After inaugurating the Pavilion of Tibetan Culture, His Holiness the Dalai Lama gave an interview to Auroville Today and La Revue d'Auroville.
What is the importance to you of the Pavilion of Tibetan Culture?
H.H.: I usually describe Tibetan culture as a compassionate, peaceful culture. A compassionate, peaceful culture is very useful because many negative things are happening on our planet due to a lack of respect, of concern and a sense of compassion. By ‘compassion' I mean a sense of responsibility to the community and to others. If that view is strong there is no room for violence, for war or exploitation. And, along with a sense of responsibility for the community and humanity, naturally there is concern about the environment.
On the other hand, if people just think of their own interests then the result is exploitation, limitless exploitation, both of nature's resources and of human beings. So I feel that when the world is experiencing lots of negative things because of a lack of sense of community and concern, it is important to preserve the compassionate Tibetan culture.
But that culture is facing a real threat. Some years ago, a Chinese communist party secretary mentioned that the Buddhist faith is the source of the threat of Tibet separating from mainland China . Accordingly, they have imposed many restrictions on Tibetan spirituality. Now there are very few monks left in Tibet . All major monasteries have many restrictions and now artificial monks, Chinese policemen dressed as monks, are also there. So in case you get an opportunity to visit Tibet and you meet a monk, ask them to chant. Then you will know if they are a true monk or not. (laughs)
In these ways the Chinese communists are deliberately trying to eliminate the Tibetan spirit, the Tibetans' unique cultural heritage. Any nation without its own identity or spirit is dead, so the Tibetan nation is facing something like a death sentence.
That is why the main concern of the refugees living outside Tibet is to preserve Tibetan culture and Tibetan spirituality. And this is why it is very good, very helpful, that the Pavilion of Tibetan Culture is here to remind the people who live here and the people who visit that a nation, a community, that has had a compassionate culture for the last thousand years is in danger.
Is it important that the Pavilion of Tibetan Culture is in Auroville?
H.H.: Of course. As I've said before, I find here a group of people with a genuine spirit of being brothers and sisters, regardless of nationality, faith or background. You live very much with the spirit of humanity.
You talk about preserving the essence of Tibetan culture.
Has that culture changed through its contact with the West over the last 50 years?
H.H.: There are two aspects of Tibetan culture. One aspect is the habits, the ways of life, that have developed due to social conditioning or the environment. We can't preserve that part and there is no point in preserving it. Another aspect is based mainly on Buddhism and the message of compassion. That aspect is very much related to the mind and to the emotions and is very helpful when we are passing through a difficult period. So it is worthwhile to preserve that.
I think the impact of modernity is mainly on lifestyle and hairstyle. Once I met a young Tibetan who had settled in Switzerland . His hairstyle was very strange, his trousers were also very strange; he looked like a Tibetan hippie. But as soon as he started talking about Tibet , he began to cry. So the hairstyle, the lifestyle, didn't matter. Inside he had a very strong Tibetan feeling. That's good.
Some Tibetans feel that any contact with the outside world is bad, that even learning English or French is dangerous. They feel that more contact with the outside world may damage their Tibetan culture heritage. I totally disagree. This way of trying to preserve one's own culture without learning about the value of other cultures is ignorant. The healthy way is to understand the value of other cultures while having a clear sense of the value of one's own tradition.
From your contact with world leaders, do you feel that the virtue of compassion is becoming more widespread?
H.H.: I think so. For example, on one occasion in Stockholm the Swedish Prime Minister wanted to meet me. He told me he had received a complete briefing from his foreign minister but now he wanted to discuss spirituality. He wanted to learn how to meditate and such things. I was surprised; these things are quite new.
Then again, nowadays the leaders and politicians occasionally use the word ‘compassion'. Previously compassion, like non-violence, was associated with weakness, passivity – ‘I'm going to eliminate our enemy', that's the way they usually spoke – but now I think that is changing. One clear example is Nelson Mandela. After he became President of South Africa, he strictly followed Mahatma Gandhi's principle of non-violence and reconciliation. And Archbishop Tutu also effectively implemented reconciliation.
So these are indications. I feel that humanity is becoming more mature. In the early part of the 20th century, when the leaders of a nation declared war every citizen proudly, without question, joined the war effort. Since the Vietnam War there is no longer that kind of enthusiasm from the public. When their government tells them to go to war, their own citizens ask ‘Why?' Everybody knows that Saddam Hussein was a dictator and cruel to his own people, but when America and Britain wanted to go to war with Iraq millions of citizens expressed opposition to their government's decision.
Also I think the concern about the environment is a healthy sign. It is a sign that people are becoming more concerned about long-term consequences.
Then again, the German Professor who taught me about quantum physics told me that when he was young every German saw the French as being their enemy, and the French felt the same. Nowadays that kind of attitude has completely gone. Now the French people and the German people are very close, they are part of the European Union. These are big changes, a sign of maturity and long-sightedness.
Links in this website:
The Visit by the Dalai Lama