s health. He said researches have shown that patients who are mentally happy recover faster.

His Holiness also expanded on his two commitments of promotion of religious harmony (at the level of being a Buddhist monk) and promotion of human values (at the level of being one among the nearly seven billion human beings on this earth).


His Holiness the Dalai Lama responds to questions from the audience during his talk in Chicago on July 17, 2011. Photo/Richard Shay
He also talked about corruption in society becoming serious in India, China and even in the United States. He said that corruption occurred not because of lack of education but on account of absence of moral values.  He said that basic human moral principles were not based on religion.  He felt secular ethics was something that can provide a solution to better human beings.  He explained that his concept of secularism was along the Indian definition in that it did not mean rejection of religion but respect for all religions.

His Holiness then ended his talk and took a few questions, read by the Master of Ceremony, noted TV journalist Bill Curtis.

When asked about his views on competition among religions, His Holiness said competition was of two kinds, one positive and the other negative. He said positive competition was one where an individual aspired to be the best without creating any obstacles to others wanting to be the same, too. He said this was good and something practiced by Tibetan Buddhist practitioners saying that there would not be any progress without competition. The negative kind of competition was one where while the individual aspired to be the best, he also created obstacles to others wanting the same, too.

When asked why he felt Buddhism was attracting increasing interest in the West, His Holiness said that this was a question that people in the west could answer. He said his basic position, which he shared with the audience when giving lectures on Buddhism in the West, was that western society’s traditional religions were the Judeo-Christian tradition and that it would be safer and less confusing if people continued to hold on to their traditional religious beliefs. Paying serious interest in Buddhism is one thing but if one indulges in it just because of wanting something new it may not work.


Some of the over 10,000 audience members listening to His Holiness the Dalai Lama in Chicago on July 17, 2011. Photo/Richard Shay
To another question on how to deal with those who are religious intolerant, His Holiness pointed out that he propagated three ways of promoting religious harmony. First, by interacting with scholars of different religions whereby commonality and differences among religious traditions could be discussed. Secondly, by meeting among religious practitioners who has deeper experiences. Thirdly, organizing group pilgrimages to sacred places of different religious traditions. His Holiness gave his own experiences of implementing these three approaches.

His Holiness also responded to a question on his initiative for dialogue with neuroscientists before concluding his session. As His Holiness left Tibetan Buddhist nun singer, Ani Choying Dolma, began giving a recital.

An estimated crowd of over 10,000, according to the Chicago Tribune, attended his public talk.  The Theosophical Society is composed of people belonging to different religious traditions or not even being religious. One of its objectives is, “ To encourage the study of comparative religion, philosophy and science.”

On July 18, 2011 morning, His Holiness will participate in a panel discussion with religious leaders before departing for India in the afternoon.  It will be webcast on http://www.dalailamachicago.com.

 

 

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