On behalf of all the people of
Tibet, I would like to thank all those who have taken an interest in the culture of Tibet
and its traditions, both spiritual and secular. I thank you for all you are doing to make
sure these traditions do not disappear.
I am going to speak today of peace of mind. The reason
Tibetan culture is so important-at least, it seems to me-is that our culture has great
potential for promoting peace of mind. During the extremely difficult period we have known
recently in Tibet, one of the factors which has helped us to remain determined and not
lose hope is this aspect of our own culture.
Our civilization is such that it has allowed us to
preserve our serenity and our inner peace in spite of all the trials and difficult
situations we have known. Recently I have had more and more contact with Western
scientists and we have been speaking about the frustration experienced by human beings and
of various possible remedies for that frustration. The scientists questioned me at length
about the mental health and state of mind of Tibetan people, and they were very surprised
to discover that despite all the trauma the Tibetans have experienced, they manage to
preserve a stable mental state. This has been observed in particular among those who spent
long years in Chinese prisons and labor camps.
I would like to share with you an example. The associate
abbot of the Nanigyal monastery, who was recently exiled to India, was imprisoned in I959,
then sent to a Chinese labor camp-he was incarcerated a total of eighteen years. After he
reached his monastery in exile, we had a chat together. He told me of his life and his
experiences. He mentioned that while he was in the hands of the Chinese, he was in great
danger for the following reason: he explained that he almost lost the compassion he felt
for his torturers. I found this remarkable!
I often tease this man, telling him that despite all those
difficult years spent at the mercy of the Chinese, his face has hardly changed. Although
he is older than me, I believe he has even less white hair than I do-you probably can't
see mine today, I shaved my head this morning! Above all, he has kept his wonderful smile.
All this is possible, or so it seems to me, because of Tibetan and Buddhist culture.
Perhaps my modest experience might serve as an example. As
a Buddhist monk, I have been trained in the practice, the philosophy, and the teachings of
Buddhism, but not at all with the view of having to cope with the demands of modern life.
I have had to handle enormous responsibilities. I lost my freedom at the age of sixteen,
and my country when I was twenty-four. For thirty-four years I have lived in exile, a
refugee in a foreign country. All this time, while we have been working for the exiled
Tibetan community, our country has known immeasurable destruction and suffering. Despite
all this tragedy I find that as far as my mind, peace, and serenity are concerned, I am
not doing too badly.
On occasion tourists come back from Tibet or from the
refuge camps in India with the false impression that Tibetans can't have suffered all that
much because they seem very happy and are always smiling. This misconception is the only
disadvantage of our mental attitude.
How can we develop inner peace and serenity in our mind? I
think human nature is basically good. It is true that we are also made up of jealousy and
hatred, but nevertheless I believe our dominant characteristics are affection and
kindness. From the first day of our lives until our last breath, the very foundation of
our existence is affection and human warmth. It is a well-known fact that children raised
in an affectionate family have greater success in developing their human qualities, while
those who grow up in the absence of the favorable conditions of love and compassion end up
with a far more negative behavior in life and create tension wherever they go. The absence
or the presence of compassion and love in a family therefore has a very obvious effect.
According to doctors and scientists, a calm mental state is a critical factor in a
person's health. In addition, from the first weeks of life, physical contact, whether with
the mother or someone else, is of prime importance for the awakening and development of
the child's brain
We all know that on days when we are in a good mood, when
the whole world seems to be smiling at us, we can accept predicaments or bad news more
easily than if our mind is already upset, frustrated, or troubled, when the slightest
incident might cause us to explode with negative emotions. If we make a habit of being
governed by these negative emotions, we will lose our appetite, sleep badly, perhaps
become ill, and lose a few years of our life itself as a result. So mental calmness is
I think that in the West people are very precise and are
more interested in action than in motivation. For me, motivation is more important, for it
is sometimes difficult to judge the value of an act without referring, precisely, to what
lies behind it. After all, the energy of life, of human activity; is intention. This takes
place in our thoughts, and just as there exist in the outside world countless varied
substances some beneficial, others harmful-which we try either to accumulate or avoid,
respectively, there also exist in the inner world, in the mind, thousands and thousands of
thoughts of A kinds. Some are very useful because they make us happy and give us inner
tranquility and strength. Others disturb us, leaving us demoralized or depressed,
sometimes even pushing us toward suicide.
