Interview with His Holiness the Dalai Lama by Raimondo Bultrini
Gennaio 8th, 2015 by admin

His Holiness the Dalai Lama

His Holiness the Dalai Lama

Interview with His Holiness the Dalai Lama by Raimondo Bultrini.

In the interview, His Holiness answers questions on his South African Nobel Peace Prize snub, contemporary India, religious and secular ethics, and the institution of the Dalai Lamas. He also speaks on the relationship with China, the preservation of Tibetan culture, and at length on the Shugden issue and the possibility of dialogue.

Below are answers to questions from Raimondo Bultrini to the Dalai Lama in an interview conducted in the run up to his Rome visit in December, 2014. The content provided all the information for a shorter interview published in La Repubblica, entitled: “Papa e Dalai agli occhi di Pechino”, [Dec. 14, 2014] (Engl. transl.)

Q: Your Holiness will be coming to Rome, where the Secretariat of World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates is based, for a meeting that was originally to take place in South Africa to honour the Nobel Laureate Nelson Mandela. When the Pretoria government refused to grant you a visa because of pressure from the Chinese other Nobel Laureates expressed solidarity with you and boycotted the meeting in South Africa. Do you feel any anger at the injustice of this, or perhaps pride in the support you’ve received?

HHDL: I don’t feel angry about it. I’ve become used to this kind of thing. The two Nobel laureates from South Africa sent me an invitation and, naturally, I accepted. However, when we approached the South African Embassy, they refused to give me a visa. On a previous occasion I was sorry not to have been able to meet and pay my respects to Nelson Mandela again before he died, but I accept things as they are. Of course, for the respective governments, national interest is important, but I can assure them and you that the Dalai Lama is not a harmful person. My interest is to promote human values, our need to see all 7 billion human beings as members of one family. In the long run, we must bring human values to bear in whatever we do, whether it involves politics, business, religion or education. If I had a political agenda, I might feel disappointed, but I don’t. Certainly I appreciate my fellow Nobel Laureates warm feelings and expressions of support. Since the organizers have moved the venue to Rome with the help and cooperation of the mayor, I’ll attend the summit there.

Q: You have lived in India for the last 55 years. Your Holiness has often said that Indians are Tibetans’ gurus, but more recently you have suggested that today’s Indians have become too westernized. You also advised a recent World Hindu Congress to open more cultural centres and fewer temples. How did they respond?

HHDL: I have great admiration for the scholars and spiritual practitioners of ancient India. I read and admire their writings, which reveal that they used their human brains to the full. In the writings of masters like Aryadeva, Bhavaviveka, Dignaga and Dharmakirti there is much debate and analysis of different traditions. Their writings are lucid. It’s clear that Buddhist knowledge advanced in response to the intellectual challenge from other schools and that non-Buddhist schools also developed accordingly.

The renowned Indian physicist Raja Ramanna once told me with pride that he had found explanations in the writings of the great Indian scholar Nagarjuna that correspond to what quantum physics has to say today. And what made him particularly proud is that what is regarded as fresh and new in these ideas among scientists today was known to Indian thinkers long ago.

What I meant about opening more cultural centres than temples in different places was that in the context of the highly developed psychology of ancient India, it is not sufficient just to conduct rituals for days. There is a need for places to study and hold discussions at a deeper level. We need to know more about our mind and emotions, for this is the knowledge that leads to inner peace. If we learn to tackle our destructive emotions, we can really begin to create a more compassionate world.

Q: Do you think religion is losing its appeal in our materialistic world and that humanity needs a different system of values?

HHDL: Despite all the benefits it offers in terms of moral guidance and giving meaning to life, in today’s secular world religion alone is no longer adequate as a basis for ethics. One reason for this is that many people in the world no longer follow any particular religion. Today, therefore, any religion-based answer to the problem of our neglect of inner values can never be universal, and so will be inadequate. What we need today is an approach to ethics which can be equally acceptable to those with faith and those without: a secular ethics.

The real key to this is warm-heartedness, working with compassion and self-confidence. If we conduct ourselves truthfully, honestly and transparently, we will earn trust and friendship. The only way we can introduce a greater appreciation of inner values is through education. However, at present most education is focused on material things, not on the importance of moral principles. This is what we need to change.

Q: After a recent interview in which you mentioned that you might be the last in the lineage of Dalai Lamas, the Chinese authorities replied: “Whether he likes it or not the Dalai Lama must reincarnate”. They already took control of another Tibetan Buddhist leader, when in 1995 they chose their own Panchen Lama instead of the boy you had identified. He then disappeared. How can you deal with a Chinese government who regularly deny your authority even in religious affairs?

