- Ethics For A Secular Millenium
- An Interview With His Holiness The
Fourthteen Dalai Lama
- by Tricycle-The Buddhist Review [August 2001]
In the West there are many
different schools of Buddhism. Where do we find common ground?
I would like to say that
we are all students of one teacher - The Buddha. One very kind, wise teacher. That is most
important. As followers or students of this great teacher, we would take his own life as a
model. His sacrifice - leaving his place and remaining in the forest for six years. He
worked hard in order to become enlightened. When Buddha started teaching, he considered
his audience's mentality, their mental disposition, and then, accordingly, gave
Sometimes, we put less
emphasis on the Buddha's way of life. We prefer a more luxurious life-style. Sometimes,
when we explain or teach Buddha-dharma, there is a slight attitude of imposing one's own
All the traditions in
Buddhism have their own unique aspects. But in essence, we are all students of the same
in the world are very inspired by your refusal to give in to anger or despair or revenge
about the situation in your country, we can display more anger about a car that pulls out
in front of us on the highway than you do about China. We see that for you this has
something to do with deep religious training. Can you get so far away from the kind of
anger that we experience every day without religious training?
In my own case, if the car
is delayed, I am also irritated. But for more serious things, perharps I have more
patience and calm. Of course, the training of mind - or religious belief, and certainly in
my case, as Buddhist - is one method. Training involves not just one single method but
many methods. It's like building a huge airplane. It takes so many pieces that all have to
fit together to makes it work. In the same way the transformation of our minds - or
setting the right kind of mental attitude - takes time.
So certainly in my daily
life, in my mental attitude toward myself, toward other fellow human beings, toward
problems, toward enemies - there are perharps some differences because of long process of
training in various methods.
You've often said that we should
remain in our own traditions. Can you say what you mean by that?
Generally speaking, it is
better to keep one's own tradition. It is more suitable. But among some people - in the
West they are usually Christians, Jews, and to some extent Muslims - there is an interest
in Buddhism. Sometimes, because of their individual mental dispositions, they do not find
much in their own tradition that is effective, but they still want a spiritual practice.
They feel strong pull toward Buddhism, and then, of course, it is their right to follow
Buddhism. After all, all religions belong to humanity. What's important is that once we
make a decision to follow another religion we should keep in our minds that we must avoid
criticizing our own previous tradition. We must show respect for it.
What do you think
is going on in the West that makes Buddhism so attractive to us?
Variety, may be. People
always want something new, something new. New furniture, new fashions, a new color of
their hair. All these things. Some even want to change their face (laughter). They
just like something new. That's one factor.
Another more serious
factor is that people sometimes are very skeptical about religious beliefs. Then they
discover that some of the Asian traditions rely on work, or intelligence, or do not ask
people simply accept the teachings on faith. There is a lot of explanation that follows
investigation, so for those who are skeptical of purely faith-based systems, the Asian
traditions can be very attractive. That's one reason. Then, another thing: all major
religious traditions have the teachings on the practice of compassion, love, forgiveness,
but the Buddha has become a symbol of nonviolence around the world, a symbol of
compassion. All ancient masters teach the same message, but the Buddha 's message is not
just for humanity alone; it is for all sentient beings. It puts strong emphasis on
respect for all forms of life. And I think that this is perharps why the Buddha has become
a universal symbol of compassion and nonviolence and why so many are attracted to
Do you think that Buddhism can
temper some of the violence in this country?
I think so.
How do you think the values of our
country will affect Buddhism?
As far as Buddhist
philosophy or concepts are concerned, I don't think there'll be any substantial change.
But the ancient Indian traditions have tried to explain cosmologies. So here, modern
science - the science of cosmology, and also biology, neurobiology, psychology and physics
- will be very helful in developing a deeper understanding of reality in these fields.
Then there is the Viyana,
the monastic code. In the Viyana, the Buddha gave the eaqual rights to male and female.
But then, in some forms of practice, it looks like there is some discrimination. In the
past, we just took these things for granted. There were no self-consciousness about it. In
the West, there's a lot of consciousness about equality, especially when it comes to the
rights of women. This situation could help to open our minds. And perharps to have some
discussion or make some correction or modification.
But there's one problem :
One single person cannot decide to make changes to the Vinaya. This kind of decision must
be made with a group of shanghas, a group of bhikshus - because this is the monastic
practice of the Thai or Theravada system, the Tibetan system, the Chinese system, and [in
this regard] they are essentially the same. So logically, this needs change or
modification by an international shagha group. Otherwise, it is a little difficult for us
Tibetans to make change alone. For many years I have been eager to have an international
gathering of bhikshus from all Buddhist countries, especially for the Viyana traditions,
in order to have discussions about the Buddha's teachings and today's reality.
In the United
States one of our reality is capitalism. You have said that capitalism is too focused on
money. Does this present special problems for the study of Buddhism and for the
transmission of Buddhism into Western value system?
I don't think so. Whether
socialist or capitalist, generally people everywhere are concernd with money. I think it
is the same. Easterner, Westerner, capitalist, socialist - everywhere, generally speaking,
people are always drawn toward money and material comfort.
You have said so
many times that your religion is kindness. And sometimes we hear this to mean something
other than "religion" as we know it.
I believe that it is very
useful or important to have a nonreligious way of approaching a nonbeliever in order to
give him peace of mind. And in that way to give it to the community and to humanity as a
whole. In any case, the majority of the world's population of six billion people has
little interest or serioueness when it comes to religion. That majority, that group of
people, has a greater influence on society - than those who are religious do.
I get the impression that
when people are not much interested in religion they also neglect values like compassion,
a sense of sharing, a sense of caring - all the things that people consider to be a
religious message and reject. That's mistake. These are secular ethics, not a religious
message, and they are for everyone. Everyone can understand that being human, you want a
happy life, a happy family, to be a happy individual. But material things will not provide
you with genuine inner peace or inner happiness. Human values are essential. We must find
a way to present basic human values to everyone - and present them not as religious
matters but as secular ethics that are essential whether you are religious or not.