Thekchen Chöling, Dharamsala, HP, India - This morning His Holiness the Dalai Lama met with 15 young leaders from different parts of the world in the audience hall at his residence.
“I’m very happy to meet you today,” he told them. “You young people have a very important role to play. We 7-8 billion human beings are essentially the same. We have to live together and this world is our only home. Thinking only of the interests of our own nation and stockpiling weapons is of no use. Differentiating between ‘us’ and ‘them’ is out of date. Now we have to be aware of the oneness of humanity.”
Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry, and old friend of His Holiness, Richard Davidson introduced a group of compassionate leaders to him. Davidson explained that co-organizers of this meeting were Tara Bennett-Goleman and her husband Dan Goleman. Unable to attend in person, they had a short exchange with His Holiness by video link.
Bennett-Goleman explained that these young leaders have been engaged in techniques for inner transformation in addition to their activism. They have studied Goleman’s book ‘A Force for Good’, in which he laid out His Holiness’s vision for the world. Goleman told His Holiness that he hopes to write another book on the basis of the meetings today and tomorrow.
Richie Davidson told His Holiness that the young leaders would each make a short presentation to him and ask him one question.
He first introduced Shabana from Afghanistan. “I was born and brought up in Kabul at a time when education for girls and women was declared illegal. My parents educated me in secret. I am the product of my parents’ and other Afghan women’s courage. Your guidance inspires me. I believe that educating girls is one of the steps we can take to limit global warming.
“I founded a boarding school for Afghan girls, but last August we had to leave the country. Now Afghan girls are sad and unable to go to school. Our past work is undone and we are struggling outside. I feel powerless.
“As someone familiar with living in exile, how do you make sense of home?”
“We have to look ahead and think of the whole of humanity,” His Holiness replied. “We have to take a broad view. So many problems arise from being concerned only for our own nation, our own community. Every human being wants to live a peaceful life, but sometimes our leaders are short-sighted and fall back on the use of violence. This is an old way of thinking.
“There is no good reason for thinking in terms of ‘us’ and ‘them’ and relying on weapons. In the face of global problems, we have to learn to live together, conscious of the whole of humanity.
“Becoming a refugee had unexpected benefits. India is a free country and once I came here, I was able to meet all kinds of people from elsewhere. And I came to recognise that we are all the same as human beings.”
Jeronimo from Bolivia told His Holiness that on his father’s side he was from the Andes and on his mother’s from the Alps. He reported how his people in Bolivia have suffered because they tried to protect the earth. He described himself growing up as an angry young man. Then a friend introduced him to a teacher who revealed the value of loving kindness and he began to work with activists in the Andes on that basis. He asked His Holiness how to appreciate beauty in the times we live in.
“Loving kindness is important to us as human beings,” His Holiness responded. “When we are in the womb it makes a difference to us if our mother has peace of mind or is anxious. Once we are born, we survive because of her kindness. The more we become acquainted with the reality of our situation, the more we need to appreciate the oneness of humanity.”
The youngest of the compassionate leaders, Emma, from the USA, declared that she was 14 years old and came from a small island off the coast of the United States. When she was 11, she and some friends set about trying to limit the damage caused to a place of great natural beauty by plastic. To begin with, the community supported their efforts, but gradually excessive consumption and other problems meant they were no longer taken seriously.
Emma wanted to know when it’s appropriate to leave a place where people can no longer sustain the beauty that once was, and when is better to stay. His Holiness remarked that the world is changing. The climate is changing too which means that there are occasions when we’ll have to think of moving somewhere else. However, he observed, letting yourself become demoralized is of no help. Life is not built on hopelessness and despair. It’s necessary to keep your spirits up.
Zishan, who was born in India, recounted that he lost his father in a car accident when he was young and as a result lost his mother’s affection too. He felt wounded and hollow, a feeling it has taken several years of meditation to recover from. Today, with a wish to help others he is training as a therapist. He asked His Holiness how to help people who have not experienced their mother’s love to give and receive compassion.
“We are social animals, as I mentioned earlier,” His Holiness noted, “treating each other with affection is a natural response. Imagine being lost in the wilderness and seeing someone else coming towards you over the hill. You wouldn’t care if they were a friend or relative, nor where they from or what they believed. Your primary feeling would be joy just to meet another human being.”
