By: Heidi A Heltzel Issue: Big Ideas, Smart People Section: Nobel
Dalai Lamas are believed to be manifestations of Avalokiteshvara or Chenrezig, the Bodhisattva of Compassion and patron saint of Tibet. Bodhisattvas are enlightened beings who have postponed their own nirvana and chosen to take rebirth in order to serve humanity. His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, is the 14th Dalai Lama in a line that began in 1391. The Lama was born as Lhamo Dhondon on July 6, 1935, to a farming family in northeastern Tibet, and, at the age of two, he was recognized as the reincarnation of the 13th Dalai Lama, Thubten Gyatso.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama is both the head of state and the spiritual leader of Tibet. A man of peace, the three major commitments of the Dalai Lama are the promotion of human values such as compassion, forgiveness, tolerance, contentment and self-discipline; the promotion of religious harmony and understanding among the world’s major religious traditions; and to act as the free spokesperson of the Tibetan people in their struggle for justice.
His Holiness has met with presidents, prime ministers, and crowned rulers of major nations. He has held dialogues with the heads of different religions and many of the world’s leading scientists. Having brought his message to more than 62 countries, spanning six continents, he communicates his message not just to the world’s political, scientific, and spiritual leaders, but to the general public as well, and has become an inspirational leader to millions of people all over the world. In fact, as a modern day means of spreading his message, His Holiness has gone "viral" with nearly 1,250,000 Facebook supporters and even more Twitter followers. Truly a leader, even on Twitter he "follows" no one. The combined participation on these two social media sites approaches the entire Tibetan population.
Since 1959, the Dalai Lama has received more than 84 awards, honorary doctorates, and prizes in recognition of his message of peace, non-violence, inter-religious understanding, universal responsibility, and compassion. His efforts have been consistent even in the face of extreme aggression. In 1989, His Holiness was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his non-violent struggle for the liberation of Tibet, and was the first Nobel laureate to be recognized for his concern for global environmental problems.
In his leadership role to free Tibet from oppression, in 1963, His Holiness presented a draft democratic constitution, followed by a number of reforms to democratize their administrative set up. The new democratic constitution promulgated as a result of this reform was named "The Charter of Tibetans in Exile," which enshrines freedom of speech, belief, assembly, and movement. It also provides detailed guidelines for the functioning of the Tibetan government with respect to those living in exile.
In May 1990, the reforms called for by His Holiness saw the realization of a truly democratic administration in exile for the Tibetan community, whereby the cabinet members were then elected on a one-man, one-vote basis, rather than being appointed by His Holiness. Two years later, His Holiness issued guidelines for the constitution of the future—a free Tibet.
A further step in democratization was taken in 2001 when the Tibetan electorate directly elected the Kalon Tripa, the senior-most minister of the cabinet. The Kalon Tripa, in turn, appointed his own cabinet who had to be approved by the Tibetan Assembly. In its long history, this was the first time that the people elected the political leadership of Tibet.
The day Tibet becomes free is the day that His Holiness has proclaimed he would transfer all of his historical and political authority to the interim president and live as an ordinary citizen. In any case, however, His Holiness describes himself as a simple Buddhist monk.
I had the distinct pleasure of learning from the Dalai Lama. Here is what he said.
ICOSA: In the time that you have been the Dalai Lama, how have political and religious changes throughout the world changed the way you work toward promoting values and religious harmony?
DALAI LAMA: We are in a new reality now. We are in a new world, because of the economy, because of the crisis of ecology—all of these things. I think in this new world, everything is heavily interdependent. So our approach also should be changed according to this new reality.
I think the sense of community and the sense of global interdependence, in itself, can be a moral principle, meaning that we can no longer have a narrow-minded, self-centered sort of attitude. Respecting others and taking serious consideration of others’ welfare is a fundamental moral principle. It is the concept of love—the sense of brotherhood and sisterhood—this is the meaning.
We need ethics in order to have a happier humanity. We need to be more compassionate, more peaceful and equal, have less gap between rich and poor, and give everybody sufficient basic necessities. Then, I think there would be less quarreling, less jealously, less extreme competitiveness, and I think we would be more peaceful. Thinking peacefully with a feeling of concern for each individual part of society – our own daily life should be something according to these principles and that’s marvelous. This benefits the whole world, and that means it will definitely benefit each one of us. A better world is the best guarantee for our own individual future.
ICOSA: Many of your efforts promote interconnectedness, combined with personal empowerment and leadership. However, as the world becomes smaller through technology, it also seems to become more divided. How do you hope to fulfill these objectives?
DALAI LAMA: The new realities of the world are compelling us to think with a wider perspective. I think in ancient times, people viewed their situation more individually and saw things in terms of the distance between "we" and "they." They said, "Our population can remain isolated and self-sufficient, not dependent on others." Under that set of circumstances, the concept of "we" and "the enemy" made some sense, and the destruction of the enemy through war was your victory. The current reality is no longer the same. Today, the destruction of your neighbor is the destruction of yourself. So the basic view of "we" and "they"—that we are not dependent on others, that we can be independent—is no longer true. We are compelled to take care of them because they are also a part of us. There is a new ethic because we recognize a new reality. And irrespective of whether we are on our own or not, we have to act according to that reality.
ICOSA: What is the role, beyond profit, that businesses throughout the world should focus on achieving in order to support and encourage better societies?
DALAI LAMA: In our society today, the media especially has great responsibility. I have always believed that on this planet, we are one human family, and now because of many new factors today, we have to think of the entire human race as "we." There is no more "my interest" or "your interest." All of our interests are related to the whole world, to all people. We are now one global family, so when there is a problem or a threat to one of us, all of us will suffer. There is no escape.
Now that the world has become a much smaller place, much depends on each one of us. In order to go forward positively, the main factor is the human mind, the human consciousness. The sense of commitment toward a better future is our real hope. All professions should play a role—educators, the media, scientists, religious leaders, economists, and of course, politicians. They all have different activities, but they all must be for humanity, because now when we talk about humanity we cannot make a distinction between "us" or "them."
ICOSA: Tibet’s democratization efforts seem to be increasing in tempo and effectiveness, while China’s oppression is increasing. How will this increased push-pull affect efforts to resolve the situation and the outcomes?
DALAI LAMA: In spite of the very serious, harsh, and repressive nature of what is happening in Tibet today, basically, I am very hopeful, because the overall situation in the world is showing us that the totalitarian communist way of ruling doesn’t work. In China, the democratic movement not only survived, but is now very active. And I also think that economic development has brought political liberalization. At the same time, the Tibetan spirit is very high, very strong, especially among the younger generation. Awareness about Tibet is increasing around the world, year by year, and as a result, the feeling of sympathy and the feeling of solidarity is increasing. So due to these factors, for the long run, I am very optimistic.