H.H. Dalai Lama: Tibetans, Interfaith Discussion and Secular Ethics
Ottobre 27th, 2014 by admin

His Holiness the Dalai Lama: Audience for Tibetans, Interfaith Discussion and Secular Ethics Public Talk

Birmingham, Alabama, 26 October 2014 – Before leaving for his other engagements this morning, His Holiness the Dalai Lama met with 350 Tibetans who came to Birmingham from Atlanta, New York, New Jersey and Minnesota to show solidarity with him. Speaking about possible change in China, he argued that while the present leadership is made up of people who remember the hardships of the Cultural Revolution, there is a new generation who have experienced freedom and democracy when studying abroad. He feels that when these people come to power there will be change. Although some democracy activists expect this to come soon, His Holiness feels that may be wishful thinking. He thinks it may take another 10-15 years. In the meantime, young Tibetans both in Tibet and elsewhere need to acquire a good education so that Tibetans will be able to stand on their own feet when the opportunity arises. He noted that many Tibetans have come to the USA to make money. He encouraged them to pursue that goal, but also urged them to use wealth purposefully for the common good. Turning to the issue of culture, he said: “I’m a refugee who’s met many people in different parts of the world. My education was in a Buddhist context, but no matter who I meet I don’t feel inferior to them. This is because of the richness of our tradition. It’s a profound tradition. In the past, visitors to Tibet would regard our culture as merely exotic, but this tradition from Nalanda that we have been custodians of is profound and valuable and should be regarded as a part of our world heritage. Even on a personal level, it’s clear to me that if you have peace of mind, it’s the best guarantor of physical health too.”

Referring to the pro-Shugden demonstrators on the street, he noted that they are exercising their right to freedom of speech. And since this large group of Tibetans have come to demonstrate that they have that right too, His Holiness wanted to say “Thank you.” However, since there is no Dharma teaching being given here, he thought he might say a few words at this meeting. He referred to a quotation from Chandrakirti that says: ‘Just as the rays of the sun open the lotus, so the words of the Buddha dispelled the darkness of the world.’ However, he added:

The Buddhas do not wash away the karma of other beings,

Nor do they remove the consequences with their hands;

They do not transmit their understanding into others’ minds;

They introduce beings to freedom by educating them about reality.

He said that the Four Noble Truths explain the cause and effect of suffering and the path to happiness. This is the unique Buddhist tradition, common to both Pali and Sanskrit traditions. In addition, the Sanskrit tradition presents the Two Truths, which draw attention to the difference between appearance and reality. This corresponds quite closely to the Quantum Physics’ view that when you seek objective reality it cannot be found.

His Holiness led the gathering in reciting the common verse for taking refuge in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha and generating the awakening mind of bodhichitta. He gave transmission of the mantras of the Buddha, Avalokiteshvara, Manjushri and Tara, before posing for photographs with different sections of the group.

In the Alabama Theater nearby, Mayor William Bell welcomed His Holiness, telling the audience of 2000 that he had hoped His Holiness could have joined the Birmingham 50th anniversary celebrations. He was resigned to the fact that prior engagements prevented him coming when he was excited to get word that His Holiness would like to come at another time.

Moderator Bob Selman briefly introduced the panel: Imam Khalid Latif, University Chaplain for New York University; Rev Eric Andrews, President of the Paulist Fathers; Rev Serene Jones, 16th President of the historic Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York, the first woman to head it; Rev Carl Wright President and CEO of Urban Ministries Inc a Christian media group and Rabbi Shmuley Boteach a well-known American Orthodox Rabbi and the simple Buddhist monk, Tibetan spiritual leader and Nobel Peace Laureate, His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Selman explained the format he wanted to follow, which was to put a question to His Holiness and then ask one of the other members of the panel to add their comments too.

He began by referring to Martin Luther King Jr’s celebrated ‘Letter from Birmingham Jail’ which stated that too often ‘wait’ means ‘never’. He asked to what extent we should be patient or impatient with regard to human rights. His Holiness replied:“We all want to live a happy life and this is our basic right. But to achieve happiness our efforts should be realistic, if they are unrealistic we won’t gain satisfactory results. We need to look at the situation from all angles to assess our goal. After thorough examination of whether it can be achieved, we need to judge whether it can be done in a short or long time. That which can be done easily, we should do. That which will take more time, we should be patient about. We have to be truthful and honest, which will attract moral support as people come to trust us. Patience as we wait to take action is a kind of compassionate mind. Impatience on the other hand can be a source of failure.”

He said that he loves Americans for their straightforwardness, but said he has noticed that some young people can be very excitable where it is better to remain calm. Rev Wright referred to Birmingham at the time Dr King wrote his letter as a place where ‘injustice was the rule of law’.

The next question touched on the importance of kindness and compassion. His Holiness told the audience about his mother. How, despite being an uneducated farmer’s wife, she was immensely kind. Her children never saw her face angry.

