Dallas, Texas, USA, 1 July 2015 – His Holiness the Dalai Lama arrived in Dallas yesterday at the end of a long flight from Britain. Today, despite weather forecasts giving flood warnings, the sun shone brightly in a deep blue sky and the air was warm as he drove to the George W Bush Presidential Center. He was received by Amanda Shnetzer, Director of Human Freedom, George Bush Institute. After greeting their old friend, Mr & Mrs Bush took His Holiness on a private tour of the Center’s Museum. In retirement President Bush has taken up painting. When he showed His Holiness a portrait he’d done of him, His Holiness declared himself impressed, although he thought “the eyes could do with a bit more work.”
Accompanied by Mr & Mrs Bush, His Holiness met with young Burmese students who are taking part in a Liberty and Leadership Forum. Mr Bush said that he recognised these young people as future leaders. He also remarked that His Holiness too is looking for freedom and invited him to speak to them.
“It’s indeed a great honour to meet with my old friend once more and to see his new Institute and the programmes being implemented here to promote democracy and liberty. I don’t necessarily admire America for its military strength; I admire it for upholding the principles of democracy and liberty. America leads the free world. Although you have retired I’m glad to see you’re still dedicated to democracy and freedom.
“Now, we Tibetans and Burmese have linguistic roots in common and like Tibet, Burma is a Buddhist country. Within Buddhism we have the Pali and Sanskrit traditions. The Pali tradition is the fundamental tradition, while the Sanskrit tradition deals with further elaborations of, for example, the theory of selflessness. We have the monastic code in common and I’ve noticed that the monastic organization is essentially democratic in principle.
“For people to fulfil their rights they need education. Since the government in Burma remains totalitarian, you should take full advantage of this opportunity to study and learn and not become too distracted by the materialistic attractions to be found here. Pay close attention to the principles of freedom and democracy. Examine how to combine modern ideas with traditional values. Our struggle is between the power of truth and the power of the gun. The gun may seem more decisive in the short term, but in the long term the power of truth is stronger. It’s important to be confident about this.”
He reiterated that the people in power now depend on the use of force, but they can’t keep that up forever. In the long run, truth will prevail. He quoted a Tibetan saying that if you fail nine times, nine times you should try again.
He was asked how to unite diverse peoples under the common banner of freedom and replied that we need to have a sense of the oneness of all humanity. In a country like Burma there will be religious and ethnic differences, but what is more important is the common Burmese interest.
Questioned about how to reconcile such compromise with freedom, His Holiness responded that the European Union is an example of the kind of realistic thinking he has in mind. He said that Tibetans have historically been an independent nation, linguistically and geographically distinct. There are Chinese documents that refer to Chinese, Tibetan and Mongolian empires in the 7-9th centuries. Still they can be part of a larger, more economically developed state, so long as they have the opportunity to preserve their language, culture and environment.
Mr Bush intervened to say,
“Sadly, Chinese leaders are more concerned that their country will break up, but I told them this is the best guy for you to deal with, but they don’t listen.”
His Holiness responded positively when he was extended an invitation to visit Burma, quipping that his hosts would first have to seek Chinese permission. He also mentioned that departments for the study of Pali were being set up in Tibetan monasteries and learning centres and Burmese student would be welcome to join them.
At a luncheon with Bush Center friends and supporters Margaret Spelling, President of the George W Bush Presidential Center welcomed His Holiness as a leader of our time. She said:
“We celebrate you and the principles of peace and compassion you represent. We are honoured that you are beginning your current visit to the USA here in Dallas. Thank you for coming.”
Bishop McKee offered prayers before the meal. Afterwards in her brief remarks Mrs Laura Bush reminded the gathering that it will be His Holiness’s 80th birthday on 6th July, a birthday he shares with her husband. A cake was brought out, everyone sang ‘Happy Birthday’ and the two friends blew out the candles together. In his response, President Bush said:
“Thanks for the cake and thank you all for coming. You know, sometimes in politics you meet someone who tells you something and doesn’t really mean it. His Holiness is someone who looks you in the eye and means just what he says. China makes things hard for him and yet he’s joyful, because his heart is so sweet and full of love.
“I am the only US President who has stood up with His Holiness in public. He is dealing with forces that seek to undermine his basic sense that everyone should be free. It’s an honour to have you here.”
