The Rediff Interview/The Dalai Lama
'It is wrong to convert non-believers into believers'
And if there was a dialogue, then different religions
would understand that despite their differences they have
this in common?
Yes. Once you consider the purpose of the philosophy and traditions
of different religions
you can understand and realise these are same. But
the methods are different. Why are there different methods? Because
in human society there are many different human mental dispositions.
Hence one philosophy, one tradition, cannot be sufficient.
It is like medicine. Different illnesses need different
medicines. There is no point in quarrelling because one medicine
is different from another. This is my thinking, and people from
other religions have also begun to realise this now.
In India we say as all rivers flow into
the sea, all religions too are seeking the same goal. But would
you say Buddhism is in any way better than other religions
in getting to this goal?
No. But for me, for my mental disposition, Buddhism
is most suitable. Therefore for me, Buddhism is best. This does
not mean that Buddhism is best for all. For those people for whom
the 'creator philosophy' is more effective
Buddhism is not the best. Christianity and those religions based on the creator theory suits them best.
All religions talk about self-control,
abstinence, control of desire etc. Do you think to obtain
these objectives, one should withdraw from the worldly life, become
a monk and stay far away in an ashram? Or can this be done
while you are in the world itself?
In the beginning, it is useful to isolate yourself.
Take the case of education. While you are studying, most of your
time is spent in school, not outside. But that does not mean
your whole life should remain like that. After you are qualified
and have met all the educational requirements, then you are ready
to serve and be absorbed in society.
Similarly, in the spiritual world you should first
gain your own experience. While you are training for that,
it is very important to be isolated. Once you develop some kind
of self-confidence in spiritual feeling, then you must come out
and work in society. In the Buddhist tradition, the monk in the
monastery is isolated from society to some extent.
Some time in the late '60s, I raised this question
with the supreme patriarch of the Buddhist monks in Thailand.
I told him in the Buddhist tradition we prefer to remain
in seclusion. Then I raised this question and asked whether it
would be better to remain in society, carry more responsibility,
like our Christian sisters and brothers do, particularly in the
field of education and health.
The supreme patriarch expressed the view a monk
should not get involved in these activities. That is also true,
but times have changed. I think in order to serve Buddha and
dharma, it is very important for monks and nuns -- once they have
some experience -- to get absorbed in society and carry on social
Then there is the question of celibacy. The tradition
of celibacy among Catholics and the Buddhists arise from
different reasons. For Buddhists the aim is moksha -- where
one is not affected by emotions like desire, attachment,
negative desire, and pride.
So as a first step, one must control the sexual urge
which is one of the strongest desires. Meals too -- only one meal a day.
But some people
like to have a better kind of material life. Take shelter, for instance.
There are many ways about it. Some will never sit under a roof, but only
under a tree. Some monks take that kind of a vow. So even in
the rainy season, they remain under a tree. These are ways
to reduce your desires, a training to achieve mokhsa.
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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