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Tibet's Contribution to World Culture

H.H.Dalai Lama

H.H.Dalai Lama was educated in the Tibetan traditions to prepare for a role that embodied the highest spiritual and temporal authority in Tibet. In 1950 at the age of 16 he was called upon to assume full political authority as the country faced Chinese invasion. Since 1959 the Dalai Lama has been living in India, where he runs a government in exile, working to preserve the Tibetan identity and to place the issue of Tibet on the international agenda. His philosophy of altruism, compassion, nonviolence, and peace have made him a statesman who is greatly respected, admired and loved all over the world. The Dalai Lama was honoured with the Nobel Peace Prize in the year 1989.

Two major forces have shaped Tibet's ancient culture. The most fundamental has been the unique environment on Tibet's plateau, high above the rest of Asia. The rigours of the climate at such a high altitude have tended to bring a certain toughness and resilience to the Tibetan character. On the other hand, living a free nomadic life in a vast open land, as many Tibetans do, untroubled by the crowds, pollution and competition for resources that afflict our neighbours, has fostered a large degree of contentment and freedom from anxiety.

When we think of Tibetan culture, we generally mean Buddhist culture. This is because of the profound and pervasive effect that Buddhism, which was by and large adopted directly from India, has had on much of the Tibetan way of life. It was Buddhism, with its powerful central message of compassion, that transformed Tibetans from the powerful warlike nation that dominated Central Asia in the seventh century to the more peaceful and religious people they are today. Buddhism provided the inspiration for art and literature and the widespread establishment of monasteries and nunneries that became the major source of education.

Within the monasteries, and sometimes in isolated caves in the mountains, a few individuals have sought and attained the highest goals of the spiritual path. But for the majority of the Tibetan people Buddhism has been a source of humane values. As a boy studying Buddhism, I was taught the importance of a caring attitude not only for other people but even towards the environment. Our practice of non-violence applies not just to human beings but also to all sentient beings--any living thing that has a mind. No sentient being wants pain; all want happiness instead. I believe that all sentient beings share these feelings at some basic level.

Although compassion is of fundamental value in Tibetan culture, it is actually universal in nature. Compassion is crucial to our survival as human beings wherever we live. We human beings are social animals; we need companions to survive. If we develop concern for other people's welfare, share other people's suffering, and help them, ultimately we will benefit. If we think only of ourselves and forget about others, ultimately we will lose.

Traditionally in Tibet these values were handed down within the family. However, a child growing up in a Tibetan family would be subject to the influence of far more relatives than is common in the western world today. As a result he or she would have access to a wider pool of experience. Today our children in exile receive a modern education that provides them with many opportunities for personal and social development. I believe that the possibility of Tibetan culture not only surviving, but being able to contribute to contemporary society, lies in a balanced combination of modern education and the traditional cultural values that are mainly enshrined in the Buddhist teachings.

In addition to the humane values maintained and passed on in the family, in the monasteries of Tibet we preserved a rigorous tradition of studying philosophy. In the highest Buddhist system of tenets, the Middle Way Consequence School, there is an assertion of selflessness. However, this does not mean that there is no self at all. It means that when we search to find the kind of self that usually appears to our minds so concretely, we cannot find it. Such a self is analytically unfindable. Analytical findability is called 'inherent existence'; thus, when the Middle Way Consequence School speaks of selflessness, it is referring to this lack of inherent existence. However, the school does assert that there is a self, or I, or person that is designated in dependence upon mind and body.

