Thekchen Chöling, Dharamsala, HP, India - When His Holiness the Dalai Lama entered the sitting room at his residence this morning, he folded his hands together and smiled in greeting at the array of young faces on the screens before him. The moderator, Ms. Weenee Ng of the Tibetan Buddhist Centre Singapore, welcomed him and told him that in addition to more than 700 young South-east Asian participants, they were joined by three distinguished guests: Mr. Kishore Mahbubani, Distinguished Fellow at the Asia Research Institute, from Singapore; Prof. Imtiaz Ahmed Shaukat Yusuf, Deputy Dean at International Islamic University of Malaysia and Professor Kamar Oniah Kamaruzaman, Author and Lecturer at International Islamic University of Malaysia.
“The outbreak of the coronavirus has brought about change in the world and given rise to anxiety and fear,” remarked Ms Ng as she introduced the dialogue. “Many people face unemployment. The world has become more complex and more interdependent. Today, more than 700 young people from eight South-east Asian countries are participating in this virtual dialogue. We hope to put several questions to you, but first would like to ask, ‘What is your advice for young people today?’”
“Thank you, I appreciate the efforts of all the organizers for creating this opportunity,” His Holiness replied. “First of all, I’d like to share with you the idea that as human beings, all seven billion of us are the same. From a Buddhist point of view, all sentient beings are the same in that all want to be happy and to avoid suffering. Human beings are intelligent, but when our intelligence is combined with destructive emotions, the results can be destructive. We develop science and technology, but dedicate them to war and destruction, creating ever more fearsome weapons. Other animals can’t do this.
“When our wonderful brains are under the control of destructive emotions, we create problems for ourselves. Therefore, since we also have the ability to reduce them, we have a responsibility to tackle these problems.
“Some scientists say that it’s basic human nature to be compassionate. We are social animals. We have a sense of community. Right from our birth we are familiar with the idea of being concerned about others and actively cultivating altruism gives us energy.
“First among several of my commitments is to encourage other people to appreciate that it is part of our nature to be altruistic, to be concerned about others. In today’s world there is too much division. Thinking of others in terms of ‘us’ and ‘them’ is too prevalent—and it leads to conflict. We constantly need to remind ourselves of the oneness of humanity. If we were to do that, there’d be no basis for hostility or bloodshed.
“Imagine being lost in some remote place and suddenly seeing someone coming towards you over the horizon. You wouldn’t care about their race, nationality or religious faith, you’d simply be filled with the joy of encountering another human being. Fundamentally human beings are the same. We’re born in the same way and we die in the same way. We have to remember the oneness that unites us. Reminding others of this is my first commitment.
“Secondly, I’m committed to promoting inter-religious harmony. Our religious traditions have evolved over thousands of years. All of them convey a message of love and forgiveness. They hold different philosophical views. Some believe in a creator god; others stress our own responsibility for our condition. Scientists describe the earliest organisms emerging from the sea and a process of evolution eventually giving rise to the wonderful human brain.
“Because religions share a common message about the importance of love, harmony can develop between them. In India we can see all the world’s major faith traditions living together side by side. The world’s second most populated nation is a living example that inter-religious harmony is possible.
“Thirdly, I’m a Tibetan, someone in whom the Tibetan people place their hope and trust. With regard to Tibet, one of my main concerns is the preservation of the Tibetan language. This is the language into which we translated more than 300 volumes of Buddhist literature from Sanskrit and Pali sources. We have studied and meditated on the knowledge they contain. This knowledge, which derives from the Nalanda Tradition that Shantarakshita introduced to Tibet in the eighth century, I regard as a precious part of our human heritage. The logic and philosophy it contains is not confined to religious tradition, but can be beneficially studied from an objective academic point of view.
“I’m also concerned about Tibet’s natural environment. Several of the great rivers of Asia rise on the Tibetan plateau, providing crucial water supplies to India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Vietnam, China and so forth. At this time, when global warming is becoming increasingly serious, it’s very important that Tibet’s ecology be protected.”
