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Dalai Lama Speaks up for Prisoners, Non-Believers


Listeners of the Dalai Lama's September 14 address, given at the Ketchum home of Kirl Sokoloff, heard a very different view of the Tibetan leader than at his September 11 address in Hailey. While very reserved about his personal views at previous events, the Dalai Lama expounded at this "Interfaith Summit" with Idaho's religious leaders about topics ranging from the death penalty to abortion, homosexuality, inter-religious wars and even the existence of a creator. The last revelation generated the loudest rumble from the largely theistic audience, as His Holiness conceded that despite the title of the event, he and other Buddhists in the Tibetan tradition are technically nonbelievers.

"From the theistic viewpoint, Buddhists are athiests," he said. But far from using this as a basis for judgment, he cited it as an example of the strength of dialogue. "If even believer and non-believer work together," he explained, "then among Catholic and Protestant, [there is] no basis for quarrel."

Standing up for non-believers was a consistent message throughout the Dalai Lama's address. At one point, he derided the religious leaders who maintain that "moral ethics must have a basis of religious faith." Later, when asked for his views on homosexuality and abortion, he told "believers" to obey their tradition's teachings, but said it would be going "a little bit too far" for them to discriminate against nonbelievers. "It is up to the individual," he said. "That is my view to nonbelievers."

Likewise, the former Nobel Peace Prize-winner spoke of working with Amnesty International to end the death penalty. Such systems unfairly identify "action" with "person," he explained. "People who have these 'evil' emotions," he said, "we cannot call 'evil person.'"

Even the idea of evil, a mainstay in recent U.S. politics (see: "Evil, Axis Of") seemed to the long-suffering leader to be a dated notion. "In ancient times, it was different," the Dalai Lama said. "In modern times, everything is interconnected. Not only nation to nation, but continent to continent. Sometimes I feel the very concepts of 'we' and 'they' no longer exist. The whole world is just 'we.'"

In light of that interconnectedness, he said, the common ground between theistic and atheistic traditions should be of paramount importance. "[There are] 6 billion human beings," he told the audience. "We need these variety of approaches. So you develop a kind of admiration for that basis of harmony. Not just, 'Smile and say hello, [have] nice meals'--from [the] heart. Appreciate. Admire their great service to humanity."