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Human Rights and Non-Violence
H.H. The Fourteenth Dalai Lama

We speak here of human rights and non-violence. Personally, I do not view the practice of non-violence as being merely an act devoid of violence. For me, non-violence can only be qualified as non-violent pacifism if it is founded on kindness and altruism. The same applies to human rights.

All human beings have in common the desire to avoid suffering and to know happiness. When our own experience has given us the means to understand that we are not alone in wishing to avoid suffering and live happily, we will be able to develop compassion, the wish to see others free from pain. At the same time, we will be able to experience love, the wish to see all human beings find happiness. These basic concepts should lead us to feel concern about human rights and to take a greater interest in them. I feel, therefore, that respect for human rights and the observance of non-violence are closely linked to love and compassion.

This quality of altruism is fundamental, in my opinion. It is essential not only for the establishment of good relations among the different world religions, for example, but also to fill our daily lives with serenity and happiness. So I thought I would begin the discussion these themes by speaking of love.

To get back to our initial topic, whatever our race, education, religion, or standard of living, we are all equal from the day of our birth we are all human beings and have the same innate desire to avoid suffering and find happiness. Moreover, it is our natural birth-right to attain happiness and be free from suffering. But in fact, although all human beings share these desires equally, the nature of society such that some people enjoy more rights than others, and it is always the poor who are taken advantage oŁ Whether from a moral or practical point of view, this is a grave mistake. In fact, the more inequality there is and the more people in need there are in a given society, the greater the social problems that will arise and the more unhealthy that society will be.

To begin with, it is important to understand how much your own happiness is linked to that of others. Human beings are by nature social animals and our happiness depends upon others. If everyone's welfare is assured and a good situation is created overall, the good of the individual will follow as a matter of course. There is no individual happiness totally independent of others. Thus, if we try to assure the well-being of others we will, at the same time, create the conditions for our own well-being.

Human nature is such that the individual is most happy and most relaxed when he or she can share happiness and trust with others. We need the support of our fellows and we like to have friends. When we can laugh with them, we experience a unique pleasure. For myself, I am always happy to meet friends, regardless of whether they are useful to me or not. The fact is that laughter does us a lot of good, quite naturally, and leaves us relaxed. If, however, we turn in upon ourselves and think only of our own person and our own welfare, rejecting, exploiting, and taking advantage of others, our behavior will eventually cut us off from the rest of the world and make us unhappy. So we see that the more we feel concern for others and seek their well-being, the more friends we will have and the more welcome we will feel.

Among our friends there will be some who are attracted by wealth or power, but they are more the friends of our wealth and power than true friends. It is certain that as long as we have wealth and power, such people will hover around us. But the day our situation declines they will vanish like a rainbow, proving their total lack of trustworthiness and loyalty. If we need them and look for them or try to reach them on the phone, for example, well, what a coincidence- these so-called friends are nowhere to be found! If they ever do return our calls) their response is as brief as can be!

To have true friends and be loved by them, we must in turn feel love and sympathy for others. If this is the case, we will automatically have a great number of friends.

If we display an attitude of kindness toward others, and show particular interest in those who are most disadvantaged and those who,, rights are not respected, we will establish a basis for our own happiness and truly worthy behavior.

For example, let me speak of my own case, my own experience, have lost my country and, what is worse, my people have known and still know inconceivable suffering. Tibet itself has been ravaged. I have encountered appalling conditions and had experiences that filled n with deep sorrow. But thanks to my friends and the love which they have shown me I have been able to go on living.

I believe there are several levels of non-violence. Even with the worst motivation and a mind filled with hypocrisy, falseness, and spite, a person can still speak softly and gently and make friendly gestures, such as giving a gift, for example. This act is non-violent only in appearance; in reality, it is an act of malevolence. Conversely, might be motivated by the desire to help someone, to make the aware of their faults, for example, and so we might speak or behave in a somewhat abrupt manner, but at heart the act remains non-violent.

