H.H. Dalai Lama: Achieving Peace through Inner Peace

His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama: Achieving Peace through Inner Peace. Nantes, France, 15 August 2008. Transcribed and slightly edited by Alexander Berzin.

Physical and Mental Discomfort

Peace is everyone’s concern, whether living in the East, the West, the North, or the South. Whether rich or poor, everybody needs to be genuinely concerned with peace. We are all human beings and so we all have the same concern in general: to be happy, to have a happy life. And we all deserve a happy life. We are speaking here on that level. Everyone has a feeling of “me” or “the self,” but we don’t fully understand what the “me” or “the self” is. Nevertheless, still we have a strong feeling of “me.” With that feeling comes the desire to have happiness and not to have suffering. This automatically arises or appears. On that basis, we all have the right to be happy.

Meanwhile, in our lives lots of unpleasant things and obstacles are bound to happen. There are two categories of these. One category of pain is due to physical causes, for instance sickness and growing older. Like myself, already I have some experience about this – it’s difficult for me to hear, to see, to walk. These things are bound to happen. The other category is mainly the mental level. If, on the physical level, everything is comfortable and luxurious and everything is there, but still if we have some stress and self-doubts, we feel lonely. We have jealousy, fear and hatred, and then we’re unhappy. So, despite the physical level, on the mental level we could have much suffering.

For physical comfort, then with money, yes, we can reduce some suffering and bring physical satisfaction. That physical level, including power, name, and fame, however, can’t bring us inner peace. Sometimes, in fact, having a lot of money and wealth just generates more worry in us. We are too much concerned about our name and fame, and that leads to some hypocrisy, some discomfort, some stress. So, mental happiness is not so dependent on external means, but on the internal way of our thinking.

We can see that there are some poor people who are still, on the inner level, very strong and happy. In fact, if we have inner satisfaction, we can bear any type of difficult physical suffering and can transform it. So, between physical and mental pain, I think mental pain is more severe. This is because physical discomfort can be subdued by mental comfort, but mental discomfort can’t be eliminated by physical comfort.

The mental troubles and problems of people are stronger and more severe than those of animals. On the physical level, perhaps the suffering of both is the same, but, concerning human beings, because of our intelligence we have doubts, insecurity, and stress. These lead to depression; and all of that comes about because of our superior intelligence. To counter this, we must also use our human intelligence. On an emotional level, some emotions, as soon as they arise, cause us to lose our peace of mind. Certain emotions, on the other hand, even bring us more strength. They are the basis of strength and confidence and lead us to have a more tranquil and calmer state of mind.

Two Categories of Emotions

Therefore there are two categories of emotions. One is very harmful for peace of mind and these are the destructive emotions such as anger and hatred. They not only destroy our peace of mind at this moment, but they also are very destructive for our speech and our bodies. In other words, they affect the way that we act. They lead us to act in harmful ways and therefore they’re destructive. Other emotions, however, give us inner strength and peace such as compassion. They bring us the strength of forgiveness, for example. Even if we have some troubles at a certain time with some person, forgiveness eventually will lead us to be tranquil, to have peace of mind. The person that we were so angry with could even become our best friend.

External Peace

When we speak of peace, we must talk of these emotions and inner peace. Therefore, we have to find out which emotions lead to inner peace. But first I want to say something about external peace.

External peace is not just the mere absence of violence. Perhaps during the Cold War we apparently had peace; but that peace was based on fear, fear of a nuclear holocaust. Both sides had fear of the other bombing them, so this wasn’t genuine peace. Genuine peace must come from inner peace. Whenever there is conflict, I feel that we must find a peaceful solution and that means through dialogue. So peace has much to do with warm-heartedness and respect for the lives of others, resisting causing harm to others, and having the attitude that the lives of others are as sacred as our own. We need to respect that and, on that basis, if we can also help the others, then we try to do so.

When we face difficulties and someone comes to help us, of course we appreciate that. If someone else is suffering, then even if we just extend human understanding, that person appreciates this and feels very happy. So, from inner compassion and peace of mind, all actions become peaceful. If we can establish inner peace, then we can bring about external peace as well.

