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"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

The Dalai Lama Talks Secular Ethics

April 28, 2009

His Holiness Holds Press Conference, Lecture on Ethics for our Time
By Elizabeth Schwyzer
Tha Santa Barbara Independent
April 26, 2009

After delivering a challenging two-hour lecture
on the intricacies of Buddhist philosophy and
practice, the Dalai Lama switched gears Friday
afternoon, holding a 1 p.m. press conference
followed by a public talk on ethics. In both
cases, the Tibetan leader spoke in lucid terms
about the importance of compassion, values, and dialogue.

"Wherever I go, I always stress the importance of
compassion," he told a group of about 30
assembled journalists. "I consider it the source
of strength, and self-confidence.” Throughout the
afternoon, the Dalai Lama was clear to
distinguish between secular and religious ethics,
stating, "Some say there is no God; some say
there is God. Big difference, eh? But that is not
a problem.” Ethics, he explained to a spellbound
crowd of 6,000 during his afternoon lecture, is
not a religious matter at all, but rather a
matter of achieving a spirit of globalism — of
rejecting an “us versus them” mentality, and
focusing attention on our inner values. Speaking
of his own life, including the loss of his
country at the age of 24 and subsequently living
for 50 years with little but heartbreaking news
of his people’s oppression, the Dalai Lama
explained, “During that period, money failed to
bring consolation.” His favorite wristwatch, his
dogs and cats, even his friends, he said, failed
to provide him with inner peace. The key instead
was "inner compassion, the spirit of forgiveness, and a realistic attitude."

The Dalai Lama is known for his sense of humor,
including a predisposition for giggling, and
despite a mild head cold he was on good form on
Friday, laughing when a cell phone went off in
the crowd and when his microphone temporarily
malfunctioned, and showing boyish delight in the
telling of personal anecdotes. In order to
illustrate the importance of nurturing young
children, the 74-year-old spoke of his own
childhood in rural Tibet, where his illiterate,
farm-working mother had showered him with
affection. “I took advantage of it,” he
exclaimed, describing the way he would grab her
ears and steer her around the farmyard when she
carried him on her shoulders. Eyes wide, he
guffawed at his own admission. "I bullied my own
mother! But now I have a certain amount of
compassion, and it comes from the seed of my mother."

While such stories -- and the lessons they are
meant to convey -- can be interpreted as proof of
the Dalai Lama’s lack of political or
intellectual sophistication, they are instead a
mark of his ability to leave aside the
distractions of scholarship and theory in order
to communicate directly the heart of the matter.
In this case, the man who has worked and waited
for half a century for open and honest dialogue
with Beijing spoke of the basis from which he
believes justice and peace between nations
arises. “A healthy society comes not from
government, but from families, from individuals,”
he stated, reasoning that since a large portion
of humanity today is not particularly religious,
"We must find ways and means of reaching these
people about the importance of moral ethics."

Whether his topic was the economic recession,
relations between Tibet and the Chinese
government, or advice for college students who
want to work for social justice, the Dalai Lama
pointed out opportunities to practice compassion,
tolerance, and realism, suggesting that these in
turn could only come from self-knowledge and
healthy personal relationships. And though
Tibetan Buddhists worldwide consider him the
incarnation of the Buddha, though millions look
to him for spiritual guidance and wisdom, the
Dalai Lama made it clear in his talks that he
sees himself as an ordinary monk. “I want to tell
you — I am nothing special," he insisted Friday.
"I am just another human being like you."
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