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His Holiness the Dalai Lama Meets with Parliamentarians and Students on his Second Day in Christchurch

Dunedin, New Zealand, 10 June 2013 - The first people His Holiness the Dalai Lama met with today were New Zealand Youth Representatives of the Council for a Parliament of World Religions, who belonged to a wide range of faiths. His Holiness encouraged them, but stressed that working for inter-religious harmony requires us to be really active.

“Religion is about cultivating a more peaceful mind, so it’s very disappointing if religion becomes a source of conflict. Our traditions share a common message of love and compassion, patience and tolerance. If we also remember the instructions about forgiveness, there’ll be no basis for conflict.”

The twelve New Zealand parliamentarians he met next coming from all parties represented 10% of the members of parliament. He thanked them for their support. He came straight to the point about relations between Tibet and China stating that as a country and a people the Chinese are wonderful. The problem is the closed totalitarian system.

“1.3 billion Chinese people have a right to know about the reality in which they live and on the basis of that they are quite capable of judging right from wrong. So the censorship they face is morally wrong. Secondly, the judiciary at present only serves the party’s interests. The whole judicial system needs to be raised to international standards.”

He talked about four eras of Chinese leadership, how Mao’s era was marked by ideology, Deng’s era by economic liberalisation and opening China up to the world, although it resulted in a totalitarian capitalist society. Jiang Zemin’s era brought middle-class interests into the communist party, while Hu Jintao aimed to create a harmonious society. He failed not because there was anything wrong with his goal, but because he applied the wrong method - force. Harmony must come from the heart, it is based on trust. The use of force brings fear, which is the opposite of trust. The goal was good, but the method was wrong.

Xi Jinping’s elevation to the leadership opens a fifth. In a society of 1.3 billion people harmony is essential, which is why former Prime Minister Wen Jiabao spoke of China’s need to reform. His Holiness said it is time to watch and see what happens.

“We are not seeking independence,” he declared, “although Tibet was clearly independent in the 7th, 8th and 9th centuries, even according to Chinese records. But times change. Look at India. Before independence from Britain it consisted of many smaller and larger kingdoms and princely states that functioned like independent entities. Once independence was won, they joined the new India. The peoples living in these areas have maintained their languages, scripts and distinct cultures and gained the benefits of development.

“We Tibetans value development too as can be seen in the risks that Tibetan refugees take to go to the West, where their goals are not spiritual but employment and income. It is to Tibet’s advantage to remain with the People’s Republic of China, so long as we have genuine autonomy, the ability to maintain our culture, language and identity, which the Chinese constitution provides for. I have been told by informed Chinese that if the Chinese people as a whole understood the aims of our Middle Way Approach, they would support us wholeheartedly. This is why it seems to be in the interest of the hardliners in the government to persist in maintaining that we are demanding independence.”

He mentioned the irony that reliable reports speak of 400 million Buddhists in China, which means that the country is home to the world’s biggest Buddhist population. Since last year, His Holiness has been offering teachings to Chinese Buddhists.

His Holiness said that he sees it as free countries’ responsibility to encourage China on the path of democracy. From an economic point of view, China has already joined the world community. China’s adopting democracy will not only be of benefit to the Chinese people, it will bring this large nuclear armed nation, which already has a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, into the mainstream. His Holiness suggested that it may be that smaller nations like Norway and New Zealand have more influence because they pose no threat to China.

Asked whether he has hopes that the constitutional movement in China will help Tibet’s position, His Holiness said that the Chinese people have no experience of democracy, so a realistic approach is to look for gradual change. He pointed out that many rights included in the constitution have not yet been implemented and this is something that must be done.

Another questioner wanted to know how His Holiness feels when leaders give in to Chinese pressure not to meet him. He said that meeting the public is what is most important to him, because one of his main concerns is promoting human values in order to contribute to greater human happiness and inter-religious harmony.

To a question about Tibet’s future political system, His Holiness made clear that even under Chairman Mao China did not consider Tibet to be an ordinary province but a special case. The central government only made a special agreement with Tibet, no other province. When the PLA entered Tibet in 1950, only a part of the country was direct Tibetan control; large swathes of Tibetan territory, with significant Tibetan populations, areas that had once been under the rule of the Tibetan Emperor, had over the years been incorporated into Chinese provinces. Although fragmentation of Tibet had taken place, the Tibetan spirit in these outlying areas remains very strong. His Holiness pointed out that the recent spate of self-immolations has largely occurred in areas that are under direct Chinese administration.

At an event organized by the University of Canterbury Student Association, His Holiness was given a strident and rousing welcome by a team of Maori sportsmen. He responded:

“I appreciate your traditional welcome. When I first came to New Zealand I was surprised by what seems to be an aggressive greeting, which feels like you are testing your guest! But I note that you are keeping up your traditional language and customs.

