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People Dalai Lama

The Dalai Lama

In the upper reaches of north India's Kangra Valley, surrounded by dense forests of pine, rhododendron and Himalayan oak, lies the picturesque hill station of Upper Dharamsala. Separated only by the Dhauladhar Mountains, Dharamsala is the closest area in the Indian sub-continent to Tibet, and has been the home in exile of His Holiness the fourteenth Dalai Lama since he fled Lhasa in 1959. Words by Ian Cook Photography by Tobi Wilkinson Gazing eastwards from Upper Dharamsala

Future: Who Is Responsible? In an open letter

in the direction of Tibet, the Dalai Lama is presented with nature at its most spectacular, and is

to the Australian people that was issued prior to his arrival in Sydney at the end of Novem-

buoyed by the knowledge that his spiritual home – the land described by many as the world's ‘third

ber 2009, His Holiness asserted that ‘as far as the natural environment is concerned, we have

pole’ – lies just beyond the limits of his vision.

a two-fold responsibility; firstly to take greater

Tibet is the source of all the great rivers of Asia: the Mekong, Yangtze, Ganges, Brahmaputra and

steps to care for our world and, secondly, to undo the serious environmental degradation that has

Yellow rivers. Between them they give life to India, Bangladesh, China and the countries of South East

resulted from incorrect human behaviour.’ What surprises many people upon hearing the

Asia; they are vital to the survival of hundreds of millions of people and are pivotal to the climate system of an entire continent an beyond – and

Dalai Lama speak for the first time, is the practicality of his thinking. Rather than speaking in otherworldly hyperbole, or with deeply religious vocabu-

they all find their source in the Tibetan Plateau. lary, his words retain a tangible sense of realism Faced with such surroundings, and the knowland logic – indicative of the rigorous, scientific way edge of their importance to the survival, prosperin which he assesses the world. This is not a man ity and continuity of who is detached from the The responsibility for our day-to-day workings of 21st so many people and


cultures, it becomes easier to appreciate the ‘big picture’ outlook that

future lies on our shoulders. – His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama.

century life, but a man who is known to be a fastidious student of world news and

underpins so much of the Dalai Lama's teachings. ‘We are being drawn together by the grave prob-

events, a man who is on record as advocating the rejection of any teachings – Buddhist or otherwise

lems we face: over-population, dwindling natural resources and an environmental crisis that threatens our air, water and trees, along with the vast number of beautiful life forms that are the very foundation of existence on this small planet we share,’ he says. This outlook is typical of the Dalai Lama's recognition that small-scale skirmishes between one person and the next do not represent the biggest threats to humankind. The biggest problems are those that face the world as a whole, exemplified by the repercussions of a failing global economy, felt across all corners of the globe. This recognition of the common interest goes some way to explaining the prevalence of compassion in his philosophy. The interdependence of every sentient being renders conflict useless, harmful and counterproductive: ‘We are all brothers and sisters [with] the same problems and the same needs,’ he says. ‘We must all contribute to the fulfilment of the human potential and the improvement of the quality of life as much as we are able. The responsibility for our future lies on our shoulders.’ This notion of ‘duty’ formed the basis of the Dalai Lama's recent visit to Australia, titled Our

– that contradict modern science. This is a leader who promotes pragmatism above dogma, and it is partly due to these qualities that the 14th Dalai Lama has become such a revered and widely respected voice on the world stage. His assertion that (with reference to climate change): ‘Good wishes are not sufficient … we must be actively engaged’ – provides an authoritative wake-up call for those leaders who procrastinate when urgency is necessary. There is no doubt in the mind of His Holiness that the planet faces dire consequences resulting from humankind's recklessness, and that dreaming of some outside help, or a remedy to appear without decisive action on our part, is utterly futile. ‘When I first fled to India 50 years ago, I had no idea of what global warming was,’ he said during his visit to Australia. ‘But thanks to the environmental experts we can all now see that taking care of the environment is essential. It is about education and making people aware that we need to act now.’ With characteristic joviality, he added: ‘I never take a bath anymore, I always shower, and I always make sure I turn the light off. It is important that these things become a part of our way of

People Dalai Lama

life, even if they are only small changes!’ As well as emphasising the small, lifestyle alterations that can be made by individuals, the Dalai Lama also has a clear message for more influential groups in the global community. ‘The media have a very important role in encouraging people to lead a meaningful life; they should adopt an active role in promoting this,’ he said. In recognition of the climate change debate, he asserted that: ‘It is the role of the media, in a democratic country, to smell what's going on and to inform the public in an honest, truthful, unbiased and objective way. Often, images of violence and conflict are the images in the news that stick in our minds, but, we must reiterate the importance of taking serious care of the environment, which by comparison, sometimes seems like an invisible problem.’ In a reiteration of his belief in collective action for the good of all, national governments too, were urged to step up and take greater responsibility for the environmental problems facing the entire global population. ‘National economic interests are often the priority. This should change to recognise global issues. There should be a willingness to sacrifice the immediate national interest, looking instead at the problems which everybody suffers.’ The four noble truths in Buddhist teaching tell us that the root of all human suffering lies in ignorance, delusion and attachment to material goods. As the Dalai Lama makes it his responsibility to stress the duty of care we have for the world we live in, his message bears all the hallmarks of those traditions that have shaped and informed it: we must avoid ignorance by educating ourselves about the problems of climate change and environmental ruination; we must avoid delusion by reporting truthfully, honestly and objectively; and by sacrificing personal and national interests in recognition of the wider problems facing us all, we can tackle the root of the harm and the suffering that we are inflicting upon ourselves. ‘Universal responsibility is the real key to human survival,’ he says. ‘It is the best foundation for world peace, the equitable use of natural resources, and – through concern for future generations – the proper care for the environment.’ His message is clear: ‘It's our future. It's our responsibility.’

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