Interview with His Holiness the XIV Dalai Lama
Before our interview with the Dalai Lama, Devin, Willy, Graydon, Shmuel and I went to set up the video equipment. After passing through multiple security checkpoints we were escorted to the waiting room. Sitting across from us were two monks who greeted us. We began a conversation with them. Shmuel asked the older monk about his journey coming to India from Tibet. He said he crossed the Himalayas in 1959, when he was 11. It was an incredibly perilous journey. He had to walk at night for fear of Chinese soldiers, he had only one pair of clothes, they did not know the way, and went for days without food. He finally arrived in India after walking for four months. After telling us about all the dangers and hardships he faced, he ended by saying it was a good experience. This was the most Buddhist answer I could imagine. He had let go of the negative aspects of his experience and seemed to have attained peace of mind.
During our interview with the Dalai Lama, he talked about how important his own peace of mind has been in dealing with the loss of his country and the terrible suffering of Tibetans. He discussed the importance of maintaining compassion for people in order to cultivate your own peace of mind. The Dalai Lama is an example of someone who is at peace with himself and the world.
His message of compassion and peace was important to me. Whenever I lose hope about the world, I will remember the courage of an 11-year-old monk who crossed the Himalayas and the compassion and forgiveness of the Dalai Lama toward the very people who have forced him into exile. Cultivating these qualities is the route to peace.
Today we asked the Dalai Lama if religious or social conflicts that have been around for a very long time can be resolved. He said that finding commonality in our humanity might help us solve them. He gave the example of how people in secular countries, like India and the U.S., often are able to move past religious and cultural differences. When we do this, we are able to cultivate the aspects of secularism that strengthen our world. The Dalai Lama clarified what he meant by secularism by saying that to him it means having respect for differing religious and non-religious beliefs. I think this viewpoint can help me when thinking about my family. If everyone respected each other’s different belief systems, and came together around agreed upon values, there would be less conflict.
Another problem I have faced in my life is finding my own faith after being raised in a family with so many varying beliefs. Today the Dalai Lama said, “God is infinite love.” I feel like this is a very easy idea to adopt for people of my generation who find themselves connecting less and less with organized religion. Occasionally organized religions can encourage rituals and practices that are hard to relate to. Sometimes this discourages people from continuing to invest in their religion. In my case, I think that if I cultivate and aspire toward infinite love and compassion, internally and externally, that can become a form of devotion.
In preparation for the Dalai Lama interview we spent hours working through questions. We had a lengthy discussion about the clash of cultural beliefs and universal human values. We discussed religious and cultural practices, such as the flogging of children in schools, and whether or not these kinds of cultural practices should be changed since they conflict with virtues such as compassion, empathy and kindness. We also discussed whether or not we have the right to try to alter these cultural perspectives and practices, or if they will change over time on their own.
During our interview with the Dalai Lama, we asked, “What do we do when we see that some cultural practices and beliefs are in conflict with universal human values? ” He responded that it is our responsibility to judge if the practice at hand is working toward a more compassionate world. At the same time, we need to have respect for traditions that are not causing harm. This was important to me because I often grapple with these types of issues. How do we deal with gender inequality, violence, and discrimination that are societally accepted?
I found the Dalai Lama’s answer to our question to be inspiring. I appreciated that he recognized the need to change harmful practices but at the same time protect cultural beliefs that do not cause suffering. He taught us that change is okay as long as it comes with the utmost respect.
The Dalai Lama is a man who follows his principles of love, compassion, and kindness to a degree that is incredibly rare. The way his smile and laugh spread through the whole room was unlike any other person I have met. Even when the joke was not funny at all. At one point he explained how scientists predict that eventually our universe will collide with another and how everything and everyone will end. He followed this comment by bursting into laughter and making eye contact with various people until everyone joined in with his smiles.
At the end of the interview, more than anything, it was his ability to love a stranger that shone through. Following the interview, I lined up to have my kata blessed and placed around my shoulders. After he did this, he held both my hands while looking into my eyes. I thanked him, and as we made direct eye contact, I saw infinite love in his eyes. It is hard to explain and hard to believe, but I saw it again and again throughout his interactions with my classmates and me. At that moment I felt seen, and I felt loved.