Guwahati, Assam, India - The sky remained overcast, but the rain had all but stopped this morning as His Holiness the Dalai Lama drove to the Guwahati University Auditorium. His hosts were the Krishna Kanta Handiqui State Open University (KKHSOU), a state university established in 2005 with the motto—Education Beyond Barriers, and the Lawyers Book Stall which has been popular with local students for 75 years. Vice-Chancellor of the University, Dr Hitesh Deka offered traditional felicitations including gifts of a scarf, shawl and bouquet of flowers. Describing His Holiness as ‘symbol of peace’ he also offered him a framed citation, a book and a painting of a scene from the Buddha’s life in which he subdued a crazed elephant. Dr SK Nath of the Guwahati University, which had provided premises for the occasion, also offered his felicitations.
In a short introduction to the occasion, Bhaskar Dutta-Baruah expressed gratitude to His Holiness for coming. He noted that the misfortune that had befallen Tibet had resulted in benefit for many other people across the world who had been enriched by their encounter with representatives of the Nalanda Tradition. He welcomed His Holiness to the erstwhile Kamarupa, a region associated with tantric adepts Naropa and Luipa, as well as the scholar Atisha.
Dutta-Baruah requested His Holiness to unveil and release a fresh translation of one of his earliest books, his memoir, ‘My Land and My People’, into Assamese. The book not only tells the story of His Holiness’s early life, but gives an account of what happened in Tibet up to the point at which he felt bound to escape. The translator, Indrani Laskar, was also introduced to him.
Called upon to address the audience of 1500, His Holiness began in his customary manner. He explained that he greets his listeners as brothers and sisters because he cannot remember all the dignitaries names, but also because he is convinced of the need to promote the oneness of humanity according and the idea that all 7 billion human beings alive today are like brothers and sisters.
“We all have the same desire to live a happy life free from sorrow. However, we also face a multitude of problems, the majority of which are of our own making. Many of them derive from our giving in to our disturbing emotions. Whether or not we have a self-centred attitude, to be motivated by compassion is good because it leads to self-confidence, less fear and greater trust. When we are motivated by negative or disturbing emotions it leads to distrust and suspicion.
“Anger may seem to be a source of energy, but it’s blind. It causes us to lose our restraint. It may stir courage, but again it’s blind courage. Negative emotions, which often arise from a spontaneous impulse, cannot be justified by reason, whereas positive emotions can. Scientists suggest that constant anger and hatred undermine our immune system. Compassion, bringing inner strength, is good for our health.”
His Holiness recalled conversations he has had with cognitive therapist Aaron Beck who has focussed on dealing with problems people have associated with anger. Beck told him that when we are angry the object of our fury seems entirely negative, but 90% of that is just mental projection. His Holiness was impressed by the correspondence he recognised with what Nagarjuna taught more than two thousand years earlier. Since we are social animals, not solitary creatures like the rhinoceros, our survival is dependent on others. Therefore compassion can be justified and defended through logic and reason.
“Today,” His Holiness added, “different parts of the world depend on each other. The global economy is heavily dependent. Meanwhile, climate change brings dangers that threaten us all. The widening gap between rich and poor and such inequities as the caste system, a custom that is out of date, are issues we can only tackle together. This is why we need to remember that in being human we are the same, instead of focussing on secondary differences of faith, race or nationality. This is also why I consider myself to be just one among 7 billion human beings, because to dwell on being the Dalai Lama would be to isolate myself from others.
“We find this way of thinking in the Nalanda Tradition. These days I try to encourage young Indians to pay more attention to what the knowledge of ancient India can tell us that is helpful today. We can learn how to tackle our emotions. We can adopt ahimsa or non-violence as a mode of conduct, not out of fear, but out of a sense of karuna or compassion. Ahimsa occurs when we have the opportunity to do harm but restrain ourselves from doing so.
“Ahimsa and karuna are Indian treasures, as is the tradition of religious harmony. As I said yesterday I’m the Government of India’s longest-staying guest and I try to repay that hospitality by being a messenger of these great traditions.”
Answering questions from the audience, His Holiness explained that he is optimistic about the future because scientists have established that basic human nature is compassionate. Although all major religions teach the virtues of love and compassion, this is a time when we need ethics based on common sense, common experience and scientific findings.
He was challenged to explain why he says prayer and religious ritual will not bring change in the way education will. He pointed out that prayer is well and good as far as personal practice is concerned, but when it comes to changing the world, people have been praying for centuries to little effect. What will bring change is education. In this connection he agreed that vipashyana meditation, involving analysis as it does, can also make a positive contribution.
