His Holiness the Dalai Lama Participates in an Environmental Summit and Talks about Compassion in Portland

May 12th 2013

Portland, Oregon, USA, 11 May 2013 - His Holiness the Dalai Lama began his fourth day in Portland, Oregon by giving a short interview to be included in an environmental documentary being created by Maitripa College. He expressed a concern not just for those alive today, but for future generations, suggesting that ecological problems may not affect us, but they will affect them if we don’t act. Asked how compassionate thought can change the world, he said:


His Holiness the Dalai Lama taking part in an interview for Maitripa College's environmental documentary in Portland, Oregon on May 11, 2013. Photo/Jeremy Russell/OHHDL
“One of my dreams, perhaps an impossible dream, is to harness the solar potential of places like the Sahara desert and to use the power to run desalination plants that will produce clean water. It’s a project that would have widespread benefits and would function on a scale that would require global co-operation.”

To a question about what makes him happy, he replied, “Seeing other people smile.”

His next engagement was a press conference at the Veterans Memorial Coliseum, where he first sketched out what he considers the three commitments of his life: explaining the idea that human happiness depends on concern for each other; fostering inter-religious harmony and, although he has now retired politically and has ended the Dalai Lamas’ role in Tibetan politics, the responsibility he retains to work to preserve the Tibetan religion, language and culture. He also expressed his view that media have an important role to present the public with a realistic view of the world. To do this they need to have a long nose, like an elephant’s trunk to sniff out what is going on, both up front and behind the scenes. Finally, he mentioned his conviction of the need to introduce secular ethics in our societies to bring a sense of inner values back into our lives.

Asked what he looked forward to every day, he replied:

“I dedicate my body, speech and mind to the benefit of others, but that doesn’t mean I neglect my own interests. I need to keep up my health and strength if I am to be effective.”

And to a question about relations with China, he said:

“Things are changing, but the 1.3 billion Chinese people have a right to know the reality of what is going on and once they understand that reality, they are capable of judging right from wrong. Therefore, the censorship that currently exists in China is harmful, morally wrong and leads to a mistrust of the authorities. Meanwhile, Chinese peasants have a miserable lot that will only be relieved if the Chinese legal system is brought up to international standards.”


Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber introduces His Holiness the Dalai Lama and panelists at the start of the environmental summit on "Universal Responsibility and the Global Environment" at Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Portland, Oregon on May 11, 2013. Photo/Jeremy Russell/OHHDL
From the press conference His Holiness went on to join Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber; Andrea Durbin, executive director of the Oregon Environmental Council; and scientist David Suzuki, who hosts the Canadian television series, ‘The Nature of Things,’ in an environmental summit on the theme ‘Universal Responsibility and the Global Environment.’ Discussions were moderated by David Miller, host of Oregon Public Broadcasting's ‘Think Out Loud.’ His Holiness was introduced before an audience of more than 10,000 by Senator Jeff Merkley. His Holiness had a number of points to make about the urgency of the environmental situation to begin with:

“In 1959 I was able to escape from Tibet to India because of the problems we faced there, but if our world experiences problems there is nowhere else for us to go. As a Buddhist monk I don’t have any children to worry about, but I’m sure the Governor and other panellists do. We have to be concerned about the future of those children and grandchildren. Allowing the gap between rich and poor to grow is not only morally wrong, but also practically a mistake. It’s not that we need to make the rich poorer, but we must find ways to improve the lot of the poor.”

David Suzuki remarked:

“We have already passed so many tipping points, but it doesn’t seem to me there is any point in just saying ‘It’s too late’.”

Andrea Durbin agreed that on the global scale climate change is the big issue and we have not done nearly enough to address it, but on a local level there are other issues such as babies being born pre-polluted. There are 43 unregulated chemicals presently being passed on to babies while still in the womb. Governor John Kitzhaber added that we live in an economy based on consumption and we need a new measure of how it functions.

“It is our lifestyle that is important,” His Holiness responded, “but freedom is also important. The gap between rich and poor means that the poor are not free. We need to find ways to voluntarily restrain our greed and consumption and to encourage others to do so too. In pursuing our self-interest we need to be realistic; this is why education is so important. We need to develop a more contented way of life.”


His Holiness the Dalai Lama talking to Dr. David Suzuki, a scientist, during the environmental summit at Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Portland, Oregon on May 11, 2013. Photo/Motoya Nakamura/The Oregonian
Governor Kitzhaber pointed out that it is not just what we consume but our rate of consumption that needs to be addressed, while Andrea Durbin said that the old bumper sticker idea ‘Think globally, but act locally’ is still very relevant.

