Questions For The Dalai Lama

10 Questions For The Dalai Lama

An Interview with Rick Ray


dalai LamaRick Ray waited for months to ask his 10 questions to the Dalai Lama. The interesting thing about Rick Ray’s interview was the diplomacy involved with the Dalai Lama’s answers, especially to over population and peaceful resistance. When and where do we draw the line and make tough decisions, and who gets to make them? Our world is evolving into something unprecedented in history and will require new awareness and increased consciousness to make the right decisions. Rahasya Poe, Lotus Guide

“Problems cannot be solved at the same level of awareness that created them.” – Albert Einstein

LG: Well, here’s one question for you: The Dalai Lama says that we should limit population growth because of limited resources, and I agree, but we inevitably run up against the problem of who is going to limit themselves, and it’s usually the most informed and able people who do this. He says that quality is more important than quantity. I also agree. But it seems we need a system of enforcing limited population growth, which also brings up another obvious problem of who gets to decide which population gets limited. I’m just wondering, did he elaborate on that at all?

RR: He didn’t elaborate much on that particular question, and I wish he had. I can say that he thinks he has to be careful when he speaks about these things because there are other religious traditions out there that he respects, and even embraces, that might take a different approach to population control and birth control. We do know that he is an environmentalist at heart, and he would like to see population regulated worldwide somehow. He also talks a lot about self-discipline. So, I would imagine his answer, and I can’t say I know what his answer is, but it would probably have more to do with some kind of self-discipline toward reproduction than some kind of external law or imposing rule from outside that might or might not be effective.


LG: What were the Dalai Lama’s thoughts on peaceful resistance and how the world seems to set aside what China has done, and is doing, in favor of commerce? A good example of course is what Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft have done to censor their websites and search engines to the point that if you live in China, all you can pull up is negative propaganda on the Dalai Lama. What did he say about that?

RR: One of the questions that we do ask in the movie is “At what point does peaceful resistance not serve you; at what point do you take action against an enemy or perceived enemy, if your life is at stake, or they’re directly threatening your nation or your children or yourself?” And his answer, I thought, was very surprising. It’s a practical answer, typically, because he’s such a practical individual, but he said, “You know, if you’re just a pacifist, if you think as a pacifist all the time, then if somebody comes to kill you you’re not going to live to be a pacifist another day. So if there’s a direct threat, if someone’s coming to cause you harm, then it’s okay to just hit back,” and then he makes a gesture with his fist. But this is just for self-defense, and it begs the question of when do you really consider self-defense? How do you justify on a larger scale the question of what self-defense is, for when a country is vaguely threatening you, is it self-defense to go and hit it? I don’t think he would advocate for that. But on a personal level, he says, “Defend yourself to live another day.”

LG: It seems that most of the world’s governments no longer represent their people, so in essence it’s not the people who are the problem, it’s the governing agencies of nations that are more like corporate entities than representatives of the people.

RR: Exactly. What the Dalai Lama is hoping for is that change can come from within those countries. And just a small sidelight on the issue of Burma right now–the Burmese government, and I’ve lived in Burma also, have no awareness of the outside world. They are really uneducated, inexperienced people who don’t even really care about their own country’s economy or anything. They’re not like the Chinese government, but the analogy here is that the only way to effect change in Burma is really not from outside; you can’t cut them off, you can’t strangle them any more than they’ve strangled themselves. You have to hope that something happens from within, that the soldiers who are in the military because that’s the only way to get anything in Burma–you either become a monk or you become a kind of police or soldier. It’s hoped that by seeing their fellow monks, their brothers, their cousins, and their friends being beat up by other military will effect a change in them and can turn the process around. I think we can hope for some kind of similar results in China, where there’s a rising middle class today, many of them looking for moral authority beyond the Chinese government, which offers little in the way of morals and can look to Buddhism, look to spirituality, and even look to the Tibetans as a source of inspiration. And on a larger scale, a Chinese population that will start demanding even more freedom of access to information, more democratic reforms within their own country. And I think that the Dalai Lama’s position is that you get that from engaging, not by disengaging.

