Talking to the Salwan Education Trust About Secular Ethics
Delhi, India – This morning the weather was chilly and a little misty as His Holiness the Dalai Lama drove to the Salwan Public School in Gurugram. He was greeted on arrival by the Chairman of the Salwan Education Trust, Sushil Dutt Salwan, who escorted him into the school lobby. Principals and staff of 58 schools from across Gurugram took the opportunity to greet His Holiness while he enjoyed tea and biscuits.
His Holiness walked to the stage set up under a grand ‘shamiana’ and took his seat looking out over an estimated 6000 students, teachers and parents who had come to listen to him. Mr Salwan welcomed him on behalf of everyone present. He recalled that the Salwan Education Trust’s association with His Holiness began when he first visited their Rajendranagar Campus 24 years ago. He noted the great respect the Trust has for His Holiness’s message about our general need for love and compassion. He also mentioned that on that occasion His Holiness had blessed a sapling that has now grown into a Bodhi tree that is a significant landmark on the campus.
“Life is about learning,” Mr Salwan remarked, “and it’s an honour for us to learn from His Holiness.”
“Brothers and sisters,” His Holiness began. “All eight billion of us human beings actually are brothers and sisters. We’re born the same way and nearly all of us have been nurtured by our mothers in the same way. Ultimately everyone in this world depends on warm-heartedness.
“As children we play with each other with no regard for what our religion or nationality may be. If our companions smile and play, we’re happy to play with them. This is because, essentially, we are all the same as human beings. However, education tends to teach us to focus on superficial differences between us, which can lead to friction and discrimination.
“India has long-standing traditions of ‘karuna’ and ‘ahimsa’—compassion and doing no harm. We must try to follow these basic human values. Tigers and lions have sharp teeth and claws that indicate their need to prey on and eat other animals, but the human form suggests that we are much more inclined to being compassionate and not doing harm. From a biological point of view, we should be peaceful creatures.
“Since we survive in dependence on the kindness of others, we need to maintain a sense of ‘karuna’ and ‘ahimsa’ towards them. In the past, there has been too much violence because we have used our intelligence to develop weapons and make plans to destroy our neighbours.
“When we meet, we recognize another human being by their human face. If we met someone with a third eye it would be a real surprise. We are all physically similar in having one face, two hand and two legs. We should live according to our basic human nature, which is to be compassionate. Did the violence of the past build a better and safer world? —it did not. Therefore, we should make an effort to create a happier, more peaceful world. This means living happily together as brothers and sisters.
“I’ve had the opportunity to visit different countries on different continents and I found the same kind of human faces everywhere. Wherever I go, I smile and by and large people respond in a friendly way.
“Peace will not fall from the sky. It depends on us developing a genuine sense of brotherhood and sisterhood. On a superficial level there are differences between us, but they are no grounds for fighting with others. We need to make a peaceful world free of weapons our goal. If disagreements arise, we must solve them by talking them through. Weapons are of no use.
“This is what I want to share with my young brothers and sisters here.”
His Holiness remarked that western values tend to focus on material goals while in ancient India people explored the workings of the mind. They recognised that we have sense consciousnesses, but also appreciated the importance of mental consciousness. They learned that when we die our coarser minds dissolve into our subtler minds. This can be observed when we fall asleep too. His Holiness acknowledged that Indian yogis, like Tibetan monks, have deep experience of working with the mind.
When we go through the process of dying the elements of the body dissolve and coarser levels of mind dissolve into subtler levels. This gives rise to what are known as the three visions—whitish appearance and the cessation of 33 conceptions, reddish increase during which 40 conceptions cease and black near-attainment during which the final seven conceptions cease.
His Holiness recalled that in the seventh century of the common era the Tibetan king commissioned the creation a Tibetan form of writing based on the Indian Devanagari alphabet. When a century later another king invited the great Nalanda master Shantarakshita to Tibet he encouraged the translation of Buddhist literature into Tibetan. A consequence is that today Tibetan remains the best and most accurate language for explaining Buddhist psychology and science of the mind. His Holiness suggested that Indian students need to learn more about training and controlling their minds on the basis of ancient Indian tradition, which has been kept alive in Tibet.
In answering questions from students His Holiness observed that everyone has some interest in peace of mind. To maintain such inner peace, we have to learn that it is destructive emotions like anger and suspicion that disturb our minds, while ‘karuna’ brings peace and self-confidence. He remarked that if, as he does himself, you think about ‘karuna’ the moment you wake up and again as you’re going to sleep, it brings peace of mind.
When asked who he regards as a source of inspiration, His Holiness was unhesitating in mentioning Nagarjuna and Chandrakirti, two Indian masters whose thought and intelligence were brilliant.
Another student wanted to know how to control anger and remain peaceful. His Holiness advised her to familiarize herself with ‘karuna’— compassion. Then, he said, when anger arises it will not run away with you. Anger and attachment are associated with coarse states of mind, which have no sound basis, whereas compassion is well-founded in reason. He noted that this is why constructive emotions are stronger than their destructive counterparts in the long run.
In our materialistic world, His Holiness commented, we pay too much attention to material things. What we ought to do is pay more attention to the state of our minds.
Asked how to become warm-hearted in a world where most other people are self-centred, His Holiness reflected that we have a strong sense of community and our dependence on it when we are very young and we need to preserve and nurture such an understanding. He reiterated that compassion brings happiness and self-confidence.
“I want to encourage these young Indian boys and girls to keep ‘karuna’ and ‘ahimsa’ in mind. If you do so your lives will follow a positive direction. When you’re compassionate it automatically makes you smile.
“When you get married, genuine love is very much connected with being able to smile. When money’s involved, marriage tends to be only temporary. And if you marry a politician, that also won’t last. But when two people marry because they both love each other, their marriage is long-lasting. Human beings tend to marry for life, especially if their relationship is rooted in a deep sense of loving kindness.
Smt Rashmi Malik, the Principal of Salwan Public School, Gurugram, offered thanks to His Holiness and everyone who had contributed to the school’s opportunity to host him.
In his final remarks His Holiness noted that China and India are the two most populous nations on earth. But, while China has had its ups and downs, India cherishes democracy and religious freedom.
“This custom of regard for democracy and respect for all religious traditions,” His Holiness affirmed, “based on secular values, is both good and wise.