On Freedom In Exile

I recently finished reading Freedom In Exile – The Autobiography Of The Dalai Lama.

Below are key excerpts from the book that I found particularly insightful:

1- “The fundamental precept of Buddhism is Interdependence or the Law of Cause and Effect. This simply states that everything which an individual being experiences is derived through action from motivation. Motivation is thus the root of both action and experience. From this understanding are derived the Buddhist theories of consciousness and rebirth.”

2- “It was not until I was given my majority that I realised how important my education was and thereafter began to take a proper interest in my studies. Today I regret my early idleness and always study for at least four hours a day. One thing that I think might have made a difference to my early schooling is some real competition. Because I had no class-mates, I never had anyone to measure myself against.”

3- “At the same time, I gave a short discourse on a religious text which I generally selected for its relevance to whatever else I had to say. I continue to use this formula right up to the present day. I find it a good way of showing that religion has a lot to tell us. no matter what situation we find ourselves in. However, I am better at it now than I was then. In those days I lacked confidence, although it improved every time I spoke in public. Also, I found, as every teacher does, that there is nothing like teaching to help one learn.”

4- “Still, I took note of the Buddha’s teaching that in one sense a supposed enemy is more valuable than a friend, for an enemy teaches you things, such as forbearance, that a friend generally does not. To this I added my firm belief that no matter how bad things become. they will eventually get better. In the end, the innate desire of all people for truth, justice and human understanding must triumph over ignorance and despair. So if the Chinese oppressed us, it could only strengthen us.”

5- “The more I looked at Marxism, the more I liked it. Here was a system based on equality and justice for everyone, which claimed to be a panacea for all the world’s ills. From a theoretical standpoint, its only drawback as far as I could see was Its insistence on a purely materialistic view of human existence. This I could not agree with. I was also concerned at the methods used by the Chinese in pursuit of their ideals. I received a strong impression of rigidity. But I expressed a wish to become a Party member all the same. I felt sure, as I still do, that it would be possible to work out a synthesis of Buddhist and pure Marxist doctrines that really would prove to be an effective way of conducting politics.”

6- “For this reason I have always been open to the discoveries and truths of modern science. Perhaps this was what tricked Mao into thinking that my religion practices were nothing more to me than a prop or convention. Whatever his reasoning, I now knew that he had misjudged me complete!”

7- “As I stood praying, I experienced simultaneously great sadness at not being able to meet Gandhi in person and great joy at the magnificent example of his life. To me, he was – and is – the consummate politician, a man who put his belief in altruism above any personal considerations. I was convinced too that his devotion to the cause of non-violence was the only way to conduct politics.”

8- “On this first occasion, I stressed the need for my people to take a long-term view of the situation in Tibet. For those of us in exile, I said that our priority must be resettlement and the continuity of our cultural traditions. As to the future, I stated my belief that, with Truth, Justice and Courage as our weapons, we Tibetans would eventually prevail in regaining freedom for Tibet.”

9- “This deepened my conviction that it is vital for there to be dialogue between Buddhism and Marxism, where it survives, as indeed there must be between all religions and any form of materialist ideology. The two approaches tn life are so obviously complementary. It is sad that people tend to think of them as being in opposition. If materialism and technology really are the answer to all of humanity’s problems, the e most advanced industrial societies would by now be fill of smiling faces. But they are not. Equally, if people were meant only to be concerned with matters of spirituality, we would all be living joyously all according to their religious beliefs. But then there would be no progress. Both material and spiritual development are required.  And humanity must not stagnate, for that is a kind of death.”

10- “There was certain amount of truth in what the picture was saying. Such facts should not be shied away from. Every religion has the capacity to do harm, to exploit people as this image suggested. This is not the fault of the religion itself, but the fault of the people who practise it.”

11- “These experiences of support, freely given by people from the industrially advanced nations, have confirmed my basic belief in what I call Universal Responsibility. It seems to me to be the key to human development. Without such a sense of Universal Responsibility, there can be only unequal development in the world. The more people come to realise that we do not live on this planet of ours in isolation that ultimately we are all brothers and sisters – the more likely is progress for all humankind, rather than for just parts of it.”

