His Holiness the Dalai Lama spoke at the Common Ground for Peace Forum in Syracuse, New York today and called for cautious optimism for Tibet’s future in the next several months as China undergoes leadership transition in Beijing; Vice President Xi Jinping is expected to replace current President Hu Jintao in November. The Forum convened international thought leaders, students and the greater community in critical conversations about how to shift global consciousness toward matters of peace.
When asked if the impending new leadership in China would be more open, he agreed that some say it will be. “However, the Chinese system is hard to change and right now I don’t want to speculate. Let’s wait six months to a year or two and we’ll see,” the exiled Tibetan leader cautioned.
Asked if there was one thing that would help Tibet, His Holiness responded: “Freedom.” He went on to say that in the twenty-first century we need to solve problems through dialogue, with both sides respecting each others’ point of view, not one side giving in to the other. The victory of one side and the defeat of the other is not a solution, he offered.
In the context of the changes that have recently taken place across North Africa and the Middle East, His Holiness was asked what is the groundwork for peace. He replied: “If you watch children playing together, they don’t ask each other about their background, race or beliefs they simply recognize others like themselves, smile and play together. I believe that as human beings all seven billion of us are the same. The way we are born and the way we die is the same; the way we eat, sleep and dream is the same. As human beings we are the same, and this something we need to think more about.”
Nobel Peace laureate Shirin Ebadi said the cause of peace is social justice and democracy. She pointed out that recent changes in the Arab world may have rid the world of dictators, but that alone is not democracy. Mohamed ElBaradei, also a Nobel Peace Laureate, said that wherever we come from ‘’we all seek dignity, fairness and justice. Where there hasn’t been democracy before, we have to build it.’’ He felt that the Middle East is at that threshold.
Former UN Ambassador Andrew Young suggested that asserting the simple right to live as a human being was a ground for peace, but that when this also involves regime change violence often occurs. The wish for regime change needs to be parallelled by a non-violent approach. Former CIA director R. James Woolsey likened revolution to a three act play: in act one the dictator is kicked out and in act two the rule of the people by the people is established. However, too often this is followed by an act three in which the ruthless step in and take over. He recommended that in the Middle East, act three can be prevented if the world weans itself off the use of oil.
His Holiness also commented on the observation that young people feel their future is in jeopardy because of anger and violence. He recalled the wars he had seen since he was born in 1935, but noted that now many people question why they should go to war. Similarly, when he was young, no one spoke about caring for the environment; now everyone is aware of it. Interest in non-violence is increasing, while science and religion that in the past were at odds now find useful things they can learn from each other. These are all grounds for hope, he said. On a personal level, he said that “If we don’t respect others, we develop mistrust, suspicion and fear which ultimately lead to conflict. We need to see that others’ suffering is our suffering too. In the past we may, like Tibet and at times the US, have been able to exist in isolation, but in the world today, we have to be concerned about everyone else.”
The twentieth century to which he belongs is gone, he commented, but there are more than 80 years of the twenty-first century yet to come and said that while the past cannot be changed, the future can be shaped here and now. He declared that we need to take a more holistic approach, to ask more questions and to take reality into account. And to that we need to add determination, whose source is warm-heartedness. Don’t act, he cautioned, because the Dalai Lama says so, but investigate things for yourselves, examine things for yourselves: “Peace is not the mere absence of violence; peace must come from inner peace. And inner peace comes from taking others’ interests into account.”
The event will close with a star-studded cast in a historic celebration of peace, music and common ground at the One World Concert featuring performances by Dave Matthews, Natasha Bedingfield, David Crosby, Counting Crows, Roberta Flack, Nelly Furtado, Cyndi Lauper, the Voices of Peace Choir, Bebe Winans and more.
You can view the conference video here: