As His Holiness the Dalai Lama drove from the Shiwatsel Phodrang towards Leh this morning, once again well-wishers lined the road with white scarves in their folded hands and joyful smiles on their faces. Even crews of people working on the road stopped work to salute his passing by.
At Ladakh Public School on the edge of Leh, His Holiness was welcomed by school founder and Chairman of the School Board, Noney P. Wangchuk. Small children, their faces a picture of awe and affection, lined the way into the spacious auditorium, where 1600 students awaited their honored guest.
Principal P.C. Belwal introduced His Holiness to the audience, and the Chairman of the Board gave a brief history of the school. He explained that it had grown from its foundation in 1991 as a kindergarten and now offers a broad, up to date education up to class 10. The school’s success is reflected in some of its students scoring 100 in their maths exams. Recent innovations to the curriculum include the study of Tibetan, dialectics and debate, as well as environmental studies. In 2012 CBSE in Delhi honored Principal P.C. Belwal as the Best Teacher/ Principal.
Before the students gave a demonstration of their skills a girl student stood and explained that the purpose of debate was to sharpen the mind, to make the mind wiser and more stable. Two groups of students then gave a lively demonstration of their dialectical abilities.
“I’d like to greet everyone here,” His Holiness began, “staff and students of this school and students who have come from other schools. As we’ve just heard from the Chairman the school has a good program and ambitious plans. Thank you for your enthusiastic presentation of debate.
“In the context of the development humanity has made over the last 3000 years or so, education is very important. I’ve been coming to Ladakh since the 60s and over that time the region has seen great development, not least in education.
“Now in the 21st century, if we were to use the weapons we possess we could destroy the world. This is a real risk. We have damaged the environment and the effects of climate change increase day by day. The world today seems beset with more and more problems and those who belong to the younger generation today will be responsible for resolving many of them. That’s why students like you are our hope for the future.
“Despite many positive developments, the 20th century was an era of bloodshed. If continue to behave as we did then, we’ll face the same consequences. Now in this new century we need to think about how to protect the future of the world and the welfare of all humanity. If we make an effort now we can create a more caring humanity. If we go on as we did before, we’ll run into serious trouble.
“It’s short-sighted to think only of your own country’s interests without considering the whole of humanity. We see violence in the name of religious faith and a growing gap between rich and poor. While some people in some places are well off, in other parts of the world there are people facing starvation. We shouldn’t think the way of life we’ve become accustomed too will continue to be acceptable, we have to reassess it. We need to consider how to build a happier, more peaceful world.
“Some of the problems of the 20th century arose because of a mistaken inclination to solve problems by use of force. There was just too much violence. We have to ask if anger and violence are really part of human nature. They may appear to be, but if we look carefully, it’s clear that our basic human nature is compassionate.
“Let me ask you—do you prefer people smiling at you or frowning in anger?”
Students replied in unison, “Smiliing.”
“There’s nothing religious about this. It’s a reflection of our nature, our natural appreciation of love and compassion. As social animals we need affection. Although anger is part of our map of emotions, it’s very destructive. Love and affection on the other hand make for happier individuals, families and communities.”
“The time has come,” His Holiness declared, “for education to bring our human nature, our inner values, to maturity. To do this we can rely on common sense, our common experience and scientific findings. My generation is on its way out, but you who belong to the 21st century are just at the start of your lives. You have the opportunity to see a happier humanity in a more peaceful world. Don’t think just of Ladakh, think of India and the wider world. Think about ahimsa, which is about peaceful action motivated by karuna or compassion. These are part of the treasure of India’s heritage.
“In the long run, I believe India can make a contribution to the well-being of the whole of humanity on the basis of ahimsa and karuna. This is why I am encouraging the revival of understanding of the workings of the mind and emotions derived from ancient Indian knowledge.”
His Holiness remarked that although Ladakh is primarily a Buddhist society, Muslim brothers and sisters have a substantial role here too. He noted that living in an inclusive, pluralistic has fostered a general tolerance and broad-mindedness.
He mentioned that to be physically well we need to be mentally at peace. He reported that constant anger and fear undermine our health. For social animals like us, he said, friendship is important. Friendship develops on the basis of trust and trust comes about when we show genuine concern for others’ well being. This is why training in basic human values and understanding of the workings of our minds and emotions need to be part of our general education.
His Holiness explained that we are not just physical beings, we have minds which education should help us learn more about. He told the students that learning Tibetan as they have begun to do will enable them to read the works of Nalanda masters that deal with these issues directly. He repeated that today even scientists are taking interest in what these masters had to say.
He concluded by reminding the students once more that their generation has both an opportunity and a responsibility to build and happier, more peaceful world by taking account of the oneness of humanity.
In giving the transmission of the popular praise to Manjushri, the bodhisattva embodying wisdom His Holiness told the students that when he was their age he used to recite it twenty times a day and felt it really helped sharpen his mind. He also taught them Manjushri’s mantra Om ara patsa na dhi explaining that reciting it can help develop swift, profound, logical, extensive and clear wisdom.
When a student asked how to overcome negative emotions His Holiness told her what American psychiatrist Aaron Beck had told him about how 90% of our sense of anger and the negativity of those we are angry with is just mental projection. When another asked about rebirth he talked about the continuity of consciousness and how the subtlest awareness has neither beginning nor end.
In explaining the importance of patience and tolerance he observed that although anger can seem to bring energy to bear, it tends to be blind energy. Anger easily leads to violence, which in turn provokes counter violence, and so it goes on without end. He stressed that anger is the inner enemy because it destroys our peace of mind. In this context it becomes clear that peace in the world has to be founded on peace within.
Finally, asked about the caste system, His Holiness reported that the Buddha had no time for caste discrimination; he opposed it.
“Whenever I have the opportunity I encourage other religious leaders to make clear to their followers that the caste system is out of date. We are all the same in being human and whenever I have the chance I say so. Caste distinctions seems inappropriate to the more democratic era in which we live.”
As he left the stage, His Holiness posed for photographs with students gathered around him. Then, as he walked along the outside of the hall, he stopped to shake hands and greet students who crowded at the windows to see him. Before climbing into his car, he turned to wave goodbye.