Dalai Lama on Gandhi

Apr 27, 2013

At the age of 20, on the first day of his first visit to Delhi, Dalai Lama visited Raj Ghat in 1956.  "Standing there I felt I had come in close touch with him," he said of a formative moment.  "I determined more strongly than ever that I could never associate myself with acts of violence."  Many years later, in 1989, he dedicated his Nobel Peace Prize to Gandhi.

Below is a thoughtful passage written by Dalai Lama, as a foreward in a biography on Gandhi ("My Life is My Message", by Narayan Desai).

I am grateful for this opportunity to pay tribute to Mahatma Gandhi because I consider myself to be his follower. Indeed, he has been a source of inspiration to me ever since I was a small boy growing up in Tibet. He was a great human being with a deep understanding of human nature, who made every effort to encourage the full development of the positive aspects of the human potential and to reduce or restrain the negative.  

Gandhiji took up the ancient but powerful idea of ahimsa or non-violence and made it familiar throughout the world, particularly during India’s struggle for freedom. However, non-violence means more than the mere absence of violence. It is something more positive, more meaningful than that, for the true expression of non-violence is compassion. Some people seem to think that compassion is just a passive emotional response, rather than a rational stimulus to action. But to experience genuine compassion is to develop a feeling of closeness to others, as Gandhiji did, combined with a sense of responsibility for their welfare. His great achievement was to show through his own example that non-violence can be implemented effectively not only in the political arena, but also in our day-to-day life. This is why the title of this biography, My Life is My Message, is so apt.  

Even today, in our modern world, Gandhiji’s principles of non-violence and reconciliation are relevant on a personal and political level. It may be possible to gain something through violence, but such gains tend to be only temporary. We may solve the immediate problem, but in the long run, we create another one. So the best solution is non-violence. It may take time, but it will generate no negative side effects.

Violence may still be rife in our world, but the trend of global opinion is to recognize that the future lies in non-violence. I wonder if this would have been the case were it not for Gandhiji’s leadership? As a young man, I was deeply inspired first and foremost by his adoption of nonviolence in India’s struggle for freedom and I have, therefore, put this into practice in my own efforts to restore the fundamental human rights and freedoms of the Tibetan people. But, in addition, I admired the simplicity and discipline of Gandhiji’s way of life. Although he had received a full modern education and was well versed in modern, western ways of living, he returned to his Indian heritage and cultivated a simple wholesome life in accordance with Indian philosophy. Consequently, he was acutely aware of the problems of the common people, who everywhere constitute the majority.

I believe that if we can each cultivate compassion, kindness and respect for truth within ourselves as he did, we will be fulfilling his legacy to us.   

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