His Holiness XIV Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso
Cultivating Peace as an Antidote to Violence
Washington National Cathedral
September 11, 2003
(Began with the recitation of the following Buddhist prayer)
For beings who have no home, no support
Who are deprived of refuge and are destitute
To such beings may I become in future
A guardian, an ally, a friend, a refuge, and a support
May I help end their pains and the origins of such pains
May I become for these beings a source of all happiness.
I am deeply humbled and also honored to have this opportunity to share some of my thoughts and say a few words in this very august and sacred cathedral where all of us have gathered together to share a platform to pray for peace and also to remember the many victims who suffered unimaginable tragedy two years ago in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania.
Participation in this interfaith prayer will be a source of, in one sense, joy for all of us in that it has provided a forum for people from different religious traditions to come together to pray for a united purpose, but at the same time, since it is also an occasion to remember the unimaginable tragedy that occurred on this soil two years ago it is also a source of sadness.
However, I believe as presented by the seventh century Buddhist master Shantideva, who wrote the following:
“If the problem is such that there is a solution, there is no need to worry about it; if there is no solution, then there is no point in being overwhelmed and paralyzed.”
As someone who takes these words to heart, I believe that the tragedy that people have suffered is something that has already happened. It is a historical event. However, it is important not to be depressed, demoralized and paralyzed by the past event, but rather to remember the event and try to utilize (the event) towards a kind of spiritualized opportunity for personal growth and also forgiveness.
So the moral responsibilities and the tasks that fall on our shoulders are two fold. One is to pray for the victims of the tragedy, particularly the family members and beloved ones of those who died and show them solidarity and share in their pain. The second is to ensure on the part of each and every one of us at the individual level to ensure that nothing like this ever happens in the future.
In my view, I think there are two levels to take measure as preventive measures. One, certainly leaders, governments and others have been taking certain measures. At another level, I believe all these tragic human actions come out of a certain motivation. Such unbelievable sort of tragedy happened because of hatred and jealousy– immense destructive emotions. So like in order to promote positive actions we have to make effort to promote positive emotions. Similarly, in order to prevent negative actions, destructive actions, we should make efforts to reduce, or if possible, eliminate, these negative inflicted emotions. Here, each of us, I think, has some way to make a contribution. So basically I believe the promotion of compassion, forgiveness and contentment, self-discipline — these things I feel are most important matter of preventive measures for the long run.
So, firstly, (it can be done) through education and also (through) parents’ kindness towards children. Through that way you cultivate in the minds of millions of children, our future generation, the coming younger generation. I think through education, through awareness, these basic human values can be increased, can be strengthened.
Recently I noticed in New York and some other places, when the failure of electricity happened, I was told, unlike previous times, this time much more peace. No chaotic situation. I think because mainly I think people really now believe in helping each other. Compassionate attitude toward one another is the best way to reduce anxiety and problems. I think that is a good sign, a sign of progress. When I heard that I really felt that is really a sign of hope. So through education, certainly, we can promote these good qualities of human being.
Then second, the various different religious traditions, in spite of different philosophy, different traditions, all have the same message — message of love, compassion, forgiveness, tolerance, contentment, and self-discipline. Therefore, all have the same potential to help humanity through promotion of these basic human values. And also, I think in these tragic events, in some cases, even religious narrow-minded view may have been involved. So the promotion of religious harmony, harmony among the different religious traditions is, I think, in the long run, may be very useful in two fields: one promotion of human values and one to reduce these sectarian violence.
And perhaps, whether appropriate or not I don’t know, but in any case I feel so I would like to take this opportunity as a freedom of speech. So I would like to express one thing. As I mentioned earlier, all the major religious traditions have the same potential. All are talking about these good things. At the same time, in all the religious traditions among the followers of these different traditions, there are some mischievous people. Always happen, always there. So, therefore, sometimes some people will get the impression because these recent sort of terrorist activities some Muslims involve. So some people get the impression that the Muslim religion is more militant, more violent. I think that is a mistake. Among my friends, some are Muslims. They are very compassionate. Very generous, very nice.
So when I had some discussions with my Muslim friends they told me very clearly, anyone who creates pain, harm on others, that is not Muslim. They said like that. And their behavior (is) also very gentle. Therefore, it is not, I think, right to (put the) blame on one tradition as a whole.
Then, finally, I would like to take this opportunity (to share) one of my fundamental beliefs. That is, once we accept religion, then we should be serious, and should be very sincere. Sometimes we take religion almost like ornaments. Ornaments can be easily taken out and can be put there.
So religion, as I mentioned earlier, these very useful concepts — love, compassion, sense of brotherhood, sisterhood I think these should be part of our life, part of ourselves. So, in day and night, even in dreams. If you seriously take this message of one’s own tradition, then even in dream when some negative emotion are about to come, you can make an effort to withstand.
So, (take) for example, the practice of contentment. When you go shopping, your greed, unlimited greed comes. Or your neighbor having a new car, a new television, you may feel a little jealousy, little uncomfortable. At such a moment, remember, if you are a Christian remember God, his message of contentment, message of sense of brotherhood, sisterhood on the basis of compassion, love, then these negative emotions automatically are reduced. And when you face your either you call your enemy or someone who usually irritates you, at that time, that very moment, think and remember that that person is also a creature of God. And also, remember the image of God. Automatically, immediately the intensity of negative feelings will be reduced. That is a way of practice, not when we gather in the Cathedral, short moment close our eyes and think of God, but outside nothing there. That is a mistake.
So through practice we can increase mindfulness. One small example. Of course, I am not a good practitioner, but a beginner of practitioner. But in my dream, whenever I come across some negative things, like fighting, or some attachment like sexual attachment, then at that moment in the dream, I immediately remember I am Buddhist monk. [laughter] I should not… I should not do that. So it is useful. [laughter]
So I think (for) a good Christian, a good Muslim, a good Jew or a good Hindu will gain the same experience because all teachings carry these same message. So the question is whether we are really sincere, or serious or not, that is the question. If we are not very sincere, not very serious, then I think (it is) better to say, I am not a religious person, I am not a believer. Then you have more freedom, or whatever you do. Then I think the meaning of self -discipline. Self-discipline is something (involving) resistance by volunteering. Not imposing something from others. So actually, discipline is something like protection of your own greater long-term interest. Just like a sick person. Even if that person wants something to eat or to drink, but then immediately (remembers), “I got some trouble in stomach or something so I should not eat that.” So resists. So that is discipline out of one’s own interest.
Otherwise, sometimes you see people get the impression that once you accept religion seriously, lot of discipline is necessary. That is troublesome. That kind of attitude is wrong. So the real question is whether we accept religion or not is up to the individual. Our freedom –once we accept religion, we should practice (it) sincerely. So this also will have another benefit, that is another positive effect. That is, once you gain some experience, inner spiritual experience, then that person can (feel) much easier to see the value of other traditions, not just mere different philosophies, or different traditions or different appearances, but because of your own some inner spiritual experiences you can see the value or potential of other traditions. That is very helpful to develop respect.
I am a Buddhist. Sometimes I describe myself as a staunch Buddhist. But at the same time because I can see all the great potential, same potential therefore I always admire Christianity, or Muslim, Judaism, different Hinduism, Jainism, so on. So therefore sincere practice is something very important for promotion of religious harmony. So that’s all, thank you! (applause)