Dialogue with Students and Public Talk
September 13, 2017
Frankfurt, Germany – Yesterday, technical problems delayed His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s fight from Derry, Northern Ireland, to Frankfurt and he eventually took off in pouring rain. When he landed in Frankfurt, the countryside was suffused in the warm glow of the late afternoon sun.
To begin with this morning, he met with a diverse group of Chinese, Mongols and Uyghurs —scholars, students and business-people, telling them that Tibetans were willing to remain with the People’s Republic of China (PRC). He also mentioned that when he first met Uyghur leader Rebiya Kadeer she spoke of using violence to achieve independence, but he persuaded her to pursue the path of non-violence instead. In due course she also adopted autonomy as her goal.
His Holiness was asked about the declining situation of human rights in China, exemplified in the death of Liu Xiaobo. He answered that he had heard that Xi Jinping had been taken aback by the strength of opposition to reform among the old guard in the Party. He mentioned the hope that during the forthcoming Party congress, when many elderly members of the Politburo will retire, they will be replaced by new faces. Opportunities for change may then occur. He noted that many educated Chinese support the Middle Way Approach, adding that governments come and go, but the people remain. He remarked that Chinese-Tibetan relations are more than 2000 years old, whereas the Chinese Communist Party has existed for less than a century.
Asked how progress can be made, His Holiness suggested that just as he has engaged in fruitful dialogue with scientists for more than 30 years, it’s important that Chinese and Tibetans in exile, students in particular, get to know each other better. These days, as fewer people in the world talk about human rights in Tibet and Xinjiang, it would be helpful to revive the association of Tibetans, Mongols and Uyghurs, focussing on rights and the preservation of cultural identity. His Holiness approved of a suggestion to erect statues of Liu Xiaobo to prevent memory of him being erased, proposing that Chinatown in New York would be a worthwhile location.
A drive through steady rain brought His Holiness to the Jahrhunderthalle, the Century Hall. 1600 students from 60 schools in and around the state of Hesse had gathered there to listen to his conversation with 10 of their number who would put their questions to him.
“Brothers and sisters,” he began, “I’m extremely happy to have this opportunity to talk you young students. I believe all 7 billion of us are the same as human beings. Many of the problems we face are of our own making. Why? Because we continue to think in terms of my people, my nation, my religion, focussing on the secondary differences between us.
“We can’t change the past, but we’re still able to shape the future. Since I was born in 1935 I’ve been witness to continuing violence and war. We are sitting peacefully and amicably together here, but elsewhere on this planet other human beings are suffering—being killed and dying of starvation. Can we remain indifferent? We need to remember the oneness of humanity and that we are all brothers and sisters. Those of you who belong to the 21st century have a responsibility to create a more peaceful world. If you start now and make an effort you may see such change in your lifetimes, although I won’t live to see it. The peace of mind that will be its foundation will require a combination of warm-heartedness and intelligence.”
Asked how to proceed, His Holiness stressed the need to improve education. He said that where in the past the church took care of inculcating human values, religious influence has declined. Now there’s a need for far-sighted vision and enthusiasm to incorporate ethical principles into mainstream education.
Questioned about the refugee problems in Europe, His Holiness clarified that most of them have fled their own countries because of unrest there. He compared contemporary refugees to Tibetans who have always expected ultimately to return to Tibet. Refugees today, he said, should be given shelter and provided with education and training for the young so that when peace is restored in their homelands they can return to rebuild them.
His Holiness highlighted a change in attitudes between the early 20th century, when everyone proudly joined up when war was declared, to the opposition to war, violence and nuclear weapons at the end. The manifest desire for peace is encouraging, he said, noting that the Berlin wall fell not as a result of the use of force, but due to popular will. He expressed his admiration for the spirit of the European Union, which has countered a sense of ‘them’ and ‘us’, the source of division.
“Our basic human nature is warm-hearted,” His Holiness asserted. “Without it we can’t survive. But we must also use our intelligence, asking ourselves, for example if anger is of any use. The answer is that it destroys our peace of mind. Women are prone to use make up to enhance their prettiness, but if their expressions are angry, no one will want to look at them.”
