Cultivating a Good Heart
Thekchen Chöling, Dharamsala, HP, India – This morning His Holiness the Dalai Lama was invited to talk to the Foreign Correspondents` Club of Japan (FCCJ) about Cultivating a Good Heart. He was warmly welcomed by the FCCJ President, Mrs. Suvendrini Kakuchi, who introduced Pio d’Emilia, moderator for the event.
d’Emilia told His Holiness how happy he was to see him and began the day’s conversation by asking him what kind of world is round the corner, whether people will be kinder or not.
His Holiness responded that a good heart, a warm heart, a more compassionate heart is the basis of our survival. At least as far as mammals are concerned, we are biologically inclined to treat each other with affection.
“As soon as we’re born, our mothers take care of us. If they didn’t, we’d die. Even an unborn child is affected by their mother’s mood and whether she has peace of mind. We are social animals. Our survival depends on others. As human beings we thrive on affection, which is one of the reasons all religious traditions emphasize how important it is. People with little interest in religion are also human beings and for them too experiencing loving kindness contributes their being able to live a happy life.
“I find I have friends wherever I go because I don’t distinguish between people on the basis of where they come from, what race they belong to or what faith they follow. As far as I am concerned, other human beings are like brothers and sisters. As a result, people are generally kind and friendly to me. They respond to my happy, smiling face, although it might be different if the Dalai Lama scowled and snapped at people instead.
“Warm-heartedness is effective even in relation to animals. If you smile and you’re kind to a dog, it wags its tail, but if you frown and complain its tail droops.
“Modern education doesn’t give enough attention to the importance of warm-heartedness. Young children are simply cheerful at home, but once they start going to school that exuberance gives way to other concerns. To balance this, the contribution warm-heartedness makes to our being able to live happy lives should be included in the curriculum. People need to understand that giving way to anxiety and anger even disturbs our sleep, whereas if you have peace of mind, you sleep well. Warm-heartedness can benefit the whole of humanity.
“Now, do you have any questions?”
Pio d’Emilia asked the foreign correspondents to introduce themselves briefly and to make their questions clear. The first question concerned how to retain your peace of mind even under fearful circumstances.
“Instructions about how to cultivate and retain peace of mind are largely missing from our general education,” His Holiness replied. “In fact, as I mentioned before, if we have peace of mind, we’ll be able to overcome anxiety and fear. A warm-hearted person is peaceful and happy. I’m a refugee and I’ve found cultivating inner peace to be very helpful. The key is to have a warm-hearted attitude.
“Because of our Buddhist training, which derives from the Nalanda Tradition, we Tibetans rely on reason. Our peace of mind is rooted in reason. We tend to tackle our emotions, especially anger, which so easily disturbs our mental equilibrium. Training the mind enables us to reduce anger and fear while increasing our compassion, something I’ve been familiar with since I was young.”
His Holiness was asked what he would do first if he was elected leader of the world’s 26 million refugees. He replied, “I’m just another human being, another Tibetan. I’m not interested in being a leader. I’ve entirely retired from taking part in political activity.” He was also been asked if he had any regrets and he answered, “No. When I look back over my life, I’ve thought of all human beings as my brothers and sisters, and I’ve tried to keep my peace of mind. So, no, no regrets.”
Asked by an Indonesian correspondent how he would advise Muslims when it comes to living in peace with others, His Holiness remarked that all seven billion human beings experience similar emotions, but some are subject to manipulation by leaders who emphasize anger and division. He suggested that sometimes politicians politicize religious loyalties and exploit differences of religion, but ultimately, the choice of religion is a personal matter. Cultivating warm-heartedness and a sense that all human beings are our brothers and sisters, on the other hand, reflect our relations towards the whole of humanity.
One questioner sought to compare the situation Taiwan now finds itself in to Tibet in 1949. His Holiness observed that the people of Taiwan are mostly Han and they have preserved many aspects of China’s ancient tradition and culture including Buddhism. He suggested that mainland China can provide Taiwan with economic opportunities, while learning about China’s ancient values and traditions from Taiwan.
“I really pray,” he said, “that they can find a way to work together peacefully.
“When I was in China (1954-55), I met Chairman Mao and other leaders. I was impressed by their Marxist values. However, on one occasion Chairman Mao declared that religion is poison and at that moment I realized how opposed he was to religion.”
Another questioner wanted to know how His Holiness views Xi Jinping’s embarking on a third term in office and whether, in the light of what’s happened in Hong Kong and Xinjiang, the world should boycott the impending Winter Olympics. In his response His Holiness made clear he had no comment about Xi Jinping. He remarked again that when he met Chairman Mao and other leaders, he found aspects of their ideology attractive, but not their insistence on strict control. He indicated a hope that things will change under the leadership of a new generation. Regarding Tibet and Xinjiang, he noted that some Chinese communist leaders do not understand the role and value of different cultures, nor that there are a variety of peoples within China, including Tibetans, Uighurs and so forth.
His Holiness was asked if he had any advice about how to help the community cope with the difficulties thrown up by the Covid-19 pandemic. He replied that there are experts better qualified to advise than him.
Another foreign correspondent asked if His Holiness had any plans to meet Xi Jinping.
“No specific plan,” he disclosed. “However, for several years I’ve expressed a desire to visit Wu Tai-shan on pilgrimage. If I were able to do that, I could stop off in Beijing to meet with Chinese leaders. In addition, I’d like to be able to call on old Chinese friends, former officials and military officers. I’m getting older and they are aging too, so I’d like to see how they’re getting on.”
An Arabic correspondent asked whether His Holiness would like to visit Mecca, the holiest place in the Islamic world.
“I’m keen to make such a pilgrimage,” His Holiness told him, “as part of my efforts to promote inter-religious harmony. If the opportunity should arise, I’d be happy to take it. In the past, here in India I’ve visited different places of worship. These included the Jama Masjid in Delhi, where I put on the traditional white cap, the ‘topi’ or ‘taqiyah’ and joined in the prayers.”
The same correspondent wanted to know whether His Holiness wouldn’t prefer to live in Tibet.
“I’ve lived here in Dharamsala in the Kangra Valley for several decades now,” he replied, “and I enjoy it. I can communicate with everyone from here wherever they are. I’m free. Some years ago, I told former Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh that I’d like to remain here for the rest of my life because here I have complete freedom.”
When a question was raised about his having met several previous Popes but not the present incumbent, His Holiness was clear that if Pope Francis was willing, he’d be very happy to meet him.
With regard to coping with the Covid-19 His Holiness repeated once more that he is not an expert, but that in all circumstances, if you are able to maintain peace of mind, you’ll feel happier, less anxious and even physically stronger.
A Taiwanese journalist recalled that His Holiness had previously spoken of visiting Taiwan again and asked whether he still planned to do so.
“Just now,” His Holiness observed, “relations between mainland China and Taiwan are delicate, so for the time being I’d prefer to remain peacefully in India. I don’t want to provoke any local political difficulties. However, the modern technology of the internet and so forth enable me to communicate with people elsewhere. I’m dedicated to making whatever contribution I can to the well-being of my Taiwanese brothers and sisters, as well as my brothers and sisters in mainland China.
“Politically I take a Middle Way Approach. I’m not seeking the complete independence of Tibet. My position is open, so, we’ll see. The situation is quite complicated, and I sometimes feel that this simple Buddhist monk doesn’t want to become involved in complicated politics.”
Finally, Pio d’Emilia, challenged His Holiness to say who he thinks will visit China first, the Pope or the Dalai Lama, to which His Holiness retorted, “Only God knows.” and laughed.
d’Emilia mentioned that the FCCJ had, in the past, enrolled His Holiness as an honorary member. The foreign correspondents have renewed it, and he showed him the certificate. d’Emilia told His Holiness the FCCJ looks forward to his being able to come and collect it in person.
His Holiness’s response was, “Thank you—see you again.”