McleodGanj.Dharamsala.Kangra valley

"Close to Heaven"



Interviews of His Holiness


Robert Thurman: Is there something about America that makes so many people seek out and practice Buddhism?

His Holiness the Dalai Lama: I don't know. Why are you so interested? [Laughs] No, seriously, I feel that Americans are interested because they are open-minded. They have an education system that teaches them to find out for themselves why things are the way they are. Open-minded people tend to be interested in Buddhism because Buddha urged people to investigate things -- he didn't just command them to believe.

Also, your education tends to develop the brain while it neglects the heart, so you have a longing for teachings that develop and strengthen the good heart. Christianity also has wonderful teachings for this, but you don't know them well enough, so you take interest in Buddhism! [Laughs] Perhaps our teachings seem less religious and more technical, like psychology, so they are easier for secular people to use. {publish-page-break}

Thurman: Some people say that you have to follow the religions of your own culture. Is it really a good idea to adopt a religion or spiritual practice foreign to one's culture?

Dalai Lama: I always say that people should not rush to change religions. There is real value in finding the spiritual resources you need in your home religion. Even secular humanism has great spiritual resources; it is almost like a religion to me. All religions try to benefit people, with the same basic message of the need for love and compassion, for justice and honesty, for contentment. So merely changing formal religious affiliations will often not help much. On the other hand, in pluralistic, democratic societies, there is the freedom to adopt the religion of your choice. This is good. This lets curious people like you run around on the loose! [Laughs]

Thurman: Your Holiness has said that in the future, when Tibet is free, you would cease to be the head of the government of Tibet. Is this because you would like to introduce the democratic principle of the separation of church and state to your nation?

Dalai Lama: I firmly believe democratic institutions are necessary and very important, and if I remained at the head of government, it could be an obstacle to democratic practice. Also, if I were to remain, then I would have to join one of the parties. If the Dalai Lama joins one party, then that makes it hard for the system to work.

Up to now my involvement in the Tibetan freedom struggle has been part of my spiritual practice, because the issues of the survival of the Buddha Teaching and the freedom of Tibet are very much related. In this particular struggle, there is no problem with many monks and nuns, including myself, joining. But when it comes to democratic political parties, I prefer that monks and nuns not join them -- in order to ensure proper democratic practice. The Dalai Lama should not be partisan either, should remain above.

Finally, personally, I really do not want to carry some kind of party function. I do not want to carry any public position.

Thurman: But how about serving like the king of Sweden or the queen of England -- as a constitutional Dalai Lama? As a ritual head, serving a unifying role? Would you consider this, if the people requested it?

Dalai Lama: [Laughs heartily] I don't think so. I don't want to be a prisoner in a palace, living in such a constricted way -- too tight! Of course, if there were really serious consequences if I did not accept, then of course I would do whatever was necessary. But in general I really prefer some freedom. Maybe, just maybe, I would like to become a real spiritual teacher, a working lama!

Thurman: You've said you have a "comparatively better heart now" due to your exile. What has exile done for you?

Dalai Lama: When we meet real tragedy in life, we can react in two ways -- either by losing hope and falling into self-destructive habits, or by using the challenge to find our inner strength. Thanks to the teachings of Buddha, I have been able to take this second way. I have found a much greater appreciation of Buddhism because I couldn't take it for granted here in exile. We have made a great effort to maintain all levels of Buddhist education; it has helped us have a kind of renaissance, really.

Thurman: In the current conflict in Sri Lanka between the Buddhist majority and the separatist Hindu Tamil Tigers -- a conflict that has claimed thousands of lives since it began 14 years ago -- many have found ways to justify the continuing involvement of Buddhists, including Buddhist clergy, in the violence. Essentially, the argument is that the kind of pacifism you advocate doesn't work in the real world, and that to let the enemy destroy Buddhist monuments and temples and kill Buddhists without fighting back is simply intolerable.

The loss of your own nation to China has been used as an example of the futility of nonviolence and tolerance. When is something worth fighting for?

Dalai Lama: This is hard to explain. In our own case, we don't consider the loss of a monastery or a monument the end of our entire way of life. If one monastery is destroyed, sometimes it happens. Therefore, we don't need to respond with desperate violence. Although under particular circumstances, the violence method -- any method -- can be justified, nevertheless once you commit violence, then counterviolence will be returned. Also, if you resort to violent methods because the other side has destroyed your monastery, for example, you then have lost not only your monastery, but also your special Buddhist practices of detachment, love, and compassion.

However, if the situation was such that there was only one learned lama or genuine practitioner alive, a person whose death would cause the whole of Tibet to lose all hope of keeping its Buddhist way of life, then it is conceivable that in order to protect that one person it might be justified for one or 10 enemies to be eliminated -- if there was no other way. I could justify violence only in this extreme case, to save the last living knowledge of Buddhism itself.

For Tibetans, the real strength of our struggle is truth -- not size, money, or expertise. China is much bigger, richer, more powerful militarily, and has much better skill in diplomacy. They outdo us in every field. But they have no justice. We have placed our whole faith in truth and in justice. We have nothing else, in principle and in practice.

We have always been a nation different from the Chinese. Long ago we fought wars with them. Since we became Buddhist, we have lived in peace with them. We did not invade them. We did not want them to invade us. We have never declared war on China. We have only asked them to leave us in peace, to let us have our natural freedom. We have always maintained that our policy is nonviolence, no matter what they do. I only escaped from Tibet because I feared my people would resort to desperate violence if the Chinese took me as their prisoner.

Thurman: How does one counteract violence without hatred or anger?

Dalai Lama: The antidote to hatred in the heart, the source of violence, is tolerance. Tolerance is an important virtue of bodhisattvas [enlightened heroes and heroines] -- it enables you to refrain from reacting angrily to the harm inflicted on you by others. You could call this practice "inner disarmament," in that a well-developed tolerance makes you free from the compulsion to counterattack. For the same reason, we also call tolerance the "best armor," since it protects you from being conquered by hatred itself.

