New York: On May 23, 2010, his last full day in New York City during this visit, His Holiness the Dalai Lama went to Hunter College in the morning to participate in a series of events. He first visited the historical Roosevelt House of Hunter College where he was received by College President, Jennifer J. Raab. Upon entering the conference room, His Holiness noted the photos of President Roosevelt and other leaders that were on the walls.
In a brief ceremony, President Raab presented Hunter College President’s Medal to His Holiness calling him someone who has lifted “our spirits.” She drew attention to the significance of the event being held in Roosevelt House on account of His Holiness’ relationship with President Roosevelt. She referred to the watch and the letter that President Roosevelt had sent to His Holiness. The Roosevelt House is reported to be New York City home of President Franklin Roosevelt.
In a brief response, His Holiness said that as soon as he saw Roosevelt’s photos he immediately recalled the watch that had been given to him. Accepting the medal His Holiness said he was nothing special and that he regarded the medal as recognition of his commitment to the promotion of human values and religious harmony. His Holiness said that he reacted similarly when the Nobel Committee announced the award of the Peace Prize to him in 1989. He had then said that he was just a simple Buddhist monk, no more, no less, and that the Prize was an expression of appreciation for his commitment to the promotions of the above values.
Thereafter, His Holiness participated in a dialogue on “Education, Religion and Happiness” with some Chinese-American scholars.
In his opening remarks, Prof. Peter Kwong of Hunter College said His Holiness has “held dialogues with heads of states, opinion leaders, heads of different religions, with many well-known scientists and with common people.” He added that the gathering included over 60 American academics of Chinese descent from different parts of United States, “professors from all the major City University Campuses, as well as from the University of Chicago, Williams College, Swarthmore College, Vassar College, Bucknell University, Rockefeller University, Pace University, Barnard College, and several others.”
In his remarks His Holiness gave a broad overview of the Tibetan-Chinese relationship: the issues that have prevented a resolution of the problem so far, his impression of Chinese leaders during his visit to China in 1954-55, his appreciation of the Communist ideal, and the need for education of the Chinese people regarding the Tibetan issue. His Holiness also stressed the general importance of having a calm mind while undertaking any field of study. He added that such an attitude will enable the individual to adopt a spirit of openness to the field of study.
His Holiness then responded to some of the issues raised by Prof. Joseph Lee of Pace University and Prof. Ming Xia of the Graduate Center and the College of Staten Island, the City University of New York. He talked about the importance placed by the Central Tibetan Administration to the education of the Tibetan children by making it a priority in the initial years in exile. He also stressed on the need to incorporate moral ethics in our day to day lives.
Following this event, His Holiness spoke to a group of supporters of Hunter College. His Holiness commended them for their assistance to the college as this indicated the value they placed on education. Responding to a question on what could be done in relation to the Tibetan issue, His Holiness talked about the significance of the Tibetan ecology not just to the Tibetan people, but also to all the people in China and the rest of the world. He recalled a Chinese scientist terming the Tibetan plateau as the Third Pole to indicate its significance to the global environment. His Holiness therefore suggested that maybe Hunter College could think of collaborating with some Chinese scientists to study the ecology on the Tibetan plateau and to provide recommendation for its protection.
During the reception, His Holiness clarified that the watch that he had received from President Roosevelt was a Patek Philippe and not a Rolex.
Hunter College is the largest college in the City University of New York (CUNY) system and also one of the oldest public colleges in the United States.
His Holiness next went to Hunter College’s auditorium to give the keynote speech to The Bridge Conference. The conference is a dialogue project initiated by Chinese and Tibetan youths to promote better mutual understanding.
His Holiness was introduced by Mr. Lingxi Kong from China, one of the organizers, who is studying in Columbia University. In his remarks, Mr. Kong mentioned that there were 230 student participants (around half of them being Chinese, 40 per cent being Tibetans) and that some of the speakers to the conference have come directly from China.
Mr. Kong said, “…this is an event about minorities, about indigenous people facing a super power that does not understand very well the minorities’ spiritual beliefs and their way of life.” Explaining the reason for some Chinese and Tibetans to come together to organize the conference, Mr. Kong said it is “because we are soul-searching individuals seeking our own destiny, because we feel the best way to resolve tension, bias or misunderstanding is through the free exchange of ideas among people with different perspectives from all walks of life.”
As a way to highlight the need for continued awareness building among the Chinese people regarding the Tibetan issue, Mr. Kong related his conversation with his mother when she learnt about his involvement in the initiative on Tibet. He recalled his mother telling him, “You are not a Tibetan. And the Chinese Government is so powerful. Why don’t you just stay away from this?” He said, “And I told her, if you really think Tibet is a part of China, then how could you ignore the plight of six million Tibetans? They are our brothers and sisters.”