“My dear respected friends, Mr & Mrs Bush,” His Holiness responded, “this is a happy reunion for me, who was born in a remote part of north-eastern Tibet with you who live on the opposite side of the world. I grew up in a Buddhist country and you grew up in a Christian one, but as human beings we are the same. This is important, because most of the conflicts we face today are a result of dwelling on secondary differences such as religion or race, while fundamentally we are the same as human beings. We are mentally, physically and emotionally the same. We are born the same way and we die the same way. We all want to live a happy life and if we were more aware of what we share as human beings there would be no ground for conflict, bullying, killing or exploitation between us.
“Wherever I meet people and speak to them, I do so as a fellow human being. When I met this man for the first time in the White House, he behaved towards me as just another human being, not as the President of the most powerful nation on earth. I often say in public, ‘I love George Bush, although as far as his policies are concerned I have some reservations.’ Our friendship is a genuine friendship that will last as long as we live, so when I received this invitation, I felt excited to come.”
His Holiness confirmed that, as the President had said, he is firmly committed to the idea of democracy. That is why, when he retired from political responsibility in 2011, he also put an end to the tradition of the institution of Dalai Lamas being responsible for political as well as spiritual affairs. He mentioned that some of Tibet’s religious institutions belong to the feudal system and it’s time to change them. About President Bush, he said he admired his lifelong commitment to freedom, liberty and democracy. He repeated that America is responsible not only for 350 million Americans, but as the leader for the wider free world. He said:
“My dream is that the 21st century will lead to a better world, a more peaceful, more compassionate world based on a sense of the oneness of humanity.”
In questions from the floor he was asked if all other words were swept away and one remained what would it be. He chose, “Life,” noting that for life to survive it needs ‘love’. He was asked again what keeps different groups apart, when he speaks so convincingly of oneness. He answered that despite the fact that we all depend on one another, we insist on stressing the secondary differences between us rather than what unites us. He pointed out that climate change respects no boundaries but affects us all. Similarly the global economy includes us all, yet we dwell on the superficial differences between us.
Before leaving the Bush Presidential Center, His Holiness met briefly with Congressman John Radcliffe, Congressman Peter Session and members of their families.
Next door at the Moody Coliseum of the Southern Methodist University, Margaret Spellings, who previously served President Bush as Secretary of Education, introduced His Holiness to a sold-out audience of 5000. Students of the Tibet Club at the Booker T Washington School presented His Holiness with a string of prayer flags they had designed and printed.
Cokie Roberts, political commentator for ABC news, who was moderating the session, invited His Holiness to speak. He began by saying how happy he was to be there, thanking the organizers for their efforts and President and Mrs Bush for their invitation. He repeated what he always says that human beings are the same and equal in their right to live a happy life. He remarked that the marvellous human brain that can cultivate love, compassion, forgiveness and tolerance, is also capable of giving in to anger, hatred and fear. Consequently, many of the problems we face are our own creation. He mentioned that although he and his listeners were comfortable together in this hall, in other parts of the world people were killing each other, some of them in the name of religion, which he described as unthinkable.
He stressed the need for modern education to incorporate moral principles based on the simple value of warm-heartedness. Since we all depend on one another, our wish for happiness requires that we cultivate concern for one another too. If we do that there’ll be trust between us and where there is trust, there is friendship; something essential to social animals like us.
Changing the world, His Holiness said, making it a more peaceful, compassionate place can only begin on an individual level. It’s not something we can leave to the government or the UN. He ended with an appeal that if what he had said made sense, people should think about it more, discuss it and put it into effect. On the other hand if what he said didn’t make sense, he suggested people just leave it in the hall.
In answering questions from the audience put to him by Cokie Roberts, His Holiness reiterated his commitment to encouraging inter-religious harmony. He also suggested that if more women, who have a natural affinity for expressing compassion, took up more leadership roles, the world might be a more peaceful place.
Finally, the members of the audience were invited to stand and wish His Holiness a happy 80th birthday. As they sang ‘Happy birthday to you,’ white balloons were released from the ceiling and drifted down towards the many upturned smiling faces. His Holiness waved and thanked them all. Backstage he embraced President Bush as they bid each other goodbye, before stepping out into the warm Texas afternoon to return to his hotel.