Since our existing education system is mainly focused on materialist goals, we need to find ways to teach inner values in our schools. No matter how wonderful a religious tradition may be it will not appeal to everyone, so we need a more universal way to teach warm-heartedness and compassion. Pilot projects like this are being followed in Vancouver and British Columbia and what I have proposed is that if they are successful, these techniques can be spread more widely. We human beings are social animals; therefore affection and kindness are key factors in ensuring we live in a happy society.” In his response, Imam Khalid Latif agreed with His Holiness that no one religion has ownership of our inner values. He told the story of his attendance at the 9th anniversary of the September 11th event, wearing his police uniform, but also his skull-cap and beard. Vice-President Biden was due to appear and he found himself challenged for his credentials by men in dark suits, because they thought, “I didn’t look like I should be there. I knew if I said anything back, it could make things worse. And it was a woman beside me who had lost her son in the tragedy who stood up for me. That was an act of compassion.”

The next question related to a quote from Cornel West – “never forget that justice is what love looks like in public.” His Holiness picked up on the Imam’s story and began by stating that all major religions carry a message of love.

That includes Islam, which is one of the world’s great religions. A Muslim friend told me that a genuine Muslim must extend love to all the creatures of Allah and that one who causes bloodshed is no longer a true Muslim. Moreover, the real definition of jihad is the struggle we have with our own destructive emotions. On the first anniversary of the September 11th event, I happened to be in Washington and was invited to attend the memorial service. I took the opportunity to say that although the mischievous perpetrators of that tragic event had Muslim backgrounds, that couldn’t justify negative generalizations about an entire community. I said that there are mischievous people in all communities, whether they are Christian, Jewish, Hindu or Buddhist. In fact, there are people outside here demonstrating against me, but it would be wrong to generalize about all Buddhists on the basis of their behaviour.”

He said that justice is about respecting other people’s rights, bearing in mind that others have a right to be happy. He said that if we appreciate that we can extend our love to them, seeing them as our brothers and sisters. Rev Jones agreed, saying that justice is love in action. A reference to Harper Lee’s novel ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ prompted Rev Andrews to recall the lawyer Atticus saying: “You never know a man until you stand in his shoes and walk around in them” and for His Holiness to say that we need to remember the basic sameness of all human beings and to note that we are all interdependent. He said: “If you make others happy, you’ll be happy. If you make others unhappy, you’ll be miserable.”

Rabbi Boteach added to his apology for arriving late the comment that you don’t come to hear the Dalai Lama’s words you come to experience his presence. He was forthright in his speech saying that he has no time for the word tolerance when it is used to mean that you are just putting up with others. He declared the need for a proper multi-ethnic society leading to a more humanistic world. He mentioned Jewish friends who tell him that Islam is a violent movement intent on harming Jews and his response to them is that when Jews were driven out of the Iberian Peninsula in 1492 it was only the Ottoman Muslims who gave them refuge and that it was Saladin who invited Jews back to Jerusalem.

When a pro-Shugden demonstrator belonging to the NKT/ISC suddenly began to heckle His Holiness from a back seat, the audience objected. But it was the Rabbi who shouted him down, rebuking him for disrupting an occasion several thousand people had come to hear and for the rudeness of abusing His Holiness in this way.

Once calm was restored, His Holiness took up the point about whether we should think of one religion and one truth. He said that whether we like it or not, there are different religious traditions in the world. They all convey the same message of love, compassion, forgiveness and tolerance, despite differing in their philosophical views. He concluded that the idea of one religion, one truth is fine on an individual, personal level, but on the level of society at large we need to think in terms of several religions and several truths.

Imam Ashfaq Taufique thanked His Holiness and the other panellists for coming to participate in such a valuable interfaith discussion, and the Mayor and city of Birmingham for organizing it. After lunch with fellow panellists as Mayor William Bell’s guests, His Holiness was driven to the Region Fields baseball stadium where upwards of 10,000 people were gathered under the hot sun to hear him speak about secular ethics. Addressing them as brothers and sisters, he outlined what he sees as his own three commitments. The first is to remind people that we are all the same, we are all brothers and sisters belonging to the same human family. The second is to promote inter-religious harmony, mindful of the benefit millions of people down the ages and still today derive from their religious faith, whichever it might be. Thirdly, since we are all human brothers and sisters, with the same wish and the same right to be happy, he is concerned to indicate how we can achieve that through secular ethics based on common experience, common sense and scientific findings.

He explained that our common experience is that we are all born from our mothers and grow in her affection. Common sense enables us to observe that whether poor or well-off, a family that is affectionate is happy, whereas a family wracked with suspicion and anxiety tends to be unhappy. Scientific findings include the gathering evidence that having a calm mind and a warm-heart is good for our physical health and general well-being.

He concluded: “That’s all. It’s been a great honour for me to speak here in a city where Martin Luther King worked. I’ve met and talked to his widow and remain an admirer of his achievements. The important thing is for those of us living now to keep his spirit alive. Thank you.”

Tomorrow, His Holiness leaves Birmingham for Philadelphia and Princeton.

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