His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama: Finding Inner Peace and Fulfillment. Nottingham, England, 24 May 2008.
Transcribed, translated in parts, and lightly edited by Alexander Berzin.
Inner peace is related to mental calmness. Physical experience doesn’t necessarily determine our mental peace. If we have mental peace, then the physical level is not so important.
Now, do we develop inner peace through prayer? No, not really. Through physical training? No. Just through gaining knowledge? No. Through deadening our feeling? No. But when facing any difficult situation, if, on the basis of full awareness of the benefits and harms of any possible action and its consequences, we face that situation, then our mind is not disturbed and that’s real inner peace.
Compassion and having a realistic approach, then, are extremely important. When unexpected consequences arise and they bring about a great deal of fear, this was due to our being unrealistic. We didn’t really look at all the consequences and so there was a lack of awareness and understanding. Our fear came from a lack of proper investigation, so we need to look from all four directions and up and down to get a full picture. There’s always a gap between reality and appearance, therefore we have to investigate from all directions.
Just looking at something, it’s not possible to see whether something is positive or negative. But, when we [investigate it thoroughly and] realize the truth about something, only then we can evaluate if it’s positive or negative. So, we need rational evaluation of our situations. If we start to investigate with desire, “I want this outcome, that outcome,” then our investigation is biased. The Nalanda tradition from India says that we need always to be skeptical and investigate objectively all fields, including religion.
Now as for lack of peace of mind and dissatisfaction, they come about from having an extreme self-centered motivation. An individual has the right to overcome suffering and to achieve happiness. But if we think of only ourselves, the mind becomes very negative. Then a small problem appears huge and we become unbalanced. When we think of others as being as dear as ourselves, the mind is open and wider. Then, as a result, even a serious problem appears not so significant. So, there’s a big difference in emotion depending on the scope of how we look at things: from our own perspective or from the perspective of everyone.
Therefore, there are two elements that are important for peace of mind. The first is awareness of reality. If we approach things realistically, there will be no unexpected consequences. The second is compassion, which opens our so-called “inner door.” Fear and suspicion cuts us off from others.
[Another thing that makes us lose peace of mind is worry about our external appearance.] When I first visited Beijing, for example, I had no experience. I was a bit nervous and I had some anxiety. But then I saw that some people, if they’re very concerned about their appearance, their face becomes very red when something wrong happens. But if they are open and don’t care if something goes wrong, then there is no problem.
For example, in 1954, when I was in Beijing, the Indian Ambassador came to see me in my room. The Chinese made huge preparations with flowers, fruit and so on, and they insisted that we have a Chinese interpreter. So it went from Tibetan to Chinese to English, although some of my officials knew English. At one point, the pile of fruit toppled over and then the Chinese officials, who had been very stuffy and formal before, got down on their hands and knees and crawled on the floor. If they didn’t care before about their appearance, it would have been no problem. But it was very embarrassing for them.
In Mexico City once, at an interfaith meeting, there was one Japanese priest. He had a rosary of beads in his hand and the string broke. He kept on thumbing his finger through the rosary even though the beads were all over the floor. He was too embarrassed to pick them up. He was uncomfortable because of being so concerning about his appearance.
Anyway, compassion, altruism, truthfulness, honesty – these are very important for bringing about inner calm, not concern about your external appearance. I never say that I am something special, but from my own experience I have no feeling of worry about how to behave in front of thousands of people. I talk to thousands of people at lectures such as this and for me it’s like speaking to just a few people. If some mistake happens, I’ll forget about it, no problems. If others make mistakes too, I just laugh.
Now as for inner transformations, an inner transformation is speaking about an emotional level. There’s one category of inner transformation that comes about naturally through age and another that can come about through external circumstances. These types of transformation come about automatically. Others come about through effort and this is the main one that we want to bring about: inner transformation according to our wishes. This is the main meaning.
Now here, we are not talking about our next life, salvation, or heaven, but how to maintain this life in a more happy and calm way despite difficulties and problems. For this, the major factors that we have to deal with include anger, hatred, fear, jealousy, suspicion, loneliness, stress, and so on. All of these are related to our basic mental attitude. They come about from being too much self-centered. For us, when we experience these things, the self is of topmost importance and this brings about jealousy. From cherishing ourselves, then, the slightest irritation brings about anger, and anger brings about fear. We don’t care about others; we only care about ourselves. And we think that others also only care about themselves and that they certainly don’t care about us. Because of that, we feel lonely. We think, “I can’t rely on others,” and so we get suspicious of those in front of us, those to the side, and, even more, those behind us.
Basically, when we think about it, human nature is such that everybody appreciates friendliness. If we extend friendship, most people will relate positively. As for these negative emotions that bring anxiety and so on, we need some countermeasures to oppose them. For example, if we are too hot, we reduce the temperature, or if we want to remove darkness, there’s no other way than bringing light. This is true on a physical level. Change can come about due to applying a contradictory force – that’s due to nature. But this is true not only on a physical level, but also on a mental level. So we need to counter our viewpoint or perspective with an opposite one [such as opposing self-centeredness and suspicion with concern for others and friendliness.]
Take the example of a yellow flower. If I say, “It’s white,” due to some cause and then later consider it yellow, these are two contrary perspectives. They can’t be held simultaneously. As soon as there’s a perception of yellow, the perception of white immediately disappears. They are directly opposite to each other. So, one method of bringing about inner change is to produce an opposite state of mind.
Another cause of difficulty can be mere ignorance. The counterforce for that is study, analysis, and investigation. This is because ignorance is based on not seeing reality. Therefore, the counteracting force for ignorance is analysis. Similarly, the counteracting force of self-cherishing is concern for others and this constitutes the training of the mind [or cleansing of our attitudes.]
As for how to train our minds [or cleanse our attitudes,] the question is whether this needs to be related to religion or spirituality, and I think it basically has nothing to do with religion.
As for spirituality, well, there are two types: one with religion and faith and one without them. The one without them is what I call “secular ethics.” “Secular” doesn’t mean a rejection of religion, but rather an equal attitude toward all religions and respect for all of them. For example, the Indian constitution has respect for all religions; it’s a secular constitution. Therefore, even though the Parsees or Zoroastrian community is very small in India – there’s only a hundred thousand members compared to the over billion people in India – yet they have an equal position in the military and in the political sphere.
When we talk about the secular ethics, this also implies ethics for nonbelievers. We can extend our ethics and respect even to animals on the basis of secular ethics. And, also, another part of secular spirituality or ethics is to take care of the environment. So, secularly, we need to cultivate our mind; we need to cultivate secular ethics. Six billion people on this planet need to do that. Religious systems can help make that universal cultivation of secular ethics grow stronger – they are an additional method to help with that growth. They are certainly not intended to reduce it.
And so, when we speak about secular ethics, we have a nonsectarian attitude. If any religious person following any type of religion works to further secular ethics, then they’re really a religious practitioner. If they don’t, then even if they go to a church or a mosque or a synagogue, I doubt if they’re really a sincere religious practitioner.