New Delhi, India - His Holiness the Dalai Lama came to Delhi a couple of days ago for a routine medical check-up that went well and to visit several old friends in the capital. This morning he started the day by briefing members of the Core Committee working on the Curriculum for Universal Values prior to their own discussions.
“Greetings,” he began, “we’re not here just for a nice chat. Despite the development we’ve achieved, we human beings are facing a multitude of problems, including people killing each other. Fortunately, there is evidence that basic human nature is compassionate. When I heard that I became more determined that with effort we can promote a sense of basic human values.
“When we’re children love and affection are an important part of our lives, but as we get older they give way to anger, suspicion and jealousy. We consider anger a natural part of our makeup, and it may have a defensive aspect, but if we let it get out of hand, it becomes a problem. There is little talk about inner values in our education system. We tend to take compassion for granted. Traditionally people looked to religion for inner values, but now religion and education go their separate ways. 1 billion of the 7 billion human beings alive today have no faith. And yet as part of humanity they too need inner values, a source of happiness and joy.
“Education is our only hope, but due to a consensus among educationists, scientists and social workers that the current education system is inadequate when it comes to dealing with inner values, we formed this group to formulate an approach to secular ethics. These values are related to our emotions, so we need a better understanding of them and the workings of the mind.
“In this country, with its traditions of shamatha—concentration and vipashyana—insight there is deep understanding of the mind which is relevant to today’s world.”
He said that Tibetans have long considered themselves chelas of Indian gurus, but over time the guru has neglected this ancient knowledge, while the chelas have kept it up. Now it must be shared with the public from a secular standpoint, much as yoga and mindfulness are given a secular presentation today.
“Over the last 58 years I have eaten Indian dal and chapatis, while my mind is full of Nalanda thought. Physically and mentally I consider myself a son of India, so I can say to you ‘We Indians need to revive our ancient knowledge.’ Problems that we human beings have created, we human beings need to settle. It’s not enough to say ‘war is a part of human history’—nobody wants the misery it entails. To create a more compassionate world we need to employ reason, which is why I am committed to reviving what Indians of the ancient world understood. I have quite a sharp mind, but I need the help of people like you to put these ideas into effect. Since I am already 82 time is short—we need to make a start now.”
After lunch, His Holiness made the short drive to the India International Centre to receive the Professor ML Sondhi Prize for International Politics. He was met on arrival by his old friend Mrs Madhuri Santanam Sondhi and members of her family, who escorted him into the small hall. In her eloquent introduction Mrs Sondhi mentioned first hearing about Tibet during the Asian Relations Conference of 1947 in New Delhi that was attended by Tibetan delegates. Next, His Holiness attended the Buddha Jayanti celebrations in 1956 and in 1959 he came into exile in India. By then she was a student at Oxford, but she recalled hearing a recording of His Holiness voice in an interview that Raghavan Iyer had made in Mussoorie.
She recalled that Prof ML Sondhi joined the diplomatic service and was posted first to Prague and then to the UN, where, in the early 60s he listened to the debates about Tibet. In 1962 he founded the Tibet-Swaraj Committee. Later, he was the Indian nominator of His Holiness for the Nobel Peace Prize. He introduced His Holiness to Vaclav Havel and organized his first visit to Israel. To the end he maintained an unfettered faith in the future of Tibet.
Mrs Sondhi also referred to His Holiness’s achievements—the introduction of democracy to the Tibetan community in exile, his stress on the need for moral values, for secular ethics, and the value of dialogue between science and spirituality.
Called upon to read the citation for the Professor ML Sondhi Prize for International Politics, Prof Sondhi’s son Vivekanand referred to His Holiness’s 5 Point Peace Plan and Tibet’s potential role as a buffer state, a zone of peace, between India and China. He noted that at the same time His Holiness has refused to concede China’s pretence that Tibet has always been a part of China.
The citation mentioned His Holiness’s adherence to the principle of non-violence, his opposition to religious persecution and his fostering of dialogue between science and spirituality.
