Since his first meeting with the Dalai Lama 30 years ago, TEDGlobal attendee Victor Chan has co-authored a book with him called The Wisdom of Forgiveness: Intimate Conversations and Journeys. Chan also co-founded the Dalai Lama Center for Peace and Education in Vancouver, where he will host the upcoming Vancouver Peace Summit. The event will assemble five Nobel Peace Prize Laureates and many social and political luminaries from around the world.
Human history is filled with conflict. Why do you think there is a chance for worldwide peace now?
In Gandhi’s time, non-violence was commonly viewed as a sign of weakness. Today it is widely accepted as an effective method of conflict resolution, and more and more people embrace peace as a means of healing our world. This is true even more so for today’s youth. My daughters are much more aware of what is happening in the world than I was at their age. They’ve developed a high degree of empathy and are more passionate about social justice than previous generations. They are concerned about issues that affect not only themselves and their families and friends, but people halfway across the world. I think we’ve reached a new level of global awareness, and I have a lot of hope that we can utilize that awareness to do some good.
How do you get peace to resonate with people? It can be such a lofty topic.
To people living in times or areas of conflict, war and peace are more than concepts: They are often a brutal, painful reality. We can continue to talk about war and peace in abstract terms, but we have the means of telling the stories about the lives that are affected by war and violence, and about people who are suffering. At the same time, we can also talk about people who are making a difference. Peace is often considered in light of political and economical solutions, but we can also look at it in terms of our own spiritual and emotional well-being. I’d like to think that personal peace is more than the absence of conflict. It is a place where we develop a yearning to help others.
How can an individual personally manifest peace?
The Dalai Lama always says that global peace starts with personal peace. We can start eliminating conflict if we work to eliminate anger and hatred as well as other negative emotions within ourselves. By cultivating peace within ourselves, in our families, in the community, we contribute to world peace.
What’s a way for someone to actively engage with that manifestation?
As in the fable of the hummingbird who carries one drop of water at a time to douse a wildfire, and when asked about her actions replies, “I am doing what I can,” so may each of us choose to make a difference one small step at a time.
Can you translate Eastern philosophy into a Western context?
A key point in the Eastern philosophy is the cultivation of compassion, with the understanding that only by caring for the well-being of others we can achieve authentic happiness. The goal of attaining happiness isn’t limited to Eastern philosophy — even in the American constitution, the “pursuit of happiness” is a given right. If we dig deeper, we understand that there is no real divide between East and West. As the Dalai Lama says, “We are all human beings, and we all want to be happy.”
Can spirituality be infused into the political self or political action?
I think the Dalai Lama is a great example of a political figure guided by spiritual conviction, and yet he approaches decision-making with scientific rigor. He doesn’t make decisions based on public opinion or polls, or by some strictures of his religion. Of course, he listens to advice from respected authorities, but ultimately his decision-making is guided by insights gained from his spiritual practice, such as the concept of interdependence. He looks at problems not only from his own, limited angle, but also from a broader, well-informed perspective. More and more people are gaining a true understanding of the concept of interdependence. Wisdom in judging reality is growing as students and others are encouraged to examine a situation thoroughly, from a multitude of angles or perspectives.
How can the Dalai Lama’s calls for compassion instead of violence be applied in the most recent political uprisings in Iran or genocide in Sudan — or in daily violent actions elsewhere that may not be as overt, such as discrimination or sexism?
One needs to have a sense of pragmatism about acts of violence. The Dalai Lama says that if a wild dog is coming at you and attacks you, you do not say to the dog: “I’m non-violent,” and expect to be left alone. The Dalai Lama is not advocating that you roll over and play dead. Once threatened or attacked, you have to consider the measures that are necessary to protect yourself. You need to assess the situation. If you can, extricate yourself from the situation. But if that’s not possible, you may need to respond with an appropriate weapon. But it’s important that the response be measured and appropriate to the circumstances. It’s also important to separate the actor from the action. You need to examine your own motivations, actions, and behavior. It’s a rational form of non-violence.