Thekchen Chöling, Dharamsala, India - When Susan Bauer-Wu, Thupten Jinpa, and Richie Davidson of the Mind & Life Institute, with Aaron Stern, met His Holiness the Dalai Lama this morning, he told them:
“The very purpose of our life is to be compassionate. Scientists say that basic human nature is compassionate because we are social animals. From the moment of birth, we appreciate kindness. I would like to see more research being done into the effect of anger on the brain, but also the effect of compassion. I feel that in general, these days, more people are convinced by scientific evidence.”
The Mind & Life representatives briefed His Holiness about the format of the forthcoming Mind & Life Conversations. Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela, a clinical psychologist and social scientist from Cape Town, South Africa, and David Sloan Wilson, Distinguished Professor of Biology and Anthropology at Binghamton University, USA will make presentations to His Holiness and other scientists will then join the conversation.
In affirming his willingness to take part, His Holiness remarked, “One of our purposes is simply the extension of knowledge, but another concerns how to bring the message of compassion to humanity. Since we belong to the 7 billion human beings alive today, we have a responsibility to increase the peace and compassion in the world.”
Next, His Holiness spoke to 185 members of the Vairochana Institute, a centre for non-sectarian Buddhist learning in Gangtok, Sikkim. He recalled crossing the Nathu-la Pass in 1956, when he travelled to India to attend the Buddha Jayanti celebrations, and reminisced about his friendship with the Chögyal.
“Shantarakshita introduced the Nalanda Tradition of Buddhism to Tibet and Tibetans kept it alive even after becoming refugees. These days there is no freedom in Tibet, but people of the Himalayan region like you, who share the same culture, can make efforts to preserve it.
“On the one hand it’s important to observe non-violence as our code of conduct while on the other maintaining the view of dependent arising. Non-violence is the basis for world peace, which is supported by the law of cause and effect that follows from the principle of dependent arising. This means, essentially, that if you harm others you also create suffering for yourself. If you help others, you’ll be happy.”
His Holiness mentioned the importance of the Kangyur and Tengyur collections of Buddhist literature and the great contribution made by Indian scholars he refers to as the 17 Masters of Nalanda. He commended the members of the audience for having formed a serious study group. He also encouraged them to be 21st Century Buddhists, people who use their intelligence to understand what the Buddha taught, rather than simply paying respect to its symbols.
His Holiness told the group that he had promised Sunderlal Bahuguna, who has been fighting for years to preserve the forests of the Himalayas, that he would take whatever opportunity he had to encourage others to do the same. Although the Ladakhi landscape is largely barren, he noted that Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh still have rich forests that deserve protection.
In answering questions from the group His Holiness remarked that modern education is not adequate for showing people how to achieve peace of mind. However, he conceded that the observation in quantum physics that nothing exists as it appears corresponds to Nagarjuna’s description of reality. Understanding this helps loosen the misconception that things exist inherently that is the basis for all destructive emotions.
Noting that selfish attitudes bring only misery, His Holiness urged the group to read and think about Shantideva’s ‘Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life’, particularly the sixth and eighth chapters. He quoted the key verse from which he takes inspiration:
And now as long as space endures,
As long as there are beings to be found,
May I continue likewise to remain
To drive away the sorrows of the world.
As His Holiness drove through McLeod Ganj to the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts (TIPA), the streets were lined with smiling Tibetans and other well-wishers, many with white scarves in their hands. In the village, children from Yongling School sang as His Holiness’s car passed. On arrival at TIPA, His Holiness was welcomed by Sikyong Dr Lobsang Sangay, TPiE Speaker Pema Jungney and Chief Justice Commissioner Sonam Norbu Dagpo. Meanwhile, performers sang and danced by way of greeting.
His Holiness cut the ribbon and pushed open the door of TIPA’s new auditorium, symbolising its inauguration. He was escorted to his seat on the stage where he was offered a mandala and the threefold representations of the enlightened body, speech and mind. TIPA director Ngawang Yönten announced that a three-day conference was being held to mark the 60th anniversary of the founding of TIPA. He duly paid respect to His Holiness, the Three Pillars of Tibetan democracy—the Sikyong, TPiE Speaker and Chief Justice Commissioner, members of the Swiss Norzang Foundation and other guests and dignitaries.
He reminded everyone present that His Holiness fled Tibet in early 1959 and, once safe in exile, having set up the Kashag, he encouraged Nornang, Ngawang Norbu to establish the first Tibetan NGO, the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts, in Kalimpong. Since that time more than 500 students have graduated from the Institute. At present TIPA has 107 members.
Director of Amnye Machen, Tashi Tsering, introduced the First International Symposium on Tibetan Performing Arts. He mentioned that the first TIPA was set up in Kalimpong, under His Holiness’s direction, on 18 August 1959. He went on to list the various different performing arts traditions. While he spoke, His Holiness surveyed the faces of the audience with a fond smile.
