March 1st was the Faith and Peace Day at the Nobel Peace Prize Forum. His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama was the first keynote speaker, and his entrance was as jovial and comfortable as the rest of his time on stage. He ignored our custom of walking on stage after the introduction speech and walked smilingly to the podium while the speech continued; the speaker ended up informing the audience of his accolades while looking, glowing with the honor of doing so, directly at him. After speaking for about 30 minutes, he answered questions directed to him from the audience in the auditorium and from around the world, where the forum was broadcast via Google Plus. Here, I paraphrase the questions and answers given.
Q: How would a person remain encouraged in the constant face of inequalities and inequities in the world? We can look forward to the future, which changes unexpectedly because of wars/conflicts and peacemaking. Peace-work is very much out in the open, is talked about in mass media, and is something that many people intentionally enter as a profession, so the future will be better. The young ones, especially those under 15 years of chronological age are the hope for the future. Peace comes from having compassion; the younger generations have hearts more open for such compassion.
Q: How do you overcome despair? There is no choice! (He chuckled – a constant throughout his appearance.) To elaborate, if we pay too much attention to the negative messages and stories around us, that negativity will end up disrupting the body’s health, which isn’t worthwhile. Optimism is a healthier choice for mind and body.
Q: What steps can we take to bridge the gap between us and those not in a place to seek peace? Work for the long-term change, making small adjustments – they’ll add up. Education, specifically that bent on creating critical thinkers and engaged citizens, moves people to compassion. Invest in the education of the young, teach the children to see others as humans.
Q: What are hallmarks of genuine compassion? A sense of concern for others, willing to sacrifice the self for others like a mother bird sacrifices herself for her chicks. He has invested himself so that he’s going to get the maximum benefit from humanity’s collective satisfaction and happiness; with a personal investment, we’ll work harder for that outcome. Forgiveness comes when a person can separate the self from their wrong actions, and know the actions don’t make up the entirety of the person.
Q: What are three things a small group of schoolchildren can do to better humanity? “I don’t know!” (He chuckled.) We start at the individual level, working to embody compassion. From there, we branch out into the family level, until we have a happy family. Then, get five or more happy families, we can get a happy society! He advocates for grassroots change, saying that we’ll be waiting forever if we expect large scale changes to come from the top.
Q from the mayor of Minneapolis: What thoughts do you have for those working in government or politics? Dirty politics isn’t the profession. Politics is the profession, the adjective “dirty” is only attached because of the behavior of the individuals making up the profession. Likewise, even religion can become dirty, if the practitioners are self-serving, egotistical, immoderate, and not concerned with the wellbeing of others.
Q: What can the role of the young be in creating a peaceful country? He advocates taking charge of their education and becoming leaders. The best leaders he knows are realistic, interested in holistically understanding people and working toward their goals with unshakeable determination, grounded in compassion. Start with compassion; he used the example of Mother Theresa.
Q: What can bring us hope? Look at the past century; many totalitarian governments were dismantled, others were changed for the better. Even China is changing. Modern technology offers a platform for spreading nonviolence and innovations, and a place for dialogue and compromise. While the 20th century was a Century of War, he called for the 21th century to be the Century of Dialogue. Globalization has interconnected humanity. Although previously, the destructive distinctions between us and them were hard and fast, our interconnectedness means we’re as liable to hurt ourselves as others.
Q: Is spirituality necessary for peace, on an individual or larger basis? Yes! All major religions have strong claim to working for compassion and peace. Among the believers, there will be “mischievous” believers, evidence that sometimes belief creates divisions. He cited Roman Catholic-Protestant, Christian-Muslim, Buddhist-Hindu, and Shiite-Sunni conflicts as examples. Leaders need to take strong roles, such as Pope Francis I, who disciplined a German bishop for living a luxurious life on church money. If (religious) leaders educated people about the values informing fundamentalist perspectives, then we can build bridges of dialogue.
Q: Can we overcome the warring nature of humanity? Yes! We must learn from the affection of our mothers. Even Stalin and Hitler had mothers, probably received affection from them. On the other hand, however, if we are by nature aggressive against others, then our species should have no concerns about overpopulation, as competition and conflict would curtail our population growth. Yet, there are many examples of people sacrificing themselves for the care of ill, infirm, elderly, differently abled, and the population only keeps increasing. Our dominant emotion as humans is love, not anger. Besides, constant anger is harmful to health, starting with disturbing sleep.
Q: Will you describe the world in one word? Complicated! (He chuckled.) It is a world in need of tireless effort. Humanity should work together toward one goal.
Q: Will you give us your blessing? He deferred, saying he is sometimes skeptical of the Western concept of blessings. For him, each person is blessed by the outcomes of their own actions. Yet, his closing remarks could have been interpreted as a blessing (I didn’t write them down).
I drove away from this forum singing a song by Carrie Newcomer. The refrain of the song is:
If not now, tell me when? If not now, tell me when? / We may never see this moment, or place in time again, / if not now, if not now, tell me when?