Speech of His Holiness the Dalai Lama at the
" Forum 2000" Conference,
Prague, Czech Republic, 3 - 7 September 1997

    Today's world requires us to accept the oneness of humanity. In the past, isolated communities could afford to think of one another as fundamentally separate. Some could even exist in total isolation. But nowadays, whatever happens in one region eventually affects many other areas. Within the context of our new interdependence, self-interest clearly lies in considering the interest of others.

    Many of the world's problems and conflicts arise because we have lost sight of the basic humanity that binds us all together as a human family. We tend to forget that despite the diversity of race, religion, ideology and so forth, people are equal in their basic wish for peace and happiness.

    Nearly all of us receive our first lessons in peaceful living from our mothers, because the need for love lies at the very foundation of human existence. From the earliest stages of our growth, we are completely dependent upon our mother's care and it is very important for us that she express her love. If children do not receive proper affection, in later life they will often find it hard to love others. Peaceful living is about trusting those on whom we depend and caring for those who depend on us. Most of us receive our first experience of both these qualities as children.

    I believe that the very purpose of life is to be happy. From the very core of our being, we desire contentment. In my own limited experience I have found that the more we care for the happiness of others, the greater is our own sense of well-being. Cultivating a close, warmhearted feeling for others automatically puts the mind at ease. It helps remove whatever fears or insecurities we may have and gives us the strength to cope with any obstacles we encounter. It is the principal source of success in life. Since we are not solely material creatures, it is a mistake to place all our hopes for happiness on external development alone. The key is to develop liner peace.

    Actions and events depend heavily on motivation. From my Buddhist viewpoint all things originate in the mind. If we develop a good heart, then whether the field of our occupation is science, agriculture or politics, since the motivation is so very important, the result will be more beneficial. With proper motivation these activities can help humanity; without it they go the other way. This is why the compassionate thought is so very important for humankind. Although it is difficult to bring about the inner change that gives rise to it, it is absolutely worthwhile to try.

     When you recognize that all beings are equal and like yourself in both their desire for happiness and their right to obtain it, you automatically feel empathy and closeness for them. You develop a feeling of responsibility for others; the wish to help them actively overcome their problems. True compassion is not just an emotional response but a firm commitment founded on reason. Therefore, a truly compassionate attitude towards others does not change even if they behave negatively.

     I believe that we must consciously develop a greater sense of universal responsibility. We must learn to work not just for our own individual self, family or nation, but for the benefit of all mankind. Universal responsibility is the best foundation both for our personal happiness and for world peace, the equitable use of our natural resources, and, through a concern for future generations, the proper care for the environment. My own ideas about this are still evolving but I would like to share some of them with you.

     I believe it is important to reassess the rights and responsibilities of individuals, peoples and nations in relation to each other and the planet as a whole. This has a direct bearing on human rights. Because it is very often the most gifted, dedicated and creative members of our society who become victims of human rights abuses, the political, social, cultural and economic developments of a society are obstructed by the violations of human rights. Therefore, the acceptance of universally binding standards of human rights is essential in today's shrinking world. Respect for fundamental human rights should not remain an ideal to be achieved, but a requisite foundation for every human society. But, when we demand the rights and freedoms we so cherish we should also be aware of our responsibilities. If we accept that others have an equal right to peace and happiness as ourselves do we not have a responsibility to help those in need?

     A precondition of any discussion of human rights is an atmosphere of peace in society at large. We have recently seen how new found freedoms, widely celebrated though they are, have given rise to fresh economic difficulties and unleashed long buried ethnic and religious tensions, that contain the seeds for a new cycle of conflicts. In the context of our newly emerging global community, all forms of violence, especially war, have become totally unacceptable as means of settling disputes. Therefore, it is appropriate to think and to discuss ways of averting further havoc and maintaining the momentum of peaceful and positive change.

     Although war has always been part of human history, in ancient times there were winners and losers. If another global conflict were to occur now, there would be no winners at all. Realizing this danger, steps are being taken to eliminate weapons of mass destruction. Nonetheless, in a volatile world, the risk remains as long as even a handful of these weapons continue to exist. Nuclear destruction is instant, total and irreversible. Like our neglect and abuse of the natural environment, it has the potential to affect the rights, not only of many defenseless people living now in various parts of the world, but also those of future generations.

    Faced with the challenge of establishing genuine world peace and preserving the bountiful earth, what can we do? Beautiful words are not enough. Our ultimate goal should be the demilitarization of the entire planet. If it were properly planned and people were educated to understand its advantages I believe it would be quite possible. But, if we are to have the confidence to eliminate physical weapons, to begin with some kind of inner disarmament is necessary. We need to embark on the difficult task of developing love and compassion within ourselves. Compassion is, by nature, peaceful and gentle, but it is also very powerful. Some may dismiss it as impractical and unrealistic, but I believe its practice is the true source success. It is a sign of true inner strength. To achieve it we do not need to become religious, nor do we need any ideology. All that is necessary is for us to develop our basic human qualities.

    Ultimately, humanity is one and this small planet is our only home. If we are truly to help one another and protect this home of ours, each of us needs to experience a vivid sense of compassion and responsibility. Only these feelings can remove the self-centered motives that cause people to deceive and misuse one another.

    No system of government is perfect, but democracy is closest to our essential human nature; it is also the only stable foundation upon which a just and free global political structure can be built, So it is in all our interests that those of us who already enjoy democracy should actively support everybody's right to do so. We all want to live a good life, but that does not mean just having good food, clothes, and shelter. These are not sufficient. We need a good motivation: compassion, without dogmatism, without complicated philosophy, just understanding that others are our human brothers and sisters and respecting their rights and human dignity. That we humans can help each other is one of our unique human capacities.