Asked what can be learned from the Buddhist view of the environment, His Holiness pointed out that during the lives of the founders of the great religions there were no environmental problems. However, he felt that it’s instructive that the Buddha was not born in a palace but under a tree. He attained enlightenment not in a cave, but seated under a tree and he passed away not in a monastery, but lying down beneath a tree. In the code of monastic discipline monks are encouraged not only to plant trees, but also to take care of them and in the context of their itinerant way of life, monks who come after are bound to care for the trees planted by those who went before. The unique Buddhist philosophical concept of interdependence can be seen at work everywhere in the natural environment and is relevant to every field of activity. From this we can see, His Holiness suggested, that human happiness depends on taking others into account.

There was a consensus about the need for a new vision with regard to the environment in a new spirit of co-operation. David Suzuki said we need a paradigm shift about our place on the planet. It’s un-American he declared to say: “We can’t.” The Governor averred, suggesting that in changing our economic model we have to be clear about what we want. He pointed out that when President Kennedy launched the US space program, he didn’t lay out a road map so much as he clearly indicated the destination.

His Holiness concluded with an explanation of three levels of understanding.

“First we listen or read and gather information; next we think about what we’ve learned and analyse it from different angles. Finally, we make ourselves thoroughly familiar with what we’ve understood. This is the way to reach a firm conviction on the basis of which we can change our way of life.”

Governor Kitzhaber invited the panellists to lunch in the company of two Oregon Senators and the Mayor of Portland. In the afternoon, Congressman Earl Blumenauer introduced His Holiness to the audience of nearly 11,000 people. His Holiness began as he does so often:


His Holiness the Dalai Lama speaking about compassion during his talk at Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Portland, Oregon on May 11, 2013. Photo/Jeremy Russell/OHHDL
“Brothers and sisters I am very happy to be here with the opportunity to share some of my thoughts with you. I look forward to your stimulating questions from which I too can learn. I’d also like to take this opportunity to thank the organisers for making this possible. Over the last 2-3 days we’ve had a lot of conversation about the environment; a serious topic. But now, I’ll mostly be talking about compassion, having a genuine sense of concern for others. All the major religious traditions have the potential to produce great practitioners dedicated to serving others. But there are also people who increasingly have little interest in religion. They remain part of humanity; they also need the practice of compassion.

“The root of compassion is a biological factor: the affection we receive from our mothers when we are born. Such affection, which has nothing to do with the practice of religion, is crucial to our very survival. What’s more, it’s a unique human quality to be able to extend our sense of compassion to the welfare of others. If we confine ourselves to external, material values, to the neglect of such inner values as compassion, we’ll never find the contentment that is the mark of real happiness.”

He cited the example of the pleasure we get from buying a new car; for a few days we may be really thrilled. But if after a month or two our neighbour buys a new car, we start to think of ours as old and ugly, and we want to get rid of it. What has changed is not the car, but our attitude to it.

In such a context, His Holiness suggests we need to strengthen such inner values as contentment, patience and tolerance, as well as compassion for others, which he refers to as secular ethics. Keeping in mind that it is expressions of affection rather than money and power that attract real friends, compassion is the key to ensuring our own well-being.

When it came to questions and answers, he was asked how people could help Tibet and its people. He replied:

“Whenever you meet our Chinese brothers and sisters, share with them a real picture of what’s happening in Tibet, of the qualities of Tibetan culture and what’s happening to that. Help them to fulfil Deng Xiaoping’s dictum, ‘Seek truth from facts.’”

To a question about how to avoid falling into sadness and despair in the face of difficulties, he quoted the 8th century Indian master Shantideva who advised that we evaluate problems we encounter. If they can be overcome there is no need to worry, what we need to do is take whatever action is necessary. If they cannot be overcome, worrying is of no use; better to do something else instead.


His Holiness the Dalai Lama acknowledging the 11,000 members of the audience wearing white silk scarves at the end of his talk at Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Portland, Oregon on May 11, 2013. Photo/Jeremy Russell/OHHDL
At the end of His Holiness’s talk and the end of his public appearances in Oregon, members of the audience presented white silk scarves or katas to him from their seats in the arena and then hung them around their necks. Suddenly the auditorium was filled with white. His Holiness showed his appreciation by explaining that the Tibetan custom of offering such scarves derives from an Indian tradition of offering a shawl; the material is silk that traditionally came from China, and the scarves are inscribed with auspicious verses written in Tibetan. Finally, he said the smooth texture and white colour indicate the virtue of living a calm, peaceful life with a pure heart.

His Holiness’s host, Yangsi Rinpoche stepped forward to offer his gratitude and to wish His Holiness a very long life.

As he waved to the cheering crowd, His Holiness’s parting words were:

“We are all human beings; the potential I have, you have too.
 

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