Dalai Lama in Rome: Nobel Peace Prize Laureates Summit, media, protests & interview with Robert Barnett

The International Shugden Community / New Kadampa Tradition protesters try diligently to get their message and accusations through during this weekend in Rome, Italy, where His Holiness the Dalai Lama participates in the 14th World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates. (Why the summit moved from South Africa to Italy read here.)

It seems that weeks before this event started the protester prepared their media campaign and began quite early to flood for instance twitter via the hash tags ‪#‎dalailama‬ and ‪#‎nobelpeacesummit‬ with propaganda. (I guess Facebook was used in a similar way though – as far as I understand it – Facebook cannot be so easily abused for slanderous accusations or a hate campaign as Twitter.)

Logo of the 14th World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates from 12–14 Dec 2014 in Rome

The ISC/NKT also offered free flights, free accommodation and free food for the protesters. (see PDF)

However, the ISC campaign doesn’t turn the 14th Nobel Peace Prize Laureates’ Summit to the protesters’ favour and the campaign appears to be less successful than the ISC campaigning in the US. This year in the US the Western Shugden campaigners got at least some of their messages and accusations (slander) reported by local news and also some few major news.

The lead in the press in Italy was set by a major newspaper, La Repubblica, with an interview by Raimondo Bultrini – a well known expert on the Shugden issue, an investigative journalist with a high standing and a mafia expert who is also a Buddhist and close student of Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche. Namkhai Norbu is a well known Buddhist master from the Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism and he worked at an university in Italy as a professor.

Unlike past noisy protests this time the protesters had to perform their protests rather far away from the location. The Tibetan National Congress had campaigned for this end.

Most of the Italian newspapers followed the lead by La Repubblica. This is a common media phenomenon, how and what one of the greatest newspaper of a country reports first sets the record for the other media in that country. According to a friend, the Italian newspapers took over most of the content of Raimondo Bultrini’s La Repubblica interview, and the position of the protesters is rather downplayed if not even ridiculed by the media.

Twitter campaigning example teeded by NKT students
Twitter campaigning example tweeted by NKT students

The biggest issue in Italy are not the protesters but the indignation that there is no meeting of His Holiness the Pope with His Holiness the Dalai Lama because the Pope gave in to the pressure by China – fearing bad consequences for his 120 million Christian believers in China. Open Doors (UK) estimates that 100 million Christians face persecution in China. (see also BBC)

Some of the outrages commenters in Italy argued that the H.H. the Pope Francis seems to be more happy to visit mosques in Turkey than to welcome a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate but this seems to be quite unfair to me because Pope Francis’ faithful Christian brothers and sisters in China and their welfare might be more important to him … though it doesn’t feel very brave or solidly. I feel reluctant to condemn the pope’s decision.

However, the appeasement politics to China by almost all Western countries, the giving in of Westerners to China’s bullying tactics indicate also a lack of integrity. Human Rights are talked about a lot but when the economics come in Human Rights are easily set aside.

There is an interview with Tibet scholar Robert Barnett from Columbia University that covers different subjects related to the Shugden controversy and the protests, including an investigation into the claims of the protesters, and the role and power of the Dalai Lama. Many things Robert Barnett says are not known to the general public. The interview and what he has to say is really worth reading – and it is balanced and fair:

There is also an article by Prof. Hartmann about religious freedom and the Shugden conflict that investigates and criticizes a frequently used media from Germany, ARD’s Panorama magazine, who offered under the guise of enlightenment a strange propaganda piece:

And finally, here is the translation by Francesca Paoletti of the La Repubblica article from 11 Dec. 2014:

The values of the Dalai Lama: “Like Malala, I am fighting for truth”

The Buddhist leader is in Rome, but he will not meet the Pope: “Religion is not enough, we need a secular ethics”.

“Pope Francis? I would be very happy to meet him.”
This is what the Dalai Lama says in this interview to La Repubblica, just ahead of the summit of Nobel Peace Prize holders that will take place in Rome from tomorrow [Friday] until Sunday. But a summit between the pontiff and the Buddhist spiritual leader will not take place. “An audience is not scheduled. There will be a message from the Pope to the Dalai Lama, signed by the State Secretary Parolin.” is what is communicated by the Vatican.

The other topics discussed in this interview are the difficult relations with China, the Nobel Prize to Malala and the right to education, and the controversy of the “dissident Tibetan Buddhists”, who have also announced protests against the Dalai Lama in the coming days in Rome. But he also adds that religion alone is not enough to solve the troubles and the injustice in the world: “We need a secular ethics, which is shared also with non-believers”.

