SECOND PROF. ML SONDHI MEMORIAL LECTURE

Delivered by His Holiness the Dalai Lama

At the India International Centre, New Delhi on 24th December 2006

 

Ethics in Public Life

 

My long time friend Mrs. Sondhi and her son, friends and guests,

 

I feel it a great honour to participate here and to say something about Prof. Sondhi. Nature – where there is beginning, where there is birth, definitely there will be an end. No force can change that nature. So, Professor Sondhi came and at the end - he went. What is important is that while alive, one’s life should be meaningful. Life should be spent for a certain purpose, a certain goal. That is important. That is how Professor Sondhi utilised his life.  He not only just cared for his family, but also for the larger community and specially those communities which are passing through difficulties. I think these are acts of compassion, acts of bodhisattva. And then of course his English was constantly excellent – he had a great command over the language

 

So, we all appreciate what he has done.  Although he is physically no longer with us, his spirit is still, I think, very much alive.  And as his friends we follow his ideas, his concerns or his desires, his wishes.

 

Today’s topic, ‘Ethics in Public Life’ is of course very important but I prefer on this occasion to say something about Tibet.

 

The Tibet issue itself is a moral issue.  Firstly the Tibetan nation or community has been influenced by Buddhism which came from India.  It changed the whole Tibetan way of life, making it a more compassionate society.  Of course, there are individual Tibetans who are not so good, some are very bad, but the overall community I think is a more peaceful community, a more compassionate community. There is a peaceful attitude toward oneself, towards other fellow human beings, towards animals and towards insects.  

 

So, the Tibetan community generally speaking, is a very peaceful community.  When we were in Tibet we did not notice this, but now when we make comparisons between ourselves and the Chinese community or other communities – it appears that the Tibetan community is more compassionate.  Although the majority of Tibetans are non-vegetarian, their attitude towards animals is most compassionate.

 

In today’s world everybody talks about peace and non-violence, but the real factor which creates genuine peace is compassion and not just education or technology.  A community may have every sort of facility for acquiring technology, good education, but still that community can be a very violent community, including suicides. Why?   Lack of compassion.

 

Where there is compassion, where there is sense of community, a sense of respect of others’ rights is automatically generated.  On that basis you can solve conflict through dialogue, through mutual understanding.  Compassion is the key.  In order to promote compassion, it is not sufficient just to talk, just use words, but it should also be spread through example.  I believe the peaceful compassionate Tibetan community is a good example to promote more compassionate peaceful societies.

 

That characteristic certainly owes a lot to the influence from Buddha’s message.  Of course the geographical situation is also germane.  In a large, vast area where life is not easy – rather it very difficult, and the population is very small – under those circumstances the sense of community gets heightened.  Thus Tibetan society is more compassionate and I think that characteristic is worth preserving.

 

How to preserve it?  I hinted earlier that it is contained in the Buddhist message: compassion is based on the unique concept of inter-connectedness, inter-dependency.   That is a really powerful base for developing compassion.  It is not a blessing of God but based on rationality, on reality.

 

So, in order to preserve at least the Tibetan peaceful compassion society we must preserve the Buddhist message.  I make a distinction between Buddhism and Buddhist culture, and here I stress more the culture.  For in Tibet even the Muslim way of life is very much in spirit with Buddhist culture. They are Muslims by belief but part of the Buddhist culture which characterises the community. The preservation and further development of these deeper values is very important.  But today inside Tibet things are very difficult.  A few years ago one party secretary mentioned in a party meeting that Tibetan Buddhist culture is the real threat – the real source of separatism from China.

 

These leaders always view things politically and their biggest concern is the danger of separation.  So unfortunately they use force to keep the two sides together.  Because they consider every unique aspect of Tibet as a source of separation they deliberately try to Sinicise Tibet.  Now these days, their last resort is to make Tibet a land of Han Chinese.  For example, today the population of Lhasa is around 300,000, out of which the Tibetans number 100,000 i.e., only one-third – they have already become a minority.  As a result those minority Tibetans in their daily life are compelled to use the Chinese language – and the younger Tibetans in order to get jobs, have to study more Chinese than Tibetan.

 

So, as you mentioned, there is some kind of cultural genocide.  Usually I say, intentionally or unintentionally, some kind of cultural genocide is taking place.

 

Since I believe that maintaining peaceful community owes something to Buddhist culture, the destruction of Buddhist culture is actually destroying peaceful community.  This is one aspect.

