ROME, Italy, 13 December 2014
His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s third day in Rome began with a cordial meeting with a group of Italian parliamentarians, including the Chair of the Human Rights Committee and a Vice President of the Senate. He thanked them for coming to see him and informed them of what he sees as positive signs in relations with China. He mentioned that recently President Xi Jinping has expressed opposition not only to nationalism, but also to Han chauvinism as Chairman Mao used to do. He also reported to them Xi Jinping’s remarks in Paris and Delhi affirming the important role that Buddhism plays in Chinese culture. Seeing how the Chinese President’s attitude accords with the realistic approach of Hu Yaobang, who adopted a positive stance on Tibet, His Holiness expressed optimism.
“Since 2001 I have been semi-retired,” he told the parliamentarians, “and since 2011 I have completely retired from political responsibility. Now I concern myself only with the preservation of Tibetan culture and spirituality, which is a culture of peace and non-violence, and the protection of the Tibetan environment. On a human level, I consider we are all the same. I don’t think of myself as anything special, just as another human being. You politicians too, working for the happiness of the people of Italy, of the European Union, can contribute to making a better world for all 7 billion human beings.”
The parliamentarians severally thanked His Holiness for coming to Italy and for the inspiration he gave to them. They affirmed that they will continue their work to further human rights and foster the values of compassion, peace and non-violence, especially at this difficult time in the world, as well as sustaining support for Tibet.
In an interview for France 24, Marc Perelman asked if His Holiness was disappointed that the Pope is unable to meet him and that earlier in the year the Norwegian Prime Minister also declined a meeting. His Holiness said no, explaining that he has retired from political responsibility and is more concerned with engaging with the public at large than with meeting their leaders. He said:
“If humanity is happy, we all benefit. With regard to meeting His Holiness the Pope, which I would like to do, I am curious as to why it isn’t possible, but you’ll have to ask his office about that.”
Perelman said that His Holiness has described Xi Jinping as more realistic but asked if he really thought he was ready to talk about Tibet. His Holiness replied:
“I hope so. He has publicly acknowledged the value of Buddhism to Chinese culture. Also, his friends say he is more realistic. However, within the establishment he heads there are still many hardliners, so we’ll see.”
About the more than 130 self-immolations that have taken place in Tibet, His Holiness said they were all very sad, but that the matter is very sensitive politically. Because whatever he says can be manipulated one way or another, and keeping in mind the feelings of the families involved, he prefers to remain quiet about it.
With regard to his successor and whether there will be a 15th Dalai Lama, His Holiness repeated that as early as 1969 he had made clear that whether or not there is a 15th Dalai Lama will depend on the wishes of the Tibetans and other concerned people. He laughed, saying that it seems some Chinese officials are more worried about this issue than he is. Finally, to the question of whether he expects see genuine autonomy in Tibet, he replied:
“Yes, I think so. If the people involved take a realistic view of the situation it can change quickly and easily. It’s not like damage to the environment, which, once it has taken place, will be difficult to remedy.”
Interviewing His Holiness for the BBC, Yalda Hakim asked if the 21st century was different. He told her:
“Things have changed since the early 20th century. In 1996, I met the Queen Mother, someone whose face I had been familiar with since my childhood. Since she had observed almost the entire 20th century I asked her if she felt things were improving or not. She replied without hesitation that they were. She said, for example, that when she was young no one talked about human rights or the right to self-determination as they do now.
“In the early 20th century people joined up to go to war without a thought, now people seem to be really fed up with war. Also, in the early 20th century the concerns of science and spirituality were thought to be far apart. Now, scientists are taking keen interest in the functioning of the mind and emotions.”
Asked again about his not meeting the Pope during his visit to Rome, His Holiness said he understood that there are a large number of Christians in China and that His Holiness the Pope may want to make a visit there, which may have a bearing on the matter.