It may seem unrealistic to think we can ever become free from hatred, but Buddhists have systematic methods for gradually developing a tolerance powerful enough to give such freedom. Without mutual tolerance emerging as the foundation, terrible situations like those of Tibet and Sri Lanka, Bosnia and Rwanda, can never be effectively improved.

Thurman: You use the term "cultural genocide" to describe what China is doing in Tibet but have suggested that Tibet could live with self-rule within China. How do you define self-rule, and what are its advantages over independence?

Dalai Lama: Today, due to the massive Chinese population transfer, the nation of Tibet truly faces the threat of extinction, along with its unique cultural heritage of Buddhist spirituality. Time is very short. My responsibility is to save Tibet, to protect its ancient cultural heritage. To do that I must have dialogue with the Chinese government, and dialogue requires compromise. Therefore, I'm speaking for genuine self-rule, not for independence.

Self-rule means that China must stop its intensive effort to colonize Tibet with Chinese settlers and must allow Tibetans to hold responsible positions in the government of Tibet. China can keep her troops on the external frontiers of Tibet, and Tibetans will pledge to accept the appropriate form of union with China.

Because my main concern is the Tibetan Buddhist culture, not just political independence, I cannot seek self-rule for central Tibet and exclude the 4 million Tibetans in our two eastern provinces of Amdo and Kham. [Once part of an independent Tibet, Amdo is now known to the Chinese as Qinghai; Kham has been divided into the Chinese provinces of Gansu, Sichuan, and Yunnan. -- Eds.]

I have been clear in my position for quite a while, but the Chinese have not responded. Therefore, we are now in the process of holding a referendum on our policy among all the Tibetan community in exile and even inside Tibet, to check whether the majority thinks we are on the right track. I am a firm believer in the importance of democracy, not only as the ultimate goal, but also as an essential part of the process.

Thurman: To your mind, once self-rule is achieved, who should be in charge of the economic development of Tibet -- the Chinese or Tibetans?

Dalai Lama: Tibetans must take full authority and responsibility for developing industry, looking from all different perspectives, taking care of the environment, conserving resources for long-term economic health, and safeguarding the interests of Tibetan workers, nomads, and farmers. The Chinese have shown interest only in quick profits, regardless of the effect on the environment, and with no consideration of whether a particular industry benefits the local Tibetans or not.

Thurman: What is the environmental condition of Tibet today, 47 years after the Chinese invasion?

Dalai Lama: The Chinese have clear-cut over 75 percent of our forests, thereby endangering the headwater regions of their own major rivers. They have overharvested the rich resources of medicinal herbs and caused desertification of our steppes through overgrazing. They have extracted various minerals in environmentally destructive ways. Finally, in their frenzied effort to introduce hundreds of thousands of new settlers into south central Tibet, they are threatening to destroy the ecosystem of that rich barley-growing region by draining its major lake to produce hydroelectric power.

Thurman: What do you think it will take for China to change its policy toward Tibet?

Dalai Lama: It will take two things: first, a Chinese leadership that looks forward instead of backward, that looks toward integration with the world and cares about both world opinion and the will of [China's] own democracy movement; second, a group of world leaders that listens to the concerns of their own people with regard to Tibet, and speaks firmly to the Chinese about the urgent need of working out a solution based on truth and justice. We do not have these two things today, and so the process of bringing peace to Tibet is stalled.

But we must not lose our trust in the power of truth. Everything is always changing in the world. Look at South Africa, the former Soviet Union, and the Middle East. They still have many problems, setbacks as well as breakthroughs, but basically changes have happened that were considered unthinkable a decade ago.

Thurman: You speak about how the Buddha always emphasized the rational pursuit of truth. "He instructed his disciples to critically judge his words before accepting them. He always advocated reason over blind faith." Coming from a late 20th-century belief that there is no Truth, only contingent truths, how are we to imagine what the Buddha meant by "truth" in contemporary terms?

Dalai Lama: Buddha was speaking about reality. Reality may be one, in its deepest essence, but Buddha also stated that all propositions about reality are only contingent. Reality is devoid of any intrinsic identity that can be captured by any one single proposition -- that is what Buddha meant by "voidness." Therefore, Buddhism strongly discourages blind faith and fanaticism.

Of course, there are different truths on different levels. Things are true relative to other things; "long" and "short" relate to each other, "high" and "low," and so on. But is there any absolute truth? Something self-sufficient, independently true in itself? I don't think so.

In Buddhism we have the concept of "interpretable truths," teachings that are reasonable and logical for certain people in certain situations. Buddha himself taught different teachings to different people under different circumstances. For some people, there are beliefs based on a Creator. For others, no Creator. The only "definitive truth" for Buddhism is the absolute negation of any one truth as the Definitive Truth.

Thurman: Isn't that because it is dangerous for one religion to consider it has the only truth?

Dalai Lama: Yes. I always say there should be pluralism -- the concept of many religions, many truths. But we must also be careful not to become nihilistic.

Thurman: How do you feel about the state of the world as we approach the 21st century?

Dalai Lama: I am basically optimistic. And I see four reasons for this optimism. First, at the beginning of this century, people never questioned the effectiveness of war, never thought there could be real peace. Now, people are tired of war and see it as ineffective in solving anything.

Second, not so long ago people believed in ideologies, systems, and institutions to save all societies. Today, they have given up such hopes and have returned to relying on the individual, on individual freedom, individual initiative, individual creativity.

Third, people once considered that religions were obsolete and that material science would solve all human problems. Now, they have become disillusioned with materialism and machinery and have realized that spiritual sciences are also indispensable for human welfare.

Finally, in the early part of this century people used up resources and dumped waste as if there were no end to anything, whereas today even the smallest children have genuine concern for the quality of the air and the water and the forests and animals.

In these four respects there is a new consciousness in the world, a new sensitivity to reality. Based on that, I am confident that the next century will be better than this one.

Thurman: Do you see Tibet as part of that new century?

Dalai Lama: Of course, of course. We are working as hard as we can; we are preparing ourselves as carefully as we can; we fully intend to make our contribution to the world in the coming century.



