Dalai Lama: In general, I feel that laws should serve as guidelines for the proper use of human initiative, creativity and ability.
Fabien: Do you think that democracy is helping laws to evolve in this way?
Dalai Lama: Yes, in democratic countries, legal systems should work that way and generally do. Bur these laws nevertheless partially contradict the Buddhist principle of interdependence, since they do not include "democratic rights" for the environment and the animal realm. Most legal systems refer only to human rights and do not consider the rights of animals or other beings that share the planet with us. Laws that protect human rights and values and indicate proper ways co use human ability are not in contradiction with karma or causality - not in the Western sense where the same causes have the same effect, but in the Buddhist sense where each effect proceeds from a cause that also needs to be considered.
In reality the problem is that for most "powerful" people there is a difference between the principle of the law and its application almost all legal systems condemn killing. This notion occurs in most countries of the world. Yet in practice, powerful people treat killing as they treat lying. For politicians, small lies are prohibited, but large lies are accepted. For a Buddhist, this is a very obvious contradiction. The same applies to killing. When a man who is desperate kills another person, this small act is defined as murder. It is wrong. But the man who kills or gives orders to kill thousands of people is a hero! That is very unfortunate.
Most religious systems condemn murder, rape, and theft. In my opinion, religious principles are based on natural human attitudes and feelings. Their essential function is to inspire human beings to develop basic human qualities. Thus it seems logical that most laws would be consistent with the principles of positive karma. But in order for both religious and secular laws to conform to the principles of interdependence, we need to widen their perspective to include protection of the environment and the animal realm. This is how we can apply the Buddhist view of interdependence to a broader vision of law and order.
Dalai Lama: [...] In any case, all the natural resource specialists with whom I have spoken warn me that this gap between the "haves" and "have-nots" should be reduced. At present there are around 5.5 billion human beings on earth. If the living standard of the southerners were raised to 'the level the northerners are presently enjoying, what would happen to the world's natural resources? This situation would not be sustainable. China, for example, has a population of 1.2 billion. If each family were to have two cars, the environmental damage would be unimaginable. Nine hundred million people live in India.
The Western concept of increasing the GNP each year must change, and fast. The principle itself contradicts all natural and logical laws.
Fabien: Do you think Westerners should also have fewer cars?
Dalai Lama: Certainly. They need to develop a sense of contentment and more consideration towards others. Things should be done in a more just, equal manner. In the meantime, the birth control question must also be addressed. The southern countries must curb their population growth.
Fabien: Efficient birth control mainly depends on standard of living. The more access to education women have, the fewer children they 'produce, statistically speaking. So, education seems to be the best way to curb the population explosion.
Dalai Lama: That's very good. But what education? To tell you the truth, I think the first thing the southerners must do is recognize the negative consequences of the present Western concepts of life and economy. We have to correct or remould this erroneous belief in, the value of an ever-increasing GNP. Likewise, although some factories and industries are now adopting, new ways to protect the environment, the northerners are inflicting a lot of damage on the world's environment. This prompts me to say that from a global point of view the money produced by the northern world is still insufficient.
[. . .] In the early part of this century, everyone foolishly thought that nature's resources were limitless and at the disposal of humanity. Today ecological ideology even influences political parties. All these changes stem from the experience we have acquired as human beings. In the same way; the concept of human rights, whether individual or general, such as die right to self-determination for a given group, has evolved. These ideas are now universally recognized. Such progress gives me hope for the future.
Fabien: Do you think that one individual can change the world?
Dalai Lama: Yes.
Fabien: In that case, the best thing to do is to start trying to improve oneself.
Dalai Lama: It seems quite simple. First, it is important to realize we are part of nature. Ultimately, nature will always be more powerful than human beings, even with all their nuclear weapons, scientific equipment, and knowledge. If the sun disappears or the earth's temperature changes by a few degrees, then we are really in trouble. At, a deeper level, we should recognize that although we are part of nature, we can control and change things, to some extent, due to our intelligence. Among the thousands of species of mammals on earth, we humans have the greatest capacity to alter nature. As such, we have a twofold responsibility. Morally, as beings of higher intelligence, we must care for this world. The other inhabitants of the planet - insects and so on - do not have the means to save or protect this world. Our other responsibility is to undo the serious environmental degradation that is the result of incorrect human behaviour. We have recklessly polluted the world with chemicals and nuclear waste, selfishly consuming many of its resources. Humanity must take the initiative to repair and protect the world.
Of course, when we say, "humanity" or "society", it's obvious the initiative must come from individuals. It is wrong to expect our governments, or even God, to give us any guidance on these matters.
[...] Actually, I'm quite optimistic. Take the example of environmental problems. The scientists and associations that defend the environment have repeatedly informed us about the ecological problems now facing the earth, like global warming and widespread pollution of our water and air. Now, awareness is growing worldwide. New techniques are evolving so that we can avoid pollution without changing the process of industry or the economy. During a recent visit to Stockholm, my friends told me that ten years before the fish had practically disappeared from the nearby river. Now they are regenerating, simply because the industrial plants along that river have made some efforts to protect the environment. In other words, they managed to improve the situation without destroying the industry. I was recently in the Rohr region of Germany, a centre of industry. One large company showed me a film on the different means they were raking to reduce pollution and recycle waste material. Without changing their entire structure, they were causing much less damage to the environment.
Concern for ecology grows with the proper and widespread dissemination of information. People have gradually become convinced what the situation is serious and what we must take care for our planet. I've noticed that now, in some hotels, we are asked to not waste electricity or water. This is a good start. Likewise the media must speak of the importance of altruism in every human activity. It must be discussed again and again, in newspapers, in the movies, on the radio, on TV. I think there is plenty of momentum to do this. Medical and scientific fields should support the theory of altruism. Ecologists will support it, as the peace movement, providing the educational systems are also improved so that children become less violent. Then, even the police force will change. and everyone will gradually begin to think and act with more kindness, altruism, and compassion.
Excerpt from the book Imagine All the People: A conversation with the Dalai Lama on Money Politics and Life as it Could Be, Wisdom Publications, Boston.