Reverend Damon Lynch, Jr. presents His Holiness the Dalai Lama with the International Freedom Conductor
Award in Cincinnati, Ohio, US, on 20 October 2010/Photo:OHHDL
Cincinnati, Ohio: The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati presented His Holiness the Dalai Lama with its International Freedom Conductor Award on Wednesday (20 October).
The citation said: “H.H. the 14th Dalai Lama, whose leadership of the non-violent struggle for the liberation of Tibet reflects the spirit and courageous actions of the conductors on the historic underground railroad.” This is a reference to the "conductors," people who helped escaping slaves reach freedom in the years before the Civil War in the United States.
His Holiness was received at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center by its President & Chief Executive Officer, Mr Donald W Murphy. President Murphy introduced His Holiness to Ms Gwen Ifill, PBS television newscaster and author, and other guests. His Holiness was then given a tour of the exhibition in the Center.
The International Freedom Conductor Award presented by the National Underground Freedom Center to His Holiness the Dalai Lama on 20 October 2010/Photo:OHHDL
The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center tells “the story of the struggle for freedom in the United States through exhibits and programmes that focus on America's battle to rid itself of the ugly scourge of slavery and treat all its citizens with respect and dignity.” It also puts the spotlight on the different forms of ongoing abuses and exploitations throughout the world.
In the afternoon, His Holiness went to the Duke Energy Convention Center where a special luncheon programme was organised to honour him with the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center’s with its International Freedom Conductor Award.
The function was attended by Congresswoman Jean Schmidt and Congressman Steve Driehaus of the United States House of Representatives and several guests.
Reverend Damon Lynch, Jr., the Pastor of New Jerusalem Baptist Church, co-chair of the Board of Directors of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center presented the International Freedom Conductor Award to His Holiness. Rev. Lynch Jr., also informed the gathering that the Award comes with a $25,000 prize, and His Holiness had donated it back to the Center.
Addressing the people briefly before sitting down for a dialogue with journalist Gwen Ifill, His Holiness expressed his deep appreciation for the award. His Holiness said he specifically appreciated this award as it came from an organisation that was totally dedicated to the wellbeing of others, particularly helpless people. He said when he received the invitation from the Center he felt great honour and added that he was touched after seeing the Center's exhibition on slavery and human exploitation, including sexual exploitation, around the world.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama tours the National Underground Freedom Center in Cincinnati, Ohio,
on 20 October 2010/Photo; OHHDL
He said he always consider himself just one human being out of the seven billion people on this planet. He said that each individual’s happiness depends on the rest of the humanity and so for one’s own selfish reason, one should co-operate with others. His Holiness called for genuine co-operation that is based on trust and friendship. He said trust cannot be bought through money, power or force. Only through the showing of genuine concern for others’ wellbeing and respecting others’ rights brings about trust.
Talking about his commitment to promote human values, His Holiness said force, bullying, cheating, exploitations destroy such basic values.
Thereafter, Ms Ifill posed some questions, including a few from the audience to His Holiness.
To a question on his definition of freedom, His Holiness said that freedom means human thinking, human activities, verbal and physical actions, which are essentially positive and which do not harm others.
His Holiness was next asked, “You have been in exile for more than 50 years are you a free man?” To this, His Holiness said that he felt mentally free. He said since he came to India, he had the name of refugee and was stateless, which may seem bad, but in reality he had a new freedom, both mental freedom and physical freedom. “So I am a free man,” he said.
Asked for his views on China’s reaction to Liu Xiaobo being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, His Holiness said for the last few decades he had always expressed the Chinese people’s right to seek more openness, more justice and less corruption, including relating in the Tiananmen events. He said he always supported them, some times with moral support and in other cases expressing openly.
Regarding Liu Xiaobo, His Holiness said when Liu came out with the Charter 08, he was in Poland. Upon learning of the Charter from the media, His Holiness said he expressed support immediately. Therefore, when the Nobel Committee announced the peace prize for Liu this time, His Holiness said it was logical for him to be overjoyed and happy. He said that this award is not just to one individual, but along with Liu’s name there were thousands of Chinese intellectuals and ordinary people who were really carrying on the struggle for freedom. His Holiness said these are not necessarily against the Chinese Party authorities but that they really wanted more openness, more transparency and freedom. He said these were normal aspirations. He added that sooner or later the People’s Republic of China will have to go along the world trend, i.e. freedom and democracy.
