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Dalai Lama meets Idaho’s religious leaders
By Gary Stivers
Thursday, September 15, 2005

Episcopal minister Brian Baker outlines Wednesday’s presentation

The 14th Dalai Lama met with Idaho’s religious leaders Wednesday morning at the Beaver Springs home of his local sponsor, Kiril Sokoloff.

The event drew more than 100 spiritual and religious ministers from around the state representing a spectrum of faiths including Muslim, Hindu, Native American, Christian, Buddhist and others.

The talk was billed as a means of bridging the gaps that divide religious groups and the Dalai Lama gave several views on such remedies.

“Once we believe [in a spiritual or religious system], we should be sincere and serious,” the Dalai Lama began. “Once in Jerusalem, at an interfaith meeting, I heard a Jewish teacher in a classroom say when we face unhappy circumstances like those in Israel and the Palestinians, we should remember the other person is also the image of God. After learning that, they really get a lot of benefit when they face a problem. When we experience others, it’s then easier that way.”

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Such practical wisdom came repeatedly from the key leader of the Buddhist world.

Idaho Governor Dirk Kempthorne remarks on the occasion

Rev. Baker greets the Dalai Lama

When minister and Blaine County Schools Trustee Kim Nilson asked the Dalai Lama how compassion could help until freedom and personal liberty comes throughout world, he responded, “I think mischievous people [are] always there. I think when -I’m Buddhist- in Buddha’s time there were also mischievous people there. When Jesus Christ and Mohammed, these great masters, you see, were alive, still there were [the] mischievous even within their own community, ha, ha, ha.

“And another thing. I think some kind of perfect world, perfect humanity, that’s impossible. Knowing that, accepting that reality, effort from those people who really have some kind of genuine sense of concern for humanity, must make [every] effort, some result even limited, [is] better than none. I think [to] just wait for the perfect world, just impossible.”

“We have two responsibilities,” he added. “One is [to] promote human values in general. Two is closer contact among traditions, to promote among own followers the proper understanding of traditions.”

Widening one’s perspective promotes peace

The willingness for people of divergent or contrasting faiths to coexist peacefully –the main thrust of Wednesday’s teaching- can be helped if people take a larger view, the Dalai Lama said.

“We can take the example of India. I heard [of] conflict between Catholic and Protestant and actually in Northern Ireland, [where] I have been. Within the same Christian [faith] sometimes due to lack of understanding, conflict happens. And then also in some Muslim worlds, Sunni and Shia, followers of [the] same teacher, Mohammed, sometimes differences, sometimes difficulties. When I saw these things, I [was] surprised because I live in India. In India, in spite of some communal things that happen here and there, basically at [the] grassroots level, in India, one Christian family, next one Hindu, one Muslim, one Jane, live together. They carry their own traditions. So, because of that sort of circumstances, that kind of condition, I think people there take for granted there are different tradition, but [the] same values.”

On materialism

A young Native American woman asked what criticism the Dalai Lama might have for Americans’ “strong minds” for materialism.

“It seems to me on this planet, the Europe and North America, the material development now [has] really reached [an] advanced stage. Then people eventually people come to realize the limitation of material value. Then we see the beginning of an interest in the inner values.

Not all materialism is bad, he added.

“When [confronting] physical sorts of problems -poverty, disease, all these little problems- that’s more urgent. So the materials –food, clothes, shelter- these things are more urgent. So naturally they spend more energy thinking [along] that line.”

Many faiths share ethical values

The monk also addressed the need for everyone to recognize universality of ethics, the values of right and wrong. He reckoned the task in two levels of spirituality.

“One with religion, religious faith. One not necessarily with religious faith but without particular religious faith, simply they realize in order to have happier future, happier days and nights, these inner values are very, very important.