It is therefore the motivation behind an act that determines whether it is violent or non-violent. Non-violent behavior is a physical act speech motivated by the wish to be useful and helpful. To prom the idea of non-violence and non-violent action it is not enough to p an end to violence. We must above all encourage people to foster themselves an attitude of love and affection for others.

In our era it is necessary to create greater harmony and greater unity among the different world religions. There are already enough factors dividing our society: wealth, politics, etc. Religion is here help people learn better self-control, to reduce the attachment all antagonism they feel, and to help them find peace. If, however, religion becomes a pretext for even more attachment, hatred, or sectarianism, this is a lamentable state of affairs.

Of course, each religion has its own characteristics. On a in physical level there are even great differences between religions, major groups can be distinguished: religions which adhere to a in the concept of a Creator, and those which do not. Regarding philosophical views, this is an enormous difference. However, all major religions agree on the importance of love, patience, and tolerance. Although each may present the exact nature of that love in a somewhat different fashion, all do insist on the necessity of love and kindness, and all counsel their followers in various ways to nurture these feelings. Thus there is already significant common ground among the religions of the world.

Given the fact that one of the principal sources of harmony among religions is the universality of precepts about love, the sooner we recognize the purpose of this love and its precious nature, the greater the respect we will feel for religions other than our own.

Everyday happiness depends greatly on our state of mind. Days when we feel calm will be happy days. But on days where our serenity is absent, we will be unhappy. This is dear.

Now, what is the purpose of life? I generally say that it is happiness. Why? Because even those who follow a spiritual path do so only in order to find happiness. They see religion as the best method for attaining happiness, and that is why they follow a spiritual path. In the same way, a person who works in the area of the economy (or in any other field, for that matter) does so in principle because he or she feels that it is the best, most useful thing for a life of fulfilment.

Although we know nothing for certain about the future, nearly everyone thinks that things will get better. Despite the various problems we encounter in a lifetime, we continue to hope that everything will go well in the future. The day we cease to hope we are in danger of becoming depressed or even of committing suicide. That is why I think that the search for happiness is what gives meaning to our lives.

There are people who define happiness in terms of material or external circumstances; wealth or great power signifies happiness. It Is true that having a certain material comfort, having friends and family close by, enjoying a good reputation and good conversations, are ' number of factors that contribute to our happiness. But if these were the main causes of happiness, it would necessarily follow that all those who enjoy wealth, renown, and agreeable surroundings would be happy. But this is hardly the case! This goes to show that although such favorable conditions may contribute to our happiness, they a not its fundamental cause, nor are they indispensable to it.

Regardless of whether people enjoy good material circumstances if they have peace of mind, are relaxed and at ease in themselves can be said of them that they are happy. The reverse holds equally true. Thus, it is clear that inner peace is the principle cause of happiness. We can observe this in our daily lives. On days when we calm and happy, even if difficulties arise or we fall victim to a mishap we take it well, it doesn't bother us unduly. But on days when we sad or have lost our usual calmness, the least little annoyance will on enormous proportions and be deeply upsetting to us.

In general it would appear at first glance that the developed co tries of the West have all the conditions offered by modern life that as a result they are wonderful in every respect. But if you the time for a quiet discussion with the inhabitants of these countries, you find that they are plagued by doubt, misconceptions, anxiety, jealousy, and competitiveness.

So how can one recover contentment of the mind? By taking drugs or drinking? Certainly not! By complaining to a doctor, as we w for a physical illness: "Doctor, I'm suffering morally, find me a cure." The doctor will surely reply by shaking his head that there is nothing he can do for us, and will send us elsewhere. In short, happiness; something we must create from within. The question that arises is: how do we do this? What is the best way to find this happiness?

To give an answer based on my own experience, a number of friends and I have reached the same conclusion: the more we develop love and affection for others, and the desire to serve them, the more 0It own state of mind will find serenity. When we wish to help others, our attitude toward them is more positive. We are not jealous of them and we feel less need to hide things from them. We feel we can allow ourselves to be less reserved, more open, in their presence. Conversely deep within we nurture harmful thoughts of jealousy and high in our relations with others, we will remain at a distance and be isolated, naturally, we will always be on the periphery of things.