Mr. Kong also talked about his discussions with officials of the Chinese Government while planning the conference. He said, “During our conference planning, we had constructive dialogues with a few consuls from China’s Consulate-General in New York. In our free-flow conversations, they seem very confident about China’s Peaceful Rising to Modernity. And one of the points I have made very clear to them is that our country will never come to grips with modernity until it re-explores, critically re-evaluates and re-appropriates her own classical culture.” He said that “…it must be a China that asks new questions of its classical heritage through cross-cultural perspectives, a China enriched by deep encounter with other cultures, including that in the Tibetan plateau.”
In his address to the conference, His Holiness first talked about his commitment to promote human values. He said basically nobody wants problems and added that having an emotional reaction, without knowing the reality, when faced with a problem was an unrealistic approach. He said it was critical for the Chinese to realize that providing mere material benefit was not enough to satisfy individuals.
His Holiness said that China is the most populated nation and needs to gain the trust of its neighbors. He then talked about the need to understand the reality of the situation and referred to Chinese leader Hu Yaobang who had secretly sent trusted officials to Tibet to survey the situation and to report to him before he himself undertook an official tour. His Holiness referred to Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao’s highlighting this work culture of Hu Yaobang of wanting to really investigate in a recent article. His Holiness suggested that there was a need for a comprehensive survey to objectively look at the situation in Tibet. He said if that survey revealed that what he had been saying is wrong, he said he would apologize. On the other hand if the survey corroborated the existence of a problem in Tibet then steps need to be taken to address it, he added.
His Holiness recalled a conversation with a Tibetan who came to meet him in India during which he was informed about how Chinese officials were trying to undermine Tibetan culture. His Holiness said this Tibetan did not want to meet him in Dharamsala (the town in India where His Holiness resides) but in a different place as he was told that there were Chinese Government spies in Dharamsala. His Holiness then said he welcomed any spies from Chinas as we have nothing to hide.
Talking about the lack of progress in the Tibetan-Chinese dialogue process, His Holiness said the Chinese refuse to acknowledge the Tibetan problem and simply wanted to restrict it to the issue of the Dalai Lama. His Holiness talked about the five points that the Chinese Government had presented to his representatives in the 1980s, which dealt with the issue of his return. His Holiness said he did not accept it as the issue is about the rights of the Tibetan people.
Media reports of the conference talked about the reaction of some of the participants. One report quoted a participant in the following way.
“When he walked in, I was in awe,” said Hunter student Annie Su, 22, who lives in Elmhurst, Queens. “Maybe it sounds corny, but I had tears in my eyes. He’s adorable.”
Another quoted Mr. Tenzin Gelek, a Tibetan student who is the co-host of the Bridge Conference as saying it was “to foster understanding between Chinese and Tibetan students in the United States.”
“The Western education system is all about objectivity. It’s easier for us to understand each other’s position here in the melting pot of America,” Mr. Gelek was quoted as saying.
His Holiness then went to Radio City Music Hall, the venue of his public talk in the afternoon on Awakening the Heart of Selflessness, organized by Healing the Divide & The Tibet Center.
His Holiness was introduced by Mr. Richard Gere of Healing the Divide.
His Holiness began the talk by talking about the significance of the affection provided by mothers in the proper upbringing of children. He referred to animal mothers who are ready to sacrifice their own life for the sake of their children. He said the animals have not learnt such instincts from religion and said that affection and compassion makes a great difference. While talking about the need for education for individuals His Holiness said that alone was not enough for a holistic development. He stressed on the need for inculcating warm heartedness.
His Holiness then highlighted the role of women in promoting a more compassionate society. He recalled sharing this similar thought in Vancouver last year at a conference, which was also attended by Mrs. Mary Robinson (former president of Ireland). His Holiness recalled Mrs. Robinson calling him then as the feminist Dalai Lama.
His Holiness also talked about the importance of promoting secular ethics and thoughts that schools in New York City could incorporate it in the curriculum.
His Holiness also talked about his great fascination with the United States right from his childhood. He said he has admiration for the principles of democracy, transparency, rule of law, etc. that the country upholds. His Holiness also referred to an incident in India to demonstrate the positive message that America sent to the world in electing a black American as a president. His Holiness said he was attending a conference of Gandhian scholars in Pune when one of the participants broke the news about the election of President Barack Obama. His Holiness said immediately all the participants began to clap. He said he then felt that an event that took place in the United States was having such an impact in India.