In the context of learning from experience, His Holiness described three steps to developing clearer understanding. The first is to read about or listen to what others say. The next is to think about it until it is clear in your mind and the third is to become so thoroughly familiar with this conviction that it becomes part of your experience.
Challenged to say whether freedom or security was more important, His Holiness replied:
“Freedom—because of our natural ingenuity. We have great potential for creativity which requires freedom if we are to avoid stagnation. Security is sometimes cited as protecting that creativity, but it should not be in terms of restraining our thinking. Totalitarian systems typically link security to restrictions.”
His Holiness told another student that human beings’ highest goal is the achievement of happiness.
Regarding social media he said that it’s important not to become a slave to such opportunities or the technology that supports them, but to employ them with intelligence, seeking not to be manipulated by them. He ended the meeting by recommending that the students think about what they had heard. If they approved of it and valued it, he said, they should try to implement it in their lives and share what they had understood with others. He added, nevertheless, that if it meant nothing to them, they were welcome to forget it.
Addressing almost 3000 people after lunch, His Holiness again stressed the need to overcome a tendency to dwell on secondary differences and realize that we are fundamentally the same in being human. He stressed the importance of creating a happier, more peaceful world, of acknowledging the oneness of humanity. He pointed out that when we go to hospital, no one asks where we are from or what we believe. We are received as patients in need of treatment.
“Similarly, if, lost in the wilderness, we finally see someone else in the distance, our first thought will not be to ask where they are from or to what race or religion they belong to, but relief at encountering another human being.”
His Holiness repeated his admiration for the spirit of the European Union and the sense of good neighbourliness it entails. He looked forward to such a union evolving in Africa, Latin America and Asia. He suggested that the mutual respect involved naturally leads to trust and more friendly relations, whereas suspicion leads to trouble. He reiterated that seeing others in terms of ‘them’ and ‘us’ only results in further division. Therefore, cultivating a sense of the oneness of humanity is crucial for peace in the wider world.
Among questions from the audience, His Holiness was asked how to deal with fear. He answered that some fear, such as fear of a mad dog, is valuable and well-founded. However, there is also fear rooted in thinking too much about ourselves. When that arises, he suggested, it could be fun to ask yourself where or what is the ‘I’ you are so worried about.
His Holiness’s answer to why people are so greedy was that they lack basic moral principles and a respect for the rights of others. They fail to understand that real happiness is related to the mind rather than to physical satisfaction.
When a member of the audience asked him to pray for her after coming through great difficulties, he told her he would, adding that his daily prayer is:
For as long as space endures
And for as long as living beings remain,
Until then may I too abide
To dispel the misery of the world.
Finally, to end a long day, His Holiness spoke to 1500 Tibetans from various parts of Northern Europe. He praised their continuing sense of being Tibetan wherever they live now and thanked them for the loyalty and unwavering faith. He reaffirmed that it is the continuing determination of Tibetans in Tibet that enables those is exile to also keep their spirits up.
He reviewed what has been achieved in exile in terms of keeping Tibetan Buddhist culture, the Nalanda Tradition, alive by extending opportunities for rigorous study. He stressed that only Tibetans maintain an approach to the Buddha’s teachings based on scepticism, logic and reason. Besides that he asserted that the Tibetan language is the medium through which the Buddha’s teachings can be most accurately expressed. In addition, the detailed explanations of the workings of the mind and emotions found in Buddhist literature are of crucial relevance today. This, he declared, is something to be proud of.
His Holiness recounted an occasion earlier this year flying from Guwahati to Dibrugarh in a small plane during a storm when the turbulence made him fear for his life. Telling them his main concern was for what the six million Tibetans who have vested their hopes in him would do if he were to meet with an accident, the audience applauded. He assured them that his health is good and that he may live another 15-20 years, during which time there could be positive change for Tibet. Before waving goodbye, he urged them to be happy and at ease.
Tomorrow, His Holiness will attend a conference on ‘Western Science and Buddhist Perspectives’ and visit the new Tibet House in Frankfurt.