So, [to] make clear, these values [aren’t] just religious matters, these are matters of our happiness, our well-being. That I usually call secular ethics, not necessarily involving any religious faith. Because I feel sometimes people, when they heard about moral ethics, they say ‘this is a religious thing,’ and [on] compassion and forgiveness, people feel [they are] a religious thing. So, those people who have no interest about religion, then they [can be] ignorant about these basic values. I think that’s a mistake. They should have some sort [of awareness] to promote these values without touching religious faith.”

Moderator Karen Armstrong, the Dalai Lama and his interpreter

Is religious observance difficult?

Sitting on the Dalai Lama’s right as a moderator was author Karen Armstrong, a British writer and lecturer on comparative religions in the modern world. Armstrong asked the Dalai Lama whether living a religious or spiritual life is as hard a line of work as, say, running a business.

The Dalai Lama responded in his native Tibetan, which the translator interpreted.

“Basic affection we get by birth. However, often in life, we reach a stage where we tend to forget it. When we reach that kind of stage, then we require effort to maintain. Particularly in the case of religious practice, you need more effort.”

The challenges facing Muslims

Sonja Wademan, school director for the Islamic Center of Boise, asked whether, given the world’s focus on violent Islamic fundamentalists’ actions, whether the world’s one billion or so Muslims have a greater responsibility than other faiths to make Muslims’ preference for peace a reality.

“Islamic tradition, like any other tradition, think one very important tradition. On the first anniversary of September 11, I was in Washington’s National Cathedral. I told the gathering there sometimes are some people [who] create [the] impression Muslims as whole [are] more sort of militant types. And even some books create impression [of] some kind of clash between western and Muslim civilizations. These are wrong. There have always been mischievous individuals in the past and today, among Hindus, the Buddhists, the Christians, the Jews. I think everywhere [there are] mischievous individuals. But that due to that, we cannot generalize the whole tradition is something negative or more militant. [It’s] absolutely wrong.

“It’s not a diplomatic comment,” the Dalai Lama continued. “I’m [a] 70-year-old person. Until my age of 24, I was in Tibet. In Tibet, I think at least [across] the last four centuries, [the] Muslim community [was] there, particularly those Muslims from the Indian side… These Muslims, there was [never a] report about [a] quarrel. [They are] very gentle. Now, after ’59, most of them come out to India. So now they settle in [India] and I have visited them a few times. They are Muslims but they carry Tibetan culture very alive in India. In their room, in their house, the furniture, everything typical sort of Tibetan. They speak Tibetan-scented dialect very beautifully. So, I think the best culture of Tibet is kept by those Muslims. Ha ha. Better than [is done by] Tibetans.”

Moderator Armstrong noted Muslims are still facing a very difficult time in the United States and asked whether the Dalai Lama had any further advice for them.

“More patience,” he advised. “[They] should not be discouraged. I think [it’s the] right time to implement what [the] Koran says, sincerely. Then, eventually, their neighbors [will come to] know, ‘ah, these Muslims [are] pretty peaceful and very good citizens of the society.”

Then the Dalai Lama smiled.

“Meantime, if some individual is going to attack, then defend yourself very carefully. Ha, ha, ha. You know, the practice of compassion is very essential. But if [a] mad dog comes, then if you say compassion, compassion, I say that’s foolish.”

The audience erupts in laughter.

“The other day I mentioned on the hurricane, when waves [reach] several feet high, then you say, ‘peace, peace, peace,’ I think that’s foolish. You have to run, I think.”

Greetings from the Jewish Community

Rabbi Martin Levy of the Wood River Jewish Community asked the exiled leader of Tibet, “how do you cultivate and strengthen your community when you have to live in the diaspora (the Jewish term for their ancient exile from Palestine)?”

“As soon as we become [a] refugee, firstly we are political and we have special duty, not only just [to] look after ourselves, but also culture, our language, everything. So, in the early stage in the ‘60s, we often talked, ‘Oh, Jewish people (were dispersed) for a thousand years and in different places. Even under difficult circumstances, hostile circumstances, they kept their tradition, their identity their spirituality. They should have some secret thing we should steal.’”

