Audiences, Meetings and a Discussion with Chinese Writers in New York Prior to Departure for Europe
New York, USA - After three days of Buddhist teachings and a public talk in New York there was time today for His Holiness the Dalai Lama to meet with groups and individuals on a more personal basis. This included thanking and having his photograph taken with the security personnel who have provided him protection and members of The Tibet Center and The Gere Foundation who organized the successful events of the past few days.
A more animated encounter took place between His Holiness and a group of 24 Chinese scholars, writers and poets, who met to discuss promoting secular ethics, particularly in relation to China.
The opening speaker said he was participating as a writer, not a dissident, concerned about the decline of ethical values in China, which he blamed on several factors, totalitarianism among them. His Holiness responded that the intent of the meeting was not overtly political, although there might inevitably be political implications.
He described the Chinese people as realistic and hard-working. He also expressed admiration for the Marxist tenet of equal distribution, but felt this had been spoilt by a Leninist obsession with power. He observed that when Mao Zedong was operating out of the Yan’an caves he seems to have been motivated by original Marxism, but after 1955-56 the drive for power became predominant. As China became increasingly materialistic, socialism gave way to capitalism. This materialistic outlook has resulted in materialist concerns eclipsing inner values.
His Holiness said:
"Personally, as far as socio-economic theory is concerned, I’m a Marxist, but perhaps a Buddhist Marxist. Material development alone cannot solve all society’s ills and, unfortunately, China has neither democracy nor a free press. If socialism had been implemented in earnest, there would be no gap between rich and poor in China. This is something for us to think about.
“Last year a group of Chinese came to see me. Some of them were well dressed, but one elderly man was a villager from Henan. His clothes were threadbare and the others treated him with condescension. Since, I tend to support the underdog; I paid him more attention and asked about conditions in his village. He told me they were bad, mentioning that in times of trouble the leaders only cared about money and power, and ignored the law. Simple villagers have no one to turn to for help. In several meetings I’ve had with him, Chen Guangcheng has also told me about the problems facing farmers in China.”
His Holiness remarked that China’s judicial system needs to be raised to international standards. He declared censorship in China immoral, saying that the 1.3 billion people in China have a right to know about the reality in which they live and are quite capable of judging right from wrong. Censorship in China is morally indefensible and shows disdain for ordinary people. Deng Xiaoping’s admonition to seek truth from facts is admirable, but the facts should be genuine. People need to be informed about reality.
“China is not only the world’s most populous country; it also has a long history. It has the potential to contribute positively to the international community. But it needs to earn the world’s trust, starting by trusting its own people. The year before last, the budget for internal security in China was greater than that allocated for defence.”
He suggested the gathering discuss these things openly and invited criticism of what he had said. He quoted Mao Zedong’s injunction that the Communist Party should face criticism, although Beijing no longer seems to follow this. For telling the truth Liu Xiaobo was sent to prison. He mentioned his happiness during his recent trip to Prague that Aung San Suu Kyi was finally able to attend the Forum 2000 conference. He recalled that at many past meetings of Nobel Laureates, they had kept a chair empty for her. Now that Liu Xiaobo is missing from their meetings, he looks forward to seeing him attend in future.
The first questioner wondered how ethical values can be promoted in a Communist environment. Scholars can only speculate as to why there has been a decline in such values, but can do little to rejuvenate them. Since Taiwan has not seen a similar ethical decline, religion may have a role to play. His Holiness replied that the whole world is facing a moral crisis, but relying on religion alone is not the solution. A recent report suggests that of the 7 billion people alive today, more than one billion assert they have no interest in religion. Their needs also have to be taken into account. Ethical conduct has to be understood in terms of its direct effect on individual happiness and the happiness of the family and the society in which it lives.
In a multi-faith world no one religion would be universally applicable, this is why, after discussions with scientists and scholars, His Holiness favours the promotion of secular ethics. India has a long tradition of secular thinking in which the views not only of all religious traditions, but even those who espouse no religion, are accorded respect. He said the premise of his book ‘Beyond Religion - ethics for a whole world’ is that secular ethics are the basis for creating a happier more peaceful world.
“We need to incorporate training in secular ethics into our modern education system.”
To a question about Hu Jintao and Xi Jinping in relation to Tibet, His Holiness said he supported the call to build a more harmonious society. However, because the use of force was the wrong way to achieve it, Hu had been unable to fulfil his objective. Xi Jinping could do so now by according peoples such as the Tibetans, their culture, language and religion, equal respect.
