Dalai Lama advocates democracy, equality

The Dalai Lama did not need written notes or a translator to convey his message of compassion and nonviolence to a sold-out crowd at Lisner Auditorium Tuesday evening.


Devoting himself to helping the Tibetan people regain their land from the Chinese, he encouraged audience members to have warm hearts and strong minds.

“Go see Tibet and show local Tibetans a big smile,” the Dalai Lama said with a grin when he was asked how people in the United States could help the Tibetan people.

In an effort to make a more personal connection with the audience, the Dalai Lama did not read his prepared statement. Instead, he spoke off-the-cuff about his life and intentions and avoided using his interpreter, relying on his own broken English.

The Dalai Lama focused on the issue of human rights violations against Tibetans by the Chinese government.

“Violence can be answered by nonviolence,” he said.

He told a story about a Buddhist monk who spent 18 years in a Chinese prison. When the monk returned, he said he faced danger a few times. The Dalai Lama said the danger he faced was losing compassion for the Chinese people.

“I can’t see your faces,” the Dalai Lama said, gazing out into the audience. He asked that the lights be dimmed so he could see into the crowd.

Freshman Sam Bishop said he was impressed by the Dalai Lama’s message of compassion.

“The story really struck me,” Bishop said.

As the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet, the leader spoke passionately about achieving individual freedom and equality for all humans through democracy. Democracy is the best political system to help maintain human equality, he said.

“I’m not an expert in this subject,” the Dalai Lama said. “But I’m a person who believes that the democratic system works.”

After the 1959 Chinese invasion of their country, the Dalai Lama and many other Tibetans were forced to flee to northern India. They established a democratically elected parliament and created successful health and education programs.

The Dalai Lama said the first step in regaining his homeland was to keep the issues alive by educating the young. He praised the students who attended the lecture and encouraged them to continue to help free the Tibetan nation from the Chinese military. He said education would bring success to Tibet.

“In order to keep the Tibetan issue alive, give proper education to the younger generations,” he said.

The Dalai Lama said a political system that makes specific class distinctions, such as the caste system, or one that focuses on competition, such as capitalism, was counterproductive to ensuring equality for all humans.

The Dalai Lama said he advocates a return to the basic principles of Buddhism and tolerance of all people, regardless of gender, race or economic status. He said all societies must consider the rights of a group versus the rights of an individual and that group or individual’s responsibility to respect other people.

Rights and responsibility, he cautioned, are not separate entities. Nations must try to find balance between the two, ensuring that their policies are not extreme in any manner.

“The challenge is how to ensure protection of individual rights and to ensure that this exercise of rights is not abused,” he said.

In answer to questions about whether the Western ideal of democracy would be an effective means of government in Eastern nations, he said people in different regions of the world are similar.

It also is important that world leaders not make a distinction between people of the East and people of the West in terms of equality, he said.

“At the fundamental level, all human beings are equal whether they are Easterners or Westerners,” he said. “Some people are very eager to make differences between Eastern and Western people.”

When confronted with a conflict between religious or cultural traditions and true democracy, the traditions must change, the Dalai Lama said. He cited several religions that have doctrines that discriminate against women and told the audience he has tried to change these practices through his teachings. He said although he is against gender bias, which is present in the monastic order, he alone cannot change the system.

Through his observations of human rights violations in various countries throughout the world, the Dalai Lama said one problem that continually threatens human rights is the increasing economic gap between the rich and poor. He called the economic gap both morally and economically wrong.

He said the United States has many billionaires, but also some people who remain in poverty.

“Isn’t it sad?” he asked.

He said the rich have a moral obligation to use their power to ensure the rights of all people are respected. He also said concentrating most of the world’s wealth in the hands of a few gives those few people tremendous power and undermines democratic principles.

To solve this, he said people should “make money in a capitalist way and utilize money in a socialist way.”

The Dalai Lama said true progress in improving human rights will come when people combine intelligence and compassion.

“Mentally, emotionally, (people) are basically the same,” he said.

The Hatchet has disabled comments on our website. Learn more.