Imagine All the People: A Conversation with the Dalai Lama on Money, Politics, and Life as it Could Be

Imagine All the People:

A Conversation with the Dalai Lama on

Money, Politics, and Life as it Could Be

HH the Dalai Lama

Fabien Quaki, Anne Benson

  (May 1, 1999)

Paperback, 224 pages



The Conversations: (excerpts)

Power and Values

Global Community

Economics and Altruism

A Middle Path

Living and Dying

Mind and Miracles


Appendix: The Global Community and the Need for Universal



About the Contributors

About Wisdom

Excerpts from the conversations

Fabien: Your Holiness, do you think it possible to introduce
a system of laws, based on the Buddhist principle of interdependence, that
would be more in harmony with human nature as well as modern, global society?
Is it possible to create such laws without referring to a particular religion
or philosophy?

Dalai Lama: From a Buddhist point of view, laws are a
human creation. But then there are different systems. Some systems deliberately
protect a single-party system—I am thinking of the laws set up by totalitarian
regimes, communism in particular. Such legal systems go against human nature,
and I personally think they are wrong. In democratic countries laws are
also man-made, but their goal is to protect the rights and values of human
beings. In general, I feel that laws should serve as guidelines for the
proper use of human initiative, creativity, and ability.

Fabien: Do you think that democracy is helping laws to
evolve in this way?

Dalai Lama: Yes. In democratic countries, legal systems
should work that way and they generally do. But these laws nevertheless
partially contradict the Buddhist principle of interdependence, since they
do not include “democratic rights” for the environment and the animal realm.
Most legal systems refer only to human rights and do not consider the rights
of animals or other beings that share the planet with us. Laws that protect
human rights and values and indicate proper ways to use human ability are
not in contradiction with karma or causality—not in the Western sense where
the same causes have the same effects, but in the Buddhist sense where
each effect proceeds from a cause that also needs to be considered.

In reality, the problem is that for most “powerful” people
there is a difference between the principle of the law and its application.
Almost all legal systems condemn killing. This notion occurs in most countries
of the world. Yet in practice, powerful people treat killing as they treat
lying. For politicians, small lies are prohibited, but large lies are accepted.
For a Buddhist this is a very obvious contradiction. The same applies to
killing. When a man who is desperate kills another person, this small act
is defined as murder. It is wrong. But the man who kills or gives orders
to kill thousands of people is a hero! That is very unfortunate….

Fabien: Do you think that one individual can change the

Dalai Lama: Yes.

Fabien: In that case, the best thing to do is to start
trying to improve oneself.

Dalai Lama: It seems quite simple. First, it is important
to realize we are part of nature. Ultimately, nature will always be more
powerful than human beings, even with all their nuclear weapons, scientific
equipment, and knowledge. If the sun disappears or the earth’s temperature
changes by a few degrees, then we are really in trouble.

At a deeper level, we should recognize that although we
are part of nature, we can control and change things, to some extent, due
to our intelligence. Among the thousands of species of mammal on earth,
we humans have the greatest capacity to alter nature. As such, we have
a twofold responsibility. Morally, as beings of higher intelligence, we
must care for this world. The other inhabitants of the planet—insects and
so on—do not have the means to save or protect the world. Our other responsibility
is to undo the serious environmental degradation that is the result of
incorrect human behavior. We have recklessly polluted the world with chemicals
and nuclear waste, selfishly consuming many of its resources. Humanity
must take the initiative to repair and protect the world. …

Fabien: Do you think the need to work is also a basic
part of human nature? What if work were not absolutely essential in defining
a successful human being?

Dalai Lama: I think your Western way of living and thinking
have created your present society, where unemployed persons are considered
worthless. I’m under the impression that an unemployed Tibetan would not
be so anxious as an unemployed person from the West. Providing he or she
had enough to eat and a shelter, life would be great. Such a person might
be happy lying around all day, gossiping with friends from time to time!

This is a question of mentality. Actually, in the early
fifties my good friends the Chinese communists gave me some lessons on
this topic. When I visited Mao Tse-tung in Beijing in 1954, he explained
that the goal of communism was total freedom. Of course, to begin with,
we had to work during the week. That way we would appreciate the weekend
holiday. As development progressed, the situation would invert. There would
be less work and more free time, more entertainment. In fact, everyone
would have so little work that any short period of labor would become a
holiday! No class distinction. Work for everyone. Take what you need. There
would be no “mine” and “yours.”

Although the present unemployment situation in industrialized
countries seems very unpleasant, I feel that the concepts your society
created are to blame. The main culprit is this very perverse idea that
profits have to increase every year. Your economists warn you that unless
the GNP increases every year, the country is headed for disaster. From
this perspective, unemployed people are seen as unproductive—an ominous
sign of regression….

Fabien: …Many books have already been written about
the Tibetan tragedy. How would you classify the present Tibetan situation?
Is there any possibility that you and your people will be able to return
to Tibet?

Dalai Lama: The present situation is a kind of stagnation.
On my side there is no change. I am still fully committed to the middle
approach that I outlined in the Five-Point Peace Plan I presented in Strasbourg
in 1989. This approach is based strictly on non-violence, to which my commitment
will not change. I bear that responsibility. If the situation becomes uncontrollably
violent, my only option is to resign, which is most improbable under the
present circumstances.

Fabien: Are you talking about violence in Tibet, or outside?

Dalai Lama: Both. At this moment, there is no hope for
meaningful negotiation. The Chinese government is presently adopting an
extremely harsh policy toward the Tibetans inside and outside Tibet, as
well as against me….The provisions I stated before are based on what
the experts say, but as you know we Tibetans have other sources of information,
such as oracles, divinations, and astrological studies. The predictions
of Padmasambhava and those of some of his authentic followers are really
quite remarkable. I have had the opportunity to meet and receive teachings
from some of these people. In general, they come very quietly, just like
simple pilgrims. They look ordinary, but their spiritual experience is
exceptional. So I receive their teachings very discretely. You know, many
teachers come to me hinting that I should receive various transmissions
from them. This puts me in a difficult position. But the genuinely awakened
teachers never act that way. Through other sources, as well as my own divination,
we both know the teachings are authentic. Anyway, I really trust their
clairvoyance and predictions. According to them, there is hope for the
future of Tibet and the Tibetans….

 Fabien:…What happens to those groups of people
who are much more spiritual, and who give less importance to the material
world? History shows that they are always swallowed up by materialists.
Consider the Incas and the Native Americans.

Dalai Lama: That was a long time ago. Times have changed.
It is true that materialism is based on science, but science is now indicating
that other energies, apart from matter, exist. Since science has reached
this point, I think a new perspective on the relationship between spiritualism
and materialism—or science—is bound to surface.

Fabien: Do you mean that materialism is changing and will
become more spiritual?

Dalai Lama: I think so. If spiritualism is too narrow-minded,
or confined to blind faith, then of course such a union is difficult. But
if we are more spiritually open, then materialism will also open up. That
will be a different world. The next century may be very different than
this one.