The visit of the Dalai Lama to Italy

di A. Cavallo

In these days, while we in our modesty are preparing a new issue of TDF, the Dalai Lama, spiritual and political leader of Tibet, is visiting Italy. His Holiness comes fairly frequently to Europe and also to Italy, where many dharma centres of the tibetan tradition are located, but this visit has a special importance for several reasons. The first concerns me on a personal level, as well as many Italians and westerners in general. I have been studying oriental philosohy for many years and through a long path I arrived at the conclusion that the doctrine of Buddha (Buddhadharma or simply Dharma when the context is clear, not to use always the word Buddhism that does not sound good to some) is the purest moral and psychological philosophy, as well as spiritual path, that humankind knows.  There is a substantial difference between Buddhadharma and all other religions: it presents itself as a the proposal of a method and not as a set of dogmas. The mental attitude that sets the basis of Dharma is the one of the scientist, in particular of the physician and the psychologist: there is a problem, we propose a method to solve it - in this case the problem is the universaly present suffering, linked to exixtence, and to this a remedy is proposed.

A substantially non-integralist doctrine

Those who find the proposal to be useful can accept it and put it in practice, without even abandoning their other beliefs and convictions, including the belonging to other religions; those who do not find it useful are free to go on thir way and no Dharma teacher will take it as an offence. This concept is fundamental and the Dalai Lama exposed it once again at the end of the public conference on December 9th in Milan. I had heard an identical concept  being told on October 1st in Turin by Prof. Ananda Guruge, Dean of the West Los Angeles University and Director of the International Academy of Buddhism, an illustrious representative of the Shri Lankan Buddhist tradition. Prof. Guruge, asked about the differences between the Buddhist schools, answered that once he happened to listen to an introduction to Buddhism without knowing who was the speaker. The speech looked to him identical to the one he could have given himself, but only at the end he realized that the speaker was a Tibetan Lama.  In conclusion, the Dharma is fundamentally one, even if differences between the schools exist and everyone, in the spirit of the proposal of the Buddha, can choose the formulation that suits better to him or her, but in the end the many paths follow a common route.

As an important step on my personal path, I decided to listen directly to the teachings of the Dalai Lama, who presented them for three days in Milan from 7th to 9th December. The main topic was the text "A Commentary to the Mind of Enlightenment" by the great Indian philosopher of the first century, Nagarjuna, founder of the Madhyamika school, of which the Tibetan Gelug school, lead today by the Dalai Lama, is the direct continuation. So I saw and heard the Dalai Lama in several roles: in the introduction to the course as a professor of history of philosophy and religions, then as a dharma teacher in the tradition of Nagarjuna, Chandrakirti, Atisha and Tzong Khapa, then on Sunday in his highest spiritual role - and in the end on Sunday afternoon in the public conference as a master of modern communication, with an extraordinary human empathy.

I cannot, for sure, resume here the teachings I listened to. I can just tell that they clarified to me some difficult points about Madhyamika philosophy, but above all they gave me a strong motivation to go on along the way of Dharma.

I would like to underline once again that the application of Buddhist teachings does not imply the acceptance of a "faith" in the meaning of western religions, but only the adoption of a method. Surely the complete approval of the Buddhist philosophical principles is not compatible with the beliefs of monotheistic religions, but the teachers of Dharma do not ask for a complete acceptance, they only propose their teaching to anyone who wants to listen. From a purely personal point of view, having convictions based on philosophy and science and not on religion in the western meaning of the word, I accept without any problem the whole Buddhist doctrine, because I find it coherent with a philosophical-scientific vision of the world. I would like to remind that the Dalai Lama has founded with a group of scientists the Mind and Life Institute, where dharma teachers and scientists freely discuss about science, philosophy and human problems. It would be absolutely contrary to Busddhist principles if His Holiness told the scientists what they must think and do - the dialogue is bidirectional to the point that the Dalai Lama even declared that, if science demonstrated the falsity of some point of the Buddhist doctrine, the doctrine should be modified. Those who are skeptical because of expressions like "His Holiness" and the rituals, as I used to be in the past, will change their mind once they have started to understand the doctrine. A secular Dharma is perfectly possible, and in the public conference od December 9th the Dalai Lama said very clearly that a secular way to ethics must be proposed, which can be accepted by everyone independently from his or her religious tradition or non-religious vision. This was precisely my commitment well before I approached the Dharma and it remains there, with the addition of other more profound commitments that I sincerely took in these days.

