Monday, January 28, 2013
When he entered the hall where he was invited to speak, the audience were again welcoming in a way that seemed not just curious, but genuinely pleased to see him.
In his brief words of introduction, Fr Frazer said,
“We share in the Jesuit tradition. We strive not only for academic excellence, but also to enrich the heart and spirit. We are grateful to see you here, for you are one of the few people alive today who are like a conscience for the world. We believe you have a message for the twenty-first century.”
His Holiness responded in a characteristic way, “Spiritual brothers and sisters, young brothers and sisters, when I meet other people like you, I always think we are the same as human beings. This is important. Today, we 7 billion human beings are all the same, emotionally, mentally and physically. We all want to live a happy and successful life and we all have a right to do so.”
He explained that despite this we face many problems and many of them are our own creation. Why? Because we focus on the secondary differences between us - race, nationality or faith and within them whether we are rich or poor, educated or uneducated. At the same time we neglect the fact that we are all members of one human family. We bully, cheat and exploit each other. When this is what goes on, how can we be happy?
He said we are now in the twenty-first century and with our education and all our technical development we ought to be happier, but often even the well-off are unhappy inside. They are stressed, frustrated, mistrustful and suspicious. Yet, we human beings are social animals; we have to live in communities.
Material development alone will not make human beings happier. His Holiness mentioned that he sometimes wonders if animals, when they are not living under threat or danger, are not more content and peaceful than human beings. On the other hand, we have intelligence, this wonderful human brain. And the key to opening up our intelligence is education. But our modern education system often seems to have something missing. It lacks a moral outlook. Today, intelligent, educated people completely devoid of values are not unusual. He mentioned the perpetrators of the 11th September attack on New York as an example. The people who planned that were very sharp. Dull individuals could not have pulled it off, but the result was appalling.
“We need not only a trained intelligence, but also a warm heart. Then a sense of community and a sense of responsibility will arise naturally. Besides imparting knowledge, you Jesuits take care of our moral well being. Christians have made a great contribution to providing an all round education in so many parts of the world. It no longer surprises me to find that in places where people are deeply impoverished, there are Christian brothers and sisters working to uplift the poor and needy.”
Meanwhile, he added, there are also missionaries who explicitly seek to convert others to their faith and of that he does not approve. He says this only leads to trouble. Faith is a matter for personal and individual decision. Fostering harmony among spiritual traditions is one of his life commitments. And in this respect India observes a 1000 year old tradition of different religions live amicably side by side. During his travels abroad, His Holiness often points to India as an example of living religious harmony. This is not just some ancient custom, but something of immediate significance today. The essence of spiritual practice in terms of love, compassion, tolerance and contentment are part of a common message that is supported by various different philosophical points of view.
His Holiness declared that our religious traditions provide humanity with tremendous benefit and he envisages they will continue to do so into the future. However, of the 7 billion people alive today, apparently 1 billion consider themselves to be irreligious. Of the remaining 6 billion, many appear not to be sincere about the faith they profess. Here in India, which is a deeply religious country, countless families make prayers and offerings every day before a religious image or symbol. But when we look at how they lead their day to day lives, we have to wonder if what they are saying is not, “Please bless me that my corrupt and exploitative work is successful. How can you ask god something like that?”
The challenge today, he said, is to convince such people of the value of truth, honesty, compassion and a concern for others. How can we do this? Education has universal appeal. We need to find ways to introduce warm-heartedness into education. One way to do this is to show that warm-heartedness is the source of inner peace, that it brings inner strength and confidence. Today, scientific findings suggest that living in constant fear and anger eats up our immune system, with negative consequences for our physical health.
He also spoke of reading a report that people who tell lies tend to experience greater stress.
“I have some experience of this myself. Between 1952 and 1958, when Tibet was first dominated by Chinese Communist officials, I often had to smile and lie about how wonderful things were. Then in 1959 I escaped from Lhasa and came to India. For nine years I lived like a hypocrite and only shook it off when I reached the freedom of India. “My life has not been easy. At 16 I lost my freedom and at 24 I lost my country. Now in my homeland Tibet, things have if anything got worse. Tibetans continue to place their trust in me, so I carry a heavy responsibility.”
He told the story of one of his attendant monks who was imprisoned for 18 years in a Chinese prison, but who eventually came to India during one of the brief opportunities in the 1980s. During a conversation with His Holiness this monk mentioned that he had been in danger several times while he was in prison. Thinking he meant a danger to his life, His Holiness asked what he meant and he said that he had been in danger of losing patience and abandoning his sense of compassion for his Chinese gaolers. This His Holiness considers to be an example of spiritual practice in action.
Students asked a series of intelligent questions. The first was about moral values to which he said that what brings joy can be seen as good and what brings pain can be seen as negative. What we have to do is to learn how to abandon the negative and foster the good. Just as observe physical hygiene for our physical health, we need to develop an emotional hygiene for our mental health.
As a proponent of non-violence, His Holiness was asked if the use of force can ever be justified. He replied,
“Violence creates more suffering. War is legalized and organized violence. In ancient times communities could afford to think of themselves as isolated, but today climate change and difficulties in the global economy have no regard for national boundaries; they affect us all. Our interests are bound up with others. For this reason war is out of date. The twentieth century was an era of violence and bloodshed. We should hope the twenty-first century can be different. It should instead be a century of dialogue.
“Theoretically speaking, in the Buddhist view, the difference between non-violence and violence lies in the motivation not so much the action. I hope that young people today can cultivate a vision not only that disputes and conflicts are solved through dialogue, but also that our world in future will become demilitarized.”
Another questioner asked about science and spirituality and His Holiness talked about the six day meeting he has just attended between scientists and monastics at Drepung, one of the monasteries re established in Karnataka. Asked about how to balance materialism and spirituality, he said that spirituality deals with ways to achieve peace of mind, whereas materialism is about physical comfort. We need both. But we also have to address such difficulties as the huge gap between rich and poor.
His Holiness ended with an appeal.
“Young people, those of us here today who are over 50 or 60 years old belong to the twentieth century a time that his gone, that we cannot change. It’s a memory that at best we can learn from. I believe that those of you who belong to the twenty-first century must cultivate a vision that this can be century of compassion, an era in which man made problems are reduce and peace prospers. You are the ones who can act and bring about change; those of us belong to the twenty-first century must cultivate a vision that this can be century of compassion, an era in which man made problems are reduce and peace prospers. You are the ones who can act and bring about change; those of us belonging to my generation will remain only as observers of how you get on. The future is in your hands.”