Palermo, Sicily, Italy – His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s first public engagement in Palermo was to meet with the media this morning. He was accompanied by the celebrated Mayor of Palermo, Prof Lealuca Orlando, who successfully took on the Mafia in Sicily. He is now campaigning for the International Human Mobility Charter of Palermo. The Charter calls for fundamental change in the treatment of refugees and displaced people. He has declared, “Mobility must be recognised as an inalienable right.”
For his part, His Holiness began by acknowledging the importance of the media’s role in keeping the public informed.
“We all want happiness,” he said. “Peace and happiness depend on our mental attitude. Compassion is a source of peace of mind; anger destroys it. As human beings, we can extend our sense of warm-heartedness, on the basis of our intelligence, to include others simply because they are human beings like us. In other words we can cultivate greater compassion on the basis of education.
“My first commitment is to promoting the cause of human happiness—compassion. The second is to nurturing religious harmony. You members of the media have a role in keeping people informed of these things.”
Mayor Lealuca Orlando recalled that His Holiness last visited Palermo in 1996. Since then a huge increase in the number of refugees and displaced people arriving in Sicily has prompted him to launch his Charter of Palermo. He said, “No one can let children, women and men die in deserts or at sea for the sole reason they are born poor or in countries at war. Solidarity between individuals is an essential value for everyone who wants to continue to belong to humanity. We need to show them compassion.”
His Holiness recognised that the way migrants and refugees have been accepted by European countries has demonstrated compassion in action. “We should help them now in their desperation,” he clarified. “But, eventually they will want to return to their own lands. This is what we Tibetans have always had in mind. First of all we must see peace and development restored in the countries refugees have fled, but in the long run it is natural to want to live in the land where you were born.
“I believe there may be a role in restoring peace for NGOs or smaller nations or communities who can reach out to protagonists of conflict and establish trust.”
Asked about the importance of secular ethics for human development, His Holiness replied that the key was to cultivate deeper human values. To do this will entail improving the existing education system, introducing ways to cultivate positive emotions, while reducing emotions that are negative. The context is our own well-being in this life, here and now.
“After we’re born we’re all nurtured by our mother’s affection, which plants the seed of compassion. However, once we get to school, little attention is paid to such inner values. Instead we are taught to aim for money, power and status. Education should include greater focus on warm-heartedness. It’s important to show that anger is the opposite of compassion and is of no use. In this connection, the clear change between a willingness to go to war in the early 20th century and a widespread opposition to war and the use of force in the later part of the century is a sign of growing human maturity.”
Regarding the stand-off between America and North Korea, His Holiness agreed that it is serious and that it is the issue of nuclear weapons that makes it so. However, he was clear that the only solution is to reach out and find some mutual understanding through dialogue. He was unflinching in stating that the use of force never solves problems, tending instead to provoke more anger and hatred.
When the question, “What is your message for Palermo?” was put to him, His Holiness replied that the Charter of Palermo is good and he supports it.
Speaking separately to members of the Muni Gyana Centre, he told them that he is careful not to try to propagate Buddhism when he teaches in Europe or America. He always tells people who attend his teachings that it is better to stick to their native religion. Nevertheless, he conceded that the understanding of the workings of the mind and emotions preserved in Tibetan Buddhism is of value and relevance today. Many people now appreciate the value of the traditions that Shantarakshita, an impeccable monk and erudite scholar of Nalanda University, established in Tibet in the 8th century.
Mayor Orlando was at the door to welcome His Holiness to the renowned Massimo Theatre, where an estimated 1400 people were waiting eagerly hear him. They cheered as the two walked onto the stage. In his welcoming introduction the Mayor outlined some of the events that have taken place since His Holiness’s last visit in 1996, notably his launch of the Charter of Palermo in 2015. He invited His Holiness to sign Palermo’s Book of Honour. His Holiness was then granted honorary citizenship by the Mayors of Isola delle Femmine and Ventimiglia di Sicilia—both of them towns in Palermo. The medal of the award features the three animals of Federico of Svevia that symbolize the city: the faithful dog, the prudent snake and the magnificent eagle—characteristics reflected in love for the city.
Moderator Paola Nicita invited His Holiness to address the gathering, which he did, speaking in English translated into Italian by his interpreter Fabrizio Pallotti.
“Respected brothers and sisters, I’m extremely happy to be here once again, able to share my thoughts and experiences with you.
“We are equipped with the seed of warm-heartedness from birth, but as we grow up, not much is done to cultivate it. Our religious traditions used to take care of this, but their influence seems in decline as 1 billion people declare they have no faith. In some quarters, warm-heartedness is regarded as a sign of weakness, while self-centredness is regarded as strong—the opposite is true. What we need to do is combine warm-heartedness with our brilliant human intelligence.
“I admire what you’ve been doing here to help and shelter displaced people. Your efforts reflect the fact that we all depend on others to survive. Providing shelter and facilities is one thing, what needs to be done next is for peace and development to be restored in the countries these people have fled. I believe that if the 21st century is to become an era of peace, we have to employ dialogue to resolve conflicts and problems.”
Answering a question put by the Vice President of SKY Italy, His Holiness expressed appreciation for the interconnectedness that social media has provided. However, he stressed that it is our responsibility to use it properly. If we use it to stoke anger and increase divisions between ‘us’ and ‘them’ the trouble that results cannot be blamed on the technology.
A Palermo University Professor wanted to know what advice His Holiness has for young people confused about the future. He reiterated the need for them to be better-informed, something the media have responsibility for. He noted that in democratic societies the real leaders are the people, not a few politicians. Therefore, young people would be better to disregard sensationalist stories in favour of positive reports like the scientific assertion that basic human nature is compassionate.
Several times in answering questions His Holiness referred to the use of force to resolve conflicts and problems as out of date. He criticized the huge arms deals that continue to be struck and stressed the need to change direction and aim to achieve a demilitarized world.
As the event came to a close, the Mayor offered extensive thanks. His Holiness was presented with a number of gifts that included a flourishing bodhi tree that is to be planted in the Palermo University’s botanical garden, olive oil from a multitude of sources, a large loaf of bread, a substantial amethyst rosary and bottle of blessed water from the cave of Saint Rosalia, one of the patron saints of Sicily.
As he stood at the front of the stage to wave goodbye, His Holiness told the audience that he has many ideas and aspirations for bringing about human happiness, but only one pair of hands. He said he regards every individual who takes an interest in what he has to say, shares it with others and takes action on that basis, as another pair of hands working to achieve the common good. He expressed his thanks.
Finally, seeing a Tibetan flag being held aloft in the crowd, he remarked that these days hardliners in the Chinese Communist Party regard the flag as a mark of dissent. However, His Holiness recalled Chairman Mao asking him in 1955 whether Tibetans had their own flag and when, after some hesitation, he told him they did, Mao voiced his approval and advised them to fly it alongside the Red Flag. Consequently, His Holiness declared, he feels Chairman Mao gave him permission to display the Snow Lion flag of Tibet.
After lunch with the Mayor and invited guests, His Holiness left Palermo to fly to Florence, where tomorrow he will take part in an interreligious meeting in the morning and give a talk on ‘Peace Through Education’ in the afternoon.