Sikyong Dr Lobsang Sangay offered the Kashag’s greetings to all present and suggested that after Tashi Tsering’s thorough explanation there was little left for him to say about the performing arts. He noted, however, that the founding of TIPA should be counted among His Holiness’s celebrated deeds, as a result of which it is now possible to send teachers of performing arts out into Tibetan schools wherever they are. He praised His Holiness’s far-sightedness.
The Sikyong also observed that Tibetans are one small group among 70 million refugees in the world. According to a UN report, 4 million children among them are unable to go to school. Tibetans educate all their children and the literacy rate among them is 92%.
Tokens of gratitude were then offered by TIPA to the Kashag, the Norzang Foundation and to Sangpo Rinpoché, who at 93 is the oldest living member of TIPA. Artists performed a song of thanksgiving to His Holiness, the gist of which was to say, “Although we can’t repay your kindness to us, we promise to do our best to fulfil your vision”. A statue of a Ngönpa dancer, representing Vajrapani, was offered to His Holiness and he was invited to address the assembly.
“Tibetans young and old, men and women are here to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the establishment of TIPA. If we look back on our history, we may recall that King Songtsen Gampo took the initiative to commission a script in which to write Tibetan. After that, King Trisong Detsen invited Shantarakshita from India to establish Buddhism in Tibet. In Samye Monastery a separate department was set up, on Shantarakshita’s advice, to translate Buddhist literature into Tibetan. Guru Padmasambhava worked to overcome obstacles.
“Buddhism was firmly established on Tibetan soil as a result of the King, Trisong Detsen, the Abbot, Shantarakshita and the Adept, Padmasambhava, working together. Subsequently, Tibet remained united through the 8th century and into the 9th, but after that politically fragmented. Nevertheless, the Nalanda Tradition was one of the things that brought us together and has been preserved until today. Indeed, only Tibetans have maintained a complete presentation of the Buddha’s teachings.
“Here we are in peace with each other, but elsewhere in the world, at this moment, people are fighting and killing each other, some of them in the name of religion. Religions teach a common message of love, tolerance and compassion, so violence in the name of religion is especially sad. Drawing on our uniquely peaceful tradition, we Tibetans can make a special contribution to the world at large.
“When we Tibetans came into exile, the only things we could be sure about were the sky above and the earth below. We were helpless, without protection and without refuge. And yet despite hardship over more than 60 years the spirit of Tibetans in Tibet remains undaunted. They have no freedom, but their determination has inspired those of us in exile to exert ourselves to preserve our culture and traditions.”
His Holiness recalled how, with the support of the Government of India and Pandit Nehru’s personal interest, Tibetans set up schools for their children. To begin with, monks who had escaped were building roads in the Himalayan regions. But on appeal to the Government of India a site to bring them together was found in Buxa. 1500 monks were assembled to resume their studies.
In due course, the great monasteries were re-established in the south of India where the monastic curriculums were reinstated. His Holiness remarked that in the past Tibetan Buddhism was dismissed in some quarters as ‘lamaism’ as if it was not a genuine Buddhist tradition. Since then, there has been a widespread recognition that in fact Tibetan Buddhism is an authentic heir of the Indian Nalanda Tradition, renowned for its reliance on reason and logic.
“Today, Tibetan culture and religion have earned respect, even among scientists,” His Holiness declared. “Hardliners among the Chinese leadership after vain efforts to undermine it are conceding the errors of their policies and becoming more realistic. We have worked hard to preserve our culture and traditions. The Tibetan theatrical arts are a valuable part of our heritage and you have done well here to keep them alive. The younger generations will still be able to take them forward.
“Our struggle is based on truth. The Chinese rely on the use of force and the power of the gun, however, in the long run it is the truth that will prevail. Don’t lose heart, keep your hopes bright. I’m 84 now and look forward to living another 10 or 15 years. I’ll do my best; I trust you all will too.”
The Secretary of TIPA offered words of thanks to bring the occasion to an end. He thanked His Holiness for coming, and thanked everyone else who had provided support. He ended with the wish that all obstacles to His Holiness’s long life would be dispelled and that peace would flourish in the world.
Various groups from the audience posed for photographs with His Holiness, who then took rest on the balcony of the building overlooking the courtyard. Members of the public and TIPA artists spontaneously gathered below and sang plaintive songs for His Holiness’s long life and for peace in the world.
From TIPA His Holiness drove further up the hill to visit the new Hyatt Regency Dharamsala Resort. He was welcomed by one of the principal partners in the enterprise, Mr GS Bali, who presented members of his family and friends. His Holiness bestowed his blessings by cutting a ribbon at the door and lighting a traditional lamp in the lobby. He was then entertained to a sumptuous lunch, following which he drove down the winding roads through the forest back to his residence.