Asked whether such awards to Liu harms the Tibetan cause because they make the government of China defensive, His Holiness responded that in general the Tibetan problem is very much related to the situation in mainland China. He said closed society with distorted information and with heavy censorship poses lots of obstacles for China itself. Once China experiences more openness then the Tibetan issue can be easily resolved. He said we are not anti-Chinese and added that politically, we are not seeking separation from China.
His Holiness said the 1.3 billion Chinese people have every right to know the reality adding that the 1.3 billion Chinese people also have the ability to judge what is right and what is wrong.
The National Underground Freedom Center in Cincinnati, Ohio, venue for the International Freedom Conductor Award ceremony with His Holiness the Dalai Lama on 20 October 2010/Photo: OHHDL
When asked on his views on the separation of church and state, His Holiness said that he always had the view that religious institutions and secular institutions should be separate. His Holiness then explained the historical development of the institution of the Dalai Lama. He said after coming to India, after 1959, within one year work on democratisation of the Tibetan society was started. He said since 2001 there has been elected political leadership and since then the tradition of the Dalai Lama being both the spiritual and temporal leadership has ended. His Holiness talked about his semi-retirement and said that he was looking forward to complete retirement.
His Holiness also talked about his two commitments of promoting human values and promoting religious harmony, to come closer on the basis of mutual awareness, mutual respect and mutual admiration. He said in the last few decades he had made some contribution towards this. He said as a result some of his Christian friends call him a good Christian. His Holiness joked that, however, his close friend Archbishop Tutu teases him saying he is so nice and wonderful person, and yet unfortunately not Christian.
His Holiness said he will be committed to these two objectives until his death.
Asked for advice to resolve problems in the American society, His Holiness said he frankly did not know and that obviously the answer should come from the Americans themselves. He, however, said America is historically a champion of democracy, freedom, and liberty. He said there is rule of law and freedom of expression. He said he was sure that no matter what difficulties Americans had the potential to work out a solution. He said it was important to maintain enthusiasm and self confidence.
His Holiness said the United States had a special responsibility of leading the free world. He said if such a nation crumble without knowing how to handle the situation, it will be a discouragement.
His Holiness expressed his appreciation for the work of the Center and opined that just as there was a United Nations Charter on human rights there could be one on slavery. He thought the Center could also think of expanding its scope of work in other countries and become international and making its work more effective. He also suggested looking into micro financing as a way to rehabilitate the victims of exploitations that the Center focuses.
Asked about sources of his strength, he said the trust that the Tibetan people has in him has been a strong motivating factor. Then, he said that as a Buddhist being honest and sticking to truth have also been forces of strength for him.
His Holiness talked about his dislike of formality and said here that he became fond of former President George W. Bush saying that they became close friend because he was very nice as a human being. His Holiness said that he was not saying this in terms of policies.
His Holiness suggested that the economic problems in the United States were something created by human being and so human beings also have the ability to overcome them. This is logical, he said, and so there is no reason to feel disheartened.
Previous recipients of the award include Rosa Parks, South African Anglican Bishop Desmond Tutu, Presidents Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush, civil rights activist Dorothy Height and the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Center for Human Rights.
Mr Don Murphy, the Center's President. "The Dalai Lama's tireless efforts on behalf of the people of Tibet - and his lifelong advocacy or freedom and peace for all people - are in the finest traditions of those abolitionists who fought for the eradication of slavery in the 18th and 19th centuries."
His Holiness then left for the nearby town of Oxford where he will participate in programmes at Miami University on 21 October. He will give a public talk on “Ethics in a Modern World” and also receive an honourary degree.
On account of overwhelming interest and a huge number of demand for seats to these programmes and since everyone could not be accommodated, Miami university has set up remote viewing locations on large viewing screens at its campus in Oxford as well as on the Hamilton campus and on the Middletown campus.(Report filed by Bhuchung K Tsering)