This morning, I read this piece on hurricanes, climate change and human responsibilities in Social News by Max Fanni Canelles.
It made me think of His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s recent visit to Derry, the walled city in Northern Ireland, as a guest of the organisation ‘Children in Crossfire’ which is marking 20 years of international development work.
The anti-poverty organisation was founded by Richard Moore, who was blinded after he was injured by a soldier firing a rubber bullet at him from ten feet away in Derry on 4 May 1972. He was ten years old.
The Dalai Lama, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989 has become a symbol of peaceful resistance to oppression throughout the world.
And here I must declare an interest. Although I am not a Tibetan Buddhist, I admire them greatly. I am a Zen Buddhist and took Jukai (the public lay ordination ceremony where I vowed to try to live by Buddhist precepts) in June 2015. My zen name in Japanese, given to me by my teacher Ingen Breen, is Sho Ryu Kyu Rin – Singing River, Pervading Presence.
I have never met His Holiness the Dalai Lama, but I am very proud to know so many people in Ireland who have met him during his four visits to the North of Ireland. From what they have told me, I admire HHDL greatly for his eloquence, wit, wisdom and compassion. Particularly in the face of great change and crisis.
In one of my favourite films, Kundun, made by Martin Scorsese, about the flight of HHDL from Tibet, there is a key scene which made a deep impression on me. The young Dalai Lama is appalled as Tibet is being attacked and destroyed by invading Chinese soldiers. One of the older monks looks at him and tells him, ‘Everything changes, Kundun.’
It is a quote I will always remember.
His visit to Derry was marked by his wisdom. During his address, he proclaimed his opposition to Brexit, saying ‘I am an admirer of European Union’, before adding, ‘Eventually Russia should be part of the European Union.’
The Dalai Lama spoke of world unrest, saying that the thinking which led to warfare was outdated – specifically referring to Burma, Iraq and Syria – adding: ‘Those developed countries are mentally in a lot of crisis. Unrest, too much warring, fear distrust and anger.’
In the wake of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma and the devastation visited on the people of the Caribbean, most of us feel impotent in the face of Donald Trump’s vapid calls for aid donations for the world’s richest country.
Meanwhile 12 are dead across Florida, countless numbers in Haiti and the Dominican Republic, ten dead so far in the North of Cuba and an already rundown Havana is fighting the devastation caused by receding flood waters and power cuts. The infrastructure of the island has been severely damaged.
North America isn’t the only place facing problems.
One thing is for certain. Cuba, a poor country with few international allies, will find it more difficult than most to rebuild – not to mention the problems faced by Haiti, Dominican Republic, and the islanders on Barbuda, Anguilla and St Maarten.
And it is impossible to imagine Donald Trump stepping in to offer infrastructural or humanitarian aid to Cuba, the impoverished island which has always been so generous with its international medical aid to other disaster areas.
Yet still Donald Trump shows no signs of revisiting his foolish decision to withdraw from the Paris agreement on climate change. It is time he understood that he cannot continue squandering heat-trapping greenhouse gas emissions. Trump cannot maintain his obdurate refusal to help vulnerable nations adapt to the ravages of extreme weather.
Floods of compassion. That’s what the world needs now.
Not the insular self-interest of the world’s richest nation ignoring the plight of those less fortunate and less privileged. Not the gloating complacence of a man less than a year into his Presidency whose first and only international commitment priority is the building of a wall between N America and its neighbours. Not the foolish posturing of a greedy multi-millionaire who made a fortune when Raytheon, the company in which he is a major shareholder, billed the US defence government for the cost of replacing the 59 Tomahawk missiles used to bomb Syria earlier this year. The value of the shares rocketed by 7% the minute news came out of the attack.
No. What the world needs now is for Donald Trump to wake up and smell the coffee. What the world needs now is for Trump to listen to the Dalai Lama’s gentle teasing. Teasing, like most of HHDL’s skilful public pronouncements, that reveals an inner rational core when probed.
Donald Trump’s administration has been rocked almost daily by news of one advisor or another being replaced in scandal after scandal.
Here’s a thought. Why doesn’t he invite the Dalai Lama to come and advise him on international policy?
On his visit to Derry, the Dalai Lama joked that the recent hurricanes in the Caribbean may be teaching Trump a few lessons about the realities of climate change.
I wouldn’t hold my breath if I was him.
Although perhaps the 14th incarnation of the Bodhisattva of Compassion knows a thing or two worth knowing.
There is a story that Douglas Preston tells in Slate online (What I learned in the slush from His Holiness) about the Dalai Lama’s visit to Santa Fe in 1991.
A waitress asked him, ‘What is the meaning of life?’
He didn’t bat an eyelid.
‘The meaning of life is happiness.’
HHDL continued, ‘Hard question is not – What is meaning of life? – That is easy question to answer! No, hard question is what make happiness. Money? Big house? Accomplishment? Friends? Or …’ He paused. ‘Compassion and good heart? This is question all human beings must try to answer: What make true happiness?’
If world peace were to be settled by a spitting contest between Donald Trump and the Dalai Lama, the smart money would be on HHDL.
Imagine what North America could accomplish, led by a man with compassion and a good heart?
Things could change.