When we seek to help others, our relations with them become easier. Otherwise we remain shy and hesitant, and feel the need to take a thousand precautions before we approach them. In wanting to help others we will be less afraid and have less anxiety. When our intentions are good, we have greater self-confidence and are stronger. In this way, we learn to understand how precious kindness is, how valuable it is to us. Now, how can we engender kindness?

Everyone, whatever their situation, has a natural ability to produce compassion from within. From the very day of our birth when we drink our mother's milk, this compassion arises within us. This act is a symbol of love and affection. If the child did not feel close to his mother he would not feed; and if the mother did not feel such great love for her child, did not cherish it, she would surely have no milk to give him. I think this act from the very first day of life establishes the basis of our entire life.

Everyone agrees that a child who grows up in a family environment full of love and affection has a greater chance to feel content within himself, to study well and have a happy life; while a child who has lacked affection throughout his childhood is distracted in his studies. Because of this lack of emotional support during his growing years he will have a tendency to have problems all his life.

At the end of life, at the moment of death, the dying man must leave his loved ones. Although he knows it serves no purpose, he is nevertheless happy to have a close friend near him. For this reason I think that from our birth to our last day, throughout our life, the need to give and experience love and affection is fundamental.

Our state of mind can even influence our physical state and the functioning of the cells which make up our body. When our mind is relaxed and at ease, our circulation, for example, is normal; our physical organism works well and ages less quickly. If we are anxious or angry, on the other hand, this psychological tension will upset the equilibrium of the various elements in our body and may even lead to high blood pressure. The body of an unhappy person ages more quickly. A troubled mind does nothing for one's physical well-being, Whereas a relaxed state of mind suits the body perfectly.

Once we have observed all the advantages of kindness, we should seek to cultivate it. At the same time, if we look at the harm caused by the emotions opposite to kindness, such as anger, spite, or especially hatred, we should seek to refute them and prevent them from, ever becoming part of us.

Everyone likes their friends and dislikes their enemies. But what is an enemy? An enemy is someone who tries to hurt us, our body, our belongings, our family, and our friends-in short, anything brings us happiness. We might consider our belongings, our reputation, our friends, our family, and so forth, to be the ordinary sources of happiness, and whoever wrongs those sources is an ordinary enemy.

The principal source of happiness is inner peace. Someone has already had practice in developing this peace, who already have certain experience of it, will not be easily troubled by ordinary enemies. However, hatred, malice, and spite will immediately destroy this mental calmness. The true enemy, therefore, is malice. External enemies may be real enemies for a certain time, but it is quite conceivable that one day instead of harming us they may rum into friends. But the inner enemy will always be our enemy- in the beginning, midway through, and at the end; it is impossible that it will become useful to us. Consequently, it is totally illogical and contradictory to seek happiness on the one hand, yet leave room on other for spite and malice to remain within us, for these are the primary agents seeking to destroy our happiness.

How can we annihilate this enemy we call hatred? The direct remedy for aversion is patience, the practice of patience. It is prim when we feel uneasy, prey to some moral suffering, that we h reaction of aversion. Thus, to avoid feeling aversion we must b in such a way that we feel no moral pain. We must do everything possible to avoid suffering; suffering must be prevented. It is therefore very important to transform any situation, be it good or bad, into 0 opportunity to improve. When something bad happens to us and we were not expecting it, an illness for example, if we think only of ourselves, the difficulty will take on enormous proportions and the event will seem totally unfair. But if we think of others, of their problem even for a moment, we will see that our situation is in no way exceptional.

The notion of what constitutes a problem is completely relative. It is possible to see a positive aspect of any difficulty. A given situation may be viewed at the same time either as unbearable or as beneficial. It all depends on how we look at it. In any case, we must make certain that things do not begin to seem unbearable to us. When we have problems, if we look at them too closely we will see nothing else and they will begin to appear all out of proportion with reality; this is when they become intolerable. But if we can stand back from them, we will be better able to judge them and they will seem less serious.

