His Holiness has the following four commitments: the promotion of the oneness of humanity; the promotion of religious harmony; the preservation of the Tibetan culture, language and environment; and the revival of the ancient Nalanda tradition. Of these commitments, which one resonates with you the most and why?
Losel Gyaltsen, age – 18.
His Holiness has many obligations and duties, but his four principal commitments are that of the promotion of the oneness of humanity, the promotion of religious harmony, the preservation of the Tibetan culture, language and environment and the revival of the ancient Nalanda tradition. It is clear to see why these are his main commitments since they cover all aspects of His Holiness’ life from Buddhism, secular ethics, his Tibetan heritage and also his current home of India.
Firstly, to know which one resonates the most, one has to understand each commitment in terms of what they advocate and encourage. The promotion of the oneness of humanity reflects His Holiness as a human being, and the basic understanding that all humans at the fundamental level are all the same. Humans, regardless of religious belief, race and nationality all want happiness and don’t want suffering, which is why the promotion of the oneness of humanity involves the promotion of what His Holiness refers to as secular ethics or universal values: compassion, forgiveness, tolerance, contentment and self-discipline. He says that incorporating these values into your life will benefit not just yourself but those around you and hence humanity.
The promotion of religious harmony stems from His Holiness’ life as a Buddhist monk. He understands that while religions differ in their practises and belief in a God, they all have the same potential to better and improve human beings. By respecting and recognizing the different beliefs of religions, it will lead to harmony and peace rather than the conflict we have seen so often in the past. With over seven billion people on Earth, there are bound to be people of differing opinions on religion, but as long as these opinions are recognised and acknowledged, then it shouldn’t matter as religions if followed correctly lead to an improvement in human beings.
The preservation of the Tibetan culture, language and environment is paramount to His Holiness as the figurehead of the Tibetan people. He is the focus of the Tibetan people’s hope and trust and as a result has the responsibility of maintaining the Tibetan heritage. With the Chinese government clamping down on Tibetan culture within Tibet, it is up to His Holiness to inspire and promote the Tibetan language and culture to Tibetans outside of Tibet such as in India or western countries.
The last commitment of the revival of the ancient Nalanda tradition is based off his belief that the ancient Indian knowledge is still of great relevance to this day. He has faith that India’s long history of logic, reasoning, understanding of the workings of the mind as well as techniques of mental training such as meditation, when combined with modern education and a secular academic perspective can be positively fruitful in integrating academics with ethics. An education based off these ancient traditions will lead to a more integrated and ethically grounded approach that can be applied to contemporary society.
I think it is also important to understand that resonate implies attachment rather than importance. The one that resonates the most is not the most important or vital commitment but rather the one that has the most connection and emotional value attached to the holder.
While all four commitments have some level of resonation, the commitment which resonates the most with me is the promotion of the oneness of humanity. This is for the simple reason that we are all humans and that everyone can benefit from the oneness of humanity. This is the commitment that has had the most profound effect on me, since it is applicable to everybody and the message can be easily spread. By promoting the oneness of humanity, it creates the image that all humans are equal and the many differences between humans are all superficial and shallow. Promoting this idea removes the conflict which comes with differences and disparities among people. Often times, these differences are used as excuses to justify negative actions and as a result the differences grow larger and the problem is exacerbated.
Another reason this commitment resonates the most with me is that it essentially incorporates the second commitment of the promotion of religious harmony into it. Religious harmony is the process of bringing religions together and respecting the differences between religions. Therefore, it is a part of the progression towards the oneness of humanity. We have seen in the past that religious disharmony can lead to terrible consequences; take the example of terrorist attacks by Islamic State or the attacks on the Muslim community by white supremacists. Living in a city as multicultural as London means there are people from all different backgrounds, and so the oneness of humanity almost becomes a necessity. Growing up with people from all across the world means that differences can’t be a source of negativity and pessimism but rather celebrated and respected.
Regarding the revival of the ancient Nalanda tradition, it is much harder to resonate with, considering it is based in India. Even though, a vast amount of what came to comprise Tibetan Buddhism, both its Mahayana and Vajrayana traditions, stems from the teachers and traditions at Nalanda, it is difficult to see its full influence in today’s world. In the western world, it is even more difficult to see, since there is very limited access to the teachings and practises of the Nalanda tradition, whereas they would be easily accessible in India. His Holiness even considers India to be specially placed to achieve a perfect combination of modern education and ancient Nalanda tradition, allowing them to excel both spiritually and academically.
In conclusion, I have explained the four commitments and why the promotion of the oneness of humanity resonates the most to me. However, I think the most important factor to take from this is that all four commitments were clearly chosen for a reason and that no commitment is more important or significant based of its resonance with an individual. One shouldn’t neglect a commitment just because it doesn’t resonate with them.
“What can we Tibetans do at an individual level to expand His Holiness’ commitment to Tibetan culture, language and environment.”
By Tenzin Metok Sither
This time last year, my family and I had the honour of our lives to receive blessings from His Holiness the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala. The experience moved me beyond words and His Holiness’ third commitment to the preservation of Tibetan culture, language and environment resonated long after our trip to our exiled homeland.
On a crisp October, we woke up early in the morning and hiked uphill with our three young children to Namgyal Monastery where His Holiness resides in Dharamsala. We queued up with 200 other international visitors, each of us grateful and excited to be given a chance to meet His Holiness. My little family of five British Tibetans were sandwiched between an Indian family from India and two Native Indian colleagues from USA, a reflection of the universal appeal and love for His Holiness. I beamed as I was reminded time and again of how lucky we are to have His Holiness as our leader.