Recalling that the knowledge kept alive in Tibet originated in ancient India, His Holiness described a further commitment to encourage interest in it in modern India. He emphasised that his concern is less with nirvana or positive future lives than with the ability of young Indians to train and sharpen their minds here and now.
He also took time to praise India’s ancient traditions of ahimsa and karuna. He stressed the crucial role non-violence can play in today’s world.
His Holiness voiced his conviction that in India, ancient Indian knowledge of the workings of the mind and emotions can be combined with the benefits of material development.
“Young brothers and sisters, think about these four commitments of mine and if they seem useful to you, share them with other young people. In today’s world too many people cherish only materialistic goals. They pursue sensory pleasure, but neglect to acquaint themselves with their underlying mental consciousness. By paying more attention to inner values, they’ll achieve greater peace of mind.”
The first questioner came from Thailand and asked about compassion for ourselves as well as for others.
“When we’re born, our mothers show us compassion. This is a natural response that has nothing to do with spiritual practice,” His Holiness replied. “Without that kindness we wouldn’t survive. So, our lives start with an experience of kindness and compassion. When we’re dying, being surrounded by gold and jewellery is of no solace at all, but having caring family and friends around us puts us at ease. This is how important compassion can be.”
A questioner from Hong Kong wanted to know how young people should cope with mental bullying on the internet that leads them to self-harm or attempt suicide. His Holiness told her that as human beings we are intelligent and we can evaluate and choose what to take seriously. Even the Buddha advised his followers, ‘As the wise test gold by burning, cutting and rubbing it, So, bhikshus, should you accept my words only after testing them, and not merely out of respect for me’. He said that as a Buddhist, a follower of the Nalanda Tradition, he finds it very useful always to ask, ‘Why?’
His Holiness recommended that young people use their intelligence to investigate the situations they find themselves in. That way they can be confident of finding the right way to go.
“I’m 85 years old,” he told them. “At the age of 14 or 15 I lost my freedom. When I was 24, I lost my country. Since 1959, Tibet has been full of suffering, but when difficult situations arise, I think carefully about it before deciding what to do, so I have no regrets. Tibet and India have close links from the past and today India is a democratic country, so for 60 years I’ve enjoyed the freedom I’ve found here.”
Explaining that his work is currently suspended, a young man from Malaysia asked if this was due to bad karma. His Holiness told him that he was young, and has a long future ahead of him. There’s no need to lose hope. Difficulties are more easily overcome if you keep up a sense of self-confidence.
When a young woman from Singapore enquired about the importance of religion for members of her generation, now and in the near future, His Holiness replied that religious or not, if you smile, other people are happy. The important thing is to have a warm heart. He suggested that members of her generation have the opportunity to compensate for the shortcomings of modern education by developing inner values and learning how to tackle destructive emotions and find peace of mind.
Bringing up the reality that we all will die, a young Vietnamese asked how we can overcome our fear of death. His Holiness reminded her that even the Buddha passed away, as did all the scholars and saints who came after him. We all have to die, what’s important is to lead a meaningful life while we’re alive. Even if you’re going to die next week, he remarked, if in the meantime you’re able to share deeper human values with your friends, when you die, you’ll be able to do so without regret.
His Holiness told a young woman from Indonesia, who wanted to know more about cultivating inner happiness that existing modern education doesn’t have much to say about the mind and ways to find inner peace. He recommended combining the benefits of material development with coming to understand the workings of the mind. When we’re physically ill, he said, we employ an appropriate remedy. Finding peace of mind involves learning to understand the workings of the mind and emotions.
“We Asians,” he said, “have a tradition of practising meditation, both single-pointed concentration and analytical meditation. If you’re able to meditate purely on the mind, without sensory distractions, it can be very effective. Single-pointed concentration gives us mental strength that we can then apply to analytical meditation.
“Quantum physics distinguishes between appearance and reality. Most of our emotions focus on appearances, so we can tackle destructive emotions by delving deeper into reality. When you realize that all material things consist of particles, it undermines the basis for attachment. The concept of ‘shunyata’ or emptiness, like the explanation of quantum physics, tells us that nothing exists as it appears.”