The Dalai Lama chuckled and the audience laughed.

“We are really determined [to] try to keep, preserve our traditions. We make [a] distinction: One part of tradition is just social habit. That, time will change, we cannot preserve, [and there’s] no use to preserve. On the other hand, another category of our tradition, [which is] really very useful, particularly when we’re passing though difficult periods. Some of our traditions keeps our hopes and our determination. So, that part we must keep through education. So, [for] the last 46 years, our work for settlement now [has produced a] quite successful community. [There are still] conditions and still difficulties. Our main effort in modern times [is] education and tradition and value. Quite successful, but not total.”

Gov & Mrs Kempthorne, Minister Wendy Collins in glasses, with businessman Adam Koffler

Is there a place for physical violence?

Boise minister Brian Fisher asked the Dalai Lama whether he believes there is ever a place for the use of physical force against evil.

“I think firstly, the violent method and nonviolent method [are both] methods,” he responded. “From the Buddhist viewpoint, the motivation and goal is more important than the method itself. Some people have the view the method is most important… But on [a] practical level, particularly in modern days –I think in ancient times, everything [was] different- in modern times, everything is interdependent, interconnected, not only nation to nation but also continent to continent. So, under [those] circumstances, sometimes I feel the concept of ‘we’ and ‘they’ no longer exist. The whole world is just ‘we.’ So, therefore, under those circumstances, the best thing to solve disagreement or conflict is through dialogue.

Which generated another round of applause.

The Dalai Lama then conceded his speculation is just that -speculation.

“But of course, so far, I have no direct responsibility and I can say these things easily. But when I have direct responsibility, I don’t know.” And he laughed.

Then, focusing on the doer of evil deeds, the Dalai Lama noted the human potential for reform.

“The very concept of evil, I think that needs some sort of clarification. Evil like hatred, ill feeling toward another, I think these are truly evil [and will] never become positive. People who have the these sorts of evil view or evil emotion, but then the person we cannot call them as an evil person. Today, so long as there is negative emotion [is] there, [there is] evil. The next day, they may become a very compassionate person. So therefore, I think here there [is a] distinction. Act and Actor. The negative action we have to oppose. But the actor, the person, should [be] given [the] opportunity to change.

“Therefore, I [am] always against [the] death sentence. Amnesty International, they carry a movement abolishing the death sentence. I fully support that.”

On abortion and homosexuality

Shoshone-Bannock Nation tribal council member Leon Tyler said abortion and homosexuality did not exist before Europeans came to America and asked the Dalai Lama’s position on those.

“On same-sex [issues], I think [for the] believer and non-believer, we have to make a distinction. To a believer, according to one’s own teaching, you should follow. So [in] the Buddhist [tradition], man-to-man, woman-to-woman same sort of sex, that is considered sexual misconduct. So, [it] should [be] avoided [by believing Buddhists].

“Then, according the Christians or Muslims and their own tradition and teaching, they should [not do so]. Then, [among] nonbelievers, sometimes I heard those people, gay people, they face some kind of discrimination. I think that goes a little bit too far. I think nonbelievers, so far, so long as no harm is involved, then I think it’s up to [the] individual. So that’s my view. But I feel closer relations are better. Ha ha ha.

“So then, abortion. Abortion is basically a death, a killing.”

Through his interpreter, he added, “Again, similarly, just as in the case of homosexuality with relation to abortion, one needs to take into account the religious faith of the individuals involved. So, from a religion point of view, particularly the Buddhist context, abortion is an act of killing. It’s very clearly stated in the precepts.”

The Dalai Lama continued.

“Again, in a society, nonbelievers are also there. And now I think in both cases, the societies’ legal question is a different issue. And that there are nonbelievers in the society, so of course on issue of legality, that’s a matter for the particular country or nation.”

Bridging the gap between religions

Episcopal minister Brian Baker then asked how the various churches might bridge their differences over such issues as homosexuality and abortion and come together.

