“Uncompromising” means “to remain with the truth.” I think that the world has not voluntarily compromised with truth but has been forced to compromise. We shall have to find out what those compromising forces are; only then can we decide whether we can resist those forces or whether there’s no way to resist them. After that, each individual may decide for himself or herself whether we are compelled to compromise or whether there is a just and fair way to remain uncompromised.
All living beings, even the smallest insects, naturally long for happiness and dislike misery. Human creatures have a rational mind and more wisdom. But in spite of longing for peace and happiness, humans are unable to create the causes and conditions for peace and happiness. They create causes for pain, misery, and unhappiness instead. And when you have created causes for unhappiness, then naturally unhappiness will follow you. You dislike unhappiness but you try to blame someone else. You are unable to identify where it goes wrong—where you have accumulated the causes and conditions for unhappiness.
All living beings, even the smallest insects, naturally long for happiness and dislike misery.
I think instead of blaming someone else, we should concentrate on discovering which causes and conditions are responsible for the present unhappiness, misery, and pain. Either we have to eradicate the cause or accept the result which the cause has created. We cannot blame anyone else.
No one knows who they really are. And that is the beginning of all kinds of misconceptions, misunderstandings, and illusions. In our imagination, we project a conceptual identity as an independently existing self, and that creates selfishness. In this way, we see others as entirely different or independent from ourselves. This duality, this division between the self and others, is the root cause of all our miseries. What you understand yourself to be is not your real self. So you need to look more in depth to understand the existence of the self. That’s why the Buddha emphasized the philosophy of interdependent origination. This interdependence gives you a vision of how you exist in relation with all the rest of creation. And if you would come to understand that relationship, your entire worldview would be different. There would not be a vertical and horizontal division—the compartmentalization of the self and the other. Human beings, as a higher realm of living creatures, have the power to analyze the reality of things. So we need to analyze right from the beginning to understand the self. If you are able to understand the self, then you are able to understand the world. If you understand your self and understand the world, then you will be able to remain uncompromised and resist the forces that make you compromise.
Today, due to our compromises with falsehood, the world is not in a very positive state of affairs. We are living in a so-called modern, ultra-modern or post-modern civilization—a civilization that gives utmost importance to external material things and utterly neglects the inner self, the inner world. We depend entirely on the Internet and we have forgotten the “inner net.” Because of the disconnection of our inner net, we are all separate individuals. Our interdependency with other living creatures, with nature and everything else, has been forgotten.
Today, due to our compromises with falsehood, the world is not in a very positive state of affairs.
Furthermore, with the help of the Internet and the information revolution, human miseries are being magnified. We are able to know every day what is happening on the other side of the world. This makes the problems more permanent. Apart from that, we create problems collectively, whereas in the past, most problems were created or caused by individuals or small groups. Now problems are being created by a larger group and collectively by almost every human being, so we are facing many, many challenges. Each one of the challenges is capable of destroying this entire small planet.
We are facing ever-increasing violence—violence of war, violence of terrorism, and violence of exploitation—structural violence, both visible and invisible. Wherever you go, you are subject to violence. You suffer from constant fear of violence, particularly when you travel around in airplanes and through airports. They search you. You have to remove your turban, you have to remove your shoes, while going through the security check. Every human being is considered a potential danger, a potential terrorist. Why is it so? Because we have completely lost mutual trust and completely lost mutual compassion. Each one has a hatred for others. So the world becomes unsafe.
Violence is one of the greatest challenges. The scope of violence has so in-creased that destructive weapons now can destroy the earth several times over. Of course, you do not need to do that because one destruction is final, forever. But see how modern humanity is so unenlightened and foolish to have accumulated this kind of weapon, which is absolutely unusable. If someone has used it, then the globe is gone. Then you will not be able to use what you have accumulated for decades and centuries at such great cost. On the other hand, people are dying of hunger, dying for lack of medical facilities, while billions of dollars are spent to create and store these destructive weapons. A push of a button can blow up the entire earth. That is absolutely possible now. It is not a vision, it is a fact. We have to realize this fact. We have to think, why is it so?
The second challenge is economic disparity. The gaps between the haves and the have-nots are increasing all over the world—gaps between continents, between nations, within nations. The rich are becoming ever richer, the poor are becoming poorer. There are nations that have much wealth and at the same time much poverty among their people. There is no actual shortage of commodities, but there are artificial shortages of commodities—even essential life-sustaining commodities such as food, clothes, and shelter—because of improper accumulation of wealth by fewer and fewer people.
Mahatma Gandhi said that Mother Earth is capable of satisfying the needs of each creature that lives on this earth—from elephants to the smallest insects. But Mother Earth can never satisfy a single person’s greed. We have forgotten the need, we only know the greed. We are completely overpowered by greed. We are made slaves of greed. So we have lost the wisdom to understand what is our need. Due to greed, problems, conflicts, and exploitation have been created. This is, I think, a second powerful challenge facing humanity.
Mahatma Gandhi said that Mother Earth is capable of satisfying the needs of each creature that lives on this earth—from elephants to the smallest insects.
The third challenge is degradation of the environment, the ecosystem. This is a direct result of economic exploitation. Unlimited greed has created the desire to exploit natural resources indiscriminately, so now we have global warming, a deteriorating climate, scarcity of water, pollution of the air and water. When we came to India from Tibet in the early ’60s we could drink from the wells, from the taps, from the railway station. Today we have to carry water with us. I think the time is not far when we will have to carry air with us in bags.
