In a rare appearance in Vermont, Tibet’s 14th Dalai Lama Tenzin Gyatso told packed audiences at Middlebury College that demilitarization and world peace hinge on the interdependence of nations and overcoming “superficial differences.”
The Dalai Lama emphasized the common problems and mutual dependence between nations, and he said he hoped eventually for a demilitarized world. He expressed a wish for a 21st century of peace and dialogue, in contrast to the 20th century, which he called a “century of bloodshed.”
“Accepting all humanity as [the] same,” he said, “United States’ future [is] very much related with rest of the world. That’s a reality. … Now the concept of violence, the concept of war, is outdated.”
“Violence never seems now to produce positive results,” he continued.
Although he chided America for unspecified foreign policy decisions, he also called it the “leading nation in the free world.” He added that its political example had inspired him during his darkest days, when he became exiled from Tibet at 24 years old.
In the two candid talks, one on Friday and another on Saturday, the 77-year-old Nobel Peace prize winner accepted pre-submitted questions. He didn’t always manage to answer them — his responses were punctuated by jokes, anecdotes and meandering reflections on other subjects.
Asked if he had any regrets, he said he’d wished only that he’d taken his studies more seriously as a youth. He said he believed his decisions as spiritual leader of Tibet eventually turned out alright. “I think major decisions in the spiritual field, as well the political field — no regrets.”
The Dalai Lama rarely veered into explicitly references to Buddhism or political territory related to China and Tibet. Instead, he focused on secular ethics, the cultivation of personal compassion, and the conflicts accompanying globalization.
He said he considered himself a Marxist, and he admired Mao Zedong and the Chinese Communist Party’s revolutionaries prior to 1957.
“As far as socioeconomy theory is concerned, I am Marxist,” he said Saturday morning. “So, still I believe that. But that does not mean I accept totalitarianism system, no, certainly, I [am] totally against this totalitarian system.”
Middlebury College senior Andrew Weaver, who attended the Saturday talk, said the Dalia Lama’s speech had been “much funnier than I expected it to be. He had a great sense of humor, cracking jokes throughout the meaningful things he was saying.” Weaver described himself as “just enamoured” with the Dalai Lama, having read two of his books and visited his temple residence in Dharamsala, India.
The Dalai Lama’s popularity in Vermont is consistent with his appeal to New Englanders, according to Middlebury College religion professor Bill Waldron, but he didn’t equate the leader’s personal appeal with a broader interest in Buddhism. “He presents himself as a kind of secular spiritual teacher very often,” said Waldron. “The popularity of the Dalai Lama and of Buddhism are two different things.”
Middlebury College has hosted the Dalai Lama twice before, for symposiums in 1984 and 1990. Laurie Jordan, the college chaplain, said she’d been planning this visit for two years.
Jordan said the Dalai Lama wasn’t personally paid for the talks, and Middlebury College funded the event.
Gov. Peter Shumlin attended the Dalai Lama’s private talk with the Middlebury College community on Friday. The governor didn’t respond to questions from VTDigger about his religious views or the issue of Tibetan autonomy from China.