Thoughts and emotions are therefore either positive or
negative. We must first of all establish their worth before we try to encourage the
positive ones and eliminate the others. In this way, we can cultivate inner peace. An
ability to distinguish beneficial thoughts from those which are not makes all the
difference. As a rule, we do not take our thoughts and our emotions into account. We
simply consider them to be an integral part of ourselves, and believe that there is
nothing we can do about them. When we must deal with a problem or danger, anger and hatred
seem to protect us and give us renewed energy. However, attachment creeps insidiously into
our minds; we treat it like a comfortable old friend. But in the end this "old friend
will lead us down the garden path. Some of these emotions, like anger or fear, reveal
their true face almost immediately. Other emotions, like attachment, make their negative
effects felt over time. Once we recognize the characteristics of negative attitudes and
correctly identify their consequences, we will know how to be more wary of them.
From then on we can begin to detach from them and
cultivate the opposite attitude- compassion, forgiveness, and sympathy. In this way we can
progressively strengthen positive emotions as we weaken our negative emotions. Even if
they do continue to appear, they will be passing emotions and not leave too visible a mark
upon our mind. In some cases, it is better to express anger or resentment provoked by past
events in order to rid ourselves of these feelings. But, in general, if we let anger or
other negative emotions flow freely, we will get used to them and eventually lose our
temper more and more frequently. That is why I think it is very useful to impose a certain
discipline in shaping one's mind. Discipline is not imposed from the outside; it is our
own intelligence that must impose it from within. In this way we accept it fully.
In training the mind, time is of crucial importance. We
must not expect to be completely transformed in a few minutes or even a few weeks, by
thinking, for example, that because we have received the blessing of an enlightened
individual we will be able to obtain immediate results. Such an attitude is hardly
realistic. It takes time, sometimes years, perhaps even decades. But if we persevere,
keeping our goal and the means to attain it in sight, we will certainly progress over
How can we lessen anger and hatred? In some cases, if it
is motivated by compassion, for example, anger can be a positive thing. Hatred, on the
other hand, is always negative. We must measure and understand the harmful nature of
distressing feelings such as hatred. As I have already said, hatred makes us lose our
health and our friends, and it will eventually spoil our entire life. Negative emotions
create problems on all levels -individual, family, community, national, even
international. The history of humanity has shown that those who have inflicted unspeakable
suffering on others were driven by boundless hatred and greed. At times such behavior was
simply through ignorance. This does not mean that these people are bad at heart-they are
human beings, after all. But they allowed their minds to be dominated and confused by
negative emotions which eventually turned them into murderers.
Again, if we look at the history of humanity, we will find
that the great majority of successful endeavors were accomplished by people , who were
altruistic and at peace with themselves. The majority of great musicians and artists
possess this inner peace. There are exceptions, of course, but it generally holds true
that artistic creation springs from an inner tranquility that is conducive for the
expression of one's deepest feelings. In this way, artists create happiness and bring
inspiration to others.
We can also take the contemporary example of Mahatma
Gandhi, an extraordinary human being who had great self-discipline. He needed very little
to he content. Despite his Western education and his awareness of the benefits to be had
from that civilization in terms of material comfort or opportunity, he chose to live in
India in great simplicity, almost like a beggar. This reflects his self-discipline and
altruism. Everything positive that human beings have managed to accomplish has been, in my
opinion, a result of these positive emotions of the mind.
My own experience, as well as that of others, has shown me
the degree to which positive mental attitudes bring happiness to oneself and to others,
and to what degree negative attitudes can be destructive. On that basis it is up to each
individual to make every possible effort to develop his or her mind.
Human beings live in society. Even though it is more
agreeable to have lots of friends and no enemies, everyone finds both friends and enemies
among other people. Friends and enemies do not exist as such. Friendship and enmity result
from different factors, of which the primary one is our own mental attitude. When we are
open to others and ready to offer them our friendship and affection, this immediately
creates a good environment. Without even realizing it, other people come "P to us
with a smile on their face- not a tense, artificial smile, but a sincere one. But if we
feed on bad intentions and negative thoughts, if we do not take into account the rights
and wishes of others; ill short, if we think only of ourselves and have a tendency to
exploit others for our own ends, the situation will suffer. Even close family members will
stay away in the end. Thus it becomes dear that friendsand enemies are the product of our
own personal attitude.
Some think, mistakenly, that money creates friends.
Nothing could be less certain-it also creates enemies! Let us think for a moment of those
who greet us with a big smile on their face: are they our friends or the friends of our
money? There's no telling. For as long as we have money, they will certainly come and
share a bottle of champagne, and everything will he fine. But when the money is no longer
there friends begin to disappear, as if by magic. It becomes impossible to reach them on
the phone, or their response is abrupt. Money and material goods are of course necessary,
but they are not the essential thing. True wealth is to be found within.
