By Swati Chopra August 2001 An exclusive interview with His Holiness the Dalai Lama Policemen in mufti swarm around the plush hotel room in Delhi, crackling wirelesses in hand. Spared routine security checks, we are ushered into an antechamber and politely asked to wait—His Holiness the Dalai Lama is meeting a foreign diplomat. Minutes (that seem like centuries) later, we are led to an inner suite, a temporary abode of the Yeshe Norbu (‘Wish fulfilling jewel’) of Tibet. We await him with a mixture of awe and reverence compounded by the presence of his somber attendants. Nothing prepares us for the boisterous, maroon-robed monk who walks in, greeting everyone loudly and shaking hands warmly all around. We are finally face to face with the Presence (Kundun in Tibetan). The next hour is spent in communion with the man, his beliefs, his faith, and of course, his laughter. It seems that His Holiness has perfected the ‘art of laughing’, if one may call it that. He uses it to punctuate philosophical debate, at times to bridge the awkward silence as he thinks up a suitable reply to a question, but most of all, to convey his innate joie de vivre. It is infectious and we join in heartily each time his laughter booms out. We are fortunate to partake of the Dalai Lama’s reservoir of loving-kindness, if only for a few fleeting moments. You seem to exist on numerous planes—as a world figure, the temporal and spiritual head of Tibet, a world-renowned spiritual master. Yet you often refer to yourself as a simple monk. Who is the real you? I see myself as a monk first, then as a practitioner of the Nalanda (the world reknown Buddhist education center of India, established around 200 B.C.) tradition of wisdom. Masters of Nalanda such as Nagarjuna, Aryadeva, Aryasangha, Dharmakeerti, Chandrakeerti and Shantideva have written the scriptures that we, as Tibetan Buddhists, study and practice. They are all my gurus. I feel that I might have interacted with them in previous lifetimes. When I read their books and meditate upon their names, I feel a connection. At this point, I don’t say that I belong to the Hinayana or the Mahayanatraditions, but to the lineage of Nalanda. You are called the ‘living Buddha’…? The term ‘living Buddha’ is a translation of the Chinese word ‘ho fu‘. In Tibetan, the operative word is ‘lama‘ which means ‘guru’. A guru is someone who is not necessarily a Buddha but is heavy with knowledge. I believe that previous Dalai Lamas were manifestations of Avalokiteshwara (the Buddha of compassion) and the fifth Dalai Lama is believed to be an incarnation of Manjushree. I am fortunate to be the reincarnation of all these great lamas! (laughs) Can anyone become a Buddha? Oh yes! All sentient beings have the seed of the Buddha within them. It is also said that eventually all sentient beings will attain Buddhahood? Yes, this is so because all negative emotions of the mind can be eliminated. Once the mind is purified, you are a Buddha. How would you describe the Buddhist concept of shunyata? Shunyata is different from Buddhahood. It is the ultimate reality of everything. To purify the mind it is essential to know the nature of reality, which is shunyata. Negative emotions arise from a misconception of reality. In order to remove suffering, you have to meditate on shunyata. What does our world need to become a better place? Undoubtedly we need to be more compassionate. How can we practice compassion?Through awareness! I think that ignorance and afflictive emotions, called klesh in Sanskrit, give rise to unwanted circumstances. As far as ignorance is concerned, not just Buddhism, every religion recognizes it as the source of suffering. All over the world, much effort is put in education. It is something sacred as it helps to get rid of ignorance. But we have to be careful about the kind of education we impart to our children. Now I see well-educated people who are so unhappy. Sometimes, I think those who use their minds too much are unhappier than the simple people who don’t. Why do they become unhappy? It is because of too much desire, hatred, and jealousy. The antidote to weaken that is increasing the right kind of knowledge. I think, perhaps knowledge coupled with a warm heart brings wisdom. Compassion, or karuna, stems from wisdom. For instance, animals with their limited intelligence, are happier and more peaceful than we are. Even so, I have observed that animals become aggressive during the mating season because there is now attachment to the mate. Attachment awakens feelings of klesh within them. Similarly for us, if there is less attachment and jealousy, we are able to focus within. I believe that whether a person follows any religion or not is unimportant, he must have a good heart, a warm heart. This is essential for a happy life, which is much more important than Buddhahood. This is part of what I call ‘secular ethics’. Are