 

There are human rights violations also. Naturally Tibetans love their own culture – wherever Tibetans show respect and interest or faith in their own culture, Chinese officials consider that an act of splittism.  Chinese officials always describe me as a splittist – an enemy of the people of China!  Everybody knows I am not seeking independence, because that is in our own interest. We are materially backward.  No single Tibetan wants to hold on to the old society – the old conditions.  Every Tibetan wants modernisation, not the old way of life.  So as far as material development is concerned, our own interest is to keep with China which is a powerful nation, economically very powerful, provided they give us meaningful autonomy, which we need as a safeguard for the preservation of Tibetan culture.

 

Then another aspect relating to Tibet is the environmental issue.  As you mentioned many people consider Tibet as the Roof of the World.  Nearly all the major rivers which run through almost the whole of Asia from China to Pakistan rise mainly in Tibet. 

 

Therefore taking special care about the environment in what is called roof of the world is very important.  I recently met one Tibetan who had come from Tibet -he noticed the water levels in these rivers including the Brahamaputra are much reduced. According to his explanation, when we Tibetans were there in 1959 the Brahamaputra in front of Potala was quite wide and deep and you could not easily cross it; but now-a-days the waters are much reduced, so people can wade across.  That is a clear indication of the shrinking, because of warming.  Again in recent years, unusual floods took place in mainland China.  The Chinese government realised that one of the causes of this unusual flooding is the unlimited deforestation in the eastern part of Tibet.

 

In China in the past they had no idea of the importance of ecology. Neither in the Soviet Union or in Communist China was there any sense of ecology. Now recently and very fortunately the Chinese government is taking steps to try and conserve the environment.  That is a good development. But then now-a-days in Tibet with the liberalisation of the economy, some private individuals come to Tibet and construct dams for hydro-electric power, and this damming of Tibetan rivers is really harmful for the ecology, according to Chinese experts themselves who write articles about it.  So, carelessness regarding ecology is now really very serious.  This is another aspect of the Tibetan problem.

 

Then geographically, Tibet is a buffer zone between India and China.  And India and China are the two largest and most densely populated nations, so genuine friendship on the basis of mutual trust is essential for peace in Asia, which is very important for world peace.  So it is really necessary to have genuine good relations, genuine Hindi-Chini bhai bhai – not just from the neck up but from the heart. 

 

How to develop that?  So long as a large number of Chinese soldiers are stationed in Tibet as well as the Han Chinese population keeps on increasing, and the land is full of security police, there will remain obstacles to the development of genuine mutual trust.  So long as there are soldiers on a large scale on the Indian side also, there are people who will feel uncomfortable.

 

My dream is that eventually Tibet should become a zone of peace.  In any case a few million Tibetans by themselves are no threat to China.  But if ever there is any threat then immediately a Chinese army can come to meet it, but under normal circumstances Tibet should be allowed to remain a zone of peace, free of nuclear weapons.  Then genuine trust can begin to develop between India and China.

 

Thus meaningful Tibetan autonomy and eventually a zone of peace is possible.  The Chinese government always talks about peace.  There must be some practical contribution for genuine peace.  Releasing a few pigeons is not sufficient – it is only a disturbance for the pigeons.  For real peace we have to take some concrete measures, reduce the number of soldiers in Tibet, and give more responsibility to the local Tibetans.  I think that is possible.  Today in the Chinese government, particularly on the part of President Hu Jintao there is a strong emphasis on harmony.  But that is an indirect admission that harmony is lacking. In 1954 when I was in China on every occasion I heard slogans of great unity, great unity, but that was just superficial.  There was no genuine unity.

 

Now 40 years or almost 50 years have passed and harmony still needs special attention.  That means past methods to develop unity have failed.  Unity at the point of a gun is illogical. Tibetans and other so-called minority peoples and the Chinese people themselves are always watched by security, by vigilance personnel, and they are ready to beat.  Under such circumstances, how can there be genuine unity, harmony?

 

In order to develop genuine harmony amongst all the people, we should not count numbers, but give all the same rights.

 

I think the basis of harmony and unity must be trust.   Trust flows from equality and compassion.  Suspicion always creates restraints – it is the biggest obstacle to trust.

 

Without trust how can you develop genuine unity or harmony?  In order to develop genuine harmony amongst the Chinese people themselves – as well as harmony with neighbours – genuine trust is very essential.  In order to develop genuine friendship on the basis of mutual trust between India and China, I think Tibet has an important role.  Thus when all sides show genuine interest and make efforts to develop harmony and friendship on the basis of mutual trust, both should take Tibet into consideration.  Once Tibet becomes a zone of peace, thousands of kilometres of the Indian border can become safe.  You can reduce the number of Indian jawans in these difficult areas – not only save crores and billions of rupees, but also save the lives of many jawans in these difficult terrains. Their sacrifices will become unnecessary if the effort to try to get a peaceful resolution, a zone of peace in Tibet behind the Himalayas, succeeds – then the number of troops can be automatically reduced.

