- H.H. The Fourteenth Dalai Lama
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
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
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 very important.
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 time.
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 direction!
I recently saw a documentary about the suffering of Tibet,
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!
[Originally published in HH. The Dalai Lama's Beyond Dogma, the
Challenge of the Modern World. (Rupa & Co: 1996), pp. 59-66].
Thanking Phramaha Somnuek Saksree for his retyping