TIME: How is the situation in Tibet?
Dalai Lama: Despite some economic improvement and development, the threats to our cultural heritage, religious freedom and environment are very serious. Then also in the countryside, facilities in education and health are very, very poor. It's like the big gap in China proper between rich and poor. So the whole picture, it almost looks hopeless. When the 13th Dalai Lama visited China in the early 20th century, there was a large Manchurian community—even the Emperor was Manchurian. Almost exactly 50 years later when I visited, the Manchurian community was no longer there. It was completely assimilated. That danger is very alive [in Tibet, too]. So that's why the Tibetan picture is almost hopeless. That's why we are trying to gain meaningful autonomy.

TIME: Is there any reason for optimism?
Dalai Lama: Many communist and authoritarian regimes have changed, including the Soviet Union, not by force but by their own people. These are very positive developments. China [still has] the same system, but the reality is that much is changing. Freedom of information, religious freedom and freedom of the press are much better. I feel that man-made unrealistic systems eventually return to a human, natural way. We love freedom. Even animals love their freedom. And now naturally that is coming back. So on that level, the situation in Tibet is hopeful. Today, quite a number of [Chinese] people are showing an interest in the preservation of Tibetan culture and spirituality. Tibetan spirituality is a very important part of the spirituality of China as a whole, and the preservation of Tibetan culture can enrich China. Millions of Chinese are traditional Buddhists, and many people in China are turning to Tibetan Buddhism.

TIME: How is your relationship with Beijing?
Dalai Lama: We renewed direct contact with Beijing three years ago. We're not expecting some major breakthrough—the Tibetan issue is very complicated, and China is oversuspicious and very cautious. It will take time. However, meeting face to face and having friendly discussions is very, very important. Some Chinese intellectuals, artists and writers are showing a proper understanding and are supporting my middle-way approach to solving the problem, which is not seeking independence but rather meaningful autonomy to preserve Tibetan culture, language and environment.

TIME: You've faced some criticism for giving up Tibet's fight for independence.
Dalai Lama: Some Tibetans now accuse me of selling out their right to independence. Even my eldest brother is for complete independence and he always accuses me [of this]. But my approach is actually in our own interest. Tibet is backward, it's a big land, quite rich in natural resources, but we completely lack the technology or expertise [to exploit them]. So if we remain within China, we might get a greater benefit, provided it respects our culture and beautiful environment and gives us some kind of guarantee. For us [it would mean] more modernization. The new railway [into Tibet], for instance. This is generally speaking a good thing, very beneficial for development, providing it is not used politically.

TIME: Some say China is waiting for you to ...
Dalai Lama: To die.

TIME: Well, yes. What do you make of that idea?
Dalai Lama: There are two opinions. Some say, yes, once the Dalai Lama passes away, the whole Tibetan issue will die. Another opinion is that the grievance will still be there, or will even become stronger, but in the meantime there will be no one to guide and persuade Tibetans, [so] Tibet becomes more difficult to handle. Which is correct? I do not know. Wait until my death. (Laughs.) Then reality will answer.

TIME: Do you think the cohesion of the Tibetan community would disappear without you?
Dalai Lama: The Tibetan issue is the issue of a nation. So when one individual passes away, that is a certain setback. But since it's an issue of a nation, so long as the nation remains, the issue will remain. With sufficient willpower and sufficient economic [prosperity], then I think it is possible to carry on. Look at the Jewish community: for 1,000 years it has kept its spirit. Sometimes Tibetans become complacent if things are easy. If things become difficult and serious, then the Tibetan mind becomes quite strong.

TIME: After you, what happens to the position of the Dalai Lama?
Dalai Lama: The institution of the Dalai Lama, and whether it should continue or not, is up to the Tibetan people. If they feel it is not relevant, then it will cease and there will be no 15th Dalai Lama. But if I die today I think they will want another Dalai Lama. The purpose of reincarnation is to fulfill the previous [incarnation's] life task. My life is outside Tibet, therefore my reincarnation will logically be found outside. But then, the next question: Will the Chinese accept this or not? China will not accept. The Chinese government most probably will appoint another Dalai Lama, like it did with the Panchen Lama. Then there will be two Dalai Lamas: one, the Dalai Lama of the Tibetan heart, and one that is officially appointed.

TIME: was the international Free Tibet movement a fad, like saving the whales?
Dalai Lama: I don't think so. I think interest worldwide in Tibet and support groups are active still. Sometimes concerts happen, sometimes they don't. Another factor may be Afghanistan and Iraq; they make Tibet a secondary issue.

TIME: if international interest and pressure are not maintained, does China win?
Dalai Lama: China is already in a win-win situation in any case. It already controls Tibet. (Laughs.) But what do you mean by win or lose? This is quite complicated. We're not suggesting separation, [but] that Tibet becomes more prosperous within China—and that it is also in the interests of the people of China to preserve our cultural heritage. Only if you seek independence or separation is it a question of win or lose. If worldwide interest in Tibet diminishes and is not sensitive, then the Chinese government will not feel much sensitivity [toward Tibet]. But Indian public sympathy is very strong and also the Tibetan community in America and Canada.

TIME: How much has exile cost you personally?
Dalai Lama: I don't know. Of course, I lost my own country and for more than 45 years I have been stateless. But I think I've had a very good opportunity to learn new things, including other traditions. As a result, my nonsectarian spirit is much, much stronger. And accordingly I can make a small contribution to religious harmony. I am a rare religious person who has a lot of genuine friends in other traditions. So I feel that if I stayed inside Tibet, in the Potala [Palace] looking around with binoculars, I may [have missed that]. And because I became a refugee, I became more realistic. Our generation is facing a serious challenge. Therefore, in a way, we have the best opportunity to show our inner strength. You can't say this is white or this is black, absolutely positive or negative. Everything is, you see, mixed. And much depends on how you look. Some people, I notice in the West, are fond of clear cuts. [If the situation is] positive, [they are] very happy. A little negative, very unhappy. This is unrealistic.