He reiterated that he considers himself a son of India because every scrap of knowledge in his brain is derived from the Nalanda Tradition, an Indian tradition through and through. At the same time, he said, his body has been nourished for decades by Indian rice, dal and chapatis. He concluded by repeating what a 15th century Tibetan scholar-adept had said—although Tibet might have been bright as the Land of Snows it remained dark until illuminated by the light of knowledge that came from India.
Speaking to almost 400 Tibetans from Shillong, Itanagar and other parts of the North-east His Holiness told them:
“We Tibetans have a karmic connection due to our past prayers, but as a result of the misfortune that befell our country we had to leave. The people who remain there still face difficulties, but their spirit remains strong. When we reached here in 1959, the only things we knew for sure were the sky above and the earth below. In the steaming hot climate of India we felt lost. We appealed to the UN for help, but Nehru warned that the US would not go to war with China over Tibet.
“In an earlier effort to reach out to the world the 13th Dalai Lama sent some Tibetan children to Rugby school in Britain to receive a modern education. Last year representatives of the school came to see me to mark the centenary of their arrival. If that project had gone forward things might have been different. We might have established relations with the wider world.”
His Holiness remarked that change is taking place in China. He encouraged his listeners to be self-confident and happy and to ensure that the young children in front of him learn Tibetan. He assured them that the sun will come out once more.
In the afternoon, His Holiness was the Chief Guest at the Namami Brahmaputra Festival. He drove first to the banks of the river where he was received once more by the Governor and Chief Minister. Together in a specially fashioned dome, they watched a video display depicting the physical ways in which the Brahmaputra is a real lifeline for the region and how its mystical associations are a source of strength. Out in the fresh air, gazing out over the river itself, His Holiness stressed that since it plays such a role, people do need to learn to appreciate and care for it. He acknowledged the role of the festival in contributing to this.
Inside the ITA auditorium, the function was inaugurated by the stentorian chanting of Tibetan monks. The Governor, Chief Minister and Director General of the Assam Rifles offered His Holiness traditional felicitations. He was introduced to an old soldier who had been part of the troop that escorted him down from the border 58 years ago and signed photographs for him.
Minister of Finance, Himanta Biswa Sarma began an extended welcome address in Assamese. Switching to English he outlined the trade and cultural relations that have persisted through history between Assam and Tibet. He alluded to illustrated silk drapes known as Vrindavani Vastra depicting the life of Lord Krishna that had been conveyed to Tibet from where they were taken to Britain where they are now in the possession of the Victoria & Albert Museum and the British Museum.
In his speech, the Chief Minister, Shri Sarbananda Sonowal, referred to the Namami Brahmaputra Festival’s highlighting the significance of the river for the country. He declared the Brahmaputra to be the very culture, economy and lifeline of Assam. He repeated what Keats said about a thing of beauty being a joy forever. He expressed gratitude to His Holiness, whose presence was a source of inspiration with regard to human values and the quality of living in peace and harmony. He requested his blessing that the people of Assam live together in love, compassion and mutual respect.
Governor, Shri Banwarilal Purohit released a brochure for the forthcoming Festival of Faiths and spoke entertainingly in Hindi.
In his address, His Holiness said how much he had enjoyed his two day visit. He appreciated the warm welcome he had received. He mentioned again what a pleasure it had been to meet one of his Assam Rifles escorts from so long ago. He also declared himself pleased to have had the opportunity to share some of his ideas with people here, noting how attentive they had been. He said his only complaint was about the stormy weather, but conceded that even the Governor and Chief Minister cannot control that.
This reminded him of an occasion in Patna where the Chief Minister had established a Buddha Memorial Park that he wanted His Holiness to inaugurate.
“In his speech the Chief Minister expressed a hope that Bihar would develop and prosper as a result of the Buddha’s blessings. When it came to my turn to speak I pointed out that if that was the source of Bihar’s prosperity it should have happened long ago because the Buddha’s blessings had been present for more than 2500 years. I told him that what would really make a difference would be if those blessings passed through the hands of a capable Chief Minister. And I repeat that here today in the presence of this Chief Minister, who seems to be a very practical person.
“The key to successful development is education. We’ll keep in touch and when the draft curriculum we are preparing for teaching secular ethics from Kindergarten to University is ready I’ll send you a copy. You can try it out and see how it works.”
Among his answers to questions from the audience, His Holiness went to some lengths to explain that he does not approve of people being offered inducements to convert from one religion to another. He said it is important for people to have a greater appreciation of what is taught in different faiths, and it is equally important that people are free to choose what to believe. But in general he advises that it is best to stick with the tradition you were born to.
The Minister of Transport Chandra Mohan Patowary wound up the occasion with extensive words of thanks before a concluding recital of the national anthem. His Holiness returned to his hotel. Tomorrow he is due to visit Dibrugarh University to speak about Ethics in Modern Education.