Ethics for a Whole World with the Sydney Peace Foundation and Compassion: the Foundation of Well-Being in Melbourne

June 18th 2013

Melbourne, Australia, 18 June 2013 - This morning His Holiness the Dalai Lama was invited by the Sydney Peace Foundation to participate in discussions of Ethics for a Whole World at the New South Wales Parliament House attended by more than 170 students and others. A preamble to the event paid tribute to the Cadigal people and their possession of the local land, which corresponds to Tibetans’ possession of the land of Tibet.

Initiating the interchange with His Holiness was ABC journalist Andrew West, who opened by asking about what has been happening in Tibet, His Holiness replied:

His Holiness the Dalai Lama speaking at the Sydney Peace Foundation discussion on Ethics for a Whole World at the South Wales Parliament House in Sydney, Australia on June 18, 2013. Photo/Rusty Stewart/DlIA 2013
“Over the last 60 years some of the time things have been good, some of the time they have been bad and some of the time, like now, they have been very serious.”

West said he was thinking about the 119 self-immolations that have taken place since 2009. His Holiness responded that it is very sad and that Tibetans have suffered a lot. Now the whole of Tibet is full of fear, reminding him of a group of young Chinese he met in the 1990s who described China as a place where no one could say what they really thought or felt in an atmosphere full of fear and suspicion.

Asked about religion’s role in conflict, His Holiness denied that we can blame religion in terms of doctrine as much as religious institutions. He said religion involves teachings about love, compassion, tolerance and self-discipline; who could object to that? Religious institutions, on the other hand, the world over have not always been free of bias and corruption. About the clashes between Buddhists and Muslims in Burma he said he thought the root of the problem was more economic and political than religious and had been heartened by news of a Buddhist monastery there offering Muslims shelter.

West prompted His Holiness to talk about his latest book, ‘Beyond Religion: Ethics for a Whole World’:

“Look at basic human nature. Our mothers give birth to us and we survive because of the affection she shows us. If she abandons us we die. Because of the affection we receive as infants, we have the potential to show affection to others. However, as we grow up we tend to feel we can look after ourselves and have no need for others’ support and affection. And yet we are social animals, whose very existence and opportunity to live a happy life depends on the rest of our community. In our modern education system we need to find a way to nurture our basic human values.”

Pressed again about religious violence, His Holiness repeated that such conflicts were more often rooted in economic problems, although sometimes narrow-mindedness and outmoded insularity are also to blame. He was asked his view on whether schools should be allowed to teach that one religion is true and others are false. He teasingly replied that if you have a fervent belief in a creator, you have to believe that he created Buddhism and the Buddha along with everything else. On the other hand it would be completely unrealistic for His Holiness to think he could convert all 7 billion human beings to Buddhism, apart from which he always advises people to stick with the religion they were born with.

Andrew West, His Holiness the Dalai Lama and his interpreter Tenzin Tsepag at the Sydney Peace Foundation discussion on Ethics for a Whole World at the South Wales Parliament House in Sydney, Australia on June 18, 2013. Photo/Jeremy Russell/OHHDL
“The world has become a multi-religious, multi-cultural single entity in which it is better to remain true to your native religion. In Mongolia,” His Holiness said, “I became aware of the proselytising activities of Korean missionaries and when they came to see me I told them that Mongolia is a Buddhist country and it would be better for them not to propagate another faith there.”

Looking to the future, he expressed a hope that coming generations would receive a proper education, one that not only imparts knowledge to the brain, but also nurtures warm-heartedness in individuals. He noted how many leaders are prepared to lie and deceive and that education is the key to correcting this. He said that while faith is one thing, secular ethics should naturally appeal to human intelligence. The human values they represent are the basis on which to build a peaceful more compassionate world.

In his closing remarks, His Holiness noted that both former Prime Minister Wen Jiabao and imprisoned human rights activist Liu Xiaobo have spoken of the need for a freer and more open society in China and it would be good if countries that are free to do so expressed their support.

Prof Stuart Rees acknowledged MP John Kaye’s help in organising the event and thanked His Holiness for taking the time to come. Many friends and well-wishers expressed their warm support for His Holiness as he made his way out of the NSW Parliament House, from where he drove to Sydney airport and boarded a flight to Melbourne.

