Dalai Lama, the spiritual and political leader of the people of Tibet, is a Buddhist monk. Since Tibet was occupied by China in 1959, the Dalai Lama, together with over 100 000 countrymen, has lived in exile in India, leading a non-violent liberation struggle. He received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989.
Human Rights and Peace
Menschenrechte und Frieden
Internationale Gesamtschule Heidelberg (Unesco Projekt Schule):
The widespread concern about violation of human rights is very encouraging. Not only does it offer the prospect of relief to many suffering individuals, but it is also an indication of humanity’s progress and development. Concern for human rights violations and the effort to protect human rights represents a great service to people of both the present and future generations. With the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, fifty years ago, people everywhere have come to realize the great importance and value of human rights.
|1) I am not an expert in the field of human rights. However, for a Buddhist monk, like myself, the rights of every human being are very precious and important. When they are respected we have a situation of peace. According to Buddhist belief, every human being has a mind whose fundamental nature is essentially pure and unpolluted by mental distortions. We refer to that nature as the seed of enlightenment. From that point of view every being can eventually achieve perfection. And also because the nature of the mind is pure, we believe that all negative aspects can ultimately be removed from it. When our mental attitude is positive, the negative actions of body and speech automatically cease. ||1) ||2) Because every human being has such potential, all are equal. Everyone has the right to be happy and to overcome suffering. The Buddha himself said that in his order neither race nor social class is important. What is important is the actual practice of living your life in an ethical way. As Buddhist practitioners, we try to improve our day to day conduct first of all. Only on the basis of that can we begin to develop the practices of mental training and wisdom. In my daily practice as a Buddhist monk I have to observe many rules, but the fundamental theme of them all is a deep concern and respect for the rights of others. The principal vows observed by fully-ordained monks and nuns include not taking the life of other beings, not stealing their possessions and so on. These rules are explicitly concerned with a deep respect for the rights of others. This is why I often describe the essence of Buddhism as being something like this: If you can, help other human beings; if ! you cannot, at least refrain from harming them. This reveals a deep respect for others, for life itself, and concern for others’ welfare. ||2) ||3) Although it is important to respect others’ natural rights, we tend to lead our lives in the opposite way. This is because we lack love and compassion. Therefore, even in relation to the question of human rights violations and concern for human rights, the key point is the practice of compassion, love and forgiveness. Very often, when people hear about love and compassion, they have a sense that these are related to religious practice. It is not necessarily so. Instead, it is very important to recognise that compassion and love are fundamental to relations between human beings.||3) ||4) At the beginning of our lives and again when we become old we appreciate others’ help and affection. Unfortunately, between these two periods of our lives, when we are strong and able and can look after ourselves, we neglect the value of affection and compassion. As our very life begins and ends with a need for affection, would it not be better to practice compassion and love towards others when we are strong and capable?||
4) ||5) We gather genuine friends only when we express sincere human feeling, when we express respect for others and concern for their rights. There is no need to read some difficult philosophical meaning into it. In our daily lives, these things are a reality. Therefore, the practice of compassion, the practice of sincerity and love, are essential sources of our own happiness and satisfaction. Once we develop such an altruistic attitude, we will automatically develop concern for others’ suffering. We will simultaneously develop a determination to do something to protect the rights of others and to be concerned with their fate.
