The Peace Within All of Us, by His Holiness the Dalai Lama
To run in the Opinion section of Sunday’s Washington Post
Brute force can never subdue the basic human desire for freedom. The thousands of people who marched in the cities of Eastern Europe in recent decades, the unwavering determination of the people in my homeland of Tibet and the recent demonstrations in Burma are powerful reminders of this truth. Freedom is the very source of creativity and human development. It is not enough, as communist systems assumed, to provide people with food, shelter and clothing. If we have these things but lack the precious air of liberty to sustain our deeper nature, we remain only half human.
In the past, oppressed peoples often resorted to violence in their struggle to be free. But visionaries like Mahatma Gandhi and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. have shown us that successful changes can be brought about nonviolently. I believe that, at the basic human level, most of us wish to be peaceful. Deep down, we desire constructive, fruitful growth and dislike destruction.
Many people today agree that we need to reduce violence in our society. If we are truly serious about this, we need to deal with the roots of violence, particularly those that exist within each of us. We need to embrace “inner disarmament,” reducing our own emotions of suspicion, hatred and hostility toward our brothers and sisters.
Furthermore, we need to reexamine how we relate to the very question of the use of violence in today’s profoundly interconnected world. One may sometimes feel that one can solve a problem quickly with force, but such success is often achieved at the expense of the rights and welfare of others. One problem may have been solved, but the seed of another is planted, thus opening a new chapter in a cycle of violence and counter-violence.
From the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia to the popular pro-democracy movement in the Philippines, the world has seen how nonviolent approach can lead to positive political changes. But the genuine practice of nonviolence is still at an experimental stage. If this experiment succeeds, it can open the way to a far more peaceful world. We need to embrace a more realistic approach to dealing with human conflicts, an approach that is in tune with a new reality of heavy interdependence in which the old concepts of “we” and “they” are no longer relevant. The very idea of total victory for one’s own side and the total defeat of one’s enemy is untenable. In violent conflicts, the innocent are often the first casualties, as the war in Iraq and the Darfur crisis painfully remind us. Today, the only viable solution to human conflicts will come through dialogue and reconciliation based on the spirit of compromise.
Many of the problems we confront today are our own creation. I believe that one of the root causes of these manmade problems is the inability of human beings to control their agitated minds and hearts — an area in which the teachings of the world’s great religions have much to offer.
A scientist from Chile once told me that it is inappropriate for a scientist to be attached toward his particular field of study, since that would undermine his objectivity. I am a Buddhist practitioner, but if I mix up my devotion for Buddhism with an attachment to it, my mind will be biased toward it. A biased mind never sees the complete picture, and any action that results from such a state of mind will not be in tune with reality. If religious practitioners can heed this scientist’s advice and refrain from being attached to their own faith tradition, it could prevent the growth of fundamentalism. It can also enable such followers to genuinely respect faith traditions other than their own. I often say that while one can adhere to the principle of “one truth, one religion” at the level of one’s personal faith, we should embrace at the same time the principle of “many truths, many religions” in the context of wider society. I see no contradiction between these two.
I do not mean to suggest that religion is indispensable to a sound ethical way of life, or for that matter to genuine happiness. In the end, whether one is a believer or a nonbeliever, what matters is that one be a good, kind and a warm-hearted human being. A deep sense of caring for others, based on a profound sense of interconnection, is the essence of the teachings of all great religions of the world. In my travels, I always take the promotion of basic human qualities of goodness — the need for and appreciation of the value of love, our natural capacity for compassion and the need for genuine fellow feeling — to be my foremost mission. No matter how new the face or how different the dress and behavior, there is no significant division between us and other people.