TIME: is there still a Tibet to return to?
Dalai Lama: I think so. When Manchuria was facing danger, no one in the outside world took it seriously. Tibet is not like that. Today, Tibetan culture is almost like a part of international culture. That's a big advantage for us.

TIME: What do you see in the future?
Dalai Lama: If you look at the Tibet situation locally, then it's hopeless. But from a wider perspective, it's hopeful. That's my last words on this. Not bad.








On the situation in Tibet
On the significance of the actions of one individual

Q: I can understand how my own mind and actions can affect my own causes and conditions. Can they also affect world conditions like hunger, poverty, and other great sufferings of beings everywhere? How?

A: Initiative must come from individuals. Unless each individual develops a sense of responsibility, the whole community cannot move. So therefore it is very essential that we should not feel that individual effort is meaningless. The movement of the society, community or group of people means joining individuals. Society means a collection of individuals.

On dealing with Tibet and a large non-Buddhist Chinese population

Q: If you returned to an independent Tibet, would it be difficult to reconcile the Buddhist principles of compassion with the reality of governing a state with a large Chinese non-Buddhist population?

A: I have already noticed during the last few decades so much degeneration in Tibetan culture and the Tibetan way of life. Besides our Chinese brothers and sisters, even among Tibetans it seems there is some danger. Take, for example, some young Tibetans who have escaped from Tibet in the last few years-although their sense of being a Tibetan is strong and very good, certain aspects of their behavior make me grow more anxious. They immediately fight or use force. Every other aspect of their motivation is excellent, but there is so much degeneration in their humbleness or honesty and compassionate attitude. But then that’s reality, so we have to face it. Still, I believe that when we have freedom-freedom of speech, freedom of thought, freedom of movement-we can minimize these things. Although in the future, when we have freedom, I will no longer be the head of the Tibetan government. That is my final decision.

On His Holiness’s future role in Tibet

Q: Your Holiness, you said that the changing attitudes of some of your Tibetans makes you anxious. So I wondered why you have decided to give up your historic authority in Tibet when it would seem that young people need spiritual rather than political guidance.

A: The fact that I will no longer be the head of the. Tibetan government does not mean that I will give up my moral responsibility or commitment. Of course, being a Tibetan, particularly since I am so trusted, it is my obligation to serve, to help humanity in general, and particularly those people who very much trust me, till my last breath.
Also, if I continue to carry the responsibility, although I think many Tibetans might appreciate this, indirectly it would become an obstacle for the healthy development of democracy. Therefore, I decided I must be out. There is another advantage: if I remain as the head of the government and a problem develops between the Tibetan central government and local people or an administration, then my presence could lead to further complications. If I remain as a third person, then I can work to solve such serious matters.


On using violence to free Tibet

Q: Your Holiness, wouldn’t sacrificing your beliefs in using violence to free Tibet be a worthwhile action, as this would result in the alleviation of suffering of the Tibetan people?
A: No, I don’t think so. In that situation, more violence would happen. That may lead to more publicity and that may help. But after all, the most important thing is that China and Tibet have to live side by side, whether we like it or not. Therefore, in order to live harmoniously, in a friendly way, and peacefully in the future, the national struggle through nonviolence is very essential.

Another important matter is that the ultimate agreement or solution must be found by the Chinese and Tibetans themselves. For that we need support from the Chinese side, I mean from the Chinese people’s side; that is very essential. In the past, our stand was the genuine nonviolent method; this already creates more Chinese support, not only from the outside but inside China also. There are more supporters amongst the Chinese for our cause. As time goes on, more and more Chinese are expressing their deep appreciation and their sympathy. Sometimes they still find it difficult to support the independence of Tibet, but they appreciate our way of struggle. I consider this to be, very precious. If Tibetans take up arms, then I think we will immediately lose this kind of support.

We should also remember that once we cultivate a compassionate attitude, non-violence comes automatically. Nonviolence is not a diplomatic word, it is compassion in action. If you have hatred in your heart, then very often your actions will be violent, whereas if you have compassion in your heart, your actions will be nonviolent. As I said earlier, as long as human beings remain on this Earth there will always be disagreements and conflicting views. We can take that as given. If we use violence in order to reduce disagreements and conflict, then we must expect violence every day and I think the result of this is terrible. Furthermore, it is actually impossible to eliminate disagreements through violence. Violence only brings even more resentment and dissatisfaction. Nonviolence, on the other hand, means dialogue, it means using language to communicate. And dialogue means compromise: listening to others’ views, and respecting others’ rights, in a spirit of reconciliation. Nobody will be a 100 percent winner, and nobody will be a 100 percent loser. That is the practical way. In fact, that is the only way.

Today, as the world becomes smaller and smaller, the concept of “us” and “them” is almost outdated. If our interests existed independently of those of others, then it would be possible to have a complete winner and a complete loser, but since in reality we all depend on one another, our interests and those of others are very interconnected. Without this approach, reconciliation is impossible. The reality of the world today means that we need to learn to think in this way. This is the basis of my own approach-the “middle way” approach.

I consider human rights violations and similar sorts of problems also as symptoms. For instance, if there is some swelling or pimple on the surface of the skin, it is because something is wrong in the body. It is not sufficient to just treat the symptoms-you must look deeper and try to find the main cause. You should try to change the fundamental causes, so that the symptoms automatically disappear. Similarly, I think that there is something wrong with our basic structure, especially in the field of international relations. I often tell my friends in the United States and here: “You cherish democracy and freedom very much. Yet when you deal with foreign countries, nobody follows the principle of democracy, but rather you look to economic power or
military force. Very often in international relations, people are more concerned with force or strength than with democratic principles.”

We must do something about these beautiful but awful weapons. Arms and the military establishment are intended
to kill. I think that mentally there’s something wrong with
the concept of war and the military establishment. One way
or another, we must make every attempt to reduce the
military forces.

On support for

Q: What would your Holiness like the members of the audience do to help the Tibetan cause?

A: Although I am very, very encouraged to receive great
support from many different places like the United States
and here in Britain, we still need more active support. You see, the Tibetan issue is not only a human rights issue, it also involves environmental problems and the issue of decolonization. Whatever way you can show support, we appreciate
it very much.