All 5800 seats for His Holiness’s public talk were sold out well in advance. Before he took the stage, Tenzin Choegyal sang and Kyinzom Dhongdue of the Australia Tibet Council spoke about support for Tibet. Another of His Holiness’s old friends, celebrated youth outreach worker and community activist, Les Twentyman introduced him to stirring applause from an audience very pleased to see him.

“Brothers and sisters,” he began, “I am indeed happy to be here with you once more. I remember attending a World Parliament of Religions in this hall not so long ago. In the last few days I was in Sydney and before that for four days in New Zealand, where I had the opportunity to share my thoughts and experiences. I always consider the most important thing is the oneness of our family of 7 billion human beings; we are physically, emotionally, and mentally the same. We all want a happy life and we all have a right achieve it.”

His Holiness the Dalai Lama speaking on "Compasison: Foundation of Well-Being" in Melbourne, Australia on June 18, 2013. Photo/Jeremy Russell/OHHDL
He said that human beings are distinguished by their smart brains, but unfortunately often use them to create problems. For example, we have developed technology to make our lives more comfortable, but sometimes we use it violently to create fear and terror. What is missing is warm-heartedness to balance our intelligence and a sense of concern for other human beings. Compassion is what makes our lives meaningful. Without warm-heartedness it’s impossible to develop trust, and without that it’s easy to deceive and exploit others. Mistrust, fear and suspicion destroy our peace of mind.

“If we have peace of mind, we’ll always feel happy. Deceiving ourselves that money is the source of happiness, we won’t. Common sense shows that the one with genuine peace of mind is the one with a warm heart.”

Universities at Madison, Wisconsin and Stanford have been investigating the effect of simple training in compassion. Participants spend 30 minutes to one hour a day training in inner values for three weeks. Before they begin their blood pressure, stress and other factors are assessed. At the end of the three weeks they are examined again and these factors are found to have improved. This is evidence of the positive effect peace of mind can have on physical well-being.

His Holiness pointed out that it’s common sense to observe that the happier families amongst your neighbours are the ones who are more affectionate to each other, rather than those who are materially better off.

“Some people think that compassion is only relevant to the religious,” he said, “this is a mistake. Compassion is relevant to being happy in day to day life. Compassion brings non-violence and strength, whereas aggression and anger are signs of weakness. Right from the start of our lives we experience affection, which is the ground in which to grow affection and compassion ourselves. Anger and fear may also be part of our lives, but they do us no good.”

Because warm-heartedness is the key to a happy life, we need to find ways to promote it. Traditionally religions have encouraged developing it along with love, compassion, patience and tolerance. In India, all the world’s major religious traditions live together side by side in respect and harmony, a living example that it can be done. However, rather than rely on this or that religious tradition what scientists, educationists and other interested people are looking into is how to introduce secular ethics into our modern education system.

A full house of over 5800 listening to His Holiness the Dalai Lama's talk at the Melbourne Convention Centre in Melbourne, Australia on June 18, 2013. Photo/Rusty Stewart/DLIA 2013
“When I meet other people, I think about how to encourage the development of inner values and how by building on these values we can make this twenty-first century an era of compassion and peace.”

British-Australian actress and comedian Magda Szubanski read several questions from the audience to His Holiness. To one about the source of evil he replied that from a Buddhist point of view all negative thoughts come from ignorance. It’s by understanding reality that we can put an end to harmful actions and their negative consequences and encourage ourselves to be helpful instead. To another question about what he would change in the world today, he recalled the scale of violence he has witnessed in his lifetime, expressions of the violence and bloodshed of the twentieth century. The change he’d like to see is for the present twenty-first century to become an era of peace and dialogue. As someone who has dedicated his life to promoting human values and religious harmony, he’s optimistic that there is a growing appetite for peace in the world. Many young people are fed up with war and violence. There is a growing consensus that the moment weapons are involved it leads to disaster.

Asked how meditation contributes to reducing suffering, His Holiness answered that meditation alone will not solve the problem. It helps you to transform yourself, but it takes action, motivated by compassion, to change the world.

Before leaving the hall, His Holiness appealed to the audience, especially those who belong to the twenty-first generation to think seriously about what he had said. He asked them, if they found it interesting, to think about it some more and to discuss it with their friends and relatives. If, however, it didn’t make much sense, he recommended that they just leave it.

Tomorrow, His Holiness is giving teachings in Melbourne. He will explain the Heart Sutra in the morning and the Eight Verses for Training the Mind in the afternoon.

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