Monday, September 28, 2015

Dalai Lama: Interfaith Meeting & Action for Happiness Event

London, England, 21 September 2015 - Before he left for the day’s other engagements this morning, His Holiness the Dalai Lama gave an interview to Christiane Amanpour of CNN. She began by asking: “What are you trying to do here?” and he replied:

“What’s important is that all human beings, wherever they are, whether they are rich or poor, educated or uneducated, have a right to live a happy life. Many think that happiness is to be found outside ourselves in material things, but actually happiness is something that comes from within. So I try to present the importance of inner values not on the basis of religious quotations, but by taking a secular approach based on scientific findings and common sense.

Ms Amanpour remarked that China is changing because of its rapidly developing economy and yet the authorities still refer to His Holiness as a ‘splittist’. He told her that Tibetans had not been seeking independence since 1974 and everybody knows that. She mentioned concern about who will succeed him. He replied that as far as Tibetan Buddhism is concerned the 10,000 monks and nuns who are studying and practising today will be able to preserve it. He made the point that the Buddha’s teaching has survived for 2600 years without there being a recognised reincarnation of the Buddha. He conceded that while he might be the last Dalai Lama, he may yet appoint a successor from among qualified lamas before he goes.

Asked how he sees the persecution of Rohingyas in Burma His Holiness said: “It’s very sad. I have appealed to Burmese Buddhists to stop and think. When they feel angry or resentful of these people, remember the face of the Buddha. I believe that if the Buddha were there, he would offer the Rohingyas his protection.”

Finally, noting that President Xi Jinping will shortly be visiting the USA and the UK, Ms Amanpour wanted to know what His Holiness would say to him if he had the opportunity to do so. He answered:

“Perhaps I’d say that that although historically we were an independent country, as records of the 7th to 9th centuries show, we are not seeking independence now. We can benefit from the development we get as part of the People’s Republic of China, but we must be able to preserve our language, culture and Buddhist traditions. I’d remind him that last year in Paris and Delhi he said that Buddhism plays an important role in Chinese culture. Buddhist values can be of help at a time when the injustice and corruption he seeks to contain are widespread.”

Arriving at the House of Lords to attend an Interfaith Meeting organized by the Buddhist Society, His Holiness was welcomed by Baroness Caroline Cox and Desmond Biddulph, the Society’s President. They escorted him through the grand halls to the meeting, which was attended by Christians, Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus of various denominations and a Sikh.

Baroness Cox amused everyone when she introduced herself as a nurse and social scientist by profession and a Baroness by astonishment. Remarking that she was the first Baroness she’d ever met, she added that she realized that the role gave her a voice to use on behalf of those who have no voice. Desmond Biddulph told the gathering that His Holiness is the Patron of the Buddhist Society and that this was an opportunity to celebrate his 80th birthday and the Society’s 90th anniversary. He said that one of His Holiness’s requests had been that, as Buddhists, members of the Society should reach out to others. He invited His Holiness to address the gathering, which he did.

“It’s a great honour for me to be sitting here with spiritual brothers and sisters of various traditions. In too many places today it seems religious and nationalistic feelings are giving rise to terrible conflicts. We have to find ways to bring peace. This is something that those of us who are religious have to do. Meetings like this are an opportunity to build and nurture friendship and trust among us.

“There is an impression in many people’s minds these days that Muslims are especially militant. However, we have to remember that there are militant Christians, Hindus, Sikhs, Jews and Buddhists too. The Muslim community that lived in Tibet were a very peaceful community and meeting them in exile I am reminded of the pure Lhasa dialect they still speak.

“Muslim friends have told me that if you shed blood you are no longer a genuine Muslim and that Muslims have a commitment to respect all the creatures of Allah. They also tell me that the word ‘jihad’ is misunderstood. It doesn’t have anything to do with fighting other people, but refers to combating disturbing emotions within yourself.”

The Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu spoke of growing up in Uganda with two Muslim children from Zanzibar. His father took them in when their own parents died in a fire and he was unable to trace any other relatives. Although theirs was a Christian family, his father arranged for these two children to attend a mosque on Fridays. The Archbishop reported that in a similar spirit he has spoken in the House of Lords of the need to encourage the Chinese authorities to acknowledge and respect His Holiness the Dalai Lama as a spiritual leader. He said he feels it’s important to remember, “I am not my brother’s keeper, I am my brother’s brother.”

Archbishop Kevin McDonald conveyed greetings to His Holiness and members of the gathering from Cardinal Vincent Nichols, leader of the Roman Catholic Church in the United Kingdom. He also recalled serving in the Vatican when Pope John Paul II convened the ground-breaking interfaith gathering in Assisi in 1986 that His Holiness and Archbishop Robert Runcie had attended.

Baroness Berridge, Chair of the All Party Group on International Religious Freedom, who had just returned from the USA, mentioned her concern for persecuted Muslims and Christians in Burma and elsewhere. She said that those in public life have a responsibility to work for rights for all.

Chime Rinpoche took the opportunity simply to say thank you to His Holiness for all he has done.