On meditation

Q: How can meditation help bring about contentment?

A: Generally speaking, when we use the term “meditation” it is quite important to bear in mind that it has many different connotations. For example, meditations can be single-pointed, contemplative, absorptive, analytic, and so forth. Especially in the context of the practice of cultivating contentment, the type of meditation that should be applied or engaged in is more analytical. You reflect upon the destructive consequences of a lack of contentment and the positive benefits of contentment and so forth. By reflecting upon these pros and cons, you can enhance your capacity for contentment. One of the basic Buddhist approaches in meditation is to engage in a form of practice during the meditative session so that it can have a direct impact on one’s post-meditative period. For example, on our behavior, our interaction with others, and so on.

On Buddhism
On karma

Q: Karma is the law of cause and effect of our activity. What about the cause and effect of inactivity?

A: Generally speaking, when one talks about the doctrine of karma, especially in relation to negative and positive karma, it is definitely linked with a form of action. But that does not mean that there are neutral actions or neutral karma, which can be seen as a karma of inactivity. For instance, if we are confronted with a situation in which someone is in need of help, suffering, or in a desperate situation, and the circumstances are such that, by being actively engaged or involved in the situation, you can help or relieve the suffering, then if you remain inactive that can have karmic consequences. But a great deal depends upon one’s attitude and motivation.

On gaining confidence in our Buddha Nature

Q: What is the best way to gain confidence in our Buddha Nature?

A: Based on the concept of Emptiness, meaning the objective Clear Light, and also the concept of the subjective Clear Light, we try to develop a deeper understanding of Buddha Nature. It’s not easy, but through investigation, I think both intellectually and through making connection with our daily feeling, there is a way to develop some kind of deeper experience or feeling of Buddha Nature.

On why Buddhism is described as a spiritual path

Q: Your Holiness, why is Buddhism described as a spiritual path when everything revolves around the mind?

A: Yes, it is true that some people describe Buddhism as a science of the mind rather than a religion. In the writings of one of the greatest Buddhist masters, Nagarjuna, it is mentioned that the approach of the Buddhist spiritual path requires the coordinated application of the faculty of faith and intelligence. Although I don’t exactly know all the subtle connotations of the English term “religion,” I would personally think that Buddhism can be defined as a sort of combination of spiritual path and philosophical system. However, in Buddhism, greater emphasis is given to reason and intelligence than faith. Yet we do see roles for faith. The testimony of Buddha is not taken simply on blind faith just because he is the Buddha, but rather because Buddha’s word has been proven reliable in the context of phenomena and topics that are amenable to logical reason and understanding. By inferring that Buddha has been proven reliable in these matters, one can then conclude that Buddha’s word can also be taken as valid on issues or topics that are not so immediately obvious to us. Ultimately understanding and investigation are the judge. Buddha gave us liberty to carry out further investigation of his own words. It seems that among humanity, one group of people describe themselves as radical materialists and another group base themselves solely on faith, without much investigation. Here are two worlds or two camps. Buddhism belongs to neither one.

On blind faith

Q: What do you feel about blind faith in order to reach Enlightenment?

A: I think you should keep in mind compassion with wisdom. It is very important to utilize one’s faculty of intelligence to judge the long-term and short-term consequences of one’s actions.

Q: What of the case of someone who has no religious faith?

A: Whether we follow a religion or not is a matter of individual right. It is possible to manage without religion, and in some cases it may make life simpler. But when you no longer have any interest in religion, you should not neglect the value of good human qualities. As long as we are human beings, and members of human society, we need human compassion. Without that, you cannot be happy. Since we all want to be happy, and to have a happy family and friends, we have to develop compassion and affection. It is important to recognize that there are two levels of spirituality, one with religious faith, and one without. With the latter, we simply try to be a warm-hearted person.





Pico Iyer: I think the last time I was in this room was eight years ago. How have things changed since then?

His Holiness the Dalai Lama: Less hair, I think. Both of us! I think at a global level there is perhaps more hope, in spite of these very tragic things, like Yugoslavia and Rwanda. Regarding Tibet, I think on the positive side there is much more awareness, and as a result, concern and support are growing. Even some governments-publicly, as well as behind the scenes-are making an effort to do something for Tibet. On the other hand, inside Tibet the Chinese policies are very hard, very destructive. So overall, I am very optimistic regarding Tibet. For the near future, no hope. But in the long run, definitely. It's only a matter of time-things will change.

And in your own life, things must have changed a lot in the last eight years.

Not much. My general physical health is very good. My spiritual practice-not much opportunity. But as usual, I carry on. So I'm still the same person. You also are the same person. I am very happy to have a reunion with an old friend I've known since your father's time.

Yes, in fact, my father came to visit you just after you came to India.

Yes. Very early.

Your Holiness is officially on retreat at the moment. It must be difficult to find the time for your spiritual practice because of all the things you have to do out in the world.

Yes. Also, each time I receive some new teaching, that adds something to my daily practice. So nowadays, my daily recitation, compulsory, normally takes about four hours.

Every day?

Usually I wake up at 3:30 in the morning. Then immediately I do some meditation, some exercise-prostrations-then bathe. Then a little walking outside. All this time I am reciting some mantra or doing some meditation. Then at 5:15, I breakfast and at 5:30 listen to the Voice of America Tibetan language broadcast. The BBC East Asia broadcast often mentions something about Tibet or China, so I usually listen to that.

After breakfast, I do some more meditation and then usually study some Tibetan philosophy or important texts. If there's some urgent business I come here to my office, and sometimes before lunch I read newspapers and magazines-Newsweek, Time, Far Eastern Economic Review, some Indian newspapers.

Oh, yes. At 7:30 I always listen to the BBC world news. Always. I am addicted. When I visit some foreign country and I can't listen to it because of the time change, or not having enough time, I really feel something is missing that day. I feel I don't know what's happened in the world. The BBC is always very good, and, I really feel, unbiased.