A young Singaporean woman raised a question about promoting social harmony in the face of religious extremism. His Holiness repeated that it is unfortunate that existing education systems focus primarily on material development. They provide little opportunity to learn about the mind. At a time when differences of race, nationality and religious faith come to the fore, religion can become a cause of division. Even within Buddhism, he remarked, we distinguish the Sanskrit and Pali Traditions, Sutra and Tantra, Yellow hat and Red hat, on the basis of which we cling to ‘my faith’ and ‘my religion’. He pointed out that sometimes religious differences are manipulated for political reasons by those in power. The solution is to focus on the oneness of humanity and remind ourselves that religious practice is a matter of personal choice.
“We are all human brothers and sisters,” His Holiness reiterated, “we have to live together. Personal contacts are very important. In Ladakh, for example, Muslims, Buddhists and Christians are friends with each other. In the Arab world, where almost everyone is Muslim, there’s less familiarity with people of other faiths. At my suggestion my friends from Ladakh convened a conference of Muslims in Delhi and representatives came from Iran. It would be good if such a meeting became an annual event.”
His Holiness explained to a young Indonesian man that everyone loves themselves, so everyone is selfish to some extent. However, every individual is reliant on their community, so the best way to look after themselves is to take care of others. Farmers look after their land, not out of any sentimental feelings, but because their livelihood depends on it. Whatever happiness we experience, is likewise dependent on others.
A young Singaporean, who wanted to know the benefits of studying Buddhism if you are not a Buddhist, was told that it is possible to employ the logic and psychology of the Nalanda Tradition on an intellectual level. For example, its methods can simply be used to sharpen the mind.
His Holiness responded to another Malaysian’s question by pointing out that our mind and emotions are not produced by a machine. Education should provide an understanding of the inner world of our mind and emotions, he told her.
“Earlier, specialists considered only the functions of the brain to be important,” His Holiness declared, “but by the late 20th century many had begun to acknowledge there was more to it than that. Neuroscientist Richie Davidson undertook experiments that showed that changes could be seen in the brains of people with experience of meditation. The discovery of neuroplasticity reveals that training the mind effects changes in the brain. Consequently, more and more people are now paying attention to the vast topic of the mind.
“Meditation can help us learn to use our minds. We can learn to focus on different topics to analyse them, which can be very powerful. Destructive emotions are founded in ignorance, so gaining a deeper understanding of reality can help us counter them. It could be useful to introduce the practice of meditation at school, because improved concentration and analysis are very helpful.
“I engage in analytical meditation every day and it’s my experience that it is very effective. For example, I read from Nagarjuna’s ‘Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way’ every day and find it very helpful to reflect on what I’ve read. I began my studies at the age of seven or eight, memorizing the classic texts. I’m 85 now, but I still read and study whenever I can. What you need to do is read, reflect on what you’ve read until you’ve really understood it and then familiarise yourself with what you’ve understood until you gain a sound experience of it.
“Thinking about how nothing exists independently over many years and reflecting persistently on altruism have transformed my mind.”
When one of the teachers suggested there is little mutual understanding among religious traditions, His Holiness recommended creating opportunities for discussion between their representatives. Another teacher observed that we are technically capable of eliminating poverty and asked why we are failing to do so. His Holiness replied that the gap between rich and poor is very serious. There is poverty in Africa, but even in India there are wealthy millionaires while many other people are very poor. He advised that those who are better off should help by providing facilities and opportunities for poor people to improve their lot.
His Holiness praised the socialist goal of greater equality, but wryly remarked that although China is nominally a socialist system, the gap between rich and poor there is huge.
Finally, a young Malaysian woman asked what role youths can play in making the world a happier place. His Holiness replied that despite the existing education systems’ inadequacies, young people can pay more attention to inner values and the methods for tackling destructive emotions with the aim of achieving greater peace of mind.
Moderator, Ms. Weenee Ng, thanked His Holiness and requested him to stay healthy and well. He replied that as a Buddhist practitioner he has dedicated his body, speech and mind to the benefit of others, so he’s always ready to help. “Now, technology means I can remain where I am and still share my experience with you. Thank you. See you again.”