The Bishop of Coventry, Christopher Cocksworth, remarked that violence is never of any help and that religious leaders need to make this clear their various governments. He pointed out that while there is public horror at the violence in Syria and Iraq, last week saw a great arms show in the UK. He said it seems there is still too great a sense that the use of military force is the way to solve problems, but in fact in the long run words are more effective than bullets. The meeting as a whole expressed dismay at the way violence continues and a determination to work for dialogue.

In his closing remarks, His Holiness repeated what he often says, that love and compassion are what bring people together, while anger and suspicion push them apart. He noted that religious people have their own different paths, each of which is worthy of respect. He said the common purpose of different kinds of food is to fill our stomachs, but it would be foolish to say, “I like to eat this food, therefore you should eat it too!”

He drew attention to three aspects of religious tradition. The religious aspect concerns the common practice of love and compassion, tolerance and self-discipline. While philosophical views may be quite different, they are all dedicated to the same goal of reinforcing the practice of love. However, he said, there may also be cultural aspects of religious tradition, like caste discrimination, that are no longer relevant and should be changed. He said he encourages religious leaders to speak out about these things whenever they can. The meeting adjourned for lunch in the Strangers’ Dining Room of the House of Commons.

In the afternoon, an enthusiastic and friendly audience of more than 2000 awaited His Holiness’s arrival at the Lyceum theatre. He was met at the stage door by his old friend Lord Richard Layard, who with Director of Action for Happiness, Mark Williamson, escorted him to the stage. They were received with resounding cheers and applause. Dr Williams explained that a new course of training was being launched today on World Peace Day, called Exploring What Matters. He said that it is ever more important to bring people together to think about their lives and to help them make their lives happier.

He invited Jasmine Hodge-Lake to the stage to tell her story. She explained that following an accident that left her injured and in pain, she had become depressed. Attending an Action for Happiness talk helped her understand she could relate differently to her pain. She then took the pilot Action for Happiness course that helped her realize how she could bring hope back into her life and help others. She said:

“I learned how helping others you can help yourself. I’m a different person now to the one I was before the Action for Happiness course. I realized I could be the change I wanted to see.”

Adrian Bethune, a teacher at John Stainer Community Primary School told of becoming disillusioned with teaching until he also took the course. It helped him understand how he could do his work more positively and introduce changes in the classroom. He began to discuss with his students how the mind and brain work based on insights from neuroscience. He rebranded an anti-bullying programme as ‘it’s cool to be kind.’ On Fridays he asked the students to think back and choose three good things they’d done that week. He said teacher and students have become much happier about coming to school.

Prof Layard then opened a conversation with His Holiness, who is Action for Happiness’s Patron. He asked him how we can have more happiness, more peace in our hearts and His Holiness replied:

“Peace means no disturbance, no danger. It relates to our mental attitude. If we have a calm mind, obstacles will be less disruptive. The important thing is to realize that ultimately peace of mind is within us, it takes a warm heart and using our intelligence. People sometimes think warm heartedness, compassion and love are religious topics; they are actually factors for our survival. If we don’t take steps to reinforce these qualities now, the 21st century will also end up being an era of violence like the 20th century. We can’t expect change if we don’t take action. Prayer is not sufficient; we have to take responsibility ourselves. Problems created by human beings have to be solved by human beings.”

When Prof Layard asked how we can improve our relations with each other, His Holiness told him that as social animals people have to overcome their old habit of seeing others in terms of ‘us’ and ‘them’, which just solidifies division. He said we have to see that we are all just human beings and that in our globalized world we have to deal with a global economy and problems like climate change whose effects ignore national boundaries. We have instead to cultivate a sense of global responsibility that sees everyone as ‘us’.

His Holiness explained how discussions with scientists over 30 years had contributed to an understanding of a curriculum of secular ethics in education from kindergarten to university. Part of this involves working with a map of emotions to ensure that the physical hygiene we need to be healthy is accompanied by emotional hygiene.

He answered several questions from the audience, observing that the natural seed of compassion we all possess can, if we use our intelligence, be extended to encompass even our enemies. He acknowledged the need to look after our own interests, but explained that the foolish way to do this is to focus on ourselves alone. A wiser sense of self-interest takes others’ interests into account as well. Asked what one thing people could do to make the world a happier place he answered: “Cultivate affection.”

As the discussions came to a close and His Holiness waved goodbye to the audience they responded with affectionate cheers.

Once the curtain had dropped on the stage, the BBC’s Mark Easton asked His Holiness about the launch of Exploring What Matters and Action for Happiness. He suggested that some were cynical that such moves could be effective. His Holiness retorted that such resistance is just old-fashioned thinking. Warm-heartedness can make individuals, families, communities and even countries happier. He said:

“Even the creation of the EU was essentially an act of compassion. And look, I'm convinced more positive reporting by the BBC and the media, just as you are doing now, can really help make people happier.”

original link + ;photos: http://dalailama.com/news/post/1320-interfaith-meeting-and-action-for-happiness-event

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