The fourteenth Dalai Lama, also known as ‘His Holiness’, gave a memorable public address at the Rogers Centre, also known as the ‘Skydome’, in downtown Toronto on October 22nd. His brief was to show how humanity can create a more peaceful world. This, and much more besides, he did with warmth, humour and informality during a relaxed but captivating hour and a half.
The DL started his speech by stressing the importance of the generations below his own, the majority of whose lives will be lived in the twentieth-first century. He spoke of the last century, ‘his’ century, as being one dominated by armed conflict. He returned to this theme later, suggesting that in the late twentieth century opposition to the Vietnam War and CND were examples of how humanity was turning towards more peaceful means of resolving conflicts. Regarding the twenty-first century so far, the DL suggested that dialogue would have been a better response to the World Trade Centre attacks than retaliation.
Underpinning this co-operative approach to conflict is the belief in emphasizing our shared humanity, the biological, mental and emotional characteristics we all possess. Physically, we don’t have sharp teeth or claws with which to hunt prey. We are made to be peaceful animals like rabbits and deer. Yet our habit of isolating ourselves from each other can lead to suspicion, fear and, in the worst cases, harmful actions.
The DL cited a couple of scientific studies which showed that negative states of mind can weaken the immune system and put a strain on the heart. He talked a bit about loneliness, stress and depression, milder mental conditions than those which lead to war but still significant. These seemed to occur when we focus on the ‘secondary’ level instead of the ‘fundamental’ level, i.e. our similarities. Politically, this translates into putting global interests above national ones.
One advantage we have over animals, the DL remarked, is the intelligence which enables compassion. We should ideally exercise the kind of compassion which is not dependent on the nature of the actions our enemies have performed. However, and here the DL alluded to the Chinese occupation of Tibet, sometimes it is necessary to prevent the harmful actions of others because of the consequences these actions bring to THEM, and the longer the harm continues, the worse these consequences will be.
At the end of the question and answer period, during which the DL’s amiable interpreter/prompter presented him with a few prepared moral, political and personal puzzles from the public, the DL wrapped up by saying that he sees his purpose as threefold: 1) to promote human values, 2) to promote religious harmony and 3) to highlight Tibet’s struggle against Chinese occupation. I found his enthusiasm for the secularism enshrined in the Indian constitution refreshing, particularly in the current political climate. Despite his Buddhism, the DL champions this secularism, which deems no preference should be shown towards any one religious faith and that an equal respect is shown towards non-believers.
These words are dedicated to Alex Perry, a lovely person, good friend and artist.