Taormina, Sicily, Italy – When His Holiness the Dalai Lama met briefly with members of the press at his hotel this morning, he began by telling them how happy he was to be back in Italy, visiting Sicily at the invitation of his friend Renato Accorinti.
“I’m just a human being—and remembering that we are all the same as human beings is important, because, when, as too often we do, we stress instead the secondary differences between us, it easily leads to trouble and conflict. In this part of Europe you have taken in many refugees. In the face of their suffering, that you have received and helped them is wonderful. But, just as we Tibetans expect eventually to return to Tibet, these refugees will hope to return to their own lands once peace and security are restored there. So it will be good if you can give them shelter and provide facilities for the young to receive education and training so they are equipped to rebuild when they get home.
“I am committed to promoting an appreciation of the oneness of humanity in the service of greater human happiness, as well as encouraging religious harmony. In this context, I believe you, members of the media, also have a responsibility to educate people about such positive opportunities.”
In his answers to journalists’ questions His Holiness touched on the need to reform an education system that is too focussed on materialistic goals rather than inner values. He stressed instead the need for warm-heartedness and the importance of compassion. He repeated his admiration for the spirit of the European Union, which has kept peace in Europe for decades. He also recognised that Tibetans have attracted significant support to their cause because they are resolutely non-violent and are not seeking independence.
“We Tibetans are an ancient nation. We have our own language, culture and way of life. We have kept our Buddhist heritage, with its source in Nalanda University in India, alive for more than 1000 years. In addition to knowledge of the workings of the mind, we have preserved an approach to education that depends on logic. On the basis of both these factors I believe we have something to contribute to the welfare of humanity today.”
His Holiness clarified that after his semi-retirement, when Tibetans elected a leader in 2001, he fully retired from political involvement in 2011. He added that he also ended a nearly 400 year old tradition of the Dalai Lamas having a political role in Tibetan affairs. He observed that although there were impeccable Buddhist teachers in India, there is no record of their having institutionalized their reincarnations.
His Holiness drove the short distance from his hotel to the Greek Theatre where an estimated two and a half thousand people were waiting in the hot sun to hear him. As the Mayors of Catania and Messina, Eligio Giardina and Renato Accorinti, escorted him onto the stage, a cheer went up.
After publicly welcoming His Holiness to Sicily once again, Accorinti explained how excited he was to realize his dream of bringing him to Messina and Taormina. He recounted the story of going to see His Holiness in Palermo in 1996, and being unable to enter the event until His Holiness grabbed his hand and drew him in. Then and there he invited him to come to Messina. A journalist mistook what he’d overheard and reported that the Mayor had issued the invitation. Accorinti said that at the time he had no thought of becoming the Mayor and yet that is what has happened.
The two Mayors presented His Holiness with an award from the Metropolitan City of Messina in recognition of his promotion of peace and solidarity in the world and in appreciation of his commitment to dialogue—after which he addressed the crowd.
“Brothers and sisters, I’m honoured to have received this award and happy to be here with this chance of talking to you. In this ancient place I am reminded of the Indus Valley civilization and the Nalanda Tradition it eventually gave rise to. Among the cultures of the ancient world, the Indus Valley civilization seems to have given rise to many thinkers and philosophers. The Buddha’s instruction about dependent arising, indicating that nothing exists independently and that everything depends on other factors, resonates with the contemporary quantum physics assertion that nothing exists objectively.
“Today, despite great material development, we and our leaders are facing an emotional crisis. Although Buddhist literature has much to say about this, tackling our negative emotions has nothing to do with religion as such. But what the thinkers of ancient India have to say about our mind and emotions is important and relevant in the modern world.
“I always speak from the point of view of being just another human being—not as a Tibetan, a Buddhist or as His Holiness the Dalai Lama. I was born as just a human being and I’ll die as just a human being, so I emphasize that in being human we are all the same. We are emotionally, mentally and physically the same. We feel sadness, fear and suspicion in the same way. And it’s on this basis that my experience may be of some help to you.
“The global economy and the effects of climate change recognise no national boundaries. What they are teaching us is that we should act more as one human community. We are enjoying peace and tranquillity here, even if it is quite hot, but in other places right now other people are being bullied, killed or facing starvation. It’s unbearable.
“Many of the problems we face come about because we insist on exaggerating secondary differences of nationality, colour and even faith. This misplaced emphasis leads to division. It’s unacceptable. We need to think more deeply and recognise the oneness of humanity and that as human beings we are much the same.
“Peace in the world can’t be brought about by use of force. Peace is a state of mind. The use of violence provokes anger and yet more violence. We need to reduce anger and fear by offering friendship. Once again I have to say I admire the spirit of the European Union, which has adopted the more holistic view that we have to live together and we’re better to do it as friends.
“Violence is quite the wrong way to achieve what we want. Ultimately we should aspire for a demilitarized world if we really want to achieve peace. “
His Holiness explained that he is committed firstly to promoting human happiness in the context of the oneness of humanity and secondly to encouraging religious harmony. He cited the example of India as vividly demonstrating that it’s possible. He pointed out that all the world’s major religions, with their common message of love, tolerance and contentment, have flourished side by side for centuries in India. He was forthright in declaring that since all religions have the potential to bring peace, to refer to Muslim or Buddhist terrorists is wrong. He asserted that the moment someone commits an act of terrorism they cease to properly follow their faith. If, on the other hand, you base your practice on love, you won’t be able to do anyone any harm.
Among questions from the audience the first concerned what advice he might have for dealing with the crisis over North Korea. He suggested that both sides should be more realistic and less emotional. He pointed out that when the mind is dominated by anger, suspicion and pride, it’s difficult to bring common sense to bear.
Another questioner wanted to know more about the connection between ancient Indian knowledge and quantum physics. His Holiness reminded him that where quantum physics says that that without an observer there is no observed object, the Buddhist Mind Only School says that the object has no external existence, while the Middle Way School says the object has no independent existence.
His Holiness went on to compare what Nagarjuna says about grasping at independent existence being a mistake, with what cognitive therapist Aaron Beck told him about our sense of the negativity of someone we’re angry with being 90% mental projection. He said that in Buddhist philosophy the word ‘shunyata’ or emptiness means things don’t exist independently. He went on to say that having been interested in this for 60 years and having thought rigorously about it for 40 years, he can say that such ideas are useful in reducing our negative emotions.
His Holiness also made it clear that in the world today 1 billion out of 7 billion people show no interest in religion. For the remainder, their faith, while it may be strong in the church, temple of mosque, is superficial when it comes to day to day life. In such a context, secular ethics provides an approach to renewed conviction in human values. He stressed that he uses the word secular in the way it is used in India to indicate unbiased respect for all religions and even the views of those with no faith. What’s more, secular ethics should be based on scientific findings—that basic human nature is compassionate, common experience—such as our need for affection, and common sense.
In answering a final question about mandalas, complex representations of the universe, used in some Buddhist rituals, His Holiness recalled an occasion years ago when some Japanese Buddhists had constructed a large peace stupa in Rajgir. The President of India had been invited to the inauguration. In his remarks His Holiness stated then that the real peace stupa is the one we construct in our hearts.
After thanking the audience and waving goodbye, His Holiness was escorted from the stage to his car and returned to his hotel for lunch. Tomorrow morning, he will give a public talk in the Theatre Vittorio Emanuele, Messina.