 

Since 1950 – particularly after 1959, India has spent billions of rupees on its northern border.  If this money was utilised for meaningful development, schools, health and roads, India would have achieved much.  But large sums of money are wasted in these areas.  Of course, Ladakhis and others have benefited because of the presence of the large Indian army.  They can utilise with advantage army equipment like bull-dozers or trucks etc.  Perhaps they pray for more tension on the border so that more soldiers come and they get more benefits!

 

I often tell my friends in the West that their people feel Tibet is so remote with only six million people that it is not a very serious problem.  But this is not the case.  If you really look at the Tibet issue carefully, it is related with larger Asian and world issues.  That is what I wanted to tell you.

 

About Ethics in Public Life, as I briefly mentioned, I think the Tibetan community is a good example, and also the Indian people.  We should make exceptions of some erring individuals whether politicians or religious leaders, but basically India still keeps alive the thousand-years old spirit of ahimsa.  That is wonderful.

 

Ahimsa is very much related to greatly respecting others rights, respecting others views, and hence religious tolerance is still very much alive.  These are the real treasures of India and set a really good example for six billion human beings.  Northern Ireland and Afghanistan, even Pakistan, are constituted by similar religious groups – but within those groups there is still conflict between Sunni and Shia, Catholic or Protestant etc.

 

So when we see these scenarios – look at India.  Not only are there different religions, home grown religions, but there are also religions that have come from outside and they all remain equally peaceful.   I think that is really India’s greatness.  This should serve as an example to the rest of the world.  India should adopt an active role for the development of ahimsa not only in religion, but at every level.  Sometimes, I jokingly tell my Indian friends what I repeat here also – in the past when you conducted the freedom struggle through non-violence led by Mahatma Gandhi many western leaders felt that this is passivism, a sign of weakness.  Now, today more and more people are genuinely attracted to Mahatma Gandhi’s non-violent struggle.  I give one example – Nelson Mandela.  In spite of his earlier views, he later totally dedicated himself to non-violent principles.  And also in many conflicts, people now more often use the language of peace non-violence, or cooperation etc.

 

So, to cope with the increased interest from the outside world, India must produce more ahimsa.  India exported a great deal of ahimsa – now she has exported so much, nothing is left in the old country – and that is a mistake.  So more export should mean more production.  Not through government regulation, but through education and also through example.  That’s very important.

 

There is also the point about ethics in the public arena.  Sometimes newspapers report corruption – the scale of corruption, even in this country, as is now taking place – makes me really sorry, really sad.  India should be setting a good example to the world.  This country is not only one of the longest surviving old civilisations, but also retains a really strong cultural ingredient about compassion and non-violence.

 

India has the ability to make a combination of modernisation and traditional values.  Thank you!

 

Now some questions:

 

Q.      How can the concept of Gandhiji’s satyagraha be applied for world peace in practical terms in areas of conflict?

 

A.       Certainly Gandhian methods are very relevant and can work but they also depend on the circumstances.  When Gandhi used these non-violent methods in this country at least at that time the British imperialists all over the country had established a basically, free society with an independent judiciary.  In these circumstances Gandhian methods were easier to use.  The former Soviet Union and today’s China have totalitarian regimes where the party is above everything.  There is no genuine law and no free information, so they present  greater obstacles for the practice of Gandhian methods.  But basically yes, certainly, they can be used.

 

Q.      Do you think there will be a solution to the Tibet problem in your lifetime – Are the Chinese more confident than before?

 

A.       Superficially the Chinese may have more confidence on the basis of money power, military power, but in terms of real substance the situation in China is full of problems.  The Chinese leaders know that, so I feel that if present leaders wisely handle these problems they will allow gradual change. If change occurs suddenly, it will create chaos on a large scale.  That is in nobody’s interest.  So they need gradual change, a smooth transition to deal effectively with their many problems.  If the Chinese leaders use common sense and watch these problems closely and learn from reality they will find their old methods are not succeeding, are not practical and some more human way is needed to deal with these problems.

