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The Dalai Lama
gets to the bottom of strife in the modern world, emphasising that India’s tradition of ahimsa can make today’s angry world a compassionate place. Exhorting the pursuit of peace in conversation with
, the 82-year-old spiritual master says that using force to solve problems is outdated and the time has come to practise ‘karuna’ through education. Edited excerpts…
You recently told Barack Obama: “You’re young. You can do a lot (to promote harmony and peace). My generation may not see the results, but your generation definitely will”.
Looking to the future is typical of Indian tradition. How can we inculcate this in the new generation?
Firstly, I think of my own story – I was born in 1935. At the time, the Sino Japanese conflict was about to start and in Europe, the Nazis gained more power and the seeds of World War II were sown. After World War II, in which two nuclear bombs were used — one at Nagasaki, the second at Hiroshima — I visited these places. On my first visit, I met an old lady who had experienced nuclear-attack fire.
Then came the Korean War, Vietnam War… on this planet, so much suffering came from violence. War means organised, mobilised, large-scale violence — that’s war. Had the immense violence brought some good, some may have justified it but that is not the case. More violence creates more fear and anger. Thus the immense violence of the 20th century. Even today, at any obstacle many immediately think of how to deal with it by force. But today’s reality is — using force is outdated! Problems come with the use of force. It gives rise to negative emotions and only gets worse.
Negative feelings will be carried forward from parents to children to grandchildren; I think use of force to settle issues is outdated. No matter how serious the difference, all are human beings and whether we like it or not, we have to live together on this planet through dialogue. Therefore, I have full conviction that we must try to create a peaceful century and firstly, we must develop inner peace and wisdom — become far-sighted, not short-sighted. As I mentioned to Obama: I am 82. The next ten years I may be active, perhaps, after that, difficult! So I told Obama, as Nobel laureate, he is already committed to the things I mentioned (promoting peace and harmony). Obama also promised me that being younger to me, he will take these concepts into the future.
The high-fiving monk and his campaign for lasting peace
How can we develop this perspective of thinking in the long-term?
Through education. Education is not a new idea for this country. The concept of ahimsa has been in India for over a thousand years. Because of this 1,000-yearold tradition of ahimsa, I think modern India is more peaceful than Pakistan. Pakistan has a large number of Muslims, but India has a larger number of Muslims and is more peaceful though they read the same Quran. This is because of the long culture of nonviolence still alive.
It should not be considered ‘old’ thinking; it is not only ancient knowledge of India but relevant in today’s world. I realise this in my own experience. When I began to study ancient Indian knowledge, it was with great reluctance and no interest — because my only interest was to play, to run here and there, I did not like sitting seriously in front of my tutor! (laughs). But those subjects I learnt with great reluctance I now find so useful, firstly to keep my peace of mind, and, when I pass through difficulties.
The education rooted in ancient Indian knowledge gave me a sound basis of will-power — the long run is very important. The short run, perhaps with use of weapons, is decisive, for power. But in the long run, the power of truth prevails.
Tell us more about this approach.
I learnt immensely from the Indian tradition we kept alive (in Tibet). I always pray as a Buddhist monk, as a 21st century Buddhist transcendental being — limitless, like the galaxies, just praying, almost like wishful thinking.
We have only this planet, where there are fish, birds, insects, but as sentient beings, we are not doing anything… Now our only hope is that the 7 billionplus human beings have intelligence. We have different human languages and we can communicate. So we’re truly praying for the planet’s 7 billion-plus sentient beings. Among the 7 billion are those who follow tradition or theist religion. Others depend on God’s hand; they just pray. The Judeo-Christian tradition is faith-based; not training your mind or meditation, because for them, everything depends on God. But in Indian tradition, God may be there but basically everything is mainly our responsibility. Emphasis is on karma, action, related to motivation and intent.
Anger and compassion are all part of emotion. To carry positive action/good karma, we have to deal with our emotions first, hence samadhi and vipassana — a more than 3,000-year-old practice. Indian tradition emphasises the transformation of our mind, our emotions. All this originally comes from religious texts. We should take these up as academic subjects.
We talk of physical hygiene. In the same way, hygiene of emotion is also important. It is also part of physical hygiene, because a more peaceful mind means a happier physical condition. Scientists say constant fear and stress are bad for health. These are related to emotions. The best way is to pay attention to both mental and physical hygiene.
