His Holiness the Dalai Lama
At the India International Centre, New Delhi on 24th
Ethics in Public Life
My long time friend Mrs. Sondhi and her son, friends and
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
India has the ability to make a combination of modernisation
and traditional values. Thank you!
Now some questions:
How can the concept of Gandhiji’s satyagraha be applied for
world peace in practical terms in areas of conflict?
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.
Do you think there will be a solution to the Tibet problem in
your lifetime – Are the Chinese more confident than before?
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
Will you accept the Tibetan Autonomous Region as Tibet?
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
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
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!
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
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.
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?
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.
Will there be dialogue with China about the Tibet issue. If
yes, when and where?
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.