The Dalai Lama's happy reality

  • November 5, 2007
{mosimage}TORONTO - The Dalai Lama, whose name is Tenzin Gyatso, has a hard enough time convincing people he is a simple, 72-year-old monk and a refugee. That the spiritual leader who embodies both Tibetan culture and Tibetan Buddhism could convince 16,000 who came to see him at the Rogers Centre Halloween evening that he is a man of science and a champion of the secular borders on miraculous.

In the course of two days in Toronto, where he visited the largest expatriate community of Tibetans outside northern India and Nepal, the Dalai Lama met with the press, blessed a new Tibetan cultural centre in Toronto's west end and delivered a lecture on “The Art of Happiness” to an audience gathered on the Blue Jays' home field for $30, $40 and $50 a ticket.

Happiness is available to human beings both as individuals and as communities, said the Dalai Lama. And science proves happiness is the optimal and normal state of human existence.

{sidebar id=1}Making frequent references to medical research which links peace of mind to a healthy immune system, the Dalai Lama told his audience that his philosophical approach is based on “secular ethics.” He then began teaching his audience what the English word “secular” means.

“Secularism is some form of rejection of religion? No,” said the Dalai Lama. Then he cited Mahatma Ghandi as the thinker who defined secularism for him. “Secularism — respect for all religions. All religions equally respected.”

Once religious people accept secularism, and participate fully, they can contribute to a secular ethics for society “on the basis of our common experience,” he said.

Jesuit philosopher Fr. Jack Costello said he was impressed by the way the Dalai Lama insisted on grounding his philosophical lecture in concrete reality.

“There is this incredible focus on the real,” said Costello. “The real issue is being real.”

As someone whose religious tradition didn't go through the enlightenment-era reaction against religion, followed by the emergence of a reductionistic ideology of scientism — the idea the only truths are those provable by laboratory or statistical methods — it is easier for the Dalai Lama to approach science and secularism without fear or bias, said Costello.

“It's not our view of secularism, to view it as the inclusion of all religion,” said Costello.

But Christian philosophers of every stripe would find themselves on the same wavelength as the Dalai Lama when it comes to a healthy respect for evidence, concrete reality and the primacy of experience, he said.

A focus on the real also comes through in the Dalai Lama's personality, his self-deprecating humour and honesty, Costello said. The Jesuit admires how the Dalai Lama never seeks pity for himself as a refugee, nor for his people.

“He finds a basis of strength in a situation we think should generate resentment,” he said. “He does not waste time talking about how badly he's been treated.”

At an earlier meeting with the press, the Dalai Lama left no doubt about the injustices of Chinese administration in Tibet.

“Things are not so rosy as the Chinese propaganda machine would say,” said the Dalai Lama.

The Chinese efforts to control Tibet has put Tibetans under enormous pressure, where they now find themselves a minority in Tibetan cities. The result is an atmosphere of fear and suspicion.

“Tibetan people physically controlled by gun, but mind control — never,” said the Dalai Lama.

He repeated his position that he is not seeking to split Tibet from China, only seeking true cultural and religious autonomy for Tibetans inside China.

“My Chinese brothers and sisters are always over-suspicious,” he said.

 He also made it clear the art of happiness has political implications.

“The concept of war is outdated,” he said.

From a practical point of view, in a globalized and interdependent world, people can no longer afford to settle their differences with weapons. He called the Iraq war an enormous waste of resources which should be spent on education and development inside Iraq. Describing the 20th century as a century of violence and bloodshed, he urged that the 21st century become the century of dialogue.

“Peace, resolution through dialogue — that's the only way,” he said. “We really need effort to promote the concept of dialogue."

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