Western culture is based on the concept of theistic tradition, the Judeo-Christian tradition. But in India, we have Sankhya philosophy, Vedic philosophy, Nyaya school, the Mimamsa tradition, the Charvaka school, Jainism and Buddhism and more recently Sikhism and later, Brahma Kumaris — all part of Indian tradition. There is so much focus on training the mind.
Next ten years I think I can do something for the revival of ancient Indian tradition within the country. Meanwhile, all of you have to take it up. As an important national newspaper, you should take this up. I appreciate your genuine interest and sense of responsibility.
How can we train the minds of governments to avoid anger and conflict so there are no wars?
Buddhism is a non-theistic religion; so everything rests on our own shoulders and emotions. Buddhists say all negative emotions are born from ignorance. Wisdom is the only method to remove ignorance, which is the basis of attachment and anger. Scientists also now explain that.
Now the point is that non-theistic tradition that emphasises training of the mind is found in this country alone. I have 100% conviction that ancient Indian tradition can make a better world through education.
Is this what you mean when you often speak of ‘educating the heart’? Is this about secular ethics and moral science?
So-called modern education started from Europe. It started as Christian education, and about 200 years ago, came developments in science and technology. At the time, morals and ethics were carried by religious monasteries and then separately, education focused on material values. Gradually, the influence of religious groups reduced. Educational institutes should include both physical/ material well-being as well as human values, morals and ethics — not through prayer, but with intelligent warm-heartedness and thought, good education and trained teachers.
Interacting with scientists and scholars, I have come to learn that basic human nature is more compassionate. That is the foundation of our hope. If basic human nature is anger, then there is no hope. Constant anger and fear are eating up our immune system.
When the mind is more compassionate, it brings peace of mind that is key to our health. This will foster a peaceful individual, thus a peaceful family. Not money, not power, not mere education, but morals and ethics, for a happy individual, family, community and nation.
Compared to neighbouring states, India is happier. the Indian secular tradition is not based on religion but the Indian understanding of secularism means respect all religions and respect non-believers too.
I learnt the Charvaka nihilist tradition from LK Advani. Many ancient Indians may have criticised Charvaka but yet, they all respected that school of thought; Charvaka was also a learned rishi. That’s why I say Indian tradition is very secular.
Let’s imagine that of the world’s 7 billion people, one billion are non-believers. Even among the six billion, there are those very violent because of lack of conviction about human values — they only follow customs and rituals, but not the true value. Religion should reflect the true Indian tradition of ahimsa. Mahatma Gandhi and others had a deep understanding of ahimsa. We now must go further with ahimsa and act on it. In order to have non-violent action, the motivation must come from karuna, compassion. The proper way to practise ahimsa is to practise it with karuna, because, human nature is also karuna.
I was watching BBC. Oh-oh, so many problems! And a strong feeling of WE, and THEY. I now deliberately try to promote a sense of oneness of humanity.
Is karma — that actions (cause) determine destiny (effect) — a scientific approach?
India has the potential to foster better knowledge about emotions, to tackle our emotions secularly, and significantly contribute to the world. Firstly, we must revive this tradition, not through ritual and prayer, but through education. This will train us to tackle emotions and bring peace of mind.
I think China, traditionally a Buddhist country, followed Indian tradition. Today, China has nearly 400 million Buddhists; many are showing genuine interest in Tibetan Buddhism, realising Tibetan Buddhism gives knowledge — it is not mere ritual. Therefore, if India takes a leadership role in secular education about morals and ethics, China will eventually follow India. Xi Jinping said some years ago that Buddhism is an important part of Chinese culture. India should demonstrate these things and we should make a clear plan through education and revival of this knowledge. Then combine India and China (on knowledge-effect) — over 2 billion people, that is a big number of the world’s 7 billion population.
When Mahatma Gandhiji promoted ahimsa, non-violence, the British thought it was a sign of weakness. But gradually, many parts of the world came to admire Gandhiji’s practice and promotion of non-violence. When I met Martin Luther King’s widow, she said how impressed he had been with Gandhi’s ahimsa. The way Gandhi dressed also impressed him. He wanted to dress like Gandhi too! When I heard that, I thought, how would an American look in Gandhi’s clothes? (laughs).
I think Gandhiji really promoted India’s ahimsa tradition in practice. Now the time has come to practise karuna, compassion, through education. I am just a small contributor. Every Indian should take up more serious thinking on how to spread the realisation of ancient Indian knowledge that can be so useful in today’s world.
In Kolkata last month you said, “We are not seeking independence from China… We want more development.” What kind of development?
