Prague, Czech Republic - The weather was cold and foggy as His Holiness the Dalai Lama left Bratislava this morning. He was delayed briefly at the airport because of fog at Prague, but was then able to complete the flight. He was received on arrival at Prague Airport by old friends: Jakub Klepal, Karel Schwarzenberg and Sasa Neumann before driving into the city. Immediately on reaching his hotel he gave an interview to Czech TV 24.
Asked what he thought was late President Vaclav Havel’s best idea he replied, “His sense of truth, his honesty and transparency—that he stood firm in difficult circumstances.”
He said he remembered him as a dear and respected friend.
“When we talked he was very gentle. The last time I saw him I suggested that Forum 2000 should consider sending someone with a sound reputation, but not representative of any faction or interest, to places of potential conflict to attempt to avert violence.”
To a question about whether he thought Havel had departed in peace, His Holiness replied, “Certainly, he lived a good and compassionate life. From a Christian point of view he ought to be in heaven, but from another point of view he may have returned to continue to do good for humanity.”
It was pointed out that President Havel was distinguished by always putting human rights first, but governments today tend to put economic concerns ahead of human rights. His Holiness remarked that that was quite normal and what set Havel apart was that he firmly stood by truth.
Challenged to suggest a solution to the crises in the Middle East, His Holiness simply answered, “Dialogue”. He reiterated this in an interview with Czech radio and the Czech News Agency, stating that it should be our aim to make the 21st century a century of dialogue. One and a half decades may have past, but there is still a long time to go to realise this dream. He was clear it would require a greater commitment to the oneness of humanity, the sense that we are all equally human beings.
Earlier this month, 5th October, the late President Vaclav Havel would have been 80 years old, something already widely celebrated in the Czech Republic. This year also marks the 20th anniversary of the founding of Forum 2000 and 26 years since His Holiness the Dalai Lama first came to Prague at President Havel’s invitation. A special effort was made today by Czechs Support Tibet, People in Need, and the Potala Foundation to extend a warm welcome to His Holiness, who has come to attend the annual Forum 2000 conference.
More than 2500 people braved the cold and packed into the Hradcanske Square adjacent to Prague Castle, on the far side of which His Holiness first addressed the Czech public from a balcony of the Archbishop’s Palace in 1990. To reach the temporary stage erected under the gate, His Holiness passed through the National Gallery. When he walked out onto it a cheer went up from the crowd, many waving Tibetan flags, holding signs in support of Tibet or simply photographs of His Holiness.
Having saluted the crowd His Holiness turned to drape a large photograph of Vaclav Havel and himself with a ‘kata’, a white silk scarf, in honour of his old friend. He took a seat as representatives of the various organizations who had cooperated to arrange the event stepped forward to pay tribute to President Havel and welcome His Holiness. They included: Czechs Support Tibet, Post Bellum, Potala, Lungta, Politics and Conscience and the International Community Dzogchen Kunkyabling.
Among the speakers were Dana Nemcova, an original signatory of Charter 77, Jiri Fajt, director of the National Gallery, Ladislav Heryan, priest and musician, Martin Bursik, former Minister for the Environment, Simon Panek, former activist and now director of People in Need and Zuzana Ondomisiova, of Potala Foundation. Everyone enjoyed Aneta Langerova’s and Lenka Dusilova’s spirited singing.
When it came to His Holiness’s turn to speak, he stood to address the gathering.
“Brothers and sisters, I’m extremely happy to be here with you. I very much appreciate your warm feelings and your support for justice and truth.
“I’m an admirer of President Vaclav Havel and although, as happens to us human beings, he has physically passed away, his spirit lives on. Many of you, like me, will be determined to continue what he started, to carry his vision forward, not only in this country but in other parts of the world.
“I am fully committed to promoting human values such as compassion. Irrespective of whether we are religious or not, we all need compassion because we all want to be happy. Scientists have observed that constant anger, fear and suspicion undermine our immune system, so warm-heartedness is in our own interest for our physical and mental well-being.
“According to further scientific research basic human nature is compassionate. We are all born from a mother and grow up in the protection of her affection. Without that we would not survive. I’m quite sure too that being surrounded by people with love and affection helps us die in peace.
“A calm mind brings physical well-being. Many of you young women spend money on cosmetics to make yourselves look beautiful, but since no one likes an angry face, it’s clear that the real beauty is inner beauty. The ultimate source of happiness is love and compassion—warm-heartedness.
“Since we are all part of humanity, our interest depends on our human brothers and sisters. If the rest of humanity is happy, we all benefit. I admire the spirit of the European Union, which, after decades and centuries of war, was formed to place the common interest above that of this or that nation. I look forward to seeing similar unions in Africa, Asia and Latin America and eventually a Union of the Whole World.”
His Holiness explained that his second commitment is to encouraging inter-religious harmony on the basis that all major religious traditions convey a common message of love, compassion, tolerance, contentment and self-discipline. He said we live at a time when harmony among our religious traditions has never been more essential.
“Thirdly,” he declared, “I’m a Tibetan, and someone in whom the majority of the Tibetan people have placed their trust and hope. Although since 2011 I have completely retired from political responsibility, because of that trust and hope I retain a moral responsibility. So, I’d like to thank all of you, on behalf of the 6 million Tibetan people, for your support.
“I am deeply concerned about protecting Tibet’s natural environment and for the preservation of our rich Buddhist knowledge. Conversation with other Buddhists has convinced me that the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, derived from the Nalanda tradition, is the most comprehensive presentation of the teachings of the Buddha. Keeping it alive is really worthwhile and of interest not only to Tibetans, but also to many among the 400 million Buddhists in China. Since Tibet’s is a culture of peace and compassion, it is well worth preserving.
“In general I believe it’s better to stick with the religion you are born with and Europe is by and large a Judeo-Christian region, so I am a little reluctant to give strictly Buddhist teachings here. However, there are also aspects of Buddhist science focussed on the workings of the mind and emotions and aspects of Buddhist philosophy that correspond to the thinking of quantum physics that can be profitably studied in an academic way. We can all benefit from learning how to tackle our destructive emotions. From that point of view I’d like to accept the request Zuzana Ondomisiova has made to teach, perhaps on a visit next year. What do you feel?”
The audience responded with cheers.
His Holiness went on to explain how Chinese documents reveal that historically, in the 7th, 8th and 9th centuries Tibet was a separated, powerful nation. However, in a similar spirit to that of the European Union Tibetans don’t now seek separation from China so long as they are free to preserve their language and culture. They seek a mutually agreeable solution.
“By the way, many of you here are carrying the Tibetan national flag. Nowadays, of course, hardliners in China regard it as a separatist symbol. However, I’d like you to know that in 1954-55 I met Chairman Mao on several occasions in China. On one of them he asked me if we had a national flag. I hesitated and answered that we did. He said it was important to keep it and fly it alongside the red flag. So, you can tell any Chinese who complain that I received permission from Chairman Mao himself to fly our flag.
“Finally, let us keep the late President Havel’s vision alive across the world to ensure equality, freedom and compassion for all. Thank you.”
The crowd responded with warm applause and to bring the event to an end everyone joined the band Zrni in singing John Lennon’s anthem ‘Imagine’, ending:
You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will live as one.
From Hradcanske Square His Holiness drove to President Havel’s office where he met his widow Mrs Dagmar Havlova. In tribute to his old friend he draped a white silk ‘kata’ across the President’s chair and bowed his head in respect. After signing a large red heart that will part of a memorial to President Havel he returned to his hotel and retired for the night.