His Holiness addressing a meeting of officials and guests of the Oxford Centre for Buddhist Studies, the Oxford Mindfulness Centre and others. (Photo by Neil McCarthy/Office of Tibet, London)
OXFORD, May 30 - The warmth and respect with which His Holiness the Dalai Lama was received yesterday upon his arrival and programme that took place at the Blackfriars was also evident this morning in Oxford’s premier Sheldonian Theatre or auditorium that was attended by a capacity filled audience of 1200 people ranging from eminent university professors to students and general public who had reserved their seats months in advance.
The Tibetan Nobel Peace Laureate’s 20-31 May visit to Oxford is at the invitation of the Oxford Centre for Buddhist Studies and the Blackfriars Hall of Oxford University. His Holiness’ entrance in the Sheldonian Theatre was greeted with applause and a dignified silence thereafter after he waved all to take their seats.
“Your Holiness, it is an extraordinary honour to welcome you here today. You have achieved a special, perhaps a unique, position in the world. People are longing for someone they can admire and respect, not just for a particular skill or quality, but for their character and behaviour. At the same time, nowadays most people also do not want to be talked down to. You manage to combine wisdom with humility, to think deeply but to speak simply. Despite all your troubles, you can still convey optimism, and even make us believe in the possibility of peace”, Prof. Richard Gombrich, Chairman of the Oxford Centre for Buddhist Studies, said in his welcome remarks, prior to inviting His Holiness to speak.
His Holiness in his public talk on, “Why it is important that the Buddhist Tradition be more widely understood and how this can be achieved?”, said although all the major religious traditions of the world have the same potential and seed of compassion we need different approaches because of different mental dispositions.
“We should study objectively and meet with genuine practitioners of other faiths and religious to get a sense of their practice”, His Holiness said, adding that it is unfortunate to see that at times religious institutes or centres are more concerned about their own survival than focusing on the real essence of the teachings.
His Holiness explained his two main commitments in life, namely, promotion of basic human values and promotion of religious harmony.
Answering a question from Oxford University’s lecturer in Buddhist studies, His Holiness said that in the past he had said that his religion is Compassion or kindness.
“Loving kindness is compassion. I mean it has universal value, no need for monasteries or churches. Even animals appreciate kindness”, His Holiness said. Among other dignitaries, the public talk was also attended by the Mayor of Oxford, who also took part in the special meeting audience with His Holiness prior to the talk.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama meeting a select group of Oxford University professors and scientists before the start of his public talk at Oxford’s prestigious Sheldonian auditorium. (Photo by Neil McCarthy/Office of Tibet, London)
Later in the day, His Holiness gave an audience to 240 descendants of 40 British diplomats, officials, military personnel and travellers who were in Tibet before the country’s annexation by China in 1950. Five members of this group, ranging from 50 to 80 years, who had the good fortune of having actually lived in Tibet when it was a free country, greeted His Holiness on stage at a centrally located educational house. Also present were descendants of three of the four British representatives who were at the installation of the current Dalai Lama in 1940 – the only Europeans ever to have been at the installation of a Dalai Lama.
During this historic meeting, His Holiness was introduced to each British family, some of whose connection with Tibet dated back to 1889. Each of them showed old Tibet photos of their family to His Holiness and had their group photo taken with the Tibetan spiritual and temporal leader.
According to Mr. Roger Croston, the audience coordinator, all the members of the British in Tibet group were delighted to have had the opportunity to be in the presence of His Holiness and to actually meet and speak with him.
“Everyone is very pleased. They are keen to support because their father or grandfather had witnessed the independent Tibet. They agree with His Holiness that history is history and that we must look to the future. They recognise the opportunity to extend a positive encouragement to China and want to help the Tibetan cause. They want China to be reasonable and want to tell the truth because their parents were there when Tibet was free,” observed Mr. Croston, an engineer by profession and a very keen follower of Tibet’s history.
The descendants of British officials and military personnel, among whom include the actress Joanna Lumley, will be sending a petition to Prime Minister Mr. Gordon Brown urging the British Government to give due importance to the legacy inherited from the British presence in Tibet through its treaty obligations “to pursue a robust engagement of the Chinese leadership to respond positively to His Holiness the Dalai Lama who has made every effort through his ‘Middle Way’ approach to resolve the issue of Tibet with the Chinese Government”. They will say that “Such a positive and proactive policy is in the best interests of China, Tibet and the common humanity of the whole world”.
In the evening, His Holiness launched the “Tibet Album” Website of Oxford University’s popular Pitt Rivers Museum at an invitation only function of less than 100 guests because of space restrictions. The Tibet Album presents more than 6000 photographs spanning 30 years of Tibet’s history. These old black and white photos document the ways that British officials and visitors encountered Tibet and the Tibetan people.
“We know how strongly Your Holiness is committed to the preservation and promotion of Tibetan culture. The Museum is proud to assist in this, and we recognise the enormous importance of objects in documenting and recording Tibet’s history. Our current project, the ‘Tibet Album’ is about making such things available not just here but to all via the worldwide web”, said Mr. Michael O’Hanlon, the Museum’s Director, in his welcome address.
The contents of the website: www.tibet.prm.ox.ac.uk
was introduced by Dr. Clare Harris, who has led the ‘Tibet Album’ project. As and when a photo was projected on the screen, His Holiness in his typical informal manner responded by leaving his seat to point at a figure he remembered having seen when he was in Tibet and on a couple of occasions shared a joke to the delight of the audience.
His Holiness in his brief speech extended his appreciation to the museum for the work it has done in preservation of old photos of Tibet and suggested that it might be worthwhile to also have the collection of those photos of the bygone era of Tibet taken by the likes of late Heinrich Harrer, author of “Seven Years in Tibet” and others.
Yesterday, His Holiness gave the keynote address at the Symposium on “Prayer and Contemplation in the Christian and Buddhist Traditions”. This symposium planned since last year was organised by the Blackfriars, which is the Oxford University’s college dedicated to Christian teachings. In his welcome address, Father Richard Finn, Blackfriar’s Regent of Studies, spoke about His Holiness’ “tireless work as an advocate of peace, of understanding between religions, and devotion to the Tibetan people”.
During his stay in Oxford, His Holiness and his entourage were housed in the President’s Lodging of the Magdalen College that is usually reserved for heads of states and other important guests.
Tomorrow morning, His Holiness will be leaving Oxford for Delhi via London. His Holiness is being accompanied during his 12-day visit to London, Nottingham and Oxford, by his London-based Representative Mr. Tsering Tashi, who is also responsible for coordinating His Holiness’ visit programmes that included several important meetings and public engagements as well as significant meetings with Chinese journalists and Chinese students and scholars, all of whom showed much respect for the Tibetan leader and were not only awed by his presence but also touched by His Holiness' humility in spite of his high international moral standing.Report by Office of Tibet, London