Material development! (laughs). China had removed even ladles from Tibet, everything was taken away! An important statue of the Buddha went missing in Lhasa during Panchen Lama’s time. Then, he enquired, ‘Where is that Buddha statue?’ Later, a lama who went to China told me that he saw an important Buddha statue in a Chinese warehouse, cut in the middle. They had tried to melt it. So he brought it to Lhasa and put it together again. Once communist China took everything from Tibet, many ancient Tibetan articles were discovered in Hong Kong’s markets.
Now the time has come for the Chinese to pay more for our material development, which is good. Several thousand Tibetans even illegally emigrated to America and Europe — not seeking spiritual knowledge but seeking dollars. We also need material development. And many Chinese are showing genuine appreciation of Tibetans’ spiritual knowledge. A few years ago, Tibetans saw writings that politically, China controls us. Eventually in the future, with Buddhism, we could control China. Yes, this is possible!
The Chinese government must respect Tibetan culture and the Tibetan language. One time, Chinese narrow-minded officials deliberately tried to eliminate Tibetan language and script — this is impossible to do.
The Chinese have an ancient culture. Tibetans too have an ancient culture that’s difficult to eliminate. Nearly 60 years on, the Tibetan people still show how much they love their own culture. I think the Chinese government wants harmony and stability. For that you must respect peoples’ culture and language, otherwise it gets very difficult.
You’ve been in India for nearly 60 years. How do you see this long intimate association with India and Indians?
It is 58 years. It is a long story. In the seventh century, the Tibetan emperor married a Chinese princess. During this period I don’t know if the Tibetan script existed, or whether it was invented, but it was improved and the existing Tibetan script was finalised. This inspired close links with the Chinese emperor. But the Tibetan script was drawn from the Devanagari script.
Then in the eight century, though he was married to a Chinese princess, the Tibetan emperor preferred to bring Buddhism directly from India, so he invited top scholar and great logician, Shantarakshita. This shows that Tibetans, since the seventh century, were very close to India. Indian tradition really changed our way of life and we became peaceful. Today, I tease Indians — I say, traditionally you are our guru; we are your chela. But today, the chela has more knowledge than the guru! We Tibetans have benefited greatly from ancient Indian knowledge! In the Tibetan mind, India is home of our guru, so we have close emotional ties.
In 1954, I first met Pandit Nehru in Peking (now Beijing), then again in India. We had many discussions and also complaints about Chinese policy. We developed a close friendship. Then in 1959 we faced serious difficulty in Tibet; we had no choice but to escape. When we approached southern Tibet, we began to doubt whether the Indian government would allow us to enter or not. We sent our officials, some to Bhutan and some to India. Then soon as we received information from India that they were ready to receive us, we were very happy. Emotionally, we had come to our traditional, spiritual home.
Then, politically, India, led by Pandit Nehru, gave maximum help to our refugee community. I asked him, since we have a different language and heritage, we need separate Tibetan schools. Some said Hindi as medium of instruction would be better, so I asked Pandit Nehru, which language would be better and he said, English is an international language. Pandit Nehru was of immense help in creating Tibetan schools and settlements and he wrote letters to chief ministers of different states. The first and best response came from Mysore State from its chief minister, S Nijalingappa, with whom I had become friends in 1956.
One day, at a lunch hosted by S Nijalingappa in a glass house in a garden in Bangalore, at the same table were seated the Panchem Lama, myself, Nijalingappa, and the Chinese officials (who were always with me). Nijalingappa whispered in my ear, “We fully support Tibetan independence”. I was so nervous I kept glancing back at the Chinese officials (laughs).
How did you continue the training for Buddhist monks in the early years after you moved to India?
We were given land for settlement and among the refugees we had a few thousand monk-students, so I asked the Indian government that we need a special place where these monk-students can continue their studies. First the government said okay for 600 monks but that was too little, and we requested for more, perhaps 1,500, and eventually, our settlement developed.
Now I want to tell you — to revive ancient Indian knowledge, these few thousand monkscholars can make a contribution; the only problem is of language. In the last few years, I have asked them to learn English, Hindi and a few other south Indian languages like Malayalam. So now, more Tibetan scholars can speak some Indian languages. So they can make significant contribution.
We are thinking of training teachers and making a draft curriculum that will include secular ethics in all schools with the help of Emory University in the US and the Tata Institute of Social Sciences in Mumbai. We will carry this out at an experimental level and examine the results after a couple of years.
If the research is positive, we can expand and the Union ministry of culture can take it up. That is our thinking now.