Ms Hakim asked if he thought Britain and other countries should have taken a stronger stance with China about the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong. He replied:
“China is growing economically and wants to be accepted into the mainstream world economy. The free world’s responsibility is to also draw China into the mainstream of freedom and democracy.”
About the attacks by Buddhists on Muslims in Burma, His Holiness repeated what he has said before that he has discussed this with Aung San Suu Kyi. He has appealed to Burmese Buddhists when they feel angry to recall the face of the Buddha. He said he is convinced that if the Buddha were there, he would offer these Muslims protection.
His Holiness joined Session 5 of the World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates, whose theme was ‘Living Peace, Preventing Wars’. As he entered the hall, moderator Emilio Carelli was saying that we are facing more conflict, greater trade in weapons and asked what should the international community do. His Holiness responded:
“When I hear about these terrible things that are taking place, I sometimes wish I had some miraculous power to take all these trouble-makers and transport them to some distant part of the universe, but I don’t. We have to ask, ‘Who creates this violence?’ we do and we have to act to stop it. We have to find ways to change our minds, to pacify anger. There are other experts among the Nobel Peace Laureates here and I’d like to hear from them.”
Olufemi Elias, on behalf of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), spoke of the remarkable success of his organization in securing a treaty that 190 countries have signed. It had also been successful on a practical level in dealing with Syria’s chemical weapons. For the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW) Ira Helfand held the hall spell-bound as he described the horrific consequences should a major nuclear exchange take place today. They include the vaporisation of everything in an immediate 3kms radius of the explosion in 1000th of a second, complete destruction within a 6kms radius, the burning of everything flammable within a 25kms radius and the consumption of all oxygen within a 50kms radius. In Rome 3 million would die instantly. In New York it would be 12 million. Temperatures would plunge for several days. The world ecosystem would be disrupted to the extent that food production would be severely curtailed.
“The continued existence of these weapons alone is a threat, but human beings built them, so human beings can also take them apart. We can all work on this; let’s all help to do it.”
His presentation was met with a long ovation.
Stephen Goose, speaking on behalf of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) told the success story of this campaign against these insidious, indiscriminate weapons that caused so much harm in civilian populations. He spoke of a new campaign to halt the use of explosive weapons in populated areas and another to halt the use of killer robots. He said what is needed is for civil society to become involved.
Representing PUGWASH Conferences on Science and World Affairs, Jayanatha Dhanapala told the assembly that his organization was inspired by Einstein and Bertrand Russell. He remarked that while biological and chemical weapons have been abolished, nuclear weapons remain. He suggested that part of the problem is the mistaken idea of placing national security over simple human security. It is the security of humanity that is more important. He said Costa Rica and Iceland have shown the way as successful nations that do not maintain a standing army and alluded to Eisenhower’s prophetic warning about the military-industrial complex.
“Scientists have a responsibility to see their knowledge used for the benefit of humankind not against it.”
Rajendra Kumar Pachauri, speaking on behalf of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), opened by welcoming all the young people in the audience. He said that the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment has been published. He warned:
“If we do nothing, sea levels may rise 98cms by the end of the century. If we allow climate change to continue as it is, everyone will be affected. For example, heat waves that used to occur once in 20 years can be expected to take place every other year. Food security will be affected. What can we do? Carbon emissions will have to fall to zero. If we are going to bring about change, it needs to be at a grassroots level, led by youth and inspired by knowledge. I invite today’s youths to be part of this and I will help you.”
In his closing remarks, His Holiness said that while there are many things to worry about there is also a strong basis for hope. In the afternoon, he took part in a workshop for young leaders in which he told them of humanity’s need for inner values and the need to take a secular approach to inculcating them. He also met with Tibetans who live in Europe and Tibet supporters. He told them how important it is to keep the Tibetan spirit alive. He also attended a closed door meeting of Nobel Peace Laureates before retiring at the end of a long day.
The Peace Summit will continue and conclude tomorrow.