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"I believe that to meet the challenges of our times, human beings will have to develop a greater sense of universal responsibility. It is the foundation for world peace."

For Dalai Lama, Some Rules are Meant to be Broken

October 12, 2009

Thursday October 8, 2009

(RNS) If there were a guide book for globe-trotting gurus, its rules might
run something like this:

1. Don't get too involved in politics.

2. Never criticize your host country.

3. Welcome converts to your faith.

4. Act as sage-like as possible.

5. Be wary of science.

On his trip to Washington this week, the Dalai Lama broke nearly every one
of those rules. And yet, he remains as popular as ever.

"He is a very unique spiritual leader," said Arjia Rinpoche, a prominent
Tibetan Buddhist who lives in Bloomington, Ind.

It didn't take long for the Nobel Peace Prize laureate to break Rule No. 1
this week. On Monday (Oct. 5) and Tuesday, he delved into politics, huddling
with a State Department official and lawmakers on Capitol Hill to discuss
the U.S. policy towards Tibet. Perhaps he can be forgiven, since the Dalai
Lama is both spiritual and temporal head of the Tibetan government-in-exile.

While the idea of a monk-king may seem odd to Westerners, Dalai Lamas have
been leading Tibet for centuries, according to scholars. In recent years,
the current Dalai Lama (the 14th in Tibetan history) has been working to
separate the two roles by outfitting his government-in-exile with an elected
prime minister and parliament. And as he ages, he has hinted that he would
like to retire from his political responsibilities.

The Dalai Lama broke rule No. 2 on Tuesday, while receiving a humanitarian
award recognizing his nonviolent struggle for a degree of autonomy for
Tibetans under China's rule. But rather than talk about Tibet, he chastised
the U.S. for the gap between rich and poor.

"Even here in America, richest country, but still, huge gap -- rich to
poor," the Dalai Lama said in his halting English at a ceremony on Capitol
Hill. "This is unhealthy. You have to think seriously about those
less-privileged people. They are also human beings."

Rule No. 3 remains unbroken on this leg of the Dalai Lama's North American
tour, but he's here until Saturday, and he's shown a penchant for
discouraging converts to Buddhism. In fact, he tells the millions who flock
to his lectures or buy his books to remain with their native faith.

"He has abstained from using his personal charisma to make himself a big
guru," said Robert Thurman, a friend of the Dalai Lama's and a professor of
Tibetan Buddhism at Columbia University in New York. "He doesn't want to
only be a religious figure."

He often even sidelines his most pressing political cause -- Tibetan
autonomy -- when speaking before general audiences. More often, he
encourages people to take up what he calls "secular ethics" like wisdom and
compassion to make small changes in the world around them.

"While you are alive, utilize your life for the well-being of others, not
just pursuing money or power," the Dalai Lama said Wednesday at the
International Campaign for Tibet's Light of Truth Award.

"World peace is the No. 1 issue for him," Rinpoche said. "Sometimes that
upsets the Tibetans a little bit. They say, `You are Tibetan leader, why do
you put the Tibet issue last?"'

Robert Barnett, an expert on modern Tibet at Columbia University, said the
Dalai Lama has devoted a huge amount of time promoting global ethics. "When
he dies, I think people are going to say, rightly or wrongly, that he was
worn out by all those trips to give talks to people about their lives and
happiness, time that could have been spent on his role as national leader

Still, only the Dalai Lama has the moral authority to unite Tibetans behind
nonviolent resistance and draw the world's spotlight to their cause, said

The Dalai Lama wears his religious and moral authority lightly, at least in
public, readily mocking his broken English and meandering speeches. After a
five minute off-topic lecture on feminism on Wednesday, he let out a
bellowing laugh. "Whatever I speak, is what I want to express," he said. "I
am just speaking human being to human being, so I don't care."

Finally, the Dalai Lama breaks rule No. 5 on mixing science and faith on
Thursday and Friday by meeting with educators and scientists at the "Mind
and Life Conference" here. On this rule, the Dalai Lama is simply
incorrigible. For decades, he has often seemed as interested in discussing
the latest scientific discoveries as in ancient religious truths. He has
even said that if science proves a Buddhist belief wrong, that belief will
have to change.

It seems that for the Dalai Lama, some beliefs, like rules, are made to be
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