Dalai Lama is being pounded by critics -- none of them actual, grown-up Buddhists, by the way -- who believe his recent remarks are contradictory in nature. The remarks in question are a statement regarding Armed Forces Day, and comments regarding environmental intervention.
First, Armed Forces Day:
"I have always admired those who are prepared to act in the defense of others for their courage and determination. In fact, it may surprise you to know that I think that monks and soldiers, sailors and airmen have more in common than at first meets the eye. Strict discipline is important to us all, we all wear a uniform and we rely on the companionship and support of our comrades.
Although the public may think that physical strength is what is most important, I believe that what makes a good soldier, sailor or airman, just as what makes a good monk, is inner strength. And inner strength depends on having a firm positive motivation. The difference lies in whether ultimately you want to ensure others’ well being or whether you want only wish to do them harm.
Naturally, there are some times when we need to take what on the surface appears to be harsh or tough action, but if our motivation is good our action is actually non-violent in nature. On the other hand if we use sweet words and gestures to deceive, exploit and take advantage of others, our conduct may appear agreeable, while we are actually engaged in quite unacceptable violence.
The ultimate purpose of Buddhism is to serve and benefit humanity, therefore I believe that what is important for Buddhists is the contribution we can make to human society according to our own ideas and values. The key to overcoming suffering and ensuring happiness is inner peace. If we have that we can face difficulties with calmness and reason, while our inner happiness remains undisturbed. The teachings of love, kindness and tolerance, the conduct of non-violence as I have explained above, and especially the Buddhist theory that all things are relative are a source of that inner peace.
It is my prayer that all of you may be able to do your duty and fulfill your mission and in due course when that is done to return to your homes and families.”
To me, that is as beautifully stated as it gets. I do not see how anyone could take exception with this. If you are speaking to soldiers, what else are you going to say?
The seeming contradiction arises in widely reported remarks, made during his recent trip to Japan, wherein he criticized the U.S. environmental action group Sea Shepherd Conservation Society for using violence to prevent the slaughter of whales. For their part, the Society responded as follows:
“His Holiness the Dalai Lama said at a media conference in Japan that he continues to support the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. He did rebuke us and said to his Japanese hosts that our activities should be non-violent. He issued this criticism in response to accusations by some in Japan who have accused Sea Shepherd of violence during our interventions against the annual bloody slaughter of whales in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary.”
Well, it seems to be that the whole issue is contextual. On the one hand, he is talking to professional soldiers, and on the other he is talking to environmentalists. I do not see the problem in holding soldiers and environmentalists to different standards.
I find the whole topic of interest, and this is something we have discussed here at DTBA many times in the past. Recently, we chewed on it in "Does Samsara Really Need Janitors?", and in "Free, Free, Set Them Free" and this past January, we noticed violence done to the Sea Shepherd Society in "On The Line."
The Dalai Lama has always been interested in environmental issues, and you can trace the evolution of his thinking on the matter back to the 1960s, if you care to look. Going forward from his first statements on the matter, all the way up to the current time, I believe you will find remarkable consistency, and a very level-headed approach.
In 2007, I wrote:
"I believe we have to be flexible. We cannot go around telling people what to do. We cannot be didactic. We cannot coerce people. Throwing red paint on a woman wearing a mink coat, or ramming a whaling boat on the high seas seems terribly romantic. However, the long-term results are questionable. We need to find a middle ground, between extremes, and then lead by example."
I wrote that not because of any quality or insight I possess, but because I have been profoundly influenced by Dalai Lama's teachings on environmentalism. This was written well in advance of his recent statement regarding the Sea Shepherd Society. Based on what I have personally heard him say -- as this is as recently as his visit to Long Beach last year -- I do not believe he was "misled by the Japanese" as some are claiming. Can the living, human manifestation of primordial compassion be misled? I believe he understands the issues very well, and he is responding from his infinite wisdom as he does in all matters.
I think part of the problem is that "Buddhist activism," and this is with particular reference to the West, has become invested in the business aspect of altruism, as distinct from pure altruism. So, now you have all these ridiculous organizations and magazines and so forth, that have attached profit motives. Such motives seem to demand holding fast to particular viewpoints.
Dalai Lama, on the other hand, is operating from pure compassion, and he can call 'em as he sees 'em. An umpire is precisely what we need, so rather than criticize him, why not shut up and listen to what he has to say?
Who is going to teach us skillful means?