 

Q.      Will you accept the Tibetan Autonomous Region as Tibet?

 

A.       Now we are not seeking independence but just a political system which will guarantee our unique cultural heritage and environment. Tibetans in other Chinese provinces face similar difficulties relating to the environment, degeneration of their culture, loss of their language – so I describe myself as a free spokesman for all Tibet, since the entire Tibetan population is facing similar problems. The Chinese constitution provides autonomy according to size of the community.  The Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture was the first autonomous region and the constitution accepted these different Tibetan ethnic groups, and also Mongolian and some other minorities – the Constitution provided these people the same rights – but then like in Szechwan there are problems.  In Szechwan province there are more than a hundred million people.  In such a dense populated province there are around one million Tibetans.  It is very difficult for them to preserve their culture, their heritage, so that is why we are asking Chinese government that society as a whole should emphasise harmony and the importance of unity.  Thus, these different ethnic groups will also have the right to better unity, better harmony.  And it is a fact with regard to historically central Tibet, TAR that most scholars in Buddhist philosophy, mainly come from other parts of Tibet. Thus through centuries Tibetan Buddhist culture has been transmitted by the entire Tibetan peoples with a natural unity – only now they are politically divided.  That is unnecessary.  This does not mean we are seeking independence in the long run  – separateness – no.  We will remain within the People’s Republic of China and all groups should have the same one administration in which all have a stake.

 

Q.      From your travels regarding ethics in public life, how better or worse have they become in India, China, US and rest of the world?  Have things improved since 1960, or become worse?

 

A.       I don’t know.  We need to do some close research work to arrive at an answer.  My experience is that more and more people are showing interest in spirituality such as businessmen, scientists, politicians – that I know.  But real differences I do not know – we need more research. At least among Indian politicians I noticed in the papers recently that some politicians are now going to jail – that is one clear sign of improvement!

 

Q.      We try as individuals to practise compassion and co-existence and we try to spread them in the community in which we live.  Yet we face problems like the forcible occupation of Tibet or in the past there have been events like the destruction of Nalanda, an ancient Buddhist University – How should individuals deal with these grave injustices?  Individually we practice compassion towards our neighbours, but when we face large-scale injustice how should individuals react?

 

A.       Compassion brings tolerance – we practice compassion but it does not mean simply giving in to the other person – or giving approval to the other person’s misdeeds if someone takes advantage over you as you practice compassion or humility. It is important here to distinguish between action and actor.  Forgiveness means – do not develop anger or hatred towards the actor, maintain a compassionate attitude – keep respect for people. 

 

For example, we deliberately try to keep our genuine respect and compassionate attitude towards our Chinese brothers and sisters.  Those Chinese individuals who are given to perpetrating brutalities on the spot, even for these persons we must have compassion.  That is the meaning of forgiveness.  That does not mean you accept their wrong actions.  So far as action is concerned, we have to take counter–measures.  Actually, if you let them continuously practise wrong actions, it eventually harms them, not only from the Buddhist or karmic viewpoint but it also harms their society.  Wrong actions eventually give a bad name and these people go down. It is very bad for society as a whole.  To criticise and take appropriate action is actually helping them.  Not out of anger but respect and sense of concern about them.  So the real meaning of forgiveness is – do not develop negative feelings towards that person who is the doer or actor.

 

You mentioned Nalanda – that happened many centuries past – It is being rebuilt?  That’s good.  Past history has a lot of complications.  Tibet is comparatively more recent.

  

Q.      Is the fact of Tibet being a Buddhist country the reason why the West did not take any interest in the Tibetan situation seriously in the past?  If Tibet was Christian, would it have received more support?

 

A.       I don’t think so. I do not know. …  Maybe they showed no interest because there is no oil!.  Now the Chinese are finding some oil in Tibet.

 

Q.      Will there be dialogue with China about the Tibet issue.  If yes, when and where?

 

A.       We are fully committed to our middle way approach.  In 2001 we renewed direct contact with the Chinese government.  Since then five roundtable talks have taken place – the last one took place last February.

 

On our side there is no change though the Chinese government is indulging in more serious criticism and more suppressive policies inside Tibet – in spite of that we are fully committed to our policy.  I use the word ‘we’ because now for last six years we have an elected political leadership.  Prof. Samdong Rimpoche is actually the real political leadership – my position is one of semi-retirement.  I am now getting older.  Our commitment about promotion of democracy is genuine. Since the sixties we are fully committed to democratisation.

 

Around the year 2000 we achieved an elected leadership.  Now I act like a senior adviser.  In most cases Prof. Rimpoche listens to my views, but sometimes he has a little hesitation, or some reservations – I appreciate that.

 

So I use the word ‘we’ not ‘I’.  In the meantime our approach is criticised in the Tibetan community – there are several people very critical of our view including some of our supporters – Indians also.  They believe we should fight for complete independence.

 

Right from the beginning, around 1974, China was fully involved in Cultural Revolution.  But here in Dharamsala we had a meeting of a few individuals, of our leaders: the Chairman of the exiled Parliament and our Kashag members, and we seriously discussed how to deal with this problem.  And we agreed, that sooner or later we will have to talk with the Chinese government.  A practical way is try to gain meaningful autonomy.  Since then we have followed our middle way approach.  We are still committed to that. 

 

                Thank you!