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The Rediff Interview/The Dalai Lama

'It is wrong to convert non-believers into believers'

Buddist Monks 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 activities.

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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