Embracing the Enemy

Address of His Holiness the Dalai Lama at Yale University (U.S.A.), October 9, 1991

Thank you very much for your warm welcome. Master (Dr.) Lytton, brothers and sisters of the Yale community, I am very honored to be here.

We live in truly extraordinary times. The world has changed dramatically in the last few years. The aspirations of people and nations for freedom and democracy, and the desire for self-determination, have resurfaced full of unexpected vigor and tenacity. The events in Eastern Europe and Mongolia, the fall of the Berlin Wall, and more recently, the changes in the Soviet Union after 70 years of communist control are all examples of this phenomenon.

I have just completed a most memorable visit to Mongolia, the Baltic States and Bulgaria. Seeing millions of human beings enjoying the freedom they were denied for so many decades filled me with much happiness. Their triumph is a compelling reminder that the human desire for freedom will ultimately prevail no matter the length nor the severity of any repression. And, most importantly, that the inevitable transition can be made without resorting to violence.

Recently announcements by both President George Bush and President Mikhail Gorbachev could eventually lead to a world without arms. I would like to congratulate them for their historic decision. Years ago, when I spoke of my dreams of a world without arms many people, including some friends, felt that it was too idealistic. However these new developments indicate the possible realization of this dream. It will nevertheless, be a difficult task and there will be numerous obstacles. All of us must continue to make our own contributions to this effort no matter how small they may be.

 It is within this rapidly changing political climate that the struggle of the Tibetan people to regain our freedom after more than 40 years of oppression by the Chinese government must now be seen. Since China invaded Tibet in 1949-51, 1.2 million Tibetans, one-fifth of the population, have lost their lives. Through 42 long years, we have struggled to keep our cause alive and preserve our Buddhist culture of non-violence and compassion.

It would be easy to become angry at these events. To feel nothing but hatred for the Chinese authorities. Labeling them as our enemies, we could self-righteously condemn them for their brutality and dismiss them as unworthy of further thought or consideration. But that is not the Buddhist way. And, as recent events have so clearly demonstrated, that is not the way to achieve peace and harmony.

Our most valuable teachers are our enemies. Not only is this a fundamental Buddhist teaching, it is a demonstrated fact of life. While our friends can help us in many ways, only our enemies can provide us the challenge we need to develop tolerance, patience, and compassion. These three virtues are essential for building character, developing peace of mind, and bringing us true happiness.

In Christianity there is an inspiring teaching about turning the other cheek when struck by the enemy. This same ideal underlies Buddhist philosophy. Through a systematic practice, we can develop a tolerance so powerful, that when an enemy strikes, we feel actual appreciation for his action, for the opportunity for growth he has provided. We feel at ease, free from anger and hate, and clearly see the compulsions triggering his behavior. We can feel genuine compassion for the sad fate he brings upon himself as a result of his harmful conduct.

Through good times and bad times, we Tibetans try to keep our spiritual health and our good humor, remembering that all people, whether they harm us or help us, are ultimately our friends. I often tell the Tibetan people that as long as we remember these fundamental truths, we are truly invincible. Our determination will never die, and we will eventually be able to help our friends in China too.

I am a firm believer that relations between people and between nations must be based on human understanding. Only by candidly sharing ideas will we find solutions to the many challenges now facing the global community. In this context, I believe that the world should engage China whenever she is willing to take part in the international community in a constructive manner. But when she persists in violating fundamental norms of civilized behavior she should not be indulged like a spoiled child. China must be made accountable for her actions as a responsible member of the international community.

As you know, during my last visit to the United States I had the privilege of meeting President George Bush. His public statements, such as his speech here at Yale past spring, reflect his heartfelt commitment to encouraging democratic change in China which encompasses one quarter of humanity.

We Tibetan believe that the United States and others must send clear signals to the Chinese government that its repressive policies cannot be tolerated. Political and economic pressure are appropriate incentives for inducing necessary change. The same standards must be applied to China which the International community invoked in response to colonialism and human rights abuses in other parts of the world. The situations in Eastern Europe, the Baltic States, the Soviet Union and South Africa would not have changed when they did without international pressure including diplomatic and economic sanctions.

Some contend that China will revert to the isolation of the Maoist era if she is pressured by the international community to change her behavior. China's leaders have themselves threatened to do so to prevent international pressure. But experience has shown that China will not be able to take that path, even if some of her leaders want to. The Chinese people have already demonstrated their desire for democracy and freedom. They have seen it prevail in the foremost communist states. As the organizers of the failed coup in the Soviet Union learned, the spirit of freedom and democracy cannot be crushed once it has been released.

It has also been suggested that the Asian view of human rights is fundamentally different from that of the West and that Asians attach less value to human life. This is not at all correct. As Buddhists, we revere human life as the most precious gift. My view of human rights is no different than yours. Suffering and pain are the same for all human begins. Tibetans, and other Asians, feel them the same way that you Americans, Europeans, Africans, South Americans and others do. Distress over abuses in China and Tibet is as legitimate as international concern over human rights violations in the Soviet Union and South Africa. These matters are not the internal affairs of any country but fundamental concerns of human beings everywhere for the sufferings of their brothers and sisters.

China now stands alone as the last totalitarian, communist empire. But as the recent events in the Soviet Union have made clear, it cannot remain that way for long. Freedom and democracy will come to China. I believe that for the sake of world peace and stability, the international community must actively encourage China to make this transition as quickly, as smoothly, and as non-violently as possible. The peaceful revolutions in many parts of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union should serve as models. We should not allow a repeat of the situation in Yugoslavia, where the world community's failure to recognize early enough the seriousness of the problem contributed to the turmoil now consuming the region and causing vast suffering to its people.