HHDL: As early as 1969 I made it clear that whether the institution of the Dalai Lama continues or not depends entirely on the wishes of the Tibetan people. It will be for them to decide. If I were to die today, I think the Tibetan people would choose to have another Dalai Lama. But in the future, if the institution is no longer relevant or useful and the Tibetan situation changes, then the institution of Dalai Lama will cease to exist. Personally, I feel it has served its purpose. Since 2001 we Tibetans in exile have had a democratically elected head of our administration. He looks after the day to day affairs of the administration and political issues.

When I devolved my responsibility to the elected leadership 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 has not proved a disgrace. I’m content that 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.

Reincarnation is something that should take place voluntarily or at least on the strength of the concerned person’s karma, merit and prayers. Therefore, the person who reincarnates has sole legitimate authority over where and how he or she takes rebirth and how that reincarnation is to be recognized. The reality is that no one else can force the person concerned, or manipulate him or her. It is particularly inappropriate for Chinese communists, who explicitly reject even the idea of past and future lives, let alone the concept of reincarnate lamas, to meddle in the system of reincarnation and especially the reincarnations of the Dalai Lamas and Panchen Lamas. They are only thinking in political terms, of asserting power. They want to control the institution of the Dalai Lama. This is an out of date way of thinking.

At present I think I can say that 99% of the Tibetan people trust me. But you can make a distinction between the Dalai Lama, the person, and the Dalai Lama, the institution. As far as the institution is concerned, in 2011 I not only retired but also ended a four-century-old political tradition. So even if there is a 15th Dalai Lama he will exercise no political power.

Q: Recently you revealed that you have had some informal contacts with the Chinese authorities, which gave rise to a statement from the Deputy Party Secretary in the Tibet Autonomous Region that they would not oppose your visit to Tibet in the future. However, soon after that, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, Hong Lei, said: “Our position on the Dalai Lama is consistent and clear. What he needs to do is not make a so-called return to Tibet but give up his position and conduct on splitting China. This will do good for him.” Do you think you can reach an agreement or compromise with these conflicting views?

HHDL: The Chinese number 1.3 billion, 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.

We have our own language, culture and way of life and want to preserve them. Our contacts with the Chinese people are improving, but because of censorship they are very poorly informed. Recently I have been advising Tibetans to reach out to Chinese people. I have been told that when they understand more about our Middle Way Approach, a majority of Chinese people support it. The best way to solve our problems is to take a realistic view of them.

Change is taking place, for example among Chinese students. There are more than 200,000 Chinese students studying abroad these days. A few years ago when I met them, these students were serious and reserved. Today they smile. This is a positive sign of change.

Reconciliation is possible, but past experience shows it is not easy. Many of the  hard-liners in the party and in the Chinese government have a very narrow and shortsighted outlook. They don’t look at things in a holistic way. However, within the People’s Republic of China at large, there is wider contact with the outside world. There are more and more voices of discontentment among the people, particularly among the intellectuals. Things will change – that’s bound to happen.

Q: Tibetans living inside and those living in exile have increasingly different experiences from each other in terms of their knowledge of the world and their social and political vision. Some people say that only 3-4 million of the 6 million Tibetans living in Tibet now use Tibetan as their main language. The strongest common ground among Tibetans is their belief in Buddhism and their faith in the Dalai Lama. The Tibetan issue is in great flux. What is now the more urgent thing that needs to be done to preserve Tibetan culture and unity between these two different groups of your people?

HHDL: The 6 million Tibetans in Tibet are our real masters. They have been going through difficult times, not least because of the hard-line policies pursued by Chinese officials in Tibet. And yet Tibetans have not lost their spirit and character. Just as Chinese are proud and devoted to their culture, so are we Tibetans. The people of the three provinces feel a strong sense of unity as Tibetans and we in exile offer them our support.

It is important to distinguish between the agent and his or her action. Sometimes it’s necessary to take steps to counter the wrong actions of others, but not to give in to being angry with them. This is what Tibetans do when they openly oppose and resist the actions of hardliners among Chinese officials, but draw the line at being angry with them.

We Tibetans have our own spoken and written language, and it is the language best suited to expressing the Buddhist path including Tantra, logic and epistemology. The Tibetan language evolved as we began to translate Buddhist literature from Sanskrit. This often involved inventing new terms for specific purposes, which means that Tibetan translations are especially precise and accurate. Although Perfection of Wisdom texts also exist in Chinese, they are not as precise, and are harder to understand.

Although a once-powerful Tibet fragmented in the 9th century, what has bound Tibetans together down the centuries has been our language and the practice and study of Tibetan Buddhism. Nowadays I encourage the study of classic Buddhist texts, even in monasteries and nunneries that were previously concerned only with chanting rituals. Laypeople too have set up discussion groups to encourage this. This is how we will preserve Tibetan religion and culture.

Q: Many people around the world cannot understand why China is so afraid of you or why they put pressure on so many countries to avoid official meetings with you. Is it that you are so powerful, or is it that China reveals a secret weakness in relation to the way it has historically dealt with the Tibetan issue?

HHDL: It may be that the new leadership will take a more realistic view, but it’s still too early to say. They call me a demon and a splittist, but actually it is the PLA which acts as a splittist in Tibet when they crack down on Tibetan language and look down on Tibetan culture. if you beat a dog it will run away. If you want it to stay you have to treat it with affection. Tibetans are human beings, who are not to be fobbed off with new infrastructure, while not being treated with any respect. The struggle in Tibet it is between the power of the gun and the power of truth. At the moment it is the gun that wins, but ultimately the truth will prevail.

Q: You have said that you are eager to meet Pope Francis. He displays an approach to the world that is reminiscent of Your Holiness’s attitude in his simplicity, compassion and his cordial, direct approach to people who are looking for social justice. What aspect of his thinking most appeals to you? Do you have any misgivings about anything he has said or done?

HHDL: I have received a very good impression of him and I would be very happy to meet him in person. He did well to dismiss the German bishop, who probably preached contentment in his church but lived in luxury himself. I was impressed. I also admired his attempt to build peace between Palestinians and Israelis. It may not succeed, but it was good to try.

Q: You have said: “To make a more peaceful world in the 21st century, it needs to be a more compassionate world and to make a more compassionate world, we do not need to teach religion but to spread compassion through education”. Do you think that education can be a substitute for religion?

HHDL: One of the unique things about human beings is our brain, our capacity to think. Because of that, education is very important. Education is like an instrument. Whether that instrument is used properly or not depends on the user. If you combine education with warm-heartedness, your education, your knowledge, will be constructive. Your whole life will be constructive and happy. You’ll be able to contribute to society and the betterment of humanity. And I believe a good heart, a warm heart, a compassionate heart, is still teachable.

Modern education tends to focus on materialist goals with insufficient stress on developing warm-heartedness. If our education touches on ethics it is usually in relation to religious faith. Despite their philosophical differences, the common purpose of all the major religious traditions to help us develop love. To do that effectively, you need tolerance and forgiveness, self-discipline and contentment.

However, among the 7 billion human beings alive in the world today, 1 billion assert that they have no such belief. The question then is how to educate such people in the value of love and compassion. We need to adopt a secular approach. India is a living example because it has historically adopted such an approach that expresses an unbiased respect for all religions and even for people who proclaim no faith.

We need to find secular ways to cultivate warm-heartedness. We need secular ways to educate ourselves about inner values. The source of a happy life is within us. We can change society, change humanity by changing ourselves as individuals. Trouble makers in many parts of the world are often quite well educated, so it is not just education that we need. We need to pay attention to inner values. It seems to me that modern education focuses too much on materialism, while it is religion that deals with inner values. What we need to pay attention to today is the secular ethics that are the basis of religious traditions.

Q: A group of dissidents who previously belonged to your own religious tradition are opposing you because you hold a view different from theirs of the spirit called Gyalpo Shugden. They regularly hold demonstrations against you, and may do so again during your coming visit to Rome. Not many people will fully understand what this conflict is about. Can you explain what it’s about without having to go into the complex cultural and religious background?

HHDL: Out of ignorance, from 1951 until 1970, I too propitiated this spirit. Then I discovered that the 5th Dalai Lama, who had a thorough knowledge of it, had said that it was an entity born from distorted prayers, that brings harm to sentient beings and the teachings of the Buddha. The 13th Dalai Lama also made efforts to contain it. I felt this was serious and that I had a responsibility to inform other people about it, although how they chose to respond was up to them.

To make a mistake out of ignorance is understandable, but to act knowingly is another matter. There are those in the USA and Europe who publicly demonstrate against me over this. They call me an enemy of Buddhism and of the tradition of Je Tsongkhapa that I belong to. In this connection I quote an adage if the Tibetan Muslim sage Khache Phalu: ‘I have given my heart’s advice to you, you can pay heed to me or not as you wish.

Q: Is there is any room for dialogue with these people, or differences between you too wide?

