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Arrival in Brussels and Inauguration of 7th Tibet Support Group Conference

Brussels, Belgium, 8 September 2016 - His Holiness the Dalai Lama arrived yesterday in Brussels, the heart of the European Union, a city full of the light and warmth of late summer. He was received at his hotel by 350 Tibetans who gave him a rousing traditional welcome.

Rising today after 11 hours sleep, his first engagement was to give an interview to Francois Mazure, Editor-in-Chief of the Belgian television channel RTBF. Mazure’s first question referred to the theme of the forthcoming Mind & Life conference—Power and Care. He wanted to know how these two ideas can work together. His Holiness told him power is to do with ability. It’s about being effective. But power can be constructive or destructive. Care, however, is about respecting others’ lives, rights and well-being. It’s good when power is used for benefit. He continued:

“It’s because compassion is related to human life, to our survival, to human society that it is part of the message of all religious traditions. Today, we 7 billion human beings are facing all sorts of problems as a result of education systems and lifestyles oriented towards material goals, while only religion gives a sense of inner values. And yet not everyone is interested in religion and even among many who are some are not very serious. Only by improving education can we reach all human beings.”

When Mazure referred to recent terrorist attacks in Europe, including here in Belgium, and asked what His Holiness had to say to those who are angry, he replied that Tibetans too have faced difficulties and some are angry, but he tells them that anger brings no solution and disturbs your peace of mind.

He spoke of writing to President George W Bush, who he counts as a friend, the day after the September 11th tragedy. He said he conveyed his sympathy but also expressed the hope that any response would be non-violent. He said he feels that if the Iraq crisis had been approached in a non-violent way, the situation would have been much better today. He reiterated that the use of force creates more difficulties than it solves. He added that it is unhelpful to refer to Muslim terrorists or Buddhist terrorists and so forth, because once people engage in terrorist violence they have ceased to be proper Muslims, Buddhists or whatever faith they claim.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama responding to Francois Mazure's question during their interview for Belgian TV RTBF in Brussels, Belgium on September 8, 2016. Photo/Jeremy Russel/OHHDL
In the context of the violence of the two world wars that ravaged Europe in the 20th century, in the course of which millions were killed, he remarked that the formation of the European Union was a sign of maturity.

“The key to making a better world,” he said, “is creating a more complete education system, which includes training in compassion and concern for others. Recent scientific findings that show basic human nature to be compassionate is a real source of hope.”

Mazure asked His Holiness whether the next Dalai Lama could be a woman and whether more female leaders would be good for the world. His Holiness confirmed that some years ago he told a Paris magazine that if it would help, a female Dalai Lama was quite possible. He also remarked that today we have nearly 200 nations in the world. If their leaders were women, he said, there’s a good chance there would be less killing going on.

His Holiness agreed that ecology is extremely important because the effects of climate change and the increased frequency of natural disasters are affecting us all. He assured Mazure that he had not retired in 2011 because he was discouraged or for any other negative reason, but because since coming into exile he had worked to establish democracy among Tibetans.

“Since I completely retired from my political responsibilities in 2011 I’ve been able to dedicate my efforts to the preservation of Tibet’s rich Buddhist culture, our Tibetan language and the natural environment of Tibet.”

Towards the end of their conversation, His Holiness told Mazure, “When I die, I pray I’ll be reborn where I can be useful.”

German MEP and President of the Tibet Interest Group in the European Parliament Thomas Mann greeting His Holiness the Dalai Lama on his arrival at Saint-Louis University in Brussels, Belgium on September 8, 2016. Photo/Olivier Adam
A short drive along Brussels’ broad cobbled streets, weaving between trams and their tracks, brought His Holiness to Saint-Louis University. President of the Tibet Interest Group in the European Parliament, Thomas Mann, Sikyong Dr Lobsang Sangay and Speaker of the Tibetan Parliament, Khenpo Sonam Tenphel were there to greet him and escort him to the auditorium inside. Entering the hall he gradually made his way along the front row, shaking hands and waving to many old friends. Encountering blind activist Chen Guangcheng he took off his glasses and invited him to feel his face by way of greeting.

Moderator Tsering Jhampa of ICT Europe welcomed everyone to the 7th Tibetan Support Group (TSG) Conference. She announced that 250 delegates from 50 countries were attending. She mentioned that Brussels was a fitting location for such a meeting since, in the face of China’s economic expansion, it is important for bodies like the European Union to develop appropriately strong policies. She invited Metok Rinpoche to lead prayers to open the occasion.

First speaker, Thomas Mann, who Tsering Jhampa described as a Tibetan pillar in the European Parliament, welcomed his fellow guests and remarked that this 7th TSG Conference provided an opportunity to send a message to China. He said the European Parliament and the European community stand by their Tibetan friends. He was followed by Henri Malosse, former President of the European Economic and Social Committee, who told the gathering that coming from Corsica he was personally familiar with a people’s struggle to preserve their identity. He recalled coming to Dharamsala to address the March 10th gathering, much to the local Chinese Ambassador’s irritation. He encouraged the pursuit of dialogue to achieve progress, saying:

“We must never forget to mention human rights, civil rights and political freedom for everyone. When the EU is tough on small countries about these issues, why does it go easy on China? The Tibet issue affects us all because our response to it reflects our values.”

