Dalai Lama extols Tibetan Buddhist ethics during Toronto visit

by Michael Valpy, Globe and Mail, Oct. 23, 2010

Toronto, Canada -- He says his jolliness may be genetic – or at the very least geographic. He thinks the award of the Nobel peace prize to a leading Chinese dissident in the long term is helpful for Chinese democracy, but in the short term he’s not sure it’s a good idea.

He thinks in terms of millennia when he considers the relationship between Tibetans and their Han neighbours – China’s dominant ethnic group. Sometimes, he says, the Tibetan army bullied the Han; sometimes it’s been the other way around. Sometimes the relationship has been very happy and, once, he says, he asked to join the Chinese Communist Party.

And the 14th Dalai Lama, spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism and temporal leader of the Tibetan government in exile, said Saturday that hundreds of millions of young Chinese need the ethics of Tibetan Buddhism in their lives.

“They’re getting richer and richer,” he said, “but inside they’re empty.”

The celebrated 75-year-old monk, who has lived in India since armed conflict between China and Tibet erupted in 1959 and China eventually took over Tibet, arrived in Toronto on Friday for a three-day visit.

He spoke on striving for world peace to 15,000 people Friday afternoon in the city’s downtown Rogers Centre sports stadium. Saturday morning he opened a Tibetan Canadian Cultural Centre. Saturday afternoon he met with the Canadian Tibetan community and Sunday he is scheduled to teach a session in mind-training at the cultural centre.

He began the day Saturday by meeting with a handful of invited journalists in Toronto’s Royal York Hotel – arriving in a mezzanine-floor room with his trademark good humour and bubbling laughter.

Asked why he is so constantly jolly, he allowed that it might be genetic. All his brothers and sisters – except one brother who is “stern,” he said – are the same as him.

He also said it might in part come from Tibet being a vast land with a small population; thus human contact brings joy. “Toronto and New York have too many people.”

But primarily, he said, his humour is spontaneous, “for no good reason.”

Asked about the Nobel peace prize being awarded to imprisoned Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, the Dalia Lama said that, in the long run, there is no doubt the award will encourage democracy in China.

But he said he doesn’t know what the short term impact will be. “We’ll have to watch.”

He noted that democracy, the rule of law, liberalization and government transparency are growing in China all on their own. And, without saying so specifically, he carefully implied that the peace prize award to Mr. Liu – seen by the Chinese government as an overt prodding from the West – could have the effect of slowing that development.

Mr. Liu has been an outspoken advocate of free speech, as have a number of senior members of the Communist Party. And in conversation with the journalists, the Dalai Lama noted that out-of-control corruption in the country had led China’s Communist Party rulers to impose heavy censorship.

“But 1.3 billion Chinese have a right to know . . . and to judge what is right and wrong,” he said. “It is immoral for the Chinese government to censor their own people. Censorship and distorted information creates mistrust.”

“Because of a weak feeling deep inside and out of insecurity the [Chinese government] has chosen the easier way, which is to repress information.

“The Communist Party must receive criticism. Otherwise it is a fish without water.”

In response to a question about the Chinese government’s announced intention to have standard Mandarin taught in schools throughout the country, including Tibet, the Dalai Lama explained in some detail how the Tibetan language was of great value – moreso than any other language – in understanding and interpreting Buddhist texts.

“Tibetan is,” he said, “the best language for Buddhism. And the preservation of Tibetan Buddhist culture is in the best interests of millions of young Chinese” in coming to understand the ethics of Buddhism.