The reasons of politics and ethics have to be separate?

Getting down to the fairly unpleasant world of politics, in my opinion it is necessary to speak about the other reason of the importance of this visit, relations with China, which has occupied Tibet for more than a half century. 

I have not heard a single negative word about China by the Dalai Lama. His goal is to obtain democratic autonomy for Tibet within China itself. He also exposed a wider vision for peace in the world, according to which regional supernational unions should arise, with the specific purpose of soothing conflicts to the point  of making them impossible. His Holiness brought the example of the European Union: it was born having among its main purposes to make conflict between France and Germany impossible. His idea is to arrive progressively to universal disarmament, but to achieve this goal many intermediate steps have to be taken. One of these is the creation of regional alliances with joint military forces, which through the integration of the military of the different contries would make a regional conflict substantially unthinkable. For Asia, according to the Dalai Lama a sort of union should be developed between India and China. For how much it may seem irrealistic today, His Holiness says that this is one of the irrealistic things he likes to think of.

What shall we think about our authorities who do not want to meet the Dalai Lama for fear of the Chinese?

First of all I would like to express my approval to some public figures: the Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel, who met His Holiness and paid a price about the relationship with China; the Regional Council of Piedmont, starting with President Gariglio and Councillors Spinosa and Leo, who with the support of the complete assembly without any partisan division received the Dalai Lama with all honours; the Mayor of Turin Chiamparino who gave His Holiness the honorary citizenship. 

In the public conference of Turin on December 16th am important interreligious ceremony was held, with significant representation of the religious communities of the city (the Waldensian Church and the Jewish Community at top level), with a note out of tune by the Catholic Church represented by a minor figure - Islamic communities have no common organizations but managed to be represented anyway. In Lombardy the Dalai Lama had lesser honours (besides the exchange of presents and good words with a Muslim representative) but he was formally received by the President of the Region Formigoni and finally there was the last minute surprise participation of the Mayor of Milan Moratti at the public conference, where she declared that principles must be defended even at some price. 

Heavily significant is the fact that the President of the Council of Italy (Prime Minister) Prodi and the Pope did not accept to meet the Dalai Lama, even unofficially. The parallel between such different public figures is not accidental, because in both cases it was a political attitude. The Vatican is looking for a stable agreement with the Chinese government, while the Italian government mulls economical advantages. Both of them accept the "diktats" of Beijing without uttering a word.

Even if we can understand (not approve) that a political authority applies realpolitik, what shall we think of a "spiritual authority" that behaves the same way?

If all the western governments behaved like those of the United States and Germany (also president Bush, of whom the author has a very low opinion, received His Holiness and deserves a mention), it would be up to China to find itself in a difficult position, not the reverse. What economical advantages do Mr. Prodi and French president Sarkozy think to obtain is not clear, since China keeps taking without giving anything. I will not go on about themes like convertibility and correct quotation of the currency, just to begin with...

For sure, the credibility of the West about topics like peace and brotherhood is quite low, due to power politics pursued recklessly against weaker nations. But the same public opinion that mobilized against military ventures should be ready to do the same in favour of democracy in China and Tibet. By the way, where are the leftist movements? Does the denomination of the Chinese Communist Party have still any weight in restraining them?

Anyway, the presence of about 10.000 people at the public conference of the Dalai Lama in Milan is a positive sign. Time has come to shake off fossil ideologies on one side and economicist pettiness on the other, and start again from the basic principles of human society. We have now the power to live better, everybody, or to destroy ourselves, it is up to us to decide which teachers we want to follow.

 [021.AC.TDF.2007 - 20.12.2007]