Your Holiness, following Chinese pressure the Nobel Peace Prize holders have moved their world summit meeting dedicated to Mandela after you had been denied the visa to enter South Africa. What was your reaction?

“You see, at the beginning, two Nobel Prize holders from South Africa had invited me and of course I accepted. However, the embassy in India refused to issue a visa for me. Even previously I wasn’t allowed to meet and pay my respects to Mandela before he died, but I accept things as they are.

Of course, for the involved governments, national interests are important, but I can reassure them that the Dalai Lama is not a harmful person. My interest is in promoting human values, in a world of 7 billion members of the same family.

We have to carry these values within us whatever we are doing, be it in politics, economics, religion or education. If I had a political agenda, I would feel disappointed, but this is not the case. And certainly I appreciate my friends from the Nobel Prize for their warm support. Thanks to them and to the support of the Mayor of Rome, this time I will be able to participate.”

Many people cannot understand why powerful China is so afraid of you.

“They call me a demon and a separatist, but in reality it is the Chinese army that acts like a separatist in Tibet. If you hit a dog, it will run away. If you want the dog to stay, you have to treat it with kindness.

Tibetans are human beings and it is not enough to blandish them with infrastructure if afterwards there is a complete lack of respect. The fight is between the power of guns and the power of truth. At present, the weapons are winning, but in the end, truth will prevail.”

Malala, who received the Nobel Prize yesterday, became a symbol for the right to education. Do you believe that education can be a substitute for religion?

“Many people that create problems in many parts of the world are often well educated, so we must not talk only about education, but also about values. And it is religion that takes care of this. But today we must also pay as much attention to the secular ethics that is the foundation of all religious traditions. If education is combined with a spirit of kindness, then your education, your knowledge will be constructive throughout all your life. You will be able to contribute to society and to the improvement of humanity.

Despite its role as a moral guide which gives  meaning to life, in our modern secular world, religion alone is no longer adequate as a foundation for ethics. One reason for this is that many people do not follow any particular faith and so we should find an ethical approach to counter this lack of values which is acceptable both for those who have a religious faith and for those who do not. I am talking about a secular ethics; inner values that should be transmitted through education, which today is more focused on material things than on moral principles.”

You said you are eager to meet Pope Francis. There seem to be similarities in the simplicity of your approach to the world.

“I had a favourable impression of him and I would be very happy to meet him in person. I was impressed by his decision to remove that German archbishop who was preaching restraint to his church while living in luxury. I also admired his attempt to build peace between Israelis and Palestinians. It was a good, beneficial effort.”

You have said repeatedly that you might be the last of the Dalai Lama lineage, but the Chinese authorities have replied: “Whether he likes it or not, he must be reborn”.

“If I were to die today, I think that the Tibetan people would choose to have another Dalai Lama. But in future, if this institution is no longer relevant or beneficial and Tibet changes, then the institution of the Dalai Lama will cease. Personally, I feel that it has achieved its goal. When in 2011 I transferred my responsibility to a new lay leader, elected by the exiled people, I didn’t do it reluctantly, but with joy.”

But China has already recognized and taken control of another “reincarnated” Tibetan.

“Reincarnation should arise out of free will or at least on the basis of karma, of merit and of the prayers of the person involved. Nobody else can force or manipulate the way in which one person wants to be reborn in their next life. And it is particularly inappropriate for the Chinese communists, who explicitly reject the notion of past and future lives, thus leaving aside the notion of reincarnated Lamas. They only think in terms of politics and power.”

A group of dissidents that used to belong to your same religious tradition has been protesting for some time in various parts of the world and they will also be in Rome today. They ask for the freedom to worship a being that you consider a “sinister spirit” and they say they feel discriminated against.

“Out of ignorance, from 1951 until 1970, I also worshipped this ghost. Then I found out that the 5th Dalai Lama, who had a profound knowledge of this matter, referred to this spirit as an entity born of distorted prayers and as harmful to the Buddha’s teachings.

Making a mistake out of ignorance is understandable, but to consciously act mistakenly is another matter. Those people that manifest against me in public, in the USA and in Europe call me an enemy of Buddhism; they shout, beat drums and carry banners. Their faces are contorted in aggressive expressions. Their slogan is “Stop lying”: but who is lying really?

Because of distorted information, the followers of this practice are totally confused. But in the end it is good thing that these things draw attention to this problem, since they encourage people to investigate what the whole thing is about.”

(With the cooperation of Jeremy Russell)