At the end of the talk, His Holiness said his experience was that the American people in general tend to react quickly to developments, being very joyous when something good happened or feeling depressed when something bad took place. He suggested that they needed to take time to think over the development.
Following his talk, His Holiness saw former Congressman Benjamin Gilman in the audience and had a brief meeting with him before departing for his next program.
His Holiness then left for Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine to participate in an interfaith dialogue on “Kinship and its meaning in our world today.” The Very Rev. Dr. James A. Kowalski, Dean of the Cathedral, gave an explanation of the dialogue and introduced His Holiness as the “most beloved and respected global citizen.” The Dean referred to the latest book by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, “Toward a True Kinship of Faiths: How the World’s Religions Can Come Together” as yet another step by His Holiness to promote religious harmony.
His Holiness first spoke from the lectern and began by saying he was particularly pleased to be participating in an event in the Cathedral because he had visited it the first time when he visited the United States in 1979. Secondly, His Holiness said the event very much related to his basic commitment of promotion of religious harmony. Thirdly, he said he was happy that a serious discussion was the last public engagement that he was having before he returned to India on May 24, 2010.
His Holiness then shared his thoughts on the need for different religions to satisfy the different mental dispositions of people throughout the world. His Holiness said while the difference in philosophy among religions is a reality, yet he said there was sufficient reason to develop admiration for different religious traditions. He talked about the oneness of the entire six billion human beings.
His Holiness said all religions had the same potential to benefit humanity. He said one should have faith in one’s religion while having respect for all religious traditions. His Holiness talked about going on pilgrimages sacred sites of different religions, to a church, mosques or synagogues.
His Holiness recalled visiting a shrine for Mary in the sacred town of Fatima in Portugal one time. He said as he was leaving the shrine he happened to turn back to the statue of Mary and felt that she was smiling at him. He also talked about reports of a 14th century Tibetan Buddhist master smiling at people.
His Holiness said at the philosophical level there could be debates as to whether there is god or not, whether there is life after death or not. But he said what was important was that in this life human beings should be compassionate and for that all religions have the same potential.
His Holiness then went to the stage and was joined by Mr. Eboo Patel, the founder of Interfaith Youth Core, and Prof. Sakena Yacoobi, founder of the Afghan Institute of Learning, to begin a panel discussion that was moderated by Dean Kowalski.
During the discussion, His Holiness talked about three methods to promote religious harmony and understanding. Firstly, he said there could be meetings with scholars of different traditions and referred to his discussions with the Trappist monk Thomas Merton in this regard. He also talked about visiting a Benedictine monastery in Europe and meeting a monk who had been meditating for five years. His Holiness said he asked the monk what he was meditating on and the monk replied, “I meditated on love.” His Holiness joked that this Christian monk was a modern Milarepa.
Secondly, His Holiness said there could be meetings of leading religious personalities like Pope John Paul II’s 1986 summit of religious leaders in Assisi. Thirdly, religious leaders could go on group pilgrimages, His Holiness said.
To a question whether His Holiness feels there is another approach, other than war, that could be adopted in the case of Afghanistan and Iraq, he said he did not think there was anything now. He, however, said in the initial period there could have been eminent persons like Nobel laureates visiting Baghdad to talk with Saddam Hussein. His Holiness felt that would have been one possibility as Saddam Hussein would have understood the consequences.
Talking about his position on the future of Tibet, His Holiness gave a background to the Chinese presence in Tibet and to the dialogue process. He said since 1974 he has not been asking for Tibetan independence but had adopted a Middle Way Approach.
To another question on the forces of division gaining grounds His Holiness said the negative developments in the world in the beginning of the 21st century is the outcome of the negligence of humanity in the 20th century. His Holiness said today’s youth had the responsibility to make the 21st century better than the previous one.
Mr. Patel in his comments talked about the role that younger generation of religious leaders had in promoting better understanding and to make religions a bridge of cooperation. He looked to His Holiness as a role model and requested him to continue his work.
Prof.Yacoobi shared the experience of her organization in empowering Afghan women, to support education for boys and girls, and to provide health education to women and children. She emphasized the importance of education in changing the situation and highlighted the challenges in altering mindsets relating to the Afghan society.
This interfaith dialogue was attended by over 2,000 people and the Cathedral was assisted by The Tibet Fund in developing the program.
On his return to the hotel, His Holiness gave an audience to Bardok Chusang Rinpoche and around 50 disciples, who are originally from the Himalayan communities in Nepal.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama departs from New York City on May 24 afternoon for India.
–Report filed by Bhuchung K. Tsering of ICT