Jerry Brown: Your Holiness, can you please describe what is happening in Tibet?
The Dalai Lama: What is happening now in Tibet is very sad. In the last three years, the Chinese authorities have taken a harder stand against Tibetan culture and Tibetan Buddhism. In 1996, local officials began stating publicly that as long as Tibetan Buddhism remained alive, there would always be a threat of Tibet’s separation from China. So they made it clear that they needed more control and tight restrictions.
That is very destructive. But I believe that when this present policy fails to be beneficial, sooner or later the Chinese will find a better way. The present policy of the Chinese is not that of a great nation carrying out its responsibility. At the moment, inside Tibet, whether intentionally or unintentionally, a kind of cultural genocide is taking place.
JB: You use the word genocide.
DL: Yes, this is happening, partly because of the Chinese population influx into Tibet. In some major cities like Lhasa, already two-thirds of the population are Chinese. Therefore the Tibetans’ whole way of life is being changed. It’s becoming like the Chinese.
JB: The United States spends billions of dollars buying Chinese goods. As far as you can tell, does this have any positive impact on Chinese policy with reference to Tibet?
DL: This is a very complicated issue. Basically, I believe that China, as the most populated nation on Earth, must be brought into the mainstream of the world community. Isolating China is not good. Economically, the Chinese themselves want to join the rest of the world. So now the world has a responsibility to bring China into the mainstream of world democracy.
One of the greatest obstacles to this happening is the suspicion of the Chinese. Once their suspicion is reduced and their mental attitude becomes more calm, then there is a better chance of finding mutually agreeable solutions, even regarding Tibet or Taiwan. So friendly relations are essential. Confrontation is not constructive. At the same time, other countries must take a firm stand with China on issues of religious freedom and human rights.
JB: What do you think the American people could do to help the cause of Tibet?
DL: I am very encouraged by the support of the American people, and all those from the media and the Congress who are concerned about our cause. Still, there are many people who do not know about Tibetan culture or what is happening to it, so I think it is important to make the issues clear.
There are several reasons why Tibet is so important. First, geographically, Tibet is situated between China and India, and could help maintain the peace between these two most populated nations of the world. Secondly, Tibet is a very important place environmentally. The major rivers which run through China, Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, and through India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan all have their sources in Tibet, which is the roof of the world. So if there is a major environmental disturbance in Tibet, such as deforestation, it could cause environmental problems in all of Asia.
Thirdly, I am convinced that Tibetan Buddhist culture has the potential to help people in Asia develop better values and attitudes. I feel that millions of young Chinese have lost their basic human values and think only about money. I also sense deeply that Buddhism is not alien in the minds of the Chinese people. I noticed in Taiwan, for instance, that many Chinese have a great devotion to Buddhism. So if Tibetan Buddhist culture survives, it has the potential to help millions of people in that part of the world. However, right now I believe that Tibetan Buddhist culture is facing the threat of extinction. So this is part of my appeal to you.
JB: Let me ask you about the materialism you mentioned and about the pollution problems of the planet. Is there something wrong with the educational process? Are people getting the wrong idea about how they should be living?
DL: I don’t see anything wrong with modern education itself. But I don’t think we are paying enough attention to the other parts of the human being. We simply concentrate all of our concern and energy on development of the brain or intellect, but we do not pay much attention to the development of a warm heart. I think that is a big problem.
In democratic societies where separate educational institutions developed, the churches once took responsibility for moral education. Now the influence of religion has decreased, and nobody is teaching human values. The basic human values are caring, a sense of community and sharing problems with one another, and a sense of forgiveness. I think we must make every effort to promote these values, both in our families and in our schools.
Another factor is that people simply put too much trust in material wealth or money. We believe that all human problems can be solved through technology or with money. That concept is wrong. We not only have this body, but also a mind and feelings. Our peace and happiness depend on our mental attitude, not on external conditions.
JB: Speaking of technology, recently a scientist in England succeeded in cloning a sheep through genetic engineering. From your point of view, do human beings have to impose limits on their ability to create or alter life?
DL: [after some extensive conversation with his translator] I think we have to judge these things from the viewpoint of consequences. If such a method eventually produces a more compassionate sentient being, then I think we should welcome it.
JB: Not only is modern science trying to create life, but modern medicine is also trying to postpone death indefinitely. How do you suggest that we think about our own dying?
DL: The whole universe will die, so there is little doubt about individual sentient beings. Today the average individual has the possibility of a long life, and maybe it can be prolonged to one hundred years, or maybe even two or three hundred years. That would be very welcome. But at the end you always have to face death. So in the Buddhist tradition in which I have trained, one of the most important practices is to remind ourselves of death. Some of our practices involve the visualization of the death process, so that when actual dying and death is taking place we are not so shocked or depressed by it. We are already familiar with it. Whether one is practicing Buddhist meditation or not, I think it is useful to think about death and to consider it as a part of our life.
JB: Should we start thinking about death when we are young or middle aged?
DL: I think I was about sixteen years old when I started to do serious death practice.
JB: What is this thing you refer to as “practice”? It sounds like something that may be a little strange to an American audience.
DL: Practice means to familiarize our mind with what will lead to happiness for ourselves and others. When we talk about mind, we are not referring to one entity or one single thing. The mind is a whole world, with many different thoughts and different identities. Some thoughts or states of mind are very positive and pleasant, such as compassion, forgiveness, determination or courage. On the other hand, hatred, jealousy, fear and ignorance are negative states of mind, and very harmful and unpleasant. So with the rational part of the mind, we analyze which mind-states are useful for health, for mental peace, for a happy life, for a happy family. Then we deliberately try to familiarize ourselves with these positive mind-states or thoughts and learn how to strengthen them. If you meditate on compassion regularly, then the strength of your compassion will increase. And as your compassion gains strength, then automatically the opposite mind-state of hatred will weaken.
JB: If someone has never practiced meditation before, how would you tell them to start?
DL: People without much experience should begin just by thinking more about their internal world. The brain is a very small area but contains a lot of mysteries. So instead of exploring external space, it is worthwhile to explore the internal space. Consider the state of your mind more often, and the nature of your thoughts. It might be interesting to ask yourself, “Who am I?” Also be aware whenever you feel some kind of negative or positive emotion. Check whether the emotion is bringing you happiness or anxiety. Your physical posture is not important. Just explore who you are.