Former Foreign Secretary Lalit Mansingh in turn praised Prof Sondhi’s consistent championing of the cause of Tibet and his declaration of Tibet’s role in Indo-Chinese relations. He ended by wishing His Holiness good health, long life and that he may long lead the Tibetan people.
Lalit Mansingh made the traditional offering of a shawl to His Holiness, while Mrs Sondhi presented him with a glass plaque denoting his receipt of the Professor ML Sondhi Prize.
Chief Guest Arun Shourie made the telling observation that whereas recipients are usually honoured when they are give an prize, this is one of the rare cases where the award is honoured because it is bestowed on someone like His Holiness. He compared His Holiness’s moral authority to Gandhi-ji’s. He quoted a New York Times interviewer's asking His Holiness how he was still smiling after all the Chinese have done in Tibet and His Holiness replying, “Since the Chinese have taken so much, why should I let them take my peace of mind?” He lauded the way His Holiness has kept Tibetan spirits up. He praised not only his learning, but also how lightly he wears it. Finally, he remarked on His Holiness’s openness of mind.
When it came to His Holiness’s turn to speak, he began:
“Dear brothers and sisters, I always open this way because we are all the same as human beings. This is why I stress the need to recognise the oneness of humanity. Like everyone else I want happiness and joy. We all want to live happy lives but instead are confronted by problems, many of our own making. A hopeful sign, however is that scientists have found evidence indicating that fundamental human nature is compassionate. On that basis we may create a better, more peaceful world by the end of the present century—if we start to make the effort now.
“I really admire the spirit of the European Union. After centuries of fighting each other over nationality and sovereignty, the nations of Europe decided to think first of their common interest and to share with one another. If this spirit were implemented in Africa, for example, it could put an end to much conflict, releasing funds spent on weapons to improve agriculture and education.”
His Holiness mentioned his long-cherished dream of greening the Sahara Desert by installing vast solar energy resources to generate electricity that would then be used to run desalination plants. The sweet water thus produced could green the desert and produce food crops. He suggested that a similar project working inwards from the coasts of Australia could transform that continent too and put rising sea levels to practical use.
He spoke of the benefits warm-heartedness has for our health. It strengthens our immune system whereas anger, fear and suspicion undermine it. What’s more, peace of mind is a pre-condition to using our intelligence to the full. Stress tends to block our ability to think clearly.
“Our existing education system tends to be oriented towards material goals, with little room for inner values. We are committed to enriching modern education by taking a secular approach to human values on the basis of common experience, common sense and scientific findings. In this we are following the example of India, a populous, ancient nation where all the world’s major religious traditions have flourished side by side for centuries.”
Recalling Prof Sondhi’s support for Tibetans, His Holiness said he was not so much pro-Tibet as pro-justice, because the cause of Tibet is based on truth and reality. He mentioned that since the 8th century CE, since Shantarakshita was invited to Tibet, Tibetans have kept the Nalanda tradition alive through study and practice. Twenty years of rigorous study has produced scholars of great quality. The Tibetan tradition is truly the Nalanda tradition that today can be of benefit to the wider world.
In answering questions from the audience His Holiness covered many topics from the value of secular ethics to the immorality of censorship and misinformation that denies 1.3 billion Chinese people access to reality. If they had that, he said, they would be very capable of distinguishing right from wrong. He repeated his sense that modern psychology seems primitive when compared to the understanding of the mind and emotions revealed in ancient Indian knowledge.
Professor Sondhi used to teach at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) and there was a group of Tibetan JNU students in the audience. When His Holiness was asked by a serving member of the University staff what he advised about the rising tide of suicides among students, he stated again the need to come to terms with emotions, citing this as another instance of the need to reconcile ancient Indian knowledge with modern education.
When the question of his own reincarnation came up once more, His Holiness reiterated the response he gave some time ago in Newark when he took off his glasses and challenged his respondent to look at his face and say whether an answer to the question was urgent.
Tomorrow, His Holiness will listen to the report of the Core Committee working on the Curriculum for Universal Values prior to returning to Dharamsala.