“Whenever I meet people I like to greet them as brothers and sisters. In the past, we were isolated from each other, but improved communications have made it evident that we are all the same as human beings. We may have different language and culture, but physically, mentally and emotionally we are all the same. We all want a happy life, and we have a right to achieve it. Great developments in science and technology, whose purpose is to ensure a happier humanity, have sometimes brought more stress and anxiety. Material facilities have given us physical comfort, but have not necessarily put our minds at ease.”

He mentioned that sensory experiences like listening to music and enjoying delicious food are pleasant, but the satisfaction they bring is short-lived. We need to find other ways to ensure lasting mental peace. He recalled a Christian monk he met in Barcelona, Spain, who had been in retreat in the mountains with almost no material comfort for five years. He asked him what he had been doing and when the monk told him he had been meditating on love, His Holiness noticed the glow of tranquillity in his eyes. On the other hand, he said, he has met billionaires who seem to have everything they want and remain miserable. This indicates that the ultimate source of joy and peace of mind is within the mind.

His Holiness noted that many of the problems we face we create ourselves, so we ought also to be able to solve them. Most of the conflicts we face are rooted in a strong sense of division between ‘them’ and ‘us’. And yet we are social animals whose very survival depends on the rest of our community. We have an opportunity, he said, to make this century a more peaceful, happier era, but asserted that the responsibility for doing so rests not on his shoulders but on those of today’s young people, the generation of the twenty-first century. He reported that recently in the USA he had become aware of cities signing up to a Charter for Compassion, which he regards as a sign of hope.

The students had prepared a number of questions for His Holiness. In connection with climate change, he advised that our way of life may not go on forever as it is; we have to find a more sustainable way to live. The urgency of this was brought home to him with the recent announcement that CO2 has reached 400 parts per million in our atmosphere and if the increase continues to 450ppm we will reach a dangerous tipping point. We need to address this, but, he said, we also need to address population control.

He dismissed a question about relations between Islam and the West being a clash of civilizations as “totally wrong.” He conceded that some individuals behave badly, but that this is not grounds for generalizing about an entire community. He suggested that many of the problems we encounter today have their beginnings in mistakes made in the twentieth century, but admitted that these questions are neither simple nor easy.

Asked who he looks to for guidance, His Holiness said that our real guide is our own mind, our sense of reason.

“I use my own intelligence, on the basis of a calm mind, and employ what I have learned from ancient Indian thought.”

A question about introducing ethics in schools prompted His Holiness to note that some people feel ethics should be based on religious teachings, but the difficulty in our present world is to ask which religion. He suggested that we need a secular ethics because the real point of ethics is creating respect and concern for others, something good and beneficial for society.

One student asked if our actions now affect our future reincarnation and His Holiness said the important thing is to lead a meaningful life which he defined as helping others if you can, but at least avoiding doing them harm. Another student wanted to know if he believed in absolute truth and if so what it is. He replied that as a Buddhist he prefers to say there is no absolute truth; everything is relative. Yet another student expressed surprise that His Holiness is not a vegetarian and he admitted to being a contradictory person. He encourages others to be vegetarian if they can but is not a vegetarian himself. He explained that Tibetans generally are not usually vegetarian and that when he became a pure vegetarian in the 1960s for twenty months he fell ill and his physicians advised him to revert to his earlier diet to maintain his health. However, he was pleased to report that in the Tibetan community, especially the great monasteries, virtually all the common kitchens are now vegetarian.

After lunch, His Holiness flew from Christchurch to the southern city of Dunedin. On arrival, he was asked by a television journalist why he had come. He answered:

“First of all I received an invitation and when that happens it’s foolish to turn it down. But there is a Buddhist centre here founded by a Tibetan lama who I knew very well. He was a good scholar and a good monk. When he passed away, one of his students, also a scholar and a good monk, became the teacher. Sadly, he too passed away unexpectedly, so I’m coming to show my sympathy and to see how these old friends are getting on.”

Warmly welcomed at Dhargyey Buddhist Centre, His Holiness spoke of being in exile for 54 years, that in the beginning of their life as refugees Tibetans were sad to have lost their country. Now, however, they feel proud of the knowledge and culture they have preserved. Ven Lhagon Rinpoche made a preliminary report about the centre concluding with prayers for His Holiness’s long life. In his report the director recalled the work that Geshe Ngawang Dhargyey, the founder, and his student Ven Thubten Rinpoche had done. He outlined the classes and meetings that take place in this and affiliated centres. He said that members support the issue of Tibet wherever they can and mentioned the interest that the local University of Otago, with its medical school, has shown in Tibetan medicine.

In his response, His Holiness, praised what has been achieved so far and suggested that more could be done to foster the interest in Tibetan medicine, which does indeed have widespread benefits. He also noted the Kangyur and Tengyur collections of scriptures in their prominent position on shelves next to the altar and explained how he is encouraging people to regard the books they contain as materials for study, not just objects of veneration. He said they contain Buddhist science and philosophy that can be of interest to anyone and which can be profitably studied under academic conditions, as well as religious instructions of interest only to Buddhists. He encouraged the centre’s members to keep this in mind.