I have always believed it to be greatly worthwhile to listen to the leaders of the great religions of the world. Not only is there benefit in their thoughts regarding interfaith issues, but there is also great value in learning from their life experiences. Having had the opportunity to hear from many of the giants of the Muslim world, as well as having heard from the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, I was pleased to listen to the fourteenth Dalai Lama His Holiness Tenzin Gyatso on his recent tour of the UK. His talk aimed at the youth was entitled 'Stand Up and Be The Change', and was hosted by Russell Brand.
The Dalai Lama is an instantly endearing person who captured his audience by declaring that we are all just human beings and telling Russell Brand to dispense with any formalities as they were simply a barrier to 'heart to heart'. After being struck by the charisma and humility of the Dalai Lama I was particularly impressed by his stamina. For a man of 76 I found him to be incredibly energetic as he stood for most of this 2 hour session. This most certainly is down to the disciplined life that he illustrated to us. The Dalai Lama is a man who eats only breakfast and lunch and does without dinner. He sleeps at 7pm and wakes around 3am daily meaning that he remains unaffected by travelling through time zones (he did tell us that tiredness and sleep are all in the mind). The Dalai Lama told us that when it turns dark it is time to sleep and when it turns light it is time to work and in one of the many humorous moments during his speech he berated his host for living the opposite of lifestyles by partying into the late hours.
In the lead in to the talk of the Dalai Lama I had familiarised myself with the book, 'Common Ground Between Islam and Buddhism'. A book conceived by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and His Royal Highness Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad which contains a fascinating essay by Shaykh Hamza Yusuf. In the Shaykh's essay he shares with us the religious opinion of Imam al-Shahrastani in which he makes the rather stunning statement that the righteous servant that Moses accompanies in the Qur'an in the chapter entitiled 'the Cave', was indeed the Buddha.
There was much in the words of the Dalai Lama that I found to have a resonance with Islam. In particular the Dalai Lama's words that 'the whole world should be viewed as one body and if something is happening in Africa then it should affect the whole body', I found incredibly close to Islam's own tradition. Furthermore, the Dalai Lama gave us the idea of a 'Big We' as opposed to the old idea of 'we and they' which I found really close to Prof Tariq Ramadan's idea of a 'New We'.
Without doubt, what stood out in the speech of the Dalai Lama was his absolute commitment to peace and non-violence; for which he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. For this very reason, before he spoke, he was praised by the Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Rigoberta Menchu, both also former recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize. He spoke eloquently about the ability of the youth to build their own future and not to depend on the legacy left of the 20th century which he called the century of bloodshed. But in order to build the future this generation needed to put their intelligence above their emotions and be full of self-confidence, determination, with a deep understanding of reality to succeed. He did very much place the responsibility for our world on the youth when he said, 'I won't be here in 2070, but you will. Whether I am in heaven or hell, I will be watching you'.
Under the questions of Russell Brand the Dalai Lama told us that 'to forgive is not to forget, as they are not the same; if they were the same then there would be no basis for forgiveness. To forgive does not mean to accept but means to have no ill-feelings towards the other person'. To illustrate this description we heard from a young Irish girl who, after hearing the Dalai Lama speak was able to forgive her father's murderer.
I certainly found the afternoon spent with His Holiness the Dalai Lama inspiring. His rejection of violence and its unexpected and unpredictable consequences, and his assertion of our common humanity is something that other leaders, both political and religious can benefit much from. Indeed what a different world it would be if these leaders did chose to sincerely benefit from the Dalai Lama.