By Jörg Eigendorf
Buddhism, economics and management are all interconnected. The Dalai Lama believes the financial crisis is a moral crisis. Jörg Eigendorf spoke with the Tibetan spiritual leader in his Indian exile.
WELT ONLINE: In your opinion the free market isn’t performing well, and you also don’t believe in regulation. So what it is that we need?
Dalai Lama: I call it a “responsible free market economy”. In the end it comes down to every single individual; it is dependent on each individual’s sense of moral responsibility, self-discipline, and values. This financial crisis isn’t purely a crisis of the market economy, but rather a crisis of values.
Alright, so the first thing we must do is send all government leaders and chief executives of large companies to Buddhist convents so that they may learn self-discipline and gain some morals.
Dalai Lama: (laughs): Three-week seminars in our convents won’t achieve much. It would be like laying a piece of ice on a rock – a little while later the rock would be wet, but nothing more. The rock will still be there. No, it’s unrealistic to expect a rapid systematic change in the global economy. The changes need to happen within each individual person and within the companies. This is dependent on the efforts we make in people’s education; this is about beginning in Kindergarten and not about a few weeks’ worth of discussions.
So what you are saying is that not only mathematics, history and languages need to be focused on in school, but that morality, ethics and religion need to be taught in a much greater scope.
Dalai Lama: History, math, languages and economics – these are all subjects for the brain. But responsibility – moral responsibilities, responsibilities regarding society – these are things that come from the heart. This, combined with the power of the brain, is what governments and large companies need. I will give you an example: we Tibetans believe that our national issue with China can only be resolved non-violently. This is what we preach from Kindergarten onwards throughout the entire education of an individual. When a Tibetan is confronted with a conflict, his reaction should immediately be: “How can I resolve this in dialogue?” It is important to us that young people in our schools understand that violence is the wrong way, that violence cannot solve problems. This attitude has become a part of many Tibetan’s lives through education and training. The same needs to occur in regards to economy and justice.
How many decades or centuries will it take until we are really ready for a “responsible free market economy”?
Dalai Lama: This financial and economic crisis will help it to happen faster, because those people who only think about money – even dream about it – are affected the most by it. The crisis is terrible for many people, but it also shows the value of money is limited and the insecurity is huge. Inner values like friendship, trust, honesty and compassion are much more reliable than money – they always bring happiness and strength.
But only few people are promoted because they value friendship, trust and compassion. Isn’t your approach a little idealistic?
Dalai Lama: What you are saying is one of the greatest contradictions. Those who assert themselves often have very little morale, and those who have a good sense of morale often don’t know how to assert themselves. This problem, by the way, is much larger in socialism than in economics. Often times the incompetent were leaders and governed and constricted the competent. We saw what happens then. A company that behaves the same way will fail because it wastes so much potential and will never develop its own values.
Every good CEO has prerequisites for a suitable successor, yet finding your successor is much more complicated and extensive. Do you worry about it?
Dalai Lama: No, it’s not so difficult. As a simple monk I don’t need a successor when I die. And in regards to the role of the Dalai Lama as a government leader: I ceded all of my governmental responsibilities eight years ago – we have an elected government, so this is also not a problem. This leaves the question of a successor of the Dalai Lama as a spiritual leader. In 1969 I said the Tibetans need to decide themselves whether there will be a 15th Dalai Lama. I gave suggestions, but I cannot and do not want to get more involved than that.
Can you understand that leaders all over the world would like to meet with you – but don’t – in order to prevent endangering their economic relations with China?
Dalai Lama: I think it is fine when a politician weighs all of the options and comes to the decision that abides by the nation’s interest. However, many politicians make it too easy for themselves – for them it is only about their own companies earning as much money as possible. Is this a terrible problem for me? Not really. My main interest is to promote human values like harmony, responsibility and charity. To do so I need to speak with people, not their leaders. If a government leader wants to meet with me for spiritual reasons, I’d be glad to meet with them. If they don’t, then they don’t, and there is no problem with that. I don’t travel the world only for my people and the question of Tibet’s future – I want to reach as many people as I can.
Will this century be marked by China’s ascent?
Dalai Lama: China has developed enormous power. It is the evidence for how well an economy can develop better under more freedom on a corporate level. What China is missing, however, are values its society can rely on. The standards that were relevant before the communist revolution are long gone. And what has taken their place? Nothing but money. The communist elite only think about power and money, and this can be very destructive.
Religion, states and economy have grown increasingly apart. Do you really believe that religious leaders such as yourself and the pope can change the world for the better?
Dalai Lama: I do not travel the world as a religious leader. I am a simple person, a simple monk. Sure I have more opportunities because I am welcomed as the Dalai Lama and because I have gathered a lot of experience in my 50 years of living in exile. These are experiences I can share with people. But the moral principles we are talking about here give me an inner strength, and inner strength gives me inner peace. This is how I hope to reach out to people.
How do you feel about staying in five-star hotels when you travel abroad?
Dalai Lama: To be honest, I don’t feel comfortable in large hotel rooms. Sometimes I think there could be a ghost in the room (laughs). This is why I always ask to be accommodated humbly and simply. I like places I stay in to be modern, clean and comfortable. But most of the time I cannot influence where I stay.
Don’t you get a guilty conscience when you stay in luxury accommodations?
Dalai Lama: Why should I? When feel good, I can do more for others. But of course it hurts me when I see poor people. Once when I was going to bed in Vienna I saw a man lying on the street outside, and when I woke up in the morning he was still there. I sent him fruits and bread; even though I know it will only temporarily ease his agony.
When was the last time you were unfair or unjust?
Dalai Lama: (Thinks): Sometimes I lose my patience, but then I apologize. It happens sometimes.
You have written books about how damaging anger is, and still you get angry sometimes?
Dalai Lama: Of course. It is not about eliminating anger, but rather finding the cause for it and working against it. If you do not understand where the anger comes from and don’t work against it, the anger will grow. Anger is a destructive emotion which is based on arrogance. This is why one must find the cause and counteract it.
You possess neither a credit card nor a bank account. Are there any objects that you really need, ones that you can’t live without? Like for example your home exercise equipment?
Dalai Lama: No, there is nothing I can’t live without. I learned this attitude when I was a child.