we not conditioned by our past karma that may not allow us to be loving and compassionate? How can karma be transcended? By acting with awareness. How can we live in awareness?Analyze! Let’s take the example of Mahatma Gandhi. Physically, he was frail. Although he was well educated, there are others who are better educated than he was. Why then did he become a mahatma? It was because of his heart. He did not act for himself or in his own interest; that is karuna. Karuna, I think, is the main element in becoming a good person. Stalin, Lenin, Mao Zedong were powerful leaders. But they lacked karuna and became unpopular. Compassion automatically brings happiness and calmness. Then, even if you receive disturbing news, it will be easier to take, as your mind is still. But if you are agitated, even a minor happening will upset you greatly. How does one bring about calmness? Hatred, jealousy and excessive attachment cause suffering and agitation. I feel that, again, it is compassion that can help you overcome these to move into a calm state of mind. Compassion is not being kind to your friend. That is attachment because it is based on expectation. Karuna is when you do something good without expectations, even without knowing the other person. It is in realizing that the other person is also just like me. That recognition is the basis on which you can develop karuna, not only towards those around you but also towards your enemy. Normally, when we think about our enemy, we think about harming him. Instead, try to remember that the enemy is also a human being. He or she has the right to be happy, just as you do. Talking about myself, maybe I too have some enemies. Are you talking about China?No, no! I am talking hypothetically. If one has an enemy, one would want him to suffer. Whenever you feel hatred towards the enemy, think of him as a human being. That is actual karuna because you are feeling it for your enemy. You don’t have the other’s kindness to base your compassion upon; the other is actually harming you! That is why I say real karuna is unbiased. What we normally feel is biased karuna, as it is mixed with attachment. Genuine karuna flows towards all sentient beings, particularly towards your enemy. You must keep in mind that developing karuna might not benefit the other directly. If I try to develop karuna towards my enemy, he might not even be aware of it. But it will immediately benefit me! How? By calming my mind. On the other hand, if I keep thinking how awful everything is, I will immediately lose my peace of mind. And that will help the enemy? It is not necessarily helping the enemy as much as harming yourself. By changing your thoughts, you immediately get inner peace. Many people also think that the practice of karuna benefits others and not oneself. That sort of thinking is a grave mistake. It must be overcome through awareness, which, as I mentioned earlier, comes from analyzing. Even modern medical researchers have come to the conclusion that peace of mind is vital to good health. Experiments show that it is easier for those who practice love and compassion to regain a peaceful state of mind after being agitated. In May this year, I witnessed an experiment performed on a monk at Wisconsin University who was subjected to a loud sound. It had little impact on him and he was able to regain his composure without much difficulty. This goes to prove that the practice of compassion actually calms you down considerably. I am not saying that compassion must be practiced because the Buddha taught it. No. It must be practiced equally by the Buddhist, the Hindu, the Jain, the Christian. It is part of the ‘secular ethics’ that I talk about. There is nothing sacred or religious about aspiring to a calm mind. People just need to realize that it is good for our health! My approach is to promote values that enable the individual to have a calm mind. Having a calm mind actually works wonders. Recognizing this would help me want to develop it. This has to be made clear to every individual, even to children. It is important to make the child realize that if he loses his temper, he will suffer. If he is able to be more compassionate, he will feel more joy even while playing. If you smile, life becomes sweeter. After all, if I smile at you, you will smile back! Don’t you ever experience anger?Oh yes, I do. Negative emotions come and go. I do not think they remain within me for long. If you let anger remain within you, it leads to ill-feeling and hatred. How do you deal with anger?Through my clear conviction about compassion. I think negative emotions are part of my mind. It is quite natural to feel angry when faced with problems. But you can change. Can we say that awareness of your emotions helps in dealing with them?If you are able to recognize the moment when anger a
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