LG: That makes sense. We obviously need to do something different to change people’s consciousness. I like what Einstein said, “Problems cannot be solved at the same level of awareness that created them.”

RR: Yes. And you create a vicious cycle that never ends. I think that home is what the Dalai Lama says in the movie about interdependence, that really we are all interconnected. And attacking my neighbor is actually attacking myself. And that’s never truer than in today’s world.

LG: How did you feel when it came up about the disappearance of the Panchen Lama and his family? That surely hits close to home.

RR: I think I saw something come over him which was not present in the rest of the discussion and that was a true feeling of sadness. And I would say some kind of feeling of heaviness and then some kind of feeling of regret. That he had played a part in that young boy’s destiny. That troubles him. But that young boy who was appointed Panchen Lama, through traditional methods, was kidnapped, as the film points out, and has never been seen again along with his family. Whether he’s alive or is being held in a detention center where he can’t learn the fundamentals of the kind of training that a Panchen Lama would get, the Buddhist wisdoms, his life has basically been shattered, as well as his family’s, and,within weeks the Chinese appointed their own Panchen Lama using a kind of a loophole in the Tibetan Buddhist practice, which is they normally engage in a search and they have some very specific parameters by which they search, but in certain cases they were able to put names in an urn and draw them at random. I don’t know if that was in times of drought or when travel was very difficult or what might have been happening to allow that, but the Chinese used that, called the Golden Urn exception, as an excuse to choose from a series of monks that they had chosen themselves and handpicked, that they knew they could groom to take over the franchise of selecting Dalai Lamas. They get away with this because they are so entrenched with their own power, they know they’re never contradicted, they’re such believers in their own power that they don’t believe that their decisions can be either wrong or that they can be challenged.

LG: This is what is called a delusion and what makes it dangerous is when you can get large portions of the population to believe in your delusions.

RR: But also realizing that the Tibetan tradition is so much more powerful than any kind of ego-based group, the real wisdom of these monks, and the real wisdom of Tibetan Buddhism, is a real threat to China. Because of its immense power, and they don’t have any moral authority like that; they just have this ego-based, ego-driven edict, even the most recent one, which says that monks must now petition the central government before they may reincarnate. They have to receive a reincarnation permit.

LG: Sounds like something you’d read in a comic strip. I don’t think I could even make this stuff up. This has to do with the question to the Dalai Lama about conflict in the Middle East. You asked if he thought there was hope there and could Buddhism have any impact. He said he had been to Jerusalem twice and had found a few open-minded Muslims and Jews in the local community and some were making every effort for peace, and then he went on to say that major religions have the potential to create harmony and peace of mind, but because of the politics of people making things so complex, their efforts remain very limited. And he said there’s too much negative emotion, like hatred, anger, and frustration; he said the first step is to calm down for the time being and have a picnic or a festival and make personal friends, and then start talking about these more serious matters. Did he elaborate on that at all?

RR: No, that was pretty much it. I don’t think we cut anything out of that particular monologue that he gave.

LG: It leaves me wondering what he might say in a more private dialogue.

RR: I think the Dalai Lama rests clearly on the side of saying, “We don’t know. And let’s look at the commonalities and not emphasize these sorts of differences. I think he’s saying that it’s often the fundamentalists and fanatics that have the loudest voice, not to mention it’s newsworthy, and it’s sensational.

LG: And they also have a big misconceived power behind them too, and the power is that they are so sure of themselves, and anybody living life with any intellectual honesty are filled with doubts, and mystery, and it’s all good, but when it comes down to a direct debate, we’re at a disadvantage because we’re not pretending that we know something.

RR: I think you could put the Dalai Lama’s position on the side of don’t know until scientifically investigated. You probably remember from the film that he says that when science disproves something that’s in the religious doctrine, you just change the religious doctrine. And that kind of statement really impresses me. And makes me feel that he’s a one-of-a-kind religious leader.

LG: When you stop to think about the fact that most of the beliefs we have ever had on this planet have been eventually proved either wrong, partially true, or at best, misleading, I think that’s an excellent attitude to have in the 21st century.

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