Thekchen Chöling, Dharamsala, HP, India - When His Holiness the Dalai Lama came into the room this morning and saw the faces of Generation Change Fellows on the screens before him, he smiled warmly and waved. These were young peace-builders associated with the United States Institute of Peace (USIP), many of whom he had met before.
Nancy Lindborg, President and CEO USIP opened the proceedings — “Wonderful to see you again, Your Holiness. Welcome to this important conversation on conflict, covid and compassion. I’ve brought several groups of young people to see you in Dharamsala. Today, we have 20 with us, each of whom has chosen to be a peace-builder in their community.
“When we first met in 2015 you spoke of making the 21st century an era free of conflict. How are we doing?”
“I appreciate the effort you have made over several years to bring these young people to see me,” His Holiness responded. “I feel things have changed. In the early part of the 20th century, people really believed in military power. They spent a lot of money on arms and scientists turned their brains to designing ever more destructive weapons. Now, I think, as a result of experience, this way of thinking is diminishing. After two world wars, during the second of which nuclear weapons were actually used, there was talk of a third world war, but we don’t hear much about that these days.
“I admire the spirit of the European Union. In the past, European countries like France and Germany were arch enemies, they fought and killed each other. But after the second world war, their two leaders, Adenauer and de Gaulle decided it would be better to form a union of states in Europe. Since then peace has prevailed there.
“Although people were excited by their technological development, they are gradually people coming to realize that nuclear weapons are too dangerous to use. By the late 20th century, people as a whole have become more humane.
“We are social animals. We have a sense of community because without it individuals can’t survive. From the moment we’re born, we’re dependent on our mother’s care and she looks after us unquestioningly. She demonstrates the importance of having an altruistic attitude. Even animals survive on the basis of taking care of each other.
“All religious traditions involve human beings. Despite differences of time, location and philosophical view, they all teach about the importance of love.
“In the past we have been seduced by technology, but I think people are becoming more mature. They are paying more attention to inner values and finding inner peace. I feel strongly that education should include instruction about our inner world — the workings of our mind and emotions. We need to learn, for example, that it’s destructive emotions like anger that destroy our peace of mind. Just as we train children to observe physical hygiene to stay healthy and well, there’s a corresponding need for emotional hygiene too.
“Having completed your studies, you young people are at the start of your real life. Here and now in the 21st century, with the help of what scientists have learned about the brain, you need to learn how to achieve peace of mind. This is crucial since world peace can only be built by individuals who are at peace with themselves.
“Quantum physics tells us that things do not exist as they appear and yet most of our destructive emotions are rooted in the idea that things exist independently from their own side — as they appear to do.
“My number one commitment is to share with others the idea of achieving peace of mind and how to do it. Our world has become smaller and we can easily exchange information with each other. That’s a context in which we can try to develop more compassionate attitudes among our seven billion fellow human beings. One of the things we need to understand is that the real source of trouble for all of us is not something outside us but something here within. It’s our feelings of suspicion, fear and anger that we really need to subdue.
“My second commitment is to the promotion of harmony among our religious traditions. Fighting and killing in the name of religion is unthinkable. Yet among our neighbours we see conflict between followers of the Shia and Sunni traditions who revere the same scripture, the same teachers and the same pattern of prayer. In India all the world’s major religions live together in harmony. The world has become one community. Where we can we need to sit together and share our experience.”
Nancy Lindborg mentioned that today is International Youth Day and that half the world’s young people live in areas affected by conflict. She asked His Holiness how young people have inspired him and if he had any advice for them.
“We live in a global economy,” he replied, “with no natural boundaries. And it seems to me that young people today are more broad-minded than before. When I lived in Tibet, for example, I had only a limited view of the world. After coming to India, I was able to meet other people much more easily. It seems that young minds today are more open and that humanity is becoming more realistic — in those terms things are getting better.”
A young woman from Columbia asked His Holiness how he would advise people to cope with the uncertainty that prevails today. He replied that the pandemic and its ramifications are very unfortunate. Many scientists are doing research in hope of finding a solution to the problem. He suggested that when people have a clearer view of reality, they are less subject to destructive emotions like despondency. We can’t remove external problems at will, but in terms of our inner world we can develop tolerance, forgiveness and contentment. If we have developed peace of mind, we can remain calm no matter what happens in the outside world.
“The Nalanda Tradition in which I have trained recommends not just relying on faith, but analysing problems we face in the light of reason. I’m now 85 years old and that’s what I have done throughout my life. In a Buddhist context we think of all sentient beings as being kind like our mother. Similarly, we can think of all seven billion human beings alive today as our brothers and sisters. We’re all the same in the way we’re born and the way we die.”
A young Indian woman wanted to know how to maintain compassion for the perpetrators of injustice. His Holiness reminded her that although the Buddha had talked about suffering, he spoke more about its causes. Since none of us seeks suffering we need to avoid its causes. He suggested that people with no moral principles, who make trouble for others, are engaging in negative actions that will have unfortunate consequences for them. We should be concerned both for these people and for those they have abused.
The eighth century Indian master Shantideva tells us that our enemy can be our best teacher, because no one else gives us such an opportunity to practise patience.
A young Somali asked whether there were different requirements for leadership in times of crisis. His Holiness told him that this is not a time to think only of my nation, my community. We have to think of the whole of humanity. We are facing problems that affect us all. We must work together for benefit of all seven billion human beings alive today.
Answering a question from a young Syrian about whether distressing circumstances can provide opportunities to bring about unity, His Holiness agreed that they could. He recalled that when they were still in Tibet, people in different parts of the country went their own way. Once they reached India, however, there were no grounds to think in terms of ‘us’ and ‘them’. It had become much more important to work together in the common interest.
“Today, the pandemic is one threat we face,” he remarked, “another very serious issue is climate change and global warming. Scientists have predicted that if we don’t act to stop it, in the coming decades water sources, rivers and lakes, may dry up. An additional problem that will have to be addressed is the growing gap between rich and poor. Tackling these difficult circumstances will require that we work together.
“We have to have a sense of the oneness of humanity. When I first went to Europe, I met people with different coloured hair, different shaped noses and so on, but I realized that emotionally we are all the same. That’s why I think it’s helpful to think of others as being as kind as our own mother.”
Invited to advise peace-builders who run up against various restrictions, His Holiness expressed the view that often there is a real gap between old ways of thinking and the present changed reality. It used to be enough, he said, to think only of your own nation. Now there’s a need to take everyone into account, as well as a need to co-operate with each other as much as possible. The new reality is that we are all the same as human beings and all seven billion of us have to live together. It’s a question of taking a wider perspective.
Nancy Lindborg brought the discussion to a close. She thanked His Holiness once again for joining them, and she thanked the members of his office for their support, mentioning the audio-visual team in particular.
“I was able to meet you,” she told His Holiness, “in the first week I was working with USIP in 2015. Now it happens that this is my last week with USIP and I am so happy to have been able to meet you again. Vice President David Yang will continue these meetings in the future. Finally, I’d like to thank our fearless Generation Change Fellows for joining us today, you are the light of the future.”
“Time passes, things change and we need to find new ways of thinking,” His Holiness responded. “You young people are the ones who will contribute to making a new world. Don’t fall into old ways of thinking. Accept the new reality about the oneness of all human beings and face up to the challenge of global warming. Open your eyes and open your minds.
“Over the last five years you’ve organized several meetings between us of which I’m very appreciative. Let’s continue to work for the good of humanity with the goal of creating a better world. That’s our responsibility. Thank you.”