Shwetal from Mumbai reported being shocked at the age of 10 by the poverty she saw all around her. At that age there wasn’t a lot she could do, but when she was 18, she tried to help homeless children by teaching them English. She became painfully aware of how limited their opportunities were. She spoke of wanting to help, but of not feeling strong enough to make a difference. She asked how to overcome such feelings of powerlessness.
“Yes,” His Holiness answered, “sometimes despite our efforts we seem to fail, but that may not be a reason to give up. Our marvellous human intelligence gives us the ability to assess whether our goals can be achieved or not. If one of them can’t be fulfilled, there’s no use trying to take it any further.”
Grace from Ghana told His Holiness, “I’ve always imagined what the world would be like if we all shared with one another. I’m here because of the support I’ve received. My Mum made sacrifices for us. I’ve started a foundation dedicated to sharing. How can we motivate ourselves and others to share our gifts and resources with others?”
“We are social animals,” he reiterated, “our very survival depends first of all on our mother, but later on our friends and other members of our social group.”
Tenzin Dolker, who spent her early years in Dharamsala, revealed that she has no difficulty remembering the kindness of her mother and her grandmothers who taught her to be kind to others, to help worms and insects and so forth. However, she wondered why she doesn’t think of her father and grandfathers in the same way. She doesn’t have a similar sense of their compassion.
“Me too,” His Holiness exclaimed. “My mother was very kind, but my father was not like that. He was fond of the marrow to be found in bones and would rub the fat into his moustache. Sometimes I pulled his moustache and he would get very angry. Then there was my uncle, a monk, who would read his prayers regularly every day from loose-leaved Tibetan texts. Once, when I was still small and not yet able to walk, I knocked over his book and upset the order of the pages. He picked me up and soundly spanked my bottom, which I was quite resentful about.
“The Nalanda Tradition teaches us techniques for cultivating qualities like patience and compassion. In this connection, when I wake up every morning, I recite some verses dealing with altruism and dependent arising which give me confidence and inner strength.”
Bilal, whose family is from Iraqi Kurdistan was born in the US and grew up there, but even as a child was aware that he wasn’t like his neighbours. When the Arab Spring came about in 2011, he hoped for change and worked in the Middle East to bring about a positive impact. Although his parents called him home to the US, he wanted to engage in compassionate change in the Middle East. He asked His Holiness how that might be achieved.
“Showing your parents affection and respect is important,” His Holiness told him, “but there may be differences of perspective between generations. What is crucial is to have a sense of oneness with everyone else, not dwelling on the differences between us. If we work hard, we should be able to relate to each other in terms of oneness.”
“How?” Bilal wanted to know.
“It’s superficially obvious that our biological structure is the same, but even more important is the fact that we all have to live together on this planet. You young people might ask, ‘If we can’t live here, where can we go?’—it’s complicated.”
Ronan from Ireland repeated a famous quotation from Martin Luther King Jr: “Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anaemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.”
“Simple words are not enough, they need to be backed by power,” he told His Holiness. “It is presently illegal for girls and women to receive an education in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan. I don’t believe that thinking of the oneness of humanity will change this. Appeals to the Taliban’s charitable nature won’t help. We have to organize politically. We are losing to the misuse of power. Today, Xi Jinping is creating a totalitarianism that will be difficult to defeat.”
“The reality is,” His Holiness replied, “that many of the challenges we face require us to consider the oneness of humanity. Eventually we will only find solutions by taking the whole of humanity into consideration. The countries you’ve mentioned only think of their own interests not the broader human community.”
Shabana reported that right now in Afghanistan women are threatened with guns. They can’t go to work. They can’t go to school. They step out of their houses and declare their right to work and be educated. She noted that the Taliban justify their conduct on the basis of religion. His Holiness pointed out how important it is to turn to a secular approach to ethics, while respecting religion as a matter for personal conduct.
Richie Davidson brought the session to an end observing what an honour it is to meet young leaders who work in different parts of the world driven by passion and commitment. He thanked His Holiness for the inspiration he has given them.
“We should be realistic,” His Holiness answered. “And we need to be secular because as human beings we have to live together. My own practice of cultivating altruism daily brings me inner strength and fearlessness, which is a practical step in the right direction.”