The Dalai Lama Lauds Indian and American Values of Democracy, Liberty, Freedom
By Geeta Goindi
WASHINGTON, July 9, 2011 – Scores of people braved the sweltering heat Saturday to hear the Dalai Lama, one of the greatest spiritual leaders in the world today, speak on an issue which has become of paramount importance to us: Peace.
The significance of the venue stood out: West Lawn of the US Capitol, a building where far-reaching decisions are made impacting millions of lives around the globe. It was here that scores of people began gathering from sunrise to hear the Tibetan leader they so revere !
The program began on an auspicious note with prayers. Buddhist monks from the Namgyal Monastery, the North American seat of the Dalai Lama in New York, took to the stage and chanted with folded hands and special head coverings. The event was organized by the Capital Area Tibetan Association (CATA) and made possible on account of the strong support of bipartisan members of Congress for the Dalai Lama and the people of Tibet. Superstar Whoopi Goldberg served as an endearing emcee.
The Dalai Lama, who for 52 years now has lived in exile in India, the world’s largest democracy, made it abundantly clear that the “best way is the democratic system … Rule the country by the people … Americans have a very well balanced system. You can complain. It is your right. You can express that. I love the democratic system”, he declared.
Describing the US Capitol as a “magnificent building”, he told the crowd, “Your forefathers, ancestors, were committed to the promotion of liberty, equality, democracy, the rule of law. Tibetans see America as a great nation, fully committed to the values of democracy, liberty and freedom”.
When the spiritual leader said he was “full of admiration for India and its secularism which respects all religions”, cheers erupted from the huge gathering. He lauded India for being “multi-religious” and noted that this “Indian tradition” spans “thousands of years of secularism”.
Many a heart went out to the Dalai Lama and the people of Tibet who have, and continue to endure, unfathomable hardship. “I lost my freedom at the age of 16″, the Dalai Lama told the crowd. “Then, at the age of 24, I lost my country”.
Earlier this year, he stepped down as the day-to-day political leader of Tibet’s government-in-exile. He fled Tibet in 1959 as Chinese forces consolidated control over the country, and has lived in India ever since.
Explaining his decision to relinquish power, he insisted, “religious and political institutions must be separate. If I myself combine these two, it is hypocrisy … I voluntarily, happily, proudly” retired from politics, he declared.
On stage, the Dalai Lama welcomed a potential spiritual successor, Karmapa Lama. Only 26, this young Lama has, as Goldberg pointed out, “overcome insane hardship while in Tibet and now resides in-exile in India”.
In a question-and-answer session following the talk, a member of the audience asked, ‘Do you ever see yourself as returning to Tibet’? The Dalai Lama promptly replied, “Oh yes. Things are always changing”, which drew loud cheers from the crowd. He was optimistic that China will allow greater freedom. “Certainly, I think the voice of freedom, democracy, rule of law, more and more voices are now coming”, he said. Noting that the Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao has himself called for political reforms, he was upbeat that “things will certainly change. Not only in the Chinese case, but in the whole world, things are changing … In the long run, the power of compassion is much more effective than the power of the gun”, he said.
A 14-year-old wanted to know how to keep faith in the goodness of peace when the world is in such turmoil. The spiritual leader acknowledged pressing issues of our times: global warming, nuclear weapons, population growth, the economic crisis, even corruption. While “the 20th century was a century of violence, the 21st century should be a century of dialogue”, he told a delighted crowd. “The desire for genuine peace is very strong everywhere. Our future is hopeful!”
The Dalai Lama describes himself as a simple monk, yet he possesses this unique spell which he casts over people everywhere. Humble to the core, he greets people with folded hands as in our traditional ‘Namaste’. He inspires, motivates, deeply moves, and he did just that, Saturday morning.
At the outset, he made it clear, “I do not like formality … The most important events in our life are at the time of birth and death. There is no formality, (you) just come”, he said, to much laughter. “Too much formality becomes a barrier to communicate person-to-person”, he reasoned. “It is better to talk heart-to-heart”. And he proceeded to do so.
A champion of peace and non-violence, he dwelt on how to create inner peace. “Everyone wants a happy life, successful life”, he noted. “It entirely depends on our inner peace. Inspite of our surroundings, we have the opportunity and ability to create inner peace … My number one commitment is to inner peace”.
Then, comes harmony. “Try to create a calm mind, a peaceful mind”, he advised. “That’s the way to change our society. The initiative must come from the individual level. The government cannot do much. These things depend upon the individual … So, I feel it is very purposeful to meet people. I am very happy”, he said, looking around at the sizeable gathering in the heart of Washington.
The Dalai Lama does not attach importance to religious institutions. “Without religion, you can be a happy person; without a compassionate mind, you cannot be a happy person”, he maintained. Acknowledging that India is a “very religious-minded country”, he pointed out that corruption still prevails. “If you practice ‘Dharma’ (religion), you should not be corrupt”, he reasoned.
The spiritual leader speaks from experience, he speaks with wisdom, and with a generous dose of humor!
To the young women in the audience, he pointed out that cosmetics are only for external appearance. “Real beauty is inner beauty”, he said, to loud cheers. “With inner beauty, you will find a good companion. Your marriage will be a long, happy one”.
By the same token, “a genuine smile is the expression of compassion, love, friendship”, he noted. “Human beings need friendship based entirely on trust. If there is trust, there is love”, he said.
Wearing a simple white shirt, Goldberg, described the Dalai Lama as one of the greatest peace makers and spiritual leaders today. “I was so happy to be some place that was celebratory. It is so nice to come to celebrate the idea of peace”, she said, to cheers from the audience.
“This is a special, it is a historic day”, she noted. “Look at where we are – in Washington, DC – where people make decisions which affect others around the world. Today, we figured that people here – the general public – could come together and talk about this idea of world peace through inner peace. I actually believe that if you are nice to somebody, generally, they are nice back and the day gets better; the crankier you get, the worse the day gets”, she said, in her signature forthright style.
In a special message on the occasion of the Dalai Lama’s peace talk, Archbishop Desmond Mpilo Tulu, Nobel Peace laureate (1984) and South African activist on issues pertaining to democracy, freedom and human rights, said: “I am delighted that so many people have come from all over to hear and celebrate this man who considers himself a simple monk and yet has changed our world … I know that when you sit and listen to him, you are empowered to make a change in the world yourselves … By coming to this event, you are making a difference. The people who pretend not to hear, are listening”.
For entertainment, members of the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts (TIPA) – the premiere Tibetan cultural institution based in Dharamsala, India – performed a unique dance, symbolizing the three provinces of Tibet, the commonality of their identity and their mutual reverence for the Dalai Lama.
Recording artiste Skylar Grey rendered a new version of her multi-platinum hit, ‘Coming Home’, dedicated to the Dalai Lama and the people of Tibet. The irony of the profoundly moving lyrics was not lost on anyone. “That was an amazing song”, said Goldberg. “We are all longing to come home”!
The Dalai Lama is on a 10-day visit to Washington to confer the Kalachakra for World Peace. Kalachakra literally means the time wheel which has no beginning and no end. The ritual is so powerful that it holds the power to transform individual lives, the environment, the community and the world beyond. It draws several thousands of people because the practice can confer enormous blessings and generate a great positive force, now and in the future, for both the individuals attending it as well as the world at large.