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Sow compassion, reap world peace

by The Concordian September 13, 2011
Create your own inner peace. Share with others. The Dalai Lama’s recipe for world peace sounds simple enough.
“It all starts with the individual. Not God, not the religious heads, but the individual,” he told the 3,000 or so participants of the second Global Conference on World’s Religions after 9/11 at the Palais des congrès last Wednesday.
“All major religions are based on a set of moral ethics and carry the message of forgiveness. The essence of their teachings is love and compassion,” he said. “But these things will not be achieved simply through prayers to God. We must make a personal, as well as institutional effort to reach out and talk.”
Organized by McGill University and Université de Montreal, the conference’s aim was to promote a better perception of religions of the world as a small step towards terminating the misuse of religion by people seeking power.
The Dalai Lama joined spiritual and religious scholars from all major faiths as a keynote speaker to discuss the involvement of religion in the building of peace.
While acknowledging that religion can be seen as cause for violence, corruption and division, spiritual leaders argue that religion can be harnessed as, and has to become, a force for goodness.
“If we use religion for division, to create more solitude, greed and fights, then religion also becomes wrong and destructive, not because there’s something wrong with religion, but due to the person who uses it for wrong. If you criticize Islam due to some mischievous Muslims, then you have to criticize all the world’s religions for their mischievous people,” said the 76-year-old with a gentle smile and good humor.
Poised and dressed in the traditional orange Buddhist robe, save maybe for his watch, the Dalai Lama spoke calmly, in a simple, accented English, yet rarely required the help of his interpreter. He moved gracefully and often made jokes with the public, the media and other panelists,  wearing a visor so to better see the audience.
He urged for tolerance and open-mindedness, among both believers and non-believers. “All of us hold these seeds of destructive emotions—of greed, jealousy and hate—but it is up to us to cultivate the positive emotions,” he said.
“9/11 had nothing to do with religion,” agreed Robert Thurman, professor in Indo-Tibetan Studies at Columbia University. “It was an event of the abuse of religion, and the reaction to it was an abuse of religion.”
“Religion mobilizes people to the life and death level, which is why it’s so powerful and so important, so it is completely ridiculous to think there could possibly be world peace, harmony and justice and even preservation of the environment, without mobilizing religions,” said Thurman.
The panelists accepted there is a long road ahead if religions are to ever work side by side. “If we want to speak about peace we should be ready to speak about violence,” said Tariq Ramadan, professor of contemporary Islamic studies at Oxford University. “If we are serious about religious contributions, religious voices should speak out about corruption, injustice, discrimination and poverty.”
Dr. Deepak Chopra, physician and renowned author of spirituality books, has a different view altogether. “If we really want peace, we are going to have to find the eternal truths of the religious experience as separate from the religious dogma or ideology,” he said.
Chopra believes social media is where the world’s conversation is taking place right now, leading to the rewiring of a new planetary consciousness, and eroding national and ethnic identities. He argued that science is revealing truths to us that contradict many of the mythologies of all religions. “It is going to be a challenge to change some of our cultural mythologies,” he admitted.
The Dalai Lama spoke extensively on the media’s role to educate people on these moral ethics in order to promote a healthy society. “Sometimes, you see on the news only those negative things: murder, violence, greed. Nobody talks about the real ultimate source of our happy life.”

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