- 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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
[Originally published in HH. The Dalai Lama's Beyond Dogma, the
Challenge of the Modern World. (Rupa & Co: 1996), pp. 82-91].
Special thanks to Phramaha
Somnuek Saksree for retyping this article.