HHDL: These demonstrators shout, bang drums and wave banners. Their faces are contorted in aggressive expressions. Their slogan is ‘Stop lying’, but the question is who really is lying. Due to ignorance and distorted information, the followers of this practice are completely confused. In India, they have their own monasteries where they can do what they want. Kelsang Gyatso, one of their teachers once told a reporter in England that the 14th Dalai Lama had done nothing beneficial for the cause of Tibet. Isn’t that something of a lie?

Worship of this spirit goes hand in hand with sectarianism and restrictions on religious freedom. The 5th Dalai Lama and the 13th Dalai Lama strongly opposed it. Having realized that continuing the practice was a mistake, I felt it was my responsibility to let other people know. How they choose to act on the basis of that knowledge is up to them. It’s good that these demonstrators draw attention to the issue and encourage people to clarify what it’s about.

Q: You have referred to their attitude as fundamentalist and fanatic, and as you have said elsewhere, it’s very difficult to engage in dialogue with people who have become very emotional. Can we compare this conflict in a small section of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition with the problems faced by other religious communities who are afflicted by all sorts of extremists?

HHDL: As I already mentioned the 5th and 13th Dalai Lamas placed restrictions on the practice of Dolgyal because it shattered the spiritual bond between master and disciple. Ecumenism, non-sectarianism, is important and the great Tibetan masters practised it. Christianity, Hinduism, Judaism, Islam and Buddhism, for example, have long been of benefit to their adherents. Those of us who belong to these traditions should respect each other.If you investigate the four century history of this spirit you can find out its nature. Out of ignorance I propitiated it 1951-70, but once I understood there were drawbacks to it I researched its origins at the time of the 5th Dalai Lama and I stopped. A monastery turned to me for help when it faced unusual difficulties and it emerged that propitiating this spirit was at the root of it. Right from the start I have tried to be transparent about this and have tried to make things clear. Whether other people listen to what I say is up to them. The people demonstrating on the streets where I speak don’t seem to be properly informed. They are ignorant of the facts of the case. The point I want to make here is that I haven’t banned the practice they are talking about, and the monasteries associated with Shugden in South India are evidence of this. My duty is to make the situation clear, no more than that. Whether other people pay attention is up to them. I wave to them when I see them, and sometimes they wave back.

I feel sorry for these demonstrators, because they are misinformed. For example, recently in Hamburg they displayed pictures of me wearing a taqiyah, a Muslim skull-cap. They want to pretend that I’m a Muslim instead of a Buddhist. I’m not worried, the truth will out. Some of the demonstrators are Tibetans. These protestors are mistaken and full of ignorance, I feel sorry for them, but I don’t feel angry towards them.

My precept master, Kyabje Ling Dorje Chang, the master from whom I received my bhikshu – fully ordained monk’s – vows, was not at all pleased about the practice of this spirit, but because Trijang Rinpoche, my Junior Tutor, practised it strongly, he refrained from criticising it openly. However, he instructed his close disciples not to do the practice. When I became suspicious of the practice and investigated its history, I came to know about the controversy connected with it. When I told him I’d stopped the Dolgyal practice, he was very pleased. He said: “That’s excellent”. I also told Trijang Rinpoche that I’d stopped doing it and explained to him the steps I’d taken to investigate the issue. He concurred that those procedures were infallible and stated that there was no error in what I had done.

The Buddha advised those who follow him not to take refuge in ordinary deities and spirits. This is a basic Buddhist principle. The Shugden followers as good as seek refuge in this spirit that arose in the 17th century at the time of the 5th Dalai Lama. One of its harmful aspects is a strident sectarianism, whereas I am committed to an inclusive non-sectarianism.

A spiritual bond is formed between a teacher and disciple and I have asked that if people want to worship this spirit they don’t take teachings from me. This is what they are calling a ban. They chant “Stop lying,’ but I think you should ask who is lying here. I also used to propitiate this spirit, so I have experience of the ignorance they are labouring under. When I realized there was something wrong with it, I stopped doing it. More and more people came to know that and asked about it. It was necessary to tell the truth; it is my responsibility to tell the truth, to explain the reasons why I stopped that practice. Whether people listen or pay heed to what I say is up to them.

Q: You have said. “We are all equal; we are all born the same way. But sometimes we forget the sameness of humanity and talk of divisions. In terms of them and us … We need sense of oneness among seven billion people of the world”. How can this principle be applied to people who repeatedly accusing you of telling lies?

HHDL: Normally we would expect a spirit of this sort to be protecting people, but in this case there are people trying to protect the spirit. They shout: “Stop lying,” but I don’t know what they think anyone is lying about. My duty is only to let people know what I have found out.

Raimondo Bultrini

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