Thekchen Chöling, Dharamsala, HP, India – This morning His Holiness the Dalai Lama was in conversation with young peace-builders about compassion, education and equality. He was welcomed by Mrs. Lise Grande, President, US Institute of Peace, who introduced the event.
She explained that the USIP is dedicated to the proposition that peace is possible, practical and essential for US and global security. It brings together young leaders from conflict-affected communities and provides training on leadership, prejudice reduction, and conflict transformation. The intention is to build bridges across social divides and to reduce the isolation they may feel in their work as peace-builders. There are currently 300 Fellows associated with USIP from 26 countries across Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Latin America.
Mrs Grande mentioned that over the past four years many youth leaders have met with His Holiness, some of them coming to Dharamsala. However, due to Covid related restrictions, last year and again this year conversation was being held in a virtual setting. The theme of today’s discussion was gender equality.
His Holiness began by remarking that at a time when physical travel is restricted, he’s very happy to use modern technology, such as the internet, to exchange ideas.
“The world is changing,” he went on. “The last century was marked by too much violence, but these days there is a stronger wish for peace in the world both among leaders and the public at large. For this to be achieved, individuals and communities must take part. Individuals need to cultivate peace of mind, voluntarily, not out of fear.
“Today, we have advanced weapons systems that, if used, would cause immense destruction. Therefore, we have to ensure there is peace in the world. Since it is human beings who engage in violence, whether or not there is peace also depends on us. First of all, we have to cultivate a peaceful mind founded on loving-kindness and compassion. We need to strengthen our wish not to harm others. Non-violence is not just a religious principle, it’s common sense.
“The destructive power of nuclear weapons, for example, is so great that their use would entail adversaries’ mutual destruction. Since we would all be affected by such a calamity, everybody has a right and a responsibility to help to build a peaceful world. And to fulfil that wish, inner peace is very important. We have to educate children about peace when they are young.
“We human beings are social animals. Our survival depends on our community. Taking care of others is the best way of fulfilling our own interest. Being considerate of others is a wise way to pursue self-interest, whereas neglecting others is a foolish approach. Cultivating compassion is the best way to be happy and to make friends. Wherever I am, people show me affection because I always smile.
“In our education systems we need to make clear that we all want to be happy and that warm-heartedness and compassion are the best way of achieving this. If compassion is part of the education curriculum, equality will come about automatically. Many problems in the world today arise because of a lack of equality, and yet there is a lot of talk about democracy. Everyone wants democracy and the very basis of democracy is equality, while the key to securing equality and democracy is compassion.”
His Holiness invited questions from the virtual audience and Mithila Hore, a USIP Generation Change Fellow from Bangladesh, asked him how to advise a woman who, due to the pandemic, took her daughter, but not her son, out of school. His Holiness was straightforward in his reply. “Everyone needs and deserves education. This is the essence of equality. It’s wrong to make a distinction between male and female when it comes to education. We need equality in society, so we should treat our sons and daughters 100% the same way. Democracy entails equal rights, but also equal opportunity. Half the population is female, so creating a peaceful world involves men and women.”
Ashar Omer, a youth peace-builder and women’s rights advocate from Afghanistan wanted to know how His Holiness would advise women in Afghanistan today. His Holiness told him that no matter how difficult the situation becomes it’s essential to remain firmly determined. He suggested that Afghan women uphold their principles, but also have to be realistic. Gender discrimination is an old and outdated way of thinking, but eventually things will change. He added that the rest of the world should not leave the people of Afghanistan in isolation.
Muborak Muqimi from Tajikistan described a project she developed called “Women are the future leaders of our country.” She inquired whether His Holiness could cite examples where men had shared power with and shown trust in and support for women.
“I’m sure that among people dedicated to democracy and social development,” he responded, “there have been those who made efforts to bring about equality. In the past, religious and cultural traditions both fostered discrimination against women. However, things are changing. We need leaders committed to equal rights and equality of education.
“Among men and women, it seems women are more responsive to the feelings of others. They seem to be more warm-hearted. Therefore, when we talk about the prospects for greater peace and equality in the world, women must take a more active role.”
Nyachangkuoth Rambang Tai, a USIP Generation Change Fellow from South Sudan, wanted to know the place of forgiveness and healing in the context of gender-based violence. His Holiness reiterated the need to keep up efforts to bring equality about. He stressed that everyone is entitled to equal opportunity and that we must use the internet and social media as a means to make this clear. He expressed optimism that discrimination on the basis of gender, colour and faith is changing.
Before the next question, Gharsanay Amin a peace-builder from Afghanistan, reported the impact meeting His Holiness on a previous occasion had had on her. She told him she no longer thinks of herself only as an Afghan but as a global citizen. She added that she is now intent on developing resilience, inner peace, compassion and a lifelong commitment to learning new perspectives and unlearning old traditions.
Komal Dilshad from Pakistan requested a message for women working for gender equality.
“Sometimes some people take a different view of the role of women because of their faith,” His Holiness told her. “Therefore, it can be difficult to criticize or challenge them. Taking a broader perspective can contribute to change. As a Buddhist monk, I’m committed to encouraging inter-religious harmony. Rather than expressing differing opinions about religious traditions, it may be more constructive to improve education and that will lead to change.”
Rachel Dibal from Nigeria was unable to take part directly, but Lise Grande asked a question on her behalf. She observed that after some early improvement in taking women and girls into account, progress had stagnated. She asked how His Holiness would advise men and women to change their attitudes and make institutions more receptive and considerate towards gender equality.
He repeated that discrimination on the basis of gender, colour or faith is old thinking. It’s out of date. The key to ensuring that equality comes about is to not slacken our efforts to improve education.
Lise Grande expressed admiration for the guidance His Holiness had given this morning. She told him that forty years ago she had been a young peace-builder and would have derived great benefit from being in his presence. She voiced her gratitude to everyone who had contributed to the conversation or worked to make it possible. She looked forward to talking with His Holiness again tomorrow.