“Basically on theistic and non-theistic religions, I think [the] differences here are very big.”

The Dalai Lama then reverted into his native Tibetan, which the interpreter then translated, “If you look at the example of the coming together of the theistic and non-theistic religions, then the differences are really fundamental, they really are major differences. Yet, because of the commonality on the practical levels of ethics and spiritual values, we can come together. If that is the case, then the minor differences of interpretation among the theistic traditions, there should be all the more grounds for these theistic traditions to come together.”

Resuming his English, the Dalai Lama continued.

“One time in Northern Ireland, for a teaching with an audience of Catholic monks, [I said] theoretically speaking, Buddhists have no concept of a creator. So from the theistic viewpoint, Buddhists are atheists. [Despite that], a friend of mine told me Buddhists are not atheists because atheists means anti-god. Buddhists not necessarily anti-god; we simply don’t mention a creator… So I told the Catholics as for a believer in a god/creator, I am not. But we have no difficulties. We both believe [in] deeper values, higher beings, and try to be a more sensible person, [a] more warm-hearted person and practice all these common teachings. So, we find [there are] no difficulties. So, therefore, if even believers and non-believers can work together, Catholics and Protestants have no basis for quarrel. So therefore, I told them (the translator again intercedes) if two traditions which are so fundamentally different in terms of their basic theology can come together and work together, then of course within the theistic tradition, the Christian theistic tradition, the minor differences of interpretation should not really come in the way of people coming together.”

“Even among the non-theistic group, [the] Janes and Hindus and one part of [the] Sandia [faith], [they have] no concept of [a] creator… Among both Janes and the Sandia, they believe [in the concept of] an independent soul. Buddhists do not accept that. (The Dalai Lama chuckles) So, from their viewpoint, Buddhists are nihilists. [From] our view viewpoint, they are nihilist. (The audience laughs). Still, these should not be a basis of division or quarrel.

“Now, one reason among Buddhists or followers of Buddha, of the same teacher there are different concepts of whether there are different things that exist externally or not. Big differences.”

From the interpreter:

“For example, the philosophical viewpoint about whether external reality is a mere illusion or mental projection or they are really out there. So from these two standpoints, the other side is a nihilist. From the other side is an eternalist or absolutist.”

“But in these, you see,” the Dalai Lama continued, “two views or two philosophies are taught by the same teacher –Buddha. (The audience laughs). So Buddha creates a lot of confusion. (More laughter). So -a serious question- why did Buddha teach these contradictory philosophies? Because among his followers there are different meditative positions. Therefore, it’s necessary to have different philosophies in order to cultivate these positive human qualities. So this we can extend to others. One section believes ‘creator’ is absolute. Everything depends on that. From [a] Buddhist viewpoint, donda.”

The translator notes, “it’s a form of absolutism.”

“Then, as I said earlier, since Buddhists don’t believe in a creator, [they are practicing] nihilism. But then, we understand, to some people, the concept of god is so powerful, you whole future, the whole future of mankind, depends on god. Therefore, we must follow his advice. What is his advice? Compassion, forgiveness. A very powerful approach. To such [a] person in Buddhist concept, everything depends on your own shoulder. There is no creator. Then that person may feel, ‘Whatever I want, I can do that. I want to give that or I can take that action. Or, I want to steal. Because everything I value is on my shoulder, I can bear it.’ So to such people, [the] concept of creator is so powerful, very suitable.”

Interpreter: “So it’s important to appreciate the uniqueness and effectiveness of the different spiritual paths and approaches.”

“So when [you] look through that angle, then when you see different philosophies, different traditions, you get more appreciation. The six billion human beings, [appear to] need this variety of approach so [they] develop some kind of admiration. That’s the basis of harmony. Not just a smile and say ‘hello,’ and nice means, not that way but from [the] heart, appreciate, admire. A great service to humanity today, in the past and in the future.”

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