The Universality of Human Rights
Human rights are of universal interest because it is the inherent nature of all human beings to yearn for freedom, equality and dignity and they have a right to achieve them. Whether we like it or not, we have all been born into this world as part of one great human family. Rich or poor, educated or uneducated, belonging to one nation or another, to one religion or another, adhering to this ideology or that, ultimately each of us is just a human being like everyone else. We all desire happiness and do not want suffering. If we accept that others have an equal right to peace and happiness, do we not have responsibility to help those in need? ||5) ||7) The aspiration for democracy and respect for fundamental human rights is as important to the people of Africa and Asia as it is to those in Europe or the Americas. But often it is just those people who are deprived of their human rights who are least able to speak up for themselves. The responsibility rests with those of us who do enjoy such freedoms. Human rights abuses are often targeted on the most gifted, dedicated and creative members of society. As a result, the political, social, cultural and economic developments of a society are obstructed by violations of human rights. Therefore, the protection of these rights and freedoms are of immense importance both for the individuals affected and for the development of society as a whole.||6) ||8) Some governments have contended that the standards of human rights laid down in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are those advocated by the West and do not apply to Asia and other parts of the Third World because of differences in culture and social and economic development. I do not share this view and I am convinced that the majority of ordinary people do not support it either. I believe that the principles laid down in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights constitute something like a natural law which ought to be followed by all peoples and governments at all times.||7) ||9) Moreover, I do not see any contradiction between the need for economic development and the need to respect human rights. The right to free speech and association are vital in promoting a country’s economic development. In Tibet, for example, there have been countless instances where unsuitable economic policies have been implemented and continued long after they have failed to produce benefits, because citizens and government officials could speak out against them. Internationally, our rich diversity of cultures and religions should help to strengthen fundamental human rights in all communities. Underlying this diversity are basic human principles that bind us all together as members of the same human family. However, mere maintenance of traditions should never justify the violations of human rights. Thus, discrimination against persons of different races, against women, and against weaker sections of society may be traditional in some places, but if they are inconsistent! with universally recognised human rights, these forms of behaviour should change. The universal principle of the equality of all human beings must take precedence.
Need for Universal Responsibility
The world is becoming increasingly interdependent and that is why I firmly believe in the need to develop a sense of universal responsibility. We need to think in global terms, because the effects of one nation’s actions are felt far beyond its borders. The acceptance of universally binding standards of human rights as laid down in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in the International Covenants of Human Rights is essential in today’s shrinking world. Respect for fundamental human rights should not remain an ideal to be achieved but a requisite foundation for every human society. ||8) ||11) Artificial barriers that have divided nations and peoples have fallen in recent times. The success of the popular peoples’ movements in dismantling the East-West division which has polarized the whole world for decades has been a source of great hope and expectations. Yet there still remains a major gulf at the heart of the human family. By this I am referring to the North-South divide. If we are serious in our commitment to the fundamental principles of equality, principles which, I believe, lie at the heart of the concept of human rights, today’s economic disparity can no longer be ignored. It is not enough to merely state that all human beings must enjoy equal dignity. This must be translated into action. We have a responsibility to find ways to achieve a more equitable distribution of world’s resources.||9) ||12) We are witnessing a tremendous popular movement for the advancement of human rights and democratic freedom in the world. This movement must become an even more powerful moral force, so that even the most obstructive governments and armies are incapable of suppressing it. It is natural and just for nations, peoples and individuals to demand respect for their rights and freedoms and to struggle to end repression, racism, economic exploitation, military occupation, and various forms of colonialism and alien domination. Governments should actively support such demands instead of only paying lip service to them.||10) ||13) It is my belief that the lack of understanding of the true cause of happiness is the principal reason why people inflict suffering on others. Some people think that causing pain to others may lead to their own happiness or that their own happiness is of such importance that the pain of others is of no significance. But this is clearly shortsighted. No one truly benefits from causing harm to another being. Whatever immediate advantage is gained at the expense of someone else is short-lived. In the long run, causing others misery and infringing upon their peace and happiness creates anxiety, fear and suspicion for oneself. The development of love and compassion for others is essential for creating a better and more peaceful world. This naturally means we must develop concern for our fellow brothers and sisters who are less fortunate than we are. Therefore, we have a moral duty to help and support all those who are presently prevented from exercising the rights and freedoms tha! t many of us take for granted.||11) ||14) As we approach the end of the Twentieth Century, we find that the world is becoming one community. We are being drawn together by the grave problems of overpopulation, dwindling natural resources, and an environmental crisis that threaten the very foundation of our existence on this planet. Human rights, environmental protection, greater social and economic equality and peace, are all interrelated. I believe that to meet the challenges of our times, human beings will have to develop a greater sense of universal responsibility.||12) ||15) Each of us must learn to work not just for oneself, one’s own family or one’s nation, but for the benefit of all humankind. Universal responsibility is the key to human survival. It is the best guarantee for human rights and for world peace.||13) |