12- “Above all, he (Merton) helped me to realise that every major religion, with its teaching of love and compassion, can produce good human beings.”

13- “Overall I have found much that is impressive about western society. In particular, I admire its energy and creativity and hunger for knowledge. On the other hand, a number of things about the western way or lire cause me concern. One thing I have noticed is an inclination for people to think in terms of’black and white’ and ‘either, or’, which ignores the facts of interdependence and relativity. They have a tendency to lose sight of the grey areas which inevitably exist between two points of view. Another observation is that there are a lot of people in the West who live very comfortably in large cities, but virtually isolated from the broad mass of humanity. I find this very strange—that under the circumstance of such material well-being and with thousands of brothers and sisters for neighbours, so many people appear able to show their true feelings only to their cats and dogs. This indicates a lack of spiritual values, I feel. Part of the problem here is perhaps the intense competitiveness of life in these countries, which seems to breed fear and a deep sense of insecurity.”

14- “Whilst on the subject of the spread of Buddhism in the West, want to say that I have noticed some tendency towards sectarianism amongst new practitioners. This is absolutely wrong. Religion s should never become a source of conflict, a further factor of division n within the human community. For my own part, I have even, on the basis of my deep respect for the contribution that other faiths earn make towards human happiness, participated in the ceremonies of other religions. And, following the example of a great many Tibetan lamas both ancient and modern, I continue to take teachings from as many different traditions as possible. For whilst it is true that some s schools of thought felt it desirable for a practitioner to stay within his or her own tradition, people have always been free to do as they think fit. Furthermore, Tibetan society has always been highly tolerant o of other people’s beliefs. Not only was there a flourishing Muslim community in Tibet, but also there were a number of Christian missions which were admitted without hindrance. I am therefore firmly in I favour of a liberal approach. Sectarianism is poison.”

15- “In my call for negotiations on the future status of Tibet, I expressed my wish to approach the subject in a spirit of frankness and conciliation, with a view to finding a solution that is in the long-term interest of everyone – the Tibetans, the Chinese and ultimately all people on earth – my motivation in all this being the possibility of contributing to world peace through regional peace. I said nothing merely to criticise the Chinese. On the contrary, I want to help the Chinese in any way that I can. I hoped that my suggestions would be useful to any way that I can. I hoped that my suggestions would be useful to them (although, with regard to the future of Tibet, I nowhere spoke to the question of sovereignty) and Peking moved swiftly to denounce my speech in strong terms.”

16- “However, in as much as I have any political allegiance, I suppose I am still half Marxist. I have no argument with Capitalism, so long as it is practised in a humanitarian fashion, but my religious beliefs dispose me far more towards Socialism and Internationalism, which are more in line with Buddhist principles. The other attractive thing about Marxism for me is its assertion that man is ultimately responsible for his own destiny. This reflects Buddhist thought exactly. Against this, I set the fact that those countries which pursue Capitalist policies within a democratic framework are much freer than those which pursue the Communist ideal. So ultimately I am in favour of humanitarian government, one which aims to serve the whole community: the young, the old and the disabled, as much i as those who can be directly productive members of society.”

17- “I believe that this suffering is caused by ignorance, and that people, inflict pain on others in pursuit of their own happiness or satisfaction. Yet true happiness comes from a sense of inner peace and contentment, which in turn must be achieved through cultivation of altruism, of love, of compassion, and through the elimination of anger, selfishness and greed. To some people this may sound naive, but I would remind them that, no matter what part of the world we come from, fundamentally we are all the same human beings. We all seek happiness and try to avoid suffering. We have the same basic needs and concerns. Furthermore, all of us human beings want freedom and the right to determine our own destiny as individuals. That is human nature. The great changes taking place everywhere in the world, from Eastern Europe to Africa, are a clear indication of this.”


Omar Halabieh

Freedom in Exile


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