In cities like Beijing and many other places, people find it difficult to breathe because of heavy pollution in the air—a tremendous problem. This is not for any individual, nation, or continent to solve. It is a global problem and a global challenge. There are methods to control this pollution but no one is willing to do it. The developing countries say, “The developed countries should start and we will follow.” The developed countries say, “No, the developing countries should start and we will follow.” But no one is willing to begin. And this way, if things go on as they are now, I don’t think in 50 years the earth will remain as livable as it is today. The environmental conditions are so imbalanced that they will create enormous problems. Many new kinds of diseases will appear and many kinds of contamination. And that is the third challenge we are facing.
Some of us think that all these worldly challenges can be squarely faced through religious teachings, religious traditions, or spiritual life. But, unfortunately, today religions are the cause of division and conflict. These are so-called “religious intolerance conflicts.” Of course, “religious intolerance” is a contradictory term. If anyone is religious-minded, he or she can never be intolerant. If anyone is intolerant, that person can never be a religious person. But we call it religious intolerance. That is also our misconception: we consider the institutions and the sectarian way of thinking to be religion and we forget the essence of religion completely.
I used to say the Buddhist religion has almost disappeared from the surface of the earth, but there are so-called Buddhist institutions, Buddhist nations, and Buddhist people. They indulge in violence, which is just the opposite of Buddhist teachings. But in the name of religion, they say the dharma must be protected, and therefore we will have to fight against the destroyers of Buddhism. There are no destroyers of Buddhism outside. The people of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) can destroy the monasteries and the libraries. The freedom of religious preaching can be prevented, but the PRC does not have any power or any instrument to destroy your religious mind. Your religious mind is entirely your own; no one can take it away.
One of His Holiness’s personal physicians was left behind in Tibet and remained in a Chinese prison for about 20 years. During those 20 years he experienced torture and humiliation and a lot of difficulties. When he was finally released in the late ’80s and was able to leave Tibet, he was asked by His Holiness, “Did you find it difficult in prison?”
He said, “Your Holiness, during that 20-year imprisonment, only two times I faced much danger.” His Holiness asked him, “They were about to kill you?” He said, “No, Your Holiness, I was about to lose compassion for the people who were imprisoning me, and I was almost in the world of anger and hate with those people.” So he was a truly religious person—and he was in danger of losing that religious mind. If a religious mind is existing in anyone, then that person cannot be intolerant.
But today, in the name of religion, there are a lot of divisions—people are killing each other in defense of religion. That means religion no longer exists to save us from the challenges. The sacred has been converted into a danger, a challenge, by us. Each one of these challenges is capable of destroying all of humanity, the entire earth.
So we have to think how to deal with these challenges. As a human being, each one of us has a universal responsibility. The universe exists for each individual, and each individual has a universal responsibility. If we are unable to perform our share of the universal responsibility properly, then we are not able to call ourselves a human being, a wise person, a rational individual. We have to perform our own individual universal responsibility without waiting for others to lead us. Whether others do this or not, we shall have to think individually about how to reduce fear, suspicion, and violence. We shall have to think how to reduce economic disparity.
Many individuals and institutions are doing this: the Himalayan Institute is doing a lot of work among poor people, particularly in developing countries. There are many positive ways to reduce structural violence, economic disparity, and economic exploitation.
And we each shall have to think individually about how to preserve the ecosystem. Each individual has directly or indirectly contributed to the destruction of the environment. And if we are all contributing, we all must think about how to reduce our contribution to disturbing and degrading the environment. Each individual can reduce pollution and contribute something to the preservation of the environment. Each individual can reduce the emission of carbon. Each individual can at least plant one tree a year. Each individual can contribute to this kind of conservation of energy and protection of the environment.
We cannot wait for the governments and nations to begin. We shall have to begin individually, and only then will we be able to tell others to do the same. Without doing it ourselves, we have no moral authority to tell others, “You shall not disturb the ecosystem.” We have to care for it ourselves. And, whether you are a believer or a non-believer, each individual shall have to work for religious harmony. Religious traditions are complementary to each other, not competitors. If you become a sincere religious person in your own tradition, then you can respect all other people equally.
We shall have to begin individually, and only then will we be able to tell others to do the same.
Gandhi said, “I am a good Hindu; therefore I am a good Muslim as well. I am a good Christian because I am sincere to my religious tradition; therefore I am sincerely respecting all other religious traditions.”
Swami Ramakrishna practiced most religious traditions—Sufism, Christianity, Islam. He was a perfect Hindu right from the beginning, but he practiced other religious traditions to demonstrate that all spiritual traditions are essentially one—not different. The differences are in the rituals and the external organization or the use of language. But essentially there is unity. The essential unity of all religions is the truth.
So we have to find out the essence of our own religion and be sincere with it. And if you are able to be sincere with your own religion, then you will be sincere with all religions. We can create harmony among all religious traditions. If we are able to create harmony among religious traditions, that would be a great service to all of humanity.
We are responsible for ourselves, and we need not wait for others to lead us to act. We shall have to become our own leader, our own refuge. That is the Buddha’s teaching. Self should become the refuge of oneself, and we cannot wait to find some refuge from outside. And for that matter, we shall have to recognize who we really are. And the recognition of oneself is, I think, the essence of every religion, and that gives us the strength to remain uncompromised.
I would like to urge all of you to do a little bit of introspection. You may call it meditation, you may call it yoga. Whatever it may be, set aside a few moments to introspect, to find out who you are. That is the essence of spiritual practice.