As humans, we always have different points of view in our interactions with each other. But based on strong concepts of “me” and “they,” then in addition we get the concepts of “my interest” and “your interest.” On that basis, we can even get war. We think that the destruction of my enemy will bring about my victory. But now, there is a new reality. We are heavily interdependent on each other from the economic point of view and from the ecological point of view. So the concepts of “we” and “they” are no longer relevant. Those that we considered “they” now have become part of “we.” So the key factor to developing peace of mind is compassion, based on the recognition that we are six billion people on this planet and all of us people have the same right to happiness. Based on that, we take everybody seriously and, on that basis, we should be able to establish external peace.

Starting on a Small Level

So for peace, we need to start developing peace in ourselves, then in our families, and then in our communities. In Mexico, for example, one friend developed a “Zone of Peace” in his own community. He established this through everyone in his community making an agreement. Everyone in the community agreed to try deliberately to avoid violence within this Zone of Peace. If they had to fight or disagree, they all agreed they would go outside the boundaries of that zone. This is very good.

It’s hard to ask for world peace, though eventually on a world level that would be best. But what’s more realistic is to start now on a small level with self, family, community, district, and so on, by establishing things like zones of peace. So inner peace, then, is very much connected with compassion.

Things right now are really changing very much in the world. I remember some years ago one German friend, the late Friedrich von Weizsäcker, whom I consider a teacher of mine, was telling me that when he was young, from the point of view of the eye of every German person, the French were considered the enemy and, from the point of view of every French eye, the Germans were the enemy. But now things are different. Now we have a unified force, the European Union. This is very good. Previously, every state, from their point of view, regarded their own sovereignty as so precious. But now there’s a new reality in Europe; there’s a common interest more important than individual interests. If the economy improves, every member state benefits. So now it’s important to extend this thought to all six billion people of the planet. We need to think of everybody as being members of one large human family.

Compassion as a Biological Factor

Now as for compassion, all those mammals that are born from mothers – humans, mammals, birds, and so on – their development depends on receiving affection and care. This is the case except for just a few species, such as the sea tortoise, butterflies, salmons that lay their eggs and die – these beings are a bit of an exception. For instance, take the sea turtle. The mothers lay their eggs on the shore and then leave; so the survival of the young tortoises depends solely on their own effort. They don’t need the affection of the mother and yet they survive. So I tell some audiences it would be a very interesting scientific experiment when a turtle egg hatches to put the young turtle baby and the mother together and see if they have affection toward each other. I don’t think they would. Nature creates them like that, so there’s no need for affection. But as for mammals and especially humans, without motherly care we would all die.

To take care of a young baby requires some emotions, which would be compassion, affection, and feelings of concern and care. Scientists say that during the few weeks after birth, the mother’s touch is essential for the development of the infant’s brain. We notice that those children that come from a loving, affectionate, warm family tend to be happier. They’re even healthier on a physical level. But children lacking affection, especially when they’re young, tend to have a lot of difficulty.

Some scientists have conducted experiments in which they have separated young monkeys from their mothers and they observed that those young monkeys were always in bad moods, fighting. They didn’t play very well with each other. But those that were kept with their mothers were happy and played nicely with each other. And especially human children who lack affection as infants – they tend to become cold. They have difficulty showing affection to others and, in some cases, they become violent with others. So affection is a biological factor, a biologically-based factor.

Also, I think because compassion and emotion are related to this biological physical level, then according to some scientists if we constantly are angry and have hatred and fear, this eats away our immune system and it becomes weaker. But a compassionate mind helps and strengthens the immune system.

Take another example. If we look in the medical field, if there is trust between the nurses and the physicians on one side and the patients on the other side, this is important for the patients’ improvement. So what is the basis of trust? If on the doctor’s side and the nurses’ side they show genuine concern and care for the patient to recover, then trust comes. But on the other hand, even if the doctor is an expert, yet if he or she treats the patient like a machine, then there’s very little trust. Well, maybe if the doctor has great experience, there’s some trust, but if the doctor is more compassionate, then there’s even more trust. The patients sleep better and are less disturbed. If they are disturbed on a deeper level, then they become very troubled and this affects their recovery.