    We accept the need for pluralism in politics and democracy, yet we often seem more hesitant about the plurality of faiths and religions. It is important to remember that wherever they came from, all the world's major religious traditions are similar in having the potential to help human beings live at peace with themselves, with each other and with the environment. For centuries, millions of individual followers have derived personal peace of mind and solace in times of suffering from their own particular religious tradition. It is evident too that society in general has derived much benefit from religious traditions in terms of inspiration to ensure social justice and provide help to the needy.

   Human beings naturally possess diverse mental dispositions and interests. Therefore, it is inevitable that different religious traditions emphasize different philosophies and modes of practice. Since the essence of our diverse religious traditions is to achieve our individual and collective benefit, it is crucial that we are active in maintaining harmony and mutual respect between them. Concerted efforts to this end will benefit not only the followers of our own faith, but will create an atmosphere of peace in society as a whole.

     In the world at present, if we are serious in our commitment to the fundamental principles of equality, which I believe lie at the heart of the concept of human rights and democracy, today's economic disparity between the North and South can no longer be ignored. It is not enough merely to state that all human beings must enjoy equal dignity. This must be translated into action. We have a responsibility to find ways to reduce this gap. Unless we are able to address this problem adequately, not only will it not go away, but it will fester and grow to give us further trouble in the future.

    In this context, another important issue is overpopulation. From my Buddhist point of view, the life of every sentient being is precious, so it would be better if we did not have to practice birth control at all. But today, we are facing a situation where the growing number of people poses a threat to the very survival of humanity. Therefore, I personally feel we need to be pragmatic and adopt birth control measures in order to ensure the quality of life today in developing countries, and to protect the quality of life for future generations. Of course, as a Buddhist monk, I favor nonviolent forms of birth control.

    Another issue, which is dear to my vision of the future is disarmament. And that can only occur within the context of new political and economic relationships. Everyone wants peace. But we need a genuine peace that is founded on mutual trust and the realization that as brothers and sisters we must all live together without trying to destroy each other. Even if one nation or community dislikes another, they have no alternative but to live together. And under the circumstances it is much better to live together happily.

    To achieve global demilitarization our first step should be the total dismantling of all nuclear, biological and chemical weapons. The second step should be the elimination of all offensive arms. And the third step should be the abolition of all national defensive forces. To protect and safeguard humanity from future aggression, we can create an international force to which all member states would contribute.

    We also need to call a halt to the appalling international arms trade. Today, so much money is spent on armaments instead of feeding people and meeting basic human and environmental needs. It is a tragedy that in so many parts of the world there is no shortage of guns and bullets, but a severe lack of food. In such circumstances, thousands of innocent people, many of them children, are maimed or die. I believe there is a crying need for greater responsibility in the way we assess priorities in creating jobs, manufacturing goods and marketing them abroad.

    The awesome proportion of scarce resources squandered on military development not only prevents the elimination of poverty, illiteracy and disease, but also requires the sacrifice of our scientists' precious human intelligence. Why should their talent be wasted in this way, when it could be used for positive global development? Our planet is blessed with vast natural treasures. If we use them wisely, beginning with the elimination of militarism and war, every human being will be able to live a healthy, prosperous existence.
Similarly, the problems of poverty, overpopulation and destruction of the environment that face the global community today are problems that we have to address together. No single community or nation can expect to solve them on its own. In ancient times, each village was more or less self-sufficient and independent. There was neither the need nor the expectation of cooperation with others outside the village. You survived by doing everything yourself. The situation now has completely changed. It has become very old-fashioned to think only in terms of my nation or my country, let alone my village. Therefore, I repeat that universal responsibility is the real key to overcoming our problems.

     Today's problems of militarization, development, ecology, population, and the constant search for new sources of energy and raw materials require more than piece-meal actions and short-term problem-solving. Modern scientific development has, to an extent, helped in solving mankind's problems. However, in tackling these global issues there is the need to cultivate not only the rational mind but also the other remarkable faculties of the human spirit: the power of love, compassion and solidarity.

     A new way of thinking has become the necessary condition for responsible living and acting. If we maintain obsolete values and beliefs, a fragmented consciousness and a self-centered spirit, we will continue to hold to outdated goals and behaviors. Much an attitude by a large number of people would block the entire- transition to an interdependent yet peaceful and cooperative global society.

     If we look back at the development in the 20th century, the most devastating cause of human suffering, of deprivation of human dignity, freedom and peace has been the culture of violence in resolving differences and conflicts. In some ways the 20th century can be called the century of war and bloodshed. The challenge before us, therefore, is to make the next century, a century of dialogue and of peaceful co-existence.

     In human societies there will always be differences of views and interests. But the reality today is that we are all inter-dependent and have to co-exist on this small planet. Therefore, the only sensible and intelligent way of resolving differences and clashes of interests, whether between individuals or nations, is through dialogue. The promotion of a culture of dialogue and non-violence for the future of mankind is thus an important task of the international community. It is not enough for governments to endorse the principle of non-violence or hold it high without any appropriate action to promote it.

     It is also natural that we should face obstacles in pursuit of our goals. But if we remain passive, making no effort to solve the problems we meet, conflicts will arise and hindrances will grow. Transforming these obstacles into opportunities for positive growth is a challenge to our human ingenuity. To achieve this requires patience, compassion and the use of our intelligence.

This speech was delivered on 4 September 1997

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