Sikyong Dr Lobsang Sangay speaking at the opening session of the 7th International Conference of Tibet Support Groups in Brussels, Belgium on September 8, 2016. Photo/Olivier Adam
Cristian Preda, Vice Chair of the Human Rights sub-Committee and Member of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the European Parliament, assured the meeting of the widespread support for the Tibetan issue in the European Parliament. He suggested that despite China’s having rejected the Middle Way Approach, the need to enter into dialogue is ever more urgent.

Sikyong Dr Lobsang Sangay began by acknowledging his sense of honour to be in the presence of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, who is a beacon of hope regarded by the Tibetan people as the life and soul of Tibet. On behalf of the Central Tibetan Administration, (CTA) he thanked everyone participating in the conference, suggesting that what was required was the wisdom of elders and the enthusiasm of youth. With those, he asserted, “We will succeed. We will fulfil the aspirations of Tibetans in Tibet.” He noted that because the next two years will see potentially great changes in China it will be crucial to enter into dialogue to resolve the issue of Tibet.

Alluding to the grim reality that Tibetans are still repressed and Tibet is still occupied, a situation so desperate that three nuns have recently committed suicide and 144 other Tibetans in recent years have self-immolated, he expressed his determination to find a peaceful solution and make the Middle Way Approach a success. He expressed confidence that there will be a return to Tibet, to the Jokhang, Ramoche and the Kalachakra ground before the Potala.

Tsering Jhampa thanked the Sikyong for his uplifting speech and assured him, “We will make a difference.” She invited Jan Peumanns, Speaker of the Flemish Parliament to address the gathering. He resolved to come up with fresh ideas to fulfil the cause by peaceful means. He remarked that while he and his fellow countrymen and women live on a different continent and look different from Tibetans, what brings them all together is, “We are all human beings.”

Some of the over 250 delegates from 50 countries attending the 7th International Conference of Tibet Support Groups  in Brussels, Belgium on September 8, 2016. Photo/Olivier Adam
Not previously scheduled to speak, Richard Gere called on the conference to take the opportunity to think again, to be visionary, not to feel beaten down by increasing Chinese economic power, but to view it as part of a world of opportunity. “We have to try to create the world we want our children to live in,” he said, “taking His Holiness’s sense of fairness and justice as a guide. We have to see the Chinese people as brothers and sisters. We need to look ahead to a brighter future.”

Stating that what keeps many Tibet Supporters going is the inspiration they derive from His Holiness the Dalai Lama, as well as the Tibetan people in Tibet, Tsering Jhampa invited His Holiness to speak. He began:

“Since we are all human beings, I always prefer to talk informally. I’m a Tibetan and therefore one of the 7 billion human beings alive today.  If we look back at the last century there was a huge amount of killing and violence because people thought that the use of force was the way to solve problems. In the interdependent world in which we find ourselves, this is completely out of date. The essence of Tibetan Buddhist culture is peace, non-violence and compassion—what the whole world needs. I believe all 7 billion human beings have a responsibility to make an effort to create a more compassionate world. We won’t see a result next year or even in the next decade, but if we start now we may see positive change within this century.

“I do whatever I can on the basis of Shantideva’s advice that if a problem can be solved we should act to do so, but if it can’t be solved, worrying about it is of no use. Consequently my mind is calm.

“Scientific findings that basic human nature is compassionate is a source of hope. Remembering that we are all equally human beings, we have to think of the welfare of all.”

His Holiness the Dalai Lama addressing the opening session of the 7th International Conference of Tibet Support Groups in Brussels, Belgium on September 8, 2016. Photo/Olivier Adam
His Holiness called on his friends and supporters of Tibet to take a broader view; to work to emulate his commitments to promote human happiness and encourage inter-religious harmony. In addition, he described himself as Tibetan and someone the Tibetan people trust. He described being interested in democracy since childhood and after failing to implement reforms in Tibet, working to establish it in exile. The result was that with an elected leadership he felt able to semi-retire in 2001 and retire completely in 2011. What’s more he willingly put an end to the Dalai Lama’s taking a political role in the future.

He said his retirement allowed him to work for the preservation of Tibetan culture and language. One of the ways of doing this has been engaging in dialogue with modern scientists. Many of them are interested in learning from Tibetan experience and understanding of the workings of the mind and emotions.

“What’s important is to understand how disturbing emotions like anger, fear and suspicion can be. They lead to violence. Prayer won’t help, but understanding, developing and applying compassion, unbiased and free of attachment, can.”

His Holiness also touched on the importance of proper ecology on the Tibetan plateau for Tibetans, Chinese and the world at large. With regard to Tibet, he said there is a problem. It’s not good for Tibetans, but it is also not good for Chinese. It is something that must be resolved. He mentioned his belief in truth, that in the short term the power of the gun may seem stronger, but in the long term it is the truth that endures. Finally, he noted that while leaders and governments come and go, the people as a whole remain, so growing contacts and sympathy among the Chinese people are significant.

The meeting ended with Marc Liegeois, President Les Amis du Tibet, Belgium, offering a vote of thanks. Continuing to interact with people as he left the hall, His Holiness returned to his hotel. Tomorrow he will participate in a Mind & Life Europe conference on Power and Care.

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