“Harmony and a sense of unity have to be based on trust,” His Holiness said, “and trust only comes about through showing friendly affection. Fear is the opposite of trust and without trust there will be no unity. Harmony will not be secured through the mere provision of food and drink; it has to come from the heart. Thus, there is a need for a change in attitude.”
As to whether Confucianism or Daoism could be a basis for promoting secular ethics, His Holiness said secular ethics was the basis of all spiritual traditions. He said that whenever he speaks in public he explains his commitment as one among 7 billion human beings to promoting human values in the context of secular ethics.
Compassion is the basis of ethics, which is why all our major spiritual traditions promote it.
It was suggested that the problem in China relates to the Chinese Communist Party’s setting out to destroy traditional Chinese values since its inception in 1922. His Holiness replied that the atmosphere and fear and suspicion might have something to do with it. He said the very purpose of holding elections in a democracy was because people trusted the government.
He repeated what he has said elsewhere that the world belongs to its 7 billion citizens; the United States belongs to the American people not to the Democratic Party or the Republican Party; Japan belongs to its people and not to the Emperor and similarly Britain belongs to the British people and not to the Queen. Consequently, people in these countries authorize elected representatives to act on their behalf. The basis of this is trust and accountability. When this breaks down there is recourse to other measures such as the moves to impeach President Nixon. In democracy, when people no longer trust their government there are options to remove it.
China today is subject to extremes of corruption, which is not so in Taiwan where they seem able to support democracy and traditional values. Concern was expressed that China’s materialistic values would have a negative impact on Tibetans. His Holiness did not entirely agree. He pointed out that some traditional values have drawbacks. In the Chinese Confucian system, for example, the young are expected to revere their elders and students are not supposed to question their teachers. Could this be why there has been no Chinese Sakharov? People like Liu Xiaobo are a modern phenomenon.
“Some Taiwanese have told me,” His Holiness said, “that when tourists come from the mainland, many express a reluctance to return because they recognise that people in Taiwan don’t live in an atmosphere of fear. Similarly, Chinese students in India have complained about growing up in an atmosphere of suspicion. Parents don’t trust their children and relatives have to be wary of each other. As social animals, we human beings naturally depend on each other for love and affection.”
Regarding a movement that is to be launched in Hong Kong to resist the denial of a properly elected leadership His Holiness said it was necessary to assess what can actually be achieved. It is important to take a broad and realistic view when planning what you are going to do.
One writer reported that in the 1980s, at the age of seventeen, when he applied to join the Chinese Communist Party he was asked to what he would give his greatest loyalty. His first response - the interests of the people - was rejected, as was his second response - the interests of the country. He was told that his foremost loyalty should be to the Communist Party, at which point he realized he could not be a member. He looked forward to the benefit His Holiness’s return to Tibet would bring China.
His Holiness agreed that laws were cast to serve the interests of the Communist Party, the main issue being its retaining authority. However, he did not favour the potential chaos that might follow a drastic removal of the Party. He commended a gradual change to democracy, transparency, and the rule of law, but noted that if the situation remains unchanged as it is at present, a breakdown some day is almost inevitable.
His Holiness wondered whether discussions like this could be held inside China and the participants replied that they could not. As the meeting drew to a close the suggestion was made that His Holiness could reach out to people in China through the internet. His Holiness said that he had already done that in conversations he has had with Wang Lixiong and that he was ready to do so again if it does not result in negative consequences for those concerned.
After lunch His Holiness was interviewed by Norah O’Donnell, anchor of CBS Morning News for whom he outlined his commitment to talk to people wherever he can about the importance of inner peace for human happiness. When she asked him to describe his daily routine, they were surprised to find they both rise at about 3 o’clock in the morning, His Holiness to engage in analysis and meditation and Ms O’Donnell to prepare for work.
Having briefly met with Tibetan NGO representatives, he gave an audience to members of the Tibetan community in which he encouraged them to keep up their use and study of the Tibetan language. He contrasted the excellent command of Tibetan he found last year among the Tibetan Muslim community in Srinagar with Tibetan-American parents he has met who are letting their children grow up only speaking English. He outlined the origins, intention and circumstances that gave rise to the Middle Way Approach.
Leaving the Beacon Hotel on Broadway under bright autumnal sun, His Holiness drove to JFK International Airport, where his hosts, Rato Khyongla Rinpoche and Rato Khenpo Nicholas Vreeland and retiring North American Representative Lobsang Nyandak and his successor Kalsang Dorje Aukatsang saw him off.
He will be spending one day in Poland attending a Peace Summit before returning to India.
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