Compassion, forgiveness, hope, and perseverance are
positive attitudes which all great religions try to develop and strengthen. You n not
necessarily be a believer- every person has the right to accept refuse religion-in order
to amplify these positive attitudes of mind. We should remember that the great world
religions carry same message and encourage the same human qualities. Although religious
dogma may differ, the central message remains the same. On the basis of this common
ground, the message of love and co passion will spread to the far corners of the world if
all those who low a spiritual path work together in harmony and mutual respect.
But if those who advocate these same human qualities
quarrel with and criticize one another, how will they be able to communicate message to
others? People will surely say, not without a certain irony, "Look at them! Where are
tolerance and mutual respect? They can even get along." If we want to help humanity
in a practical way, we must to begin by setting an example of mutual respect, harmony, an,
togetherness in the eyes of the world. Seen from a distance, difference can seem enormous.
But if we approach others and share their experiences, we will better understand how to
get along despite doctrinal differences, and how to develop together the positive aspects
of human existence. It is therefore of the utmost importance to maintain good relations,
and for different religious movements to communicate with each other. Despite all the
conflicts caused by religious discord, whether .in Bosnia or Africa, there have been
encouraging steps towards reconciliation. But a sustained effort must be made in this
-- I recently saw a documentary about the suffering of
77bet, which included the testimony of a monk who had been incarcerated for more than
thirty-three years- twenty-four in prison and nine in labor camps. He had suffered the
most awful torture imaginable, which left him handicapped for life. How can we
conceive of peace of mind, which implies serenity and virtue, when we bear a story like
this? Wouldn't anger and pragmatism be a more appropriate response?
-- The most important thing is to not be indifferent, to
feel strongly about the situation but in a constructive way, if you see what I mean. We
must not be overwhelmed by our feelings to the point of paralysis. I'm not sure if I've
understood what you are asking, but if the idea is to maintain inner calm effectively when
confronted with situations like the one you have described, then it depends in large part
upon each individual's own level of spiritual development.
-- Considering the terrible
ordeals you and your people have known and continue to endure, do you have any thoughts
about nature, about gardens? Do you consider them to be one of the more obvious symbols of
civilization? What message can a landscape offer, in your opinion? Can gardens and
landscapes he4P us to find peace of mind, to identity and adopt the path to wisdom?
-- I do indeed believe that, particularly when our spirit
is troubled, if lye go outside and look at the land around us, breathe in the fresh air
and listen to the birds singing, we can find a temporary peace of mind. After all, in
spite of all our knowledge and abilities, we are still part of nature, we are its product.
Thousands of years ago our ancestors lived much closer to nature. Today we still have
traces of that life it us: even in the most modern homes we like to have wooden furniture
and green plants -it's in our blood.
In the past all of life was based on trees. Their flowers
gave us decoration, their fruit gave us nourishment, their leaves and fibers clothed us
and provided us with shelter. We took refuge in their branches for protection from wild
animals. We used wood for heat, and for cane to bear our weight when we grew old, and to
make weapons to defend ourselves. We were very close to trees. Today, surrounded by
sophisticated machinery and high-performance computers in our ultra modem offices, it is
easy to forget our ties with nature. It is normal to try and improve the quality of our
lives through science and technology. But at the same time it is important to know the
limitation of such progress and to remain aware of the fact that we still depend on
nature. If the environment were to he radically altered there would be nothing we could do
to protect ourselves. That is why all o thoughts and acts must follow the Middle Way.
-- In our Western minds there is
often confusion between repression and search for inner peace. When we repress something,
we take everything that is a problem in our lives and hide it away in a little corner of
ourselves, thinking that we will be able to forget it and go on living with out having to
deal with it. What do you think of this art of repression?
-- I think I already touched briefly on this problem by
saying that in some cases, that of fear in particular, it is not necessarily a bad thing
to express your emotions in order to be rid of them. But I do think this presents a
certain danger. Indeed, if we lack inner discipline and we let all the emotions that go
through our heads come out, on the pretext that they must be expressed, we will reach a
point of considerable excess and may even have difficulty in respecting the laws of our
country. Socially or individually, we do need a certain inner discipline in order to
direct our thoughts in a constructive way. Human emotions have no limits, and the strength
of negative emotions is infinite.
But I do not think that we can talk about
repression in that case. on the contrary, this is something quite positive. We study and
practice in order to eliminate our ignorance in stages. Practice can often seem difficult.
When we are tired we might not feel like carrying on. But nevertheless, as we become aware
of the benefits of practice we will impose a certain discipline and go on with our effort.
In studying we expand our knowledge, but that does not mean that we repress our ignorance!
Special thanks to Phramaha Somnuek Saksree for retyping this article.