Messina, Sicily, Italy - The city of Messina is a short drive up the Sicilian coast from Taormina. The Mayor, Renato Accorinti was there this morning to welcome His Holiness the Dalai Lama and accompany him directly onto the stage of the Vittorio Emanuele Theatre.
“This is an extraordinary moment for our city,” he said, as he introduced His Holiness. “We’re happy to have you here and to feel your presence among us. We have a responsibility to bring peace to the world. Yesterday, you spoke at the Greek Theatre, so many people have heard your message, but we need to think about it and digest it. My mission has been to bring you to Sicily to talk to us.
“Was I right?” he asked the 1200 strong audience, and the theatre was filled with loud applause.
Accorinti introduced His Holiness to the Archbishop of Messina, Giovanni Accolla and the two formed an instant rapport. The Archbishop expressed pleasure in welcoming His Holiness, a man of peace and compassion, who also works constantly to secure harmonious relations between people of different religious traditions.
Mayor Accorinti was joined by another city official to bestow Messina’s ‘Builder of Peace, Justice and Nonviolence Prize’ for the first time upon His Holiness. There is no peace without justice, he declared and justice can only be achieved through nonviolence.
Moderator for the occasion, Rai journalist, Laura Pasquini invited His Holiness to address the gathering.
“My respected spiritual brother,” he began, acknowledging the Archbishop, “my good friend Renato, supporter of truth and justice, brothers and sisters, I’m extremely happy to be here and to have received this award. I’m now more than 82 years old and although I decided it would be too far to travel to the USA next month, here I am in Europe and in Italy because I’ve been invited by old friends—people who are friends on a genuine, human level.
“Although I belong to the 20th century, I was moved yesterday to speak in the ancient Greek Theatre about ideas that derive from the ancient Indus Valley civilization. Wherever I go, I have two messages, two commitments to communicate. One is the promotion of human happiness—the importance of warm-heartedness and peace of mind. All major religions teach about this, along with tolerance, forgiveness and self-discipline.
“The real source of peace of mind is love and compassion; not the love we feel for those who are close and already affectionate towards us, but an unlimited sense of altruism, a love that can be extended to all beings, including your enemy. This is something only human beings are capable of, which is one reason why I try to remind people of the oneness of humanity.
“My second message and commitment is concerned with religious harmony. We have several different religious traditions on this planet and, it seems that, sadly, differences between them can lead to conflict. This is despite the message of love that they all convey. We need to make a special effort to foster religious harmony and I am especially encouraged that my Christian brother is with us here.
“The reality today is that the global economy and climate change have no respect for national or religious boundaries—they affect us all. Here in Europe, after the destruction of two World Wars the idea of the European Union emerged resulting in peace for more than half a century. In future Russia should be included and the idea of similar unions extended to Africa, Latin America and Asia. While the UN seems to be a union of governments, we must explore a worldwide union of peoples. Our dream of peace will only be fulfilled in a demilitarized world. This is something I request my Christian brother to pray for.”
His Holiness told the audience he would like to answer their questions and the first was a request to know more about his personal life.
“Generally Tibetans are cheerful people,” he replied. “One factor in this is that we are a small population living in a huge space, but our community spirit is strong. As I have found elsewhere in the mountains of North India, it was our custom not to lock our doors and to welcome any visitors who appeared.
“In my own family, my sisters and brothers were always laughing and joking. I was taken from them when I was about five years old to be brought up as the Dalai Lama. In the palace, officials were formal, but the sweepers were open and friendly. It was they who gave me real news and played with me.
“My tutor was strict and threatened me with a whip to encourage me to study, because I was a lazy and reluctant student. When it was time for lessons, it felt as though the sky had grown dark.
“Italians seem to be light-hearted and cheerful too. I’m not keen on formality and in Tibet we had a lot of it. Becoming a refugee freed me from much formality and protocol and nowadays I regard other people as my brothers and sisters.”
Responding to a question about happiness, His Holiness observed that animals like cats and dogs want to be happy just as we do, but only human beings are aware of this. Love and compassion build self-confidence, which, reducing fear and irritation, leads to less anger, the real destroyer of happiness.
Another questioner asked His Holiness to briefly explain the Four Noble Truths. He laughed and said it could take all day. He began by acknowledging that while many people believe in a creator God, others, particularly in India, like some of the Samkhyas, Jains and Buddhists believe instead in the law of causality—cause and effect. The Buddha explained that suffering and happiness come from causes. He taught the Four Noble Truths on the basis of dependent arising, the idea that everything depends on other factors.
His Holiness explained that we have to think carefully about whether the Third Noble Truth, cessation—the cessation of suffering—is feasible. Negative emotions that lead to suffering, like anger and attachment, are based on grasping at the appearance that things exist independently. They don’t.
Since the basic nature of the mind is pure, it is possible to eliminate this ignorance and the disturbing emotions it gives rise to—yielding the cessation of suffering of the Third Noble Truth.
His Holiness remarked that from a Christian point of view we are all created by God. Friends have told him that they believe this very life was created by God, which implies a special closeness to him. As children of a compassionate, loving God, seeking to follow what he taught is attractive. He mentioned that where Buddhist theory is complicated, faith in God can be powerful and straightforward.
His Holiness observed however, that in the modern world, the education system is oriented towards materialistic goals and pays little attention to deeper human values. More than one billion people declare no interest in religion and the faith of many of the remaining six billion is largely superficial. Many people lack inner values. They are unaware that disturbing emotions like anger, fear and hatred disturb our peace of mind, while warm-heartedness and compassion are a source of happiness.
He explained that discussions with concerned scientists and educationalists have concluded that the key is education. Within education, he suggests is a need for a sense of secular ethics based on common experience, common sense and scientific findings. He also advocates a need for an emotional hygiene, corresponding to physical hygiene, based on a better understanding of the workings of the mind and emotions.
Responding to a final question, His Holiness explained different levels of mind. He began with our relatively coarse waking state, dominated as it is by sensory consciousness. He pointed out that the mind is subtler in the dream state when sensory consciousnesses are not functioning. In deep sleep, consciousness is subtler still, as it is when we faint and so forth. The subtlest consciousness manifests at the time of death, which Buddhists refer to as the mind of clear light, whose nature is clarity and awareness.
The audience waved and reached up to shake His Holiness’s hand as he left the stage. Mayor Renato Accorinti entertained him to lunch at his Office, after which he introduced him to the city councillors. From the Mayor’s Office His Holiness drove to a nearby sports field that doubles as a helipad, where members of a Sunday rugby football club were surprised to greet him. From there he flew by helicopter to Palermo, where tomorrow he is to speak about the ‘Joy of Education’.