After my lunch I come here to my office until about 5:30. Then at 6:00 I have my evening tea-as a Buddhist monk, no dinner, sometimes just a few biscuits or some bread. At that time I always watch BBC television. Then evening meditation for about one hour and at 8:30, sleep. Most important meditation! Sleep is the common meditation for everyone-even for birds. The most important meditation. Not for nirvana, but for survival!

Nowadays, it must be almost impossible for Your Holiness to pursue some of your previous hobbies, like photography.

No longer any interest. Until early 1960, I had some interest in photography, but not since then. Of course, I still love different flowers. And occasionally I do some manual work, some repair work, of watches and small instruments.

No previous Dalai Lama has faced your situation of being responsible for a diverse, worldwide community. There are those still in Tibet, who are cut off from you in some ways; there are exiled Tibetans scattered all around the world, and there are all the new Tibetan Buddhists in the West. It must be difficult to keep in touch with all of these groups and make sure things are going in the right way.

More and more people are showing interest about Buddhism, and there's an increase in the number of Buddhist centers. But unlike the Catholic system, these are more or less autonomous. I have no responsibility. Of course, if occasionally people come here and ask me something, I give some suggestions. Otherwise, there's no central authority. They're all quite independent.

But if perhaps they're practicing in an unorthodox way, or doing things that you think are not in the true spirit of Buddhism, that must be difficult for you, even if you're not responsible for them.

Generally, no. Of course, there were some scandals-money scandals, sexual scandals-and at that time, some Westerners told me they were seriously concerned that because of these accusations all Buddhism may suffer. I told them, "Buddhism is not new. It is more than 2,500 years old, and during that time such scandals have happened. But basic Buddhist teaching is truthful. It has its own weight, its own reasons, its own beauties, its own values. If individuals, even lamas, are doing wrong things here and there, it will not affect the whole of Buddhism."

But it's also important to have discipline, especially those people who carry responsibility. When you are teaching others, when you are supposed to improve the quality of others' lives and their mental states, first you should improve yourself. Otherwise, how can you help other people? And perhaps because of these scandals, it seems there's more discipline, more self-restraint.

It must be a great worry of yours that Tibetans will lose their connection with their culture-both those inside Tibet, and in a different way, the ones outside Tibet. It must be hard to keep the continuity.

Inside Tibet, yes. There are clear signs of the degeneration of the Tibetan traditions, and of moral principles. In recent years, there have been a number of murder cases in the Tibetan community in India. All of them took place among people newly arrived from Tibet. This shows the degeneration of the spirit of tolerance and self-discipline. And then in Tibet itself, there is gambling and also prostitution. I was told there are many Chinese prostitutes, as well as some Tibetans. And also drugs-the refugee community has some, and it seems there are some drugs in Lhasa and the bigger towns in Tibet.

My main worry is the preservation of Tibetan culture. Tibetan political status is of course important, but to keep alive the Tibetan spirit, the Tibetan cultural heritage, that's my main concern. This not only benefits the six million Tibetan people, but also is of interest for the larger community-particularly, in the long run, to the Chinese. There are millions of young Chinese who are sometimes called the "Lost Generation." I feel that particularly in the field of human values, they're completely lost. In that vacuum, Tibetan Buddhist culture can make a contribution.

Do you think that Tibetan Buddhism is going to have to change as it's practiced by more and more non-Tibetans?

No, I don't think so. Some Westerners-even some Tibetans-have told me that they feel it needs some kind of modification. But I feel there's no need of such things, as far as the basic Buddhist teaching is concerned. Buddhism deals with basic human problems-old age, illness, suffering. These things, whether in today's world or a thousand years ago, whether in India or China or America, they're always the same.

Though Buddhism is now being practiced in countries with very different cultures and histories.

In any religious tradition, there should be two aspects: one is the cultural aspect, the other is the teaching or religious aspect. The cultural aspect, that can change. When Buddhism reached other countries from India, the cultural aspect adapted according to new circumstances. So we refer today to Japanese Buddhism, Chinese Buddhism, Tibetan Buddhism. Similarly, we will eventually have Western Buddhism. That, naturally, will come.

But where the basic teaching is concerned, I think it should be the same. For example, all authentic Tibetan scholars, whenever some important matter comes up, always rely on quotations of an earlier Indian scholar. Without that, we do not believe it's authentic. So you see, the teaching has been the same for 2,500 years. That's why I feel it's not correct to call Tibetan Buddhism "lamaism." With this incarnation, the Dalai Lama has been called, especially by the Chinese, "living Buddha." Now that is totally wrong. The Chinese word for "lama" means "living Buddha." But in Tibetan, the word "lama" is a direct translation of "guru." So "guru" and "lama" have the same meaning-someone who should be respected because of his wisdom, or because of the indebtedness one owes to him. So the rough meaning is "someone worthy of respect." No implication of "living Buddha." Some Western books also sometimes say "living Buddha" when they describe me, or "god." Totally wrong!

I remember you once said that among the Buddhist virtues, humility was perhaps more easily practiced in Tibet than in the West. I was wondering whether there are other values that are more difficult to practice in this new context?

In a Western society, it might be difficult to undertake a good meditation practice because of the fast pace of life there. But then you see, the solitude of some Christian monks and nuns is more remarkable than in Tibet. These monks and nuns live in their monasteries or nunneries all the rest of their lives, with no contact with the outside world. One monastery in the south of France has no radio, no newspaper. Completely cut out! And meals also are quite poor. And no proper shoes, only sandals. So most of them, for the rest of their lives, remain there almost like a prisoner. Wonderful!

So eventually Buddhist monasteries in the West can establish a similar pattern to some of these Christian monasteries. Then I don't think there will be any difficulties. They can spend all day on meditation.

These days you probably spend more of your time talking to non-Buddhists than to Buddhists, because you travel so much and you're speaking to so many different audiences.

Perhaps yes, perhaps yes. Whenever I have the opportunity to talk or speak outside the Tibetan community, my basic concern is with secular ethics. I make a distinction between spirituality with faith and spirituality without faith-simply to be a good human being, a warm-hearted person, a person with a sense of responsibility. Usually I emphasize the secular ethics, and it seems this is beneficial. I explain the basic human values, or human good qualities, such as compassion, and why these are important. I explain that whether one is a believer or a non-believer is up to the individual, but even without a religion, we can be a good human being.

