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The Rediff Interview /The Dalai Lama

'The reality is that India needs Pakistan and Pakistan needs India'

Dalai Lama The Dalai Lama -- spiritual and temporal leader of the Tibetan people -- has been in India since 1960.

Media attention has focussed more on his political status than on his religious views. In this exclusive interview with Shanti Karuna his holiness shares his thoughts on the relevance of Buddhism -- and of religion in general -- in the modern world.

Every religion, generally speaking, comprises several elements such as theology, philosophy, ethics and ritual. Which of these elements do you think is the most important?

I think the most important is philosophy. As far as Buddhism is concerned, its philosophy is linked with ethics for the proper transformation of the human being at a mental level. All the negative mental elements should be reduced and eventually eliminated. Buddhist philosophy tries to see how to remove negative emotions and begin a process to change our minds. All philosophy has now come to that level. The whole purpose of philosophy is to effect a change of our mind or ethics.

Would you say it is also important to develop a social conscience?

Oh yes! The purpose of religion is to bring happiness to individuals as well as the society. There is happiness or satisfaction at two levels: the immediate and the permanent. For Buddhists -- some Hindus also accept the idea -- moksha is something that makes for permanent happiness. At the immediate or social level, a just society, a more equal society, should be our goal. Religious people should take interest in both these levels.

The essence of Buddhism is the four noble truths and the eight-fold path. Is there one single element in Buddhism that is the most important of all these?

There are two elements. One is non-violent conduct or behaviour. Non-violence is not just the mere absence of violence. It means more. It is an act of compassion. It involves helping others, serving others. At least not harming others. That is the essence of non-violence.

The second element is the nature of interdependence or interconnectedness. Why should we conduct ourselves in a non-violent way? Because our future, our happiness, depends on many factors, including the interests of others. If other people are happy, if society is happy, you will be happy. If society is more perfect, you also will benefit. So your interests and your future is not isolated. Therefore, in order to take care of one's own future, you have to take care of the welfare of others. All these things are interdependent, and in order for humanity to get satisfaction you need a good environment. This is the Buddhist view.

Today we see a decline in moral values in the world. People are turning away from religion because of the scientific temper. Do you think this can be countered by more active cooperation between religions?

If we try to unite in order to counter materialist forces, I think that is wrong. Of course, on the other hand, in order to make the contribution from the spiritual world to humanity more effective, and also to reduce or eliminate conflict, unity is very essential.

I believe that all 5.7 billion human beings, the entire humanity, simply will not or cannot accept religion. Of this 5.7 billion, of course, some do accept religion. But the larger portion does not. And it is wrong to try to impose or convert non-believers into believers. What we need is ethics -- what I usually call secular ethics -- without any religious beliefs. The way to promote this is not by talking about religion but simply by talking about reality and the interdependence of nature.

Destruction of your neighbour, ultimately, is the destruction of yourself. Caring for your neighbour, ultimately, is caring for yourself. We should treat the world as a whole, as one body, the same body. Of course, the hands and legs are separate, but it is foolish to say the hands can be cut off. Although they are separate, they are part of your body. Similarly, there is an inter-connection in the world economy and the environment, and also in education. Everything is very much connected.

I think a good example is of Pakistan and India. I have heard many Pakistanis say India is their number one enemy. Many Indians say the same about Pakistan. This, I think, is due to short-sightedness. The reality is that India needs Pakistan and Pakistan needs India. Therefore, taking care of your neighbour, taking care of the other's interest, is actually the proper and effective way to promote your own interest and future.

Likewise, from the point of view of health, a more compassionate mind helps your blood circulation and all your physical elements become more balanced. Less compassion brings suspicion, doubt, fear. As a result, your physical condition also suffers. So in this connection, I try to argue that basic human nature must be positive, more compassionate.

Compassion or human affection is the basis of human survival. Without that there will not be a happy family or a happy human community. Without human affection, you can't be happy. So human affection -- the sense of caring, compassion -- should not be considered religious matters, but basic human values.

Without these, there would be no future for humanity. These are the essence. Generally, when we talk about compassion, loving kindness, forgiveness etc people immediately feel these are religious matters; that as long as you are a believer, you need these things. That if you have no particular interest in religion, then you don't need these. I think that is wrong.

By co-operation between religions I also mean that through a dialogue between religions, we can pick up the best from different religions.

Usually my approach is to make all the differences clear. In fact, I am always telling people Buddhism, Jainism and some other religious traditions do not accept a creator. But for certain religions, their basic faith is a creator. So from the view point of the other group, Buddhists are atheists.

These are fundamental differences. At that level, there is no meeting point. But that doesn't matter. As I mentioned earlier, these philosophies help to develop values or ethics. For certain people, whose philosophy is belief in a creator, the creator loves them and we have to love the creator, and fulfill his wish. What is that wish? That we love our fellow human beings. It is the same aim.

All these philosophies are meant for the transformation of the individual. The Buddhist philosophy envisages no creator, no god. You are your own master, you should behave well, Buddha cannot help you or protect you. This is another approach to stress ethics and the importance of ethics. It is the same aim but a different approach.

This interview first appeared in New India Digest. Readers who wish to subscribe to this bimonthly magazine on contemporary India may respond to New India Digest, Sahaydri Sadan, Tilak Road, Pune 411 030.

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