[dalailama.com] Washington DC, USA, 5 February 2015 – His Holiness the Dalai Lama today participated as a special guest in the National Prayer Breakfast, an event that takes place annually on the first Thursday in February in Washington DC. His presence seemed to be the main focus of attention for representatives of the media in the room. As the presiding Senator was introducing His Holiness, President Obama looked over, folded his hands together and greeted him with a nod of his head and a smile. He then acknowledged him in his remarks, saying:
“I offer a special welcome to a good friend, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, who is a powerful example of what it means to practise compassion, he inspires us to speak up for the freedom and dignity of all human beings. I have welcomed him at the White House. There aren’t many occasions that would bring His Holiness and Darrell Waltrip together in the same room.”
This brought laughter and warm applause. Prominent White House adviser Valerie Jarrett sat at the His Holiness’s table while the President spoke. The President went on to condemn those who use religion as the grounds for engaging in violence. He called on people of all faiths to show humility about their beliefs, rejecting the notion that “God speaks only to us and doesn’t speak to others.”
Following the breakfast His Holiness met privately with several Congressmen and women.
After lunch His Holiness met with a group from the US Institute of Peace, whose building is across the road from the State Department. He told Nancy Lindborg, who only three days ago became the fifth President of the Institute.
“In trying to create peace, we need to cultivate inner peace. Making gestures like the release of doves or even praying to God or the Buddha won’t do it. We need to educate people to develop inner peace. It’s a long process. Even if we begin now I may not see the final results in my lifetime. But the situation in places like Syria and Iraq is now so harsh that we have to find new ways to bring people in conflict closer together. It will take great determination.”
Ms Lindborg asked if he had any specific practical advice and His Holiness told her that it might be helpful to establish branches of the US Institute of Peace in other parts of the world. He suggested that a branch in South Africa could liaise more closely with Africans; another in Jordan could work with the peoples of the Middle East. Then, with a twinkle in his eyes, he said:
“And of course, eventually in Moscow and China; China is changing, but it will take some time.”
His Holiness then joined a panel discussion organized by the Development Organization for Societies in Transition – DOST, which means friend in several languages. Convened as a dialogue between His Holiness and the American Muslim Community, the theme was ‘Service in Action’. Panellists included Sheikh Al-Sahlani, general representative of His Eminence Grand Ayatollah Sayyid Ali Al-Sistani and head of the Al-Khoei Foundation in New York; Ms Manal Omar, acting Vice President for the Middle East and Africa Center at the US Institute for Peace; Mr Anwar Khan an original member of Islamic Relief USA; Ms Humera Khan, Executive Director of Muflehun, a think tank focused on preventing radicalization and countering violent extremism. The discussion was introduced by Ms Amber Jamil Vice President DOST and moderated by Mr John Pinna Executive Director of DOST.
Invited to open the conversation His Holiness said:
“A year after the September 11th event, I happened to be here in Washington and was invited to join the commemorative service at the National Cathedral. At that time I made it clear that just because some individuals with a Muslim background have done something terrible we cannot allow that to tarnish a whole community. I said it’s a mistake to generalize about 1 billion believers on the basis of the actions of the mischievous few. I said I’m not a Muslim, I’m a Buddhist, but Islam is one of the world’s important religions.
“Muslim friends have assured me that a good Muslim must extend love to all the creatures of Allah. On the other hand one who sheds blood is no longer a genuine Muslim. And as regards the word ‘jihad’, what it really refers to is the struggle to combat our destructive emotions. So it seems that people like me are engaged in ‘jihad’ every day!”
He stressed the need to clarify misunderstandings that have arisen about Islam. He also reported that on the day after September 11th he had written to President Bush, who he counts as a personal friend, and expressed his condolences, but also the hope that response to the tragedy should be non-violent. He said the motivation to bring democracy to Iraq was good, but the use of violent force to bring it about was the wrong approach. The final result has been that more people suffer. He suggested there are problems with the way people perceive Islam and Muslims and that has to change.
“It can’t be right,” he said, “for people to see the Sheikh here’s turban and think he’s a dangerous man.”
Sheikh Al-Sahlani agreed saying that Islam is a religion of mercy and an aspect of this sense of mercy is the urge to be helpful to others. He said:
“I originally came from Iraq, but now Iraq has become a place of terror. Those who violate the rules of Islam, nominally in its name, are the greatest enemies of Islam.”
His Holiness was prompted to recall the report of a friend, an Indian journalist, who had been in Iran after the revolution and the return of Ayatollah Khomeini. While the outside world looked on in anxiety, he had been impressed within the country to witness for himself how Mullahs were accepting donations from the wealthy and distributing the money to the poor.
Mr Anwar Khan took up this theme, telling the panel how after September 11th people wanted to kill Muslims like him and yet they gave blood and helped where they could. He said that
“At the day of judgement, God will ask, ‘What did you do with your time, what did you do with your money?’ This is why I ask our friends, ‘Please give us a chance to help make this world a better place.’”
His Holiness agreed that it is not charitable deeds like those referred to that make the news. When he gets the chance he encourages members of the media not only to pursue sensationalist stories while taking good news for granted, but to report it when it takes place. He recommended holding meetings like the present one in other places on regular basis.
Ms Humera Khan spoke of the need to preserve faith, to preserve freedom of religion, to preserve life, to preserve freedom of thought and to preserve property so people can live in safety. She stressed the need for a positive message like everyone’s need to lead a good life.
Answering a question about re-educating the public about the real meaning of ‘jihad’, Ms Manal Omar replied that the need was help the Muslim community because the best way to do this would be to show by example. In response to another question about limits on freedom of expression, Mr Anwar Khan made the point that just because you have the freedom to offend others doesn’t mean that you should. And, following on from this, Ms Manal Omar added:
“When someone else does something bad, we should respond in a better way.”
Mr John Pinna brought the meeting to an end, telling the audience that in a mixture of Tibetan and Islamic customs, Sheikh Al-Sahlani was going to say a prayer for the good health and long life of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and for the welfare of the Muslim community. In conclusion His Holiness was offered a certificate signed by all the panellists as a memento of the meeting and a Balti hat.
Shortly afterwards His Holiness drove to Washington Dulles International Airport and boarded a flight to Zurich. Arriving in the cold grey of a winter’s morning he drove through the snow-bound Swiss landscape to the city of Basel on the banks of the majestic Rhine. More than a thousand Tibetans gave him a rousing welcome when he reached his hotel with music, song and dance, the waving of flags and beaming smiles. He happily returned their greetings with folded hands before retiring to rest for the remainder of the day. Tomorrow he will be teaching Nagarjuna’s ‘Commentary on Bodhichitta’ and Geshe Langri Thangpa’s ‘Eight Verses for Training the Mind’ at St. Jakobshalle nearby.