In the absence of any international pressure, the Chinese government's response to developments such as those in the Soviet Union is likely to be more repression, in an attempt to hold on to its eroding power base. Recent reports from Tibet indicate this attitude. So when the inevitable change occurs, there will be more violence and greater human suffering. The world has a responsibility to prevent this from happening.

The changes in the Baltic States are particularly inspiring. Although it took a long time, in the end even the Soviet government, the former occupying power, accepted the inevitable consequences of the people's demands.

Just as the people of the Baltic States have been successful in regaining their freedom, I am confident that we Tibetans will soon regain ours. We have maintained a steadfast determination to achieve this goal during 42 years of occupation.

In the past, I made a number of proposals to the Chinese leaders which I hope would provide the impetus for resolving our difference and finding a comprehensive solution to the question of Tibet. I presented these proposals as a free spokesman of the six-million Tibetan people.

In 1987, I advanced a "Five Point Peace Plan" as an overture to the Chinese to begin negotiations. The following year, I elaborated on this plan during a speech at the European Parliament in Strasbourg suggesting a form of association between Tibet and China. But Chinese leaders rejected the proposal and refused to enter into negotiations. Moreover, many Tibetans, in exile and in Tibet, were strongly opposed to the proposals which they felt contained unnecessary concessions to the Chinese. It is, therefore, clear that the Strasbourg proposal can no longer serve any useful purpose and I have recently announced that we are no longer committed to its terms.

I have always stated that the central issue is that the Tibetan people must ultimately choose their own destiny. It is not for the Dalai Lama, and certainly not for the Chinese to make that decision. This principle was explicitly expressed by the late Prime Minister Nehru during an address to the Indian Parliament on December 7, 1950: "...since Tibet is not the same as China, it should ultimately be the wishes of the people of Tibet that should prevail..."

However, I do not want the situation to come to a standstill. Given the rapid pace of worldwide changes, I believe there are no new opportunities for resolving longstanding issues such as Tibet. I have thus asked the Tibetan Parliament-in-exile and others to come forward with fresh ideas for peacefully resolving the Tibetan issue. But above all, I must reiterate that six million Tibetans inside Tibet must have the final say on the future of our country.

The People's Republic of China claims that Tibetans are happy under Chinese rule, and that it is only a "handful of splittists" who think otherwise. As I have said before, the feelings of the Tibetan people can best be ascertained by plebiscite. But the official Chinese attitude concerns me deeply because Beijing refuses to accept the reality of the situation. So long as the Chinese do not understand the true feelings and aspirations of the Tibetan people, it will be very difficult to find a satisfactory solution to the problem.

The Chinese government's refusal to reciprocate my efforts to start negotiations has increased the impatience of many Tibetans, especially young Tibetans in Tibet, with the non-violent path we follow. Tension in my country is increasing as China encourages demographic aggression in Tibet, reducing Tibetans to a second class minority in our own country. The harsh repression and intimidation of Tibetans is increasingly polarizing the situation. I am extremely anxious that, in this explosive situation, violence may break out. I want to do what I can to help prevent this.

In the view of these developments, I am considering the possibility of a visit to Tibet as early as possible. I have in mind two purposes for such a visit.

First, I want to ascertain the situation in Tibet myself on the spot and communicate directly with my people. By doing so I also hope to help the Chinese leadership to understand the true feelings of Tibetans. It would be important, therefore, for senior Chinese leaders to accompany me on such a visit, and that outside observers, including the press be present to see and report their findings.

Second, I wish to advise and persuade my people not to abandon non-violence as the appropriate form of struggle. My ability to talk to my own people can be a key factor in bringing about a peaceful solution. My visit could be a new opportunity to promote understanding and create a basis for a negotiated solution.

A visit to Tibet can, of course, only take place if Tibetans are permitted to meet with me and to speak freely with me, without fear of retaliation. For my part, I must be free to travel whenever I want and to meet with any Tibetan I wish to meet. Many of my friends who will be keen to accompany me on such a trip should be free to do so without any hindrances. This courtesy must also be extended to the international media in a spirit of goodwill and openness.

In view of the urgency of finding a resolution to the decades old conflict between the Chinese and the Tibetans, I hope that China's leaders will now respond positively to this new initiative of mine. I trust they will make a commitment which can be withstand public scrutiny and satisfy all those involved in this search for change and peace in Tibet.

I call for these precautionary measures so that each step we take will be forward and neither party can conveniently retract from moving ahead. In the past, many promises and assurance were given to me by Chinese leaders, none of which were honored. In 1951, in Lhasa, 1954 in Beijing, and 1956 in India, I was given explicit assurance concerning Chinese behavior towards my people by Mao Tse-tung and Chou En Lai among others. Since then, Chinese authorities have repeatedly failed to implement many of their own declared policies to respect the Tibetan national, cultural and religious identity.

Many world leaders, parliamentarians, and individual friends have, in recent years, made efforts to persuade the Chinese government to respond positively to my overtures. I take this opportunity to express my sincere gratitude to them and seek their continued support for my efforts.

It is my hope that China's leaders will work with their own people, with their neighbors, with the United States and with the rest of the world to live in harmony and peace. Only then will this ancient country, now constituting a quarter of humanity, finally assume its rightful place in the global family. This is in keeping with the Buddhist vision of a world based on compassion; a world without enemies, a world of peace and true happiness.

Thank you.