To better understand the damaging effects of rejecting other people and the benefits of caring for them, it is a good idea to stop and reflect from time to time in the following manner. Let us step back from ourselves, become an outside observer or third party to, in one example, a group of people in need; and in another example, our usual, ordinary selves -that is, someone who is completely self-centered, who does not care about other people. As we observe ourselves in this manner we will gradually come to see more clearly the fault of selfishness and, without realizing it, our inner gaze will turn automatically to the group of people in need.

If we practice thinking in this way, we will automatically begin to better understand the negative effects of caring only for ourselves and the benefits of caring for others. Subsequently, this will allow us to reduce the strength of our attachment and aversion and to develop love and consideration for others. Thanks to this practice, a gradual transformation will take place within us. But we must be careful-we must not think that the change will be instantaneous, like switching on a light! Bearing this in mind, it is important to give ourselves time, to practice slowly and progressively.

I think that attempting in this way to develop more love and compassion in ourselves and to reduce anger and spite is a universal spiritual activity which requires no faith in any religion whatsoever. In fact, it seems wrong to me to believe that kindness is exclusively the business of religion and that it must be neglected if one is not interested in spirituality. Everyone has the right to practice or not practice religion but as long as we seek happiness and continue to live in a society, love and affection are indispensable.

In conclusion, I would like to say that the very root of respect for human rights and non-violence is love and kindness to others.


-- Is violence solely a human matter? Is it instinctive, is it in human nature? When does a human being have a right to be violent- in what case, it a strength?

-- Of course violence is part of human nature, but that nature has many sides and I do not think violence is one of the more important aspects, At our birth we are naturally ignorant of everything, but over the years as we study our ignorance decreases. So we change the initial situation. In the same way, we are born with aversion and aggressiveness, but with practice we can and must also change this.

You asked if on occasion aggression could be justified. I think first of all that we must make a distinction between anger and hatred. Anger may at times have a positive side, a usefulness in cases where it brings about a quick response. But in general I think that anger a sign of weakness and tolerance a sign of strength.

-- What is forgiveness?

-- Forgiveness? It is very precious, very important! But it does not mean simply closing your eyes and forgetting the wrong that has been done to you; you must remember it. But love and respect for others, among other reasons, must keep you from returning the wrong done to YOU. This is very important.

-- Do Tibetan children still manage to follow Buddhist teachings?

-- There are those who manage and others who do not. It all depends, to a great extent on their family environment.

-- To what degree do you think being Christian is compatible with being Buddhist?

-- I think it is quite possible. There are also things Buddhists can learn from the experience of our Christian brothers and sisters. Recently, during a visit to a Catholic monastery, I found that the monks I met there had many things in common with Tibetan Buddhists. With some aspects, such as poverty and contentment, I find the ways of the Christian monks to be better than those of our own monks. I think some Tibetan monks have perhaps a bit too much comfort. Just as Tibetan monks could learn a few things in this respect from Christian monks, Christian followers could in rum learn certain techniques for developing love, compassion, one-pointed concentration, and for improving altruism, from their Tibetan counterparts. I think with these topics it is possible to borrow those techniques specific to Buddhism, and I have Christian friends who do this. When different religions come together, there is a great deal they can learn from each other.

-- Don't you think that non-violence could lead to the extermination of your people?

-- Non-violence is the best method in the long run, the most profound. For example, thanks to the non-violent path Tibet has chosen there are now more and more Chinese who support the Tibetan cause.

-- Your Holiness, what advice would you give to lay followers so that they might progress toward kindness and compassion?

-- First of all, we must recognize the great capacity we all have within. In Buddhism we speak of the Buddha-nature present in each individual. But without going into that, as human beings we have certain emotions, such as determination or intelligence; the combination of these to offers many possibilities. It is important to ally our intelligence with good intention. Without intelligence we cannot accomplish very much. Without good intentions, we will not know whether the exercise of our intelligence is constructive or destructive. That is why it is important to have a good heart. Let us not forget that all these qualities are part of our basic nature.

Special thanks to Phramaha Somnuek Saksree for transcription of this article.


Updated: 3-5-2000

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