We are only 6 million Tibetans and we have only one His Holiness the Dalai Lama who carries the beacon for our culture. At a time when world borders are closing on migrants, I find that many people are always so positively open to Tibetan culture and people because of His Holiness’ work and influence. It is His Holiness’ goodwill and kindness that so many countries like India, Switzerland and USA help settle Tibetan refugee families including my grandparents and parents.
The moment His Holiness appeared in view, many Tibetans fell down to their knees and started prostrating. Suddenly there was a hush amongst the queue and the energy tingled. As soon as I glimpsed His Holiness, I could not stop crying. I felt a mixture of honour and blessing for being bestowed the opportunity to meet such an enlightened being in my lifetime.
As we approached His Holiness for our turn, he asked me about my children and I fought tears as I answered his questions. I continued crying and His Holiness even comforted me to be well on my journey onwards. My 5-year-old daughter had planned to share with His Holiness that she will never forget him. However, when face-to-face with His Holiness, she was tongue-tied and in complete awe. I could not blame her for being overwhelmed by his magnificent presence, even at such a young age. I wondered silently how His Holiness must see such an outpouring of emotions from all people of all walks of life. When many Tibetans in Tibet long for such an opportunity and risk their lives and homes for a moment like this, I felt blessed to have this opportunity for an in person meeting.
Immediately after His Holiness gave us undivided attention to each of the visitors, an official photographer gruffly announced, “GROUP PHOTO.” At once, the tranquil environment was shattered by the rush of people towards His Holiness. At one point, I even saw a woman grab His Holiness’ hand roughly. I yelped for others to be mindful of each other and to please be careful as I had a 9-month-old baby strapped to my baby carrier and I was terrified of falling over. I felt heartbroken to see such grasping behaviour, the antithesis to what His Holiness teaches and practices. I felt even more saddened that His Holiness witnesses this behaviour from Tibetan.
Photos over, whilst awaiting my bags from security, I chanced to talk to an elderly Tibetan man standing next to me. We struck up a conversation about our roots and journey that day. I mentioned that I could not stop crying when I met His Holiness. The Tibetan man also shared that he, too, was very moved but he had reined in his emotions. I started crying as I recounted my experience and the man also started crying when he saw my tears. Inexplicably, we hugged each other and I realised His Holiness’ influence extends to bringing out the best of human beings. Two strangers, having only met for the first time at his Residence, were united in their reverence and love for His Holiness and the unity of being Tibetan.
Later in the day, my husband made an astute observation: that Holiness at 84 years old, had made the time and energy, twice a week, to see a steady stream of international visitors at 8 AM in the morning. At once, I realised how selfish I had been. We had all been to Namgyal Monastery to gain something from His Holiness – his time, his energy and his blessings.
It dawned upon me how tirelessly His Holiness works on his third commitment. Even during the pandemic, His Holiness continues his schedule of talks and teachings online weekly. He is always invited to so many events and asked to collaborate so extensively. The gravitas of having His Holiness’ autograph or photo is a celebrity endorsement like no other. At an age when most people are retired after a lifetime of working, His Holiness is still working for Tibet and Tibetans. Many people forget that His Holiness started his gruelling training and life’s work as the Dalai Lama of Tibet after being recognised at age 4.
We are always asking so much of His Holiness but never what we can do to share the responsibility or what we can do to give back.
I spent many hours trying to reflect: What can we Tibetans do ourselves on an individual level to expand His Holiness’ work?
I look at the Japanese for inspiration, and specifically at the World Cup held in 2018. When Japan beat Colombia, a favourite to win, the global community was more impressed at the Japanese fans that cleaned their stands and left their seats as spotless as they had found it. This was a stark contrast to the usual waste and filth of football hooligans. When the Japanese team exited the World Cup after losing to Belgium, they cleaned the locker room and were gracious enough to write a handwritten “Thank You” in Russian for their hosts.
The class displayed by the Japanese people in both victory and failure reflects their culture in a revealing light. The Japanese ways of mindfulness and cleanliness is a habit built from childhood and embedded in Japanese people even when they are outside Japan. When we visited Japan three years ago, we saw all Japanese people from beggars to entrepreneurs to chefs display politeness, organisation and integrity. I found it telling that their behaviour also showed respect for self, others and the environment.
I feel invigorated from my experience meeting His Holiness and seeing the example set by other global cultures like the Japanese to expand the reach and influence of Tibetan culture, language and environment.
One way is excelling in diverse fields of study and profession. I always feel that we should pursue different fields and break the moulds so that Tibetan culture is expanded in different ways and reaches different demographics. In my own day job, I try to be the best professional so that someone leaves with a positive impression of a Tibetan. I also try to think of how I can expand Tibetan culture outwards into the global community to pique interest in Tibet in creative ways such as through thought leadership. Sometimes, a way to gain political support is through a personal tie. We Tibetans have lots of cultural capital through our unique traditional way of Himalayan living and we can expand our soft power through sharing the best of our (predominantly) Tibetan Buddhist wisdom and our science of healing (Sowa Rigpa).
Many of us are the first and may also be the last Tibetan someone ever meets so we must act as if we are the only models of Tibetans for future reference. I am always pointing out to my children all the unique aspects of Tibetan culture that make us standout in a way to build Tibetan pride. I believe we can reveal through our behaviour and way of treating ourselves and others the best of Tibetan culture – the resilience, compassion, and integrity that His Holiness role models.
I often tear up seeing the photo of my meeting with His Holiness and remind myself of the small and many ways I can always promote my culture and people in every day life.
His Holiness advice for “Thab chung chung, may tsapo” (small stove, hot fire) as an analogy of executing small initiatives with lots of effort for big impact resound in my very being.