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"As long as human rights are violated, there can be no foundation for peace. How can peace grow where speaking the truth is itself a crime?"

Dalai Lama leads inter-religious dialogue in Zacatecas, Mexico

October 21, 2013

October 17, 2013 - A short drive through the cobbled streets of the historic town of Zacatecas, which is recognised as a UN World Heritage Site, brought His Holiness the Dalai Lama to the Antiguo Templo de San Agustina. Once a church, the restored building now serves as a venue for art and cultural exhibitions. Today, however, it was the location of an Inter-Religious Dialogue hosted by Monsenor Sigifredo Noriega Barcelo, the Bishop of the State of Zacatecas. As His Holiness arrived a large brass band played on the square and excited school children lined his path to the door, where the Bishop received him and escorted him inside.

In his passionate welcoming address, Monsenor Sigifredo spoke of the malevolence and bad conduct abroad in the world and asked why we don’t organise ourselves for goodness. He mentioned a pledge the Catholic Bishops of Mexico have taken to work for peace and human development. He told His Holiness that everyone in the audience was eager to hear what he had to say about the complex reality we find ourselves in today.

 
 

“I prefer to speak standing,” His Holiness began, “so I can see the faces of the people I’m talking to. Spiritual leaders, brothers and sisters, I am happy to be here. The points you have just mentioned are a fair assessment of reality, things that cause us all concern. On the surface material development seems beautiful, but underneath are problems of injustice, exploitation, corruption and conflict, all of which give rise to anxiety and unease.

 

“Spirituality, on the other hand, is a real source of inner peace; something machines cannot provide. Inner peace derives from the practice of compassion. So in the twenty-first century alongside material development spirituality retains a valuable role, but if we are going to pursue it we need to be sincere. The other day at the Universidad Pontificia de Mexico I mentioned that we may feel especially pious when we’re wearing religious robes in church or temple, but little purpose is served if, when we take them off, ready to resume our lives outside, we take off our religious and ethical feelings too.

 

“The message of spirituality - love, compassion, tolerance, self-discipline and truthfulness should be part of our day to day life. If they are, they will impel real change.”

Another point His Holiness wanted to make was that until not long ago, just as Tibet was a predominantly Buddhist country, Mexico was a largely Roman Catholic country. Now however, we live in a multi-religious world, which is less a cause for suspicion than of enrichment. Pope John-Paul II took the initiative in to convene the Assisi meeting in 1986 when many religious representatives came together to get to know each other and express a message of peace. There are philosophical differences, but, he clarified, these are just differences of approach to the practice of love and compassion.

“Many of the problems that confront us are our own creation. The Bishop asked how we can work together to create a more peaceful world. Each of us has the potential to create peace in our own minds.”

The first question was about creating peace in a country so driven by inequality. His Holiness agreed on the need to try, pointing out that if you believe in god then allowing the gap between rich and poor to fester is to go against god. When he was asked about the origin of social and economic problems in Mexico, he said the existing education system is oriented towards materialism and lacks any sense of warm-heartedness.

During the course of lunch, attended by 250 dignitaries, artists and representatives of various NGOs, His Holiness spoke of becoming a refugee more than 50 years ago. He said that on the one hand it was sad, but for him personally the experience had been helpful because he was no longer bound by protocol and formality as he would have been if he had remained in Tibet. He was asked again about relations between different religions and jokingly replied that we should think of other religions as the enemy and make an effort not to live together. Then he conceded that all religions share common practice when it comes to generating love and compassion.

After lunch, His Holiness was invited to give a talk at the Zacatecas Convention Center where he addressed 4200 people.

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