I notice the majority of the audience appreciates this-with or without faith, just being a good human being. They're more receptive. That is important. The majority of people in the world are non-believers, and we can't argue with them and tell them they should be believers. No! Impossible!

Realistically speaking, the majority of humanity will remain non-believers, and it doesn't matter. No problem! The problem is that the majority have lost or ignore the deeper human values, such as compassion and a sense of responsibility. Then we really are faced with a problem. That is our big concern. Wherever there is a society or community or family without these good human qualities, then even one single family cannot be a happy family. That's perfectly clear.

Certain emotions, such as hatred, create such a clear demarcation of "we" and "they." Immediately, there is a sense of enemy. There is so much competition, so much negative feeling towards your neighbor, and on your neighbor's side, also a negative attitude towards you. Then what happens? You are surrounded by enemy, but the enemy is your own creation!

Recently I am emphasizing that due to the modern economy, and also due to information and education, the world is now heavily interdependent, interconnected. Under such circumstances, the concept of "we" and "they" is gone: harming your neighbor is actually harming yourself. If you do negative things towards your neighbor, that is actually creating your own suffering. And helping them, showing concern about others' welfare-actually these are the major factors of your own happiness. If you want a community full of joy, full of friendship, you should create that possibility. If you remain negative, and meantime want more smiles and friendship from your neighbors, that's illogical. If you want a more friendly neighbor, you must create the atmosphere. Then they will respond.

So we need to be reminded of our most basic, most fundamental, responsibilities.

That's my main emphasis. I really feel the important thing is the promotion of secular moral ethics. That's what we really need. Those emotions or actions which ultimately bring happiness or satisfaction, they are positive. Because we want happiness. Those emotions and actions which ultimately bring suffering, we should consider negative. Because we do not want suffering. These are basic human values-no connection to Creator, no connection to Buddha.

Do you worry that in the Tibetan community, so much responsibility falls on you personally that even if you try to spread the responsibility among more and more people, they're reluctant to take it because they hold you in such high regard? It's hard to change those age-old beliefs.

Yes, that's true. I often tell people "You should carry your work as if I didn't exist." Sooner or later, that day will come, definitely.

You must be concerned about what happens when you are not around anymore-the likelihood of the Chinese just choosing their own Dalai Lama.

No, there isn't much problem! In the long run, yes, the Chinese want to control the future selection of the Dalai Lama. There is also the possibility there will no longer be any Dalai Lama-according to some information, the Chinese are thinking like that. Okay. Whatever they like, they can do. Nobody can stop them. But that won't affect the Tibetan mind. So it doesn't matter.

There's nothing you can do to protect your incarnation from the Chinese?

The Chinese certainly may recognize one Dalai Lama, but to the Tibetan people, that won't be the Dalai Lama. They will not accept him. So I am not much concerned. And the very institution of the Dalai Lama-whether it should continue or not-that's up to the Tibetan people. At a certain stage, the Dalai Lama institution will cease. That does not mean the Tibetan Buddhist culture will cease. The Tibetan Buddhist culture will remain, and should remain, I think, as long as Tibetan people remain. But institutions come and go, come and go.

Nowadays, so many people want to talk to you and they may have a whole variety of different motives. Is that a difficult thing?

For me there is no difference. Of course, sometimes they have different motivations, that's possible, but for me that's no problem. I treat every human being the same, whether high officials or beggars-no differences, no distinctions.

Along similar lines, you always stress that it's important to put everything to the test of reason, and not accept things automatically. I wonder if more and more people are inclined to take you as a teacher, and just to accept everything that you say.

Yes. A kind of blind faith! Yes, that also is happening. But I never feel that I'm a teacher. I never accept anyone as my disciple, including Tibetans. I usually consider them as my dharma friend. In a few exceptional cases, if we've known each other many years-if there's some kind of genuine trust on the basis of awareness-then sometimes I accept to be their guru, and they consider themselves as my disciple. But usually I consider them as my spiritual friend. So many foreigners ask me to accept them as my disciple. And I say, no need for that kind of acceptance. Just to be a dharma friend is much healthier, much better, and I also feel much more comfortable. Usually that is my response when someone requests me to accept them as a disciple.

One of the English poets once said, "A little knowledge is a dangerous thing." I wonder if Tibetan culture and Tibetan Buddhism are more subject to distortions, because lots of people in the world now know just a little bit about them.

Yes. There are some new opportunities to exploit this location. In the field of Tibetan medicine, in some Tibetan arts, and in Buddhism also, some people are making claims for themselves without having the proper knowledge. Some Tibetans lived in India or Nepal with no record of any teaching, but after a few years in the West, they became very great lamas. I think some foreigners are a little bit surprised. They consider their lama very great, but when they reach India or Nepal, they inquire of some Tibetan, "Such and such a lama, where is he?" The Tibetan doesn't know, and sometimes says, "That's not a lama, not a great teacher." It happens, but okay, no problem. So long as it benefits someone, that's good.

There are lots of movie stars who are interested in Buddhism, and, as Your Holiness knows, there are even Tibetan monks represented in advertisements and fashion magazines. I wonder if, as Tibet has become better known, that has become a difficulty because people associate Tibet with rich and famous people?

If there are people who use Tibetans or the Tibetan situation for their own benefit, there's very little that we can do. The important thing is for us not to be involved or associate with these people for our own interest.

Some reporters are curious about actors who are showing a keen interest about Buddhism. In fact, they imply that I'm becoming almost a celebrity myself. But my feeling is that I don't care about people's background, so long as they have sincere motivation, honest, clean desire. Then, of course, I will give them an opportunity, and I will treat them as a friend. I do not pay importance to what their background is.

