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Cover Feature

An Interview with the Dalai Lama

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?

: 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?

: 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 Tibet

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.

Hope For the Dalai Lama’s Return Home
Meditation and Science: A Meeting of Minds

An Interview with the Dalai Lama

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