All Buddhist systems assert pratitya-samutpada, dependent arising. One meaning of the doctrine of dependent-arising is that all impermanent things-products, or things that are made-arise in dependence upon a collection of causes and conditions; therefore, they arise dependently. The second meaning of dependent-arising, however, is that phenomena are designated, or come into being, in dependence upon the collection of their own parts. The breaking down of phenomena by scientists into extremely small particles serves to support this doctrine that phenomena are designated in dependence upon a collection of parts, these parts being their minute particles. A third meaning of dependent-arising is that phenomena only nominally exist. This means that phenomena do not exist in and of themselves, objectively, but depend upon subjective designation for their existence. When it is said that phenomena exist or are designated in dependence upon a conceptual consciousness--which designates them as this or that--we are not saying that there are no objects external to the consciousnesses perceiving them as is asserted in the Mind Only system. There it is said that phenomena are only mental appearances, but again not that forms and so forth do not exist, rather that they do not exist as external objects--objects external in entity to the mind. In this way the meaning of dependent-arising becomes deeper and deeper in these three interpretations.

Because the self, which is the user or enjoyer of objects, exists in dependence upon other factors, that self is not independent, but dependent. Since it is impossible for the self to be independent, it is completely devoid of independence. This lack of independence of the self that undergoes pleasure and pain and so forth is its reality, its emptiness of inherent existence. This is what emptiness is getting at. Through understanding and feeling the meaning of this doctrine you can begin to gain control over your emotions in daily life.

Disturbing emotions arise from superimposing upon objects a goodness or badness beyond that which they actually have. We are putting on something extra, and in reaction to this, disturbing emotions arise. For instance, when we generate desire or hatred, at that time we are seeing something very attractive or very unattractive strongly in front of us, objectively. But then if we look at it later, it just makes us laugh; the same feeling is not there. Therefore, the objects of desire and hatred involve a superimposition beyond what actually exists; something else has become mixed in. This is how understanding the actual mode of being of objects without such superimpositions helps us to control our minds.

This is the factor of wisdom, but there is also a factor of method. For what purpose are we striving to generate wisdom? If it is for your own selfish purposes, then it cannot become very powerful. Therefore, wisdom must be accompanied by a motivation of love, of compassion, of consideration for others, such that it is put to the use of others. In this way, there comes to be a union of method and wisdom. Love, when it is not mixed with false conceptuality, is very reasonable, logical, sensible.

Loving kindness and compassion, without emotional feelings and with the realization of ultimate reality, can reach even your enemy. This love is even stronger for your enemies. The other kind of love, without realization of reality, is very close to attachment; it cannot reach enemies-- only friends, your wife, husband, children, parents, and so forth. Such love and kindness are biased. Realization of the ultimate nature assists in making love or kindness become principled and pure.

Through good times and bad times, we Tibetans try to keep our spiritual health and our good humour, remembering that all people, whether they harm us or help us, are ultimately our friends. I often tell the Tibetan people that as long as we remember these fundamental truths, we are truly invincible. Our determination will never die, and we will eventually be able to help our friends in China too.

One reason the Chinese have totally failed in their occupation of Tibet is that they have not merely ignored but have tried to eradicate the Tibetan identity. They have systematically attempted to eliminate the Tibetan language, culture and traditions. In the 1980s there was some relaxation of this suppression and in fact some encouragement of those aspects of the Tibetan identity that they could exploit. Unfortunately, in recent years the Chinese authorities have intensified their restrictions on every aspect of Tibetan life and increased their oppression of the Tibetan people. Far from giving Tibetans a respected equal place in a pluralistic China, they have not even accorded the Tibetan people basic human rights.

We Tibetans are carrying on a struggle for our rights. Some say that the Tibetan situation is only political, but I feel it is not. We Tibetans have a unique and distinct cultural heritage just as the Chinese have. We do not hate the Chinese. We deeply respect the riches of Chinese culture that spans so many centuries. Though we have deep respect and are not anti-Chinese, we six million Tibetans have an equal right to maintain our own distinctive culture as long as we do not harm others. Materially we may have been backward, but in terms of the development of the mind, we are quite rich.

Tibetan civilisation forms a distinct part of the world's precious common heritage. Humanity would be the poorer if it were to be lost. Tibetans in exile in particular, have made every effort to preserve and promote it, but we will not succeed in isolation. We require help and support. I feel sure that if people come to a better and more sympathetic understanding of the Tibetan people and their traditions, they will be inspired to join us in our efforts to save Tibetan culture from disappearing forever.

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