The important thing is that on our side, our motivation should be very clear, should be very honest. Personally, I am a Buddhist monk. I am a follower of Buddha. From that viewpoint, meeting one simple, innocent, sincere, spiritual seeker is more important than meeting a politician or a prime minister. These reporters usually consider politics as something most important, so meeting with a politician becomes something very significant for them. But for me, meeting with ordinary people, making some contribution to peace of mind, to deeper awareness about the value of human life-that, I feel, is very important. When I see some result, then I feel, "Today I made some small contribution."

Your Holiness has such a complicated life, because there are so many different roles you have to play. What do you find most difficult?

Meeting with politicians is one experience I feel is rather difficult. I have to meet these people and appeal to them, but there's nothing concrete that I can tell them about Tibet because the situation is so complicated. The problem is so big that even if these leaders sincerely want to help, they can't do anything! But if I don't meet with them, that also is wrong. It's better to meet.

The worst thing is that occasionally some formality is also involved. That, I don't care for. Once, at Salzburg, they invited me to speak at a festival, and I told them some of my usual thoughts, about the difficulties, the gap between rich and poor, and these sorts of things. Afterwards, the Austrian chancellor said that I broke all the taboos. It was a festival, so I suppose some praise, some nice words, were expected.

It's a good thing, to broach some serious topics.

I felt, here everything is very nice, very beautiful, but at the same time, human beings in some other part of the world are still facing starvation. So this is the gap-rich and poor, south and north-that I talked about. It seems my informality-my radical informality-sometimes helps people. Some of these problems are in their minds also, but they do not find it easy to speak out about it. Perhaps.

Are you disappointed by what the governments of the world have managed to do for Tibet?

Of course, I do feel they could do more, but at the same time, I see clearly their difficulties. China is a big nation, a very important nation, so you cannot ignore China. You have to deal with China.

To isolate China is totally wrong. China must be brought into the mainstream of the world community. In the economic field, the Chinese themselves want to join, but we in the world community also have the moral responsibility to bring China into the mainstream of world democracy, which the Chinese people themselves also want. When we deal with China, we need to create genuine, mutual trust, and within that, we should make these wrong things clear. Certain matters of principle should be very firm, within the friendly atmosphere.

I feel the greatest obstacle is Chinese suspicion, over-suspicion. So long as this suspicion remains, you can't solve this problem. So first remove suspicion, then close relations, close contact. Not confrontation, but rather persuasion and interaction.

So you see, relations with China for these Western nations are very delicate, very complicated. Under such circumstances, I feel the amount of support we receive is very, very encouraging. We have no money, we have no oil, we have nothing to offer. Tibet is a small nation, we are bullied by the Chinese, and we have suffered lots of human rights violations and destruction. The world's concern comes not from economic or geopolitical interest, but purely from human feeling and concern for justice. I think that is very encouraging. It is genuine support that comes from heart. I think it is a great thing.

I tell audiences a few reasons why they should support Tibet. One is ecology. Because of Tibet's high altitude and dry climate, once the ecology is damaged, it takes a longer time to recover. The Chinese are very eager to exploit Tibet and the possibility of damage is great. Because so many important rivers have their source in Tibet, this would eventually affect large areas in this part of the world.

Second, Tibetan culture, Buddhist culture, creates a certain way of life, based on peaceful relations with fellow human beings, peaceful relations with nature, peaceful relations with animals. I think that kind of culture is necessary, useful, for the world at large. Such a cultural heritage, which can help millions of people, is now facing extinction.

Finally, if we believe in peaceful solutions through non-violence, then we should support the success of the Tibetan struggle, which has been a non-violent approach right from the beginning. If it fails, then it's a setback on a global level for a new pattern of freedom struggle through non-violence. The only way to solve conflict is through dialogue, through non-violent principles. Once the Tibetan non-violent struggle eventually succeeds, it can be an example of that.

Do you think Your Holiness will see Tibet again?

Oh yes, certainly! Certainly. If I don't die tonight, or in the next few years. Oh, definitely. Another five years, ten years, I think things will change. I think there's real hope.

The challenges that you have had to face over the last 30 or 40 years-would those be part of the Dalai Lama's karma?

Yes, of course. And also, I think, common karma.

So does that mean there's a kind of purpose or a reason for the difficulties being faced?

Purpose, I don't know. That's very, very mysterious, very difficult to say. These karmic consequences-in some cases, they have some meaning, some significance.

But it is useful to look at tragedy from a different angle, so that your mental frustration can decrease. For example, our tragedy-becoming refugees, a lot of destruction in our country-this also brings new opportunity. If still we were in Tibet, Tibetan Buddhism would not be known in the outside world like it is. From that viewpoint, the more exposure, the better.

For the world, it has been a great gain, because before we didn't have access to Tibet.

The knowledge about Tibet and Tibetan Buddhism now existing in the world is because of the tragedy that happened to Tibet. So there is one positive result of that.

And that inevitably means that some people with sincere hearts can learn a lot, but there will also be distortions.

Truth has its own strength. So as time goes by, something truthful starts to grow, becomes stronger and stronger. Like the Tibetan cause, or also my position regarding Tibetan Buddhism, or some of our activities in India. At the beginning, perhaps it wasn't very popular, but as time goes on, it becomes well accepted. When something is truthful, its truthfulness becomes clearer and clearer.

My last question: Your Holiness has always been so good at finding a blessing or a teaching in anything that happens, even in suffering. I was wondering, what is the saddest thing that's happened to you in your life ?

I think when I left the Norbulingka for exile that late night, and I left behind some of my close friends, and one dog. Then another was the final farewell when I was passing over the border into India. Saying farewell to my bodyguards, who were determined to return to Tibet-which meant facing death, or something like that. So these two occasions were of course very sad. But also, some occasions now when newly arrived Tibetans explain about their life stories, and tortures, and there are a lot of tears. Sometimes, I also cry. But usually, my tears come on a different occasion-that's when I talk about compassion, altruism, and about Buddha. I quite often become so emotional that tears come.

But I think sadness is comparatively manageable. From a wider Buddhist perspective, the whole of existence is by nature suffering. So, suffering is some symptom of samsara. That, also, is quite useful. That's why I sustain peace of mind!

Thank you so much.

Thank you.



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