But problems are, of course, inevitable in life. Shantideva, the great Indian Buddhist master, advised that when we face problems, we need to analyze them. If they can be overcome by a method, then don’t worry, just apply the method. But if they can’t be helped, there’s no need to worry, it won’t benefit us at all. Thinking about this line is of great help. Even if we have a big problem, we can minimize it if we think like this.

So long as we need the care of others, for instance when we are small babies, we have affection and compassion. But with more independence as we grow older, we tend to feel aggression is more important than compassion in order to get our own ways. But six billion people all come from mothers. Everybody experiences happiness and satisfaction under the care of motherly love, or, if it wasn’t the mother, someone else’s affection when we were babies. Gradually, though, these qualities become thinner as we get older and then we tend to become aggressive, with more bullying, and we create more problems.

The Necessity of Seeing Reality

When the mind becomes angry and the brain is dominated by anger, one scientist in Sweden told me that 90% of the appearance of this terrible person that we’re angry with is a mental projection. In other words, 90% of the negativity is mentally projected. This is similar also when we have attachment and strong desire for someone: we see the person as 100% beautiful and good. But a large percentage of that is also mental projection; we don’t see reality. Therefore it’s very important to see reality.

There’s another important point: nobody wants trouble, but why does trouble arise? It’s due to our naivety, our ignorance, our approach: we don’t see reality. From our own limited viewpoints, we can’t see the whole picture of reality. We see only two dimensions, but this is not enough. We need to able to see things in three, four, six dimensions. We need to calm our minds first in order to investigate objectively.

Here, too, the difference between constructive and destructive emotions is important to understand for all of these points. When we grow up, gradually the biological factor of compassion eventually diminishes, so we need education and training about compassion to bolster it again. The biological type of compassion, however, is biased: it’s based on receiving the affection of others. But using that as a basis, then by adding reason and scientific factors from our investigation, we not only are able to maintain this biological level of compassion, but we’re able to increase it as well. So, with training and education, limited biased compassion can become infinite impartial compassion extended to six billion people and beyond.

The Importance of Education

The key to all this is education. Modern education pays attention to the development of the brain and the intellect, but this is not enough. We need also to be able to develop warm-heartedness in our educational systems. This we need from kindergarten all the way through university.

In America, some scientists have developed education programs for training children to develop more compassion and mindfulness. And this is not done for the purpose of helping these children to improve their future lives and attain nirvana, but it’s done for the benefit of this life. Even in some universities, there are already some education programs for developing warm-heartedness and compassion. That type of unbiased compassion is not focused on the attitudes of others, but simply on they’re being human beings. We are all part of the population of six billion people on this planet, so everyone deserves our compassion on the basis of that factor of equality.

Inner and Outer Disarmament

So for inner peace and world peace, we need both inner and outer disarmament. This means that on the inner level, we develop compassion and then eventually, on that basis, we are able to disarm everything, all countries, on an external level. It’s like having the unified force of the Franco-German European Army Corps; this is great. If there could be a unified force for the entire European Union, then there would be no armed struggle among the members.

Once in Brussels there was a meeting of foreign ministers and I said that in the future it would be very helpful if the headquarters of the European Union were moved more to the East, in one of the Eastern European countries, for instance Poland. Then eventually it would be good to expand it to include Russia as well, and then eventually move the NATO headquarters to Moscow. If that were to happen, then there really will be peace and no danger of war here in Europe. Now, at present, there are some difficulties between Russia and Georgia, but we need to keep our hope.

On the basis of this greater extension of peace, then the armament industry here in France, for example, could eventually be closed and we could shift the economy to more productive aspects. Instead of tanks, the factories could be converted to build bulldozers, for example!

African nations also need our help very much. The gap between rich and poor is a big problem, not just globally; but on the national level as well, this gap between rich and poor is quite awful. In France, for example, there’s a big discrepancy here between the rich and the poor. Some people are even facing starvation. But we’re all human beings and we all have the same hopes, needs and problems. We need to consider all of these points for developing peace through inner peace.