Carl Gershman, President
The National Endowment for Democracy
George Washington University
The following is an introduction given by Carl Gershman prior to His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s presentation, “Asian Values and Democracy,” on November 10, 1998. This lecture was part of The Democratic Invention lecture series, cosponsored by the National Endowment for Democracy’s International Forum for Democratic Studies, the Mário Soares Foundation, and the Luso-American Development Foundation and hosted by The George Washington University
Thank you very much President Trachtenberg. On behalf of the National Endowment for Democracy and its International Forum for Democratic Studies, it is my honor to welcome all of you to this important lecture on democracy by His Holiness the Dalai Lama. The lecture is part of “The Democratic Invention” series that we have sponsored here at George Washington University over the past year in cooperation with two Portuguese institutions — the Mario Soares Foundation and the Luso-American Development Foundation. We’re deeply grateful to President Trachtenberg and the University for their cooperation and support.
This evening’s lecture by the Dalai Lama offers an opportunity for one of the great moral leaders of the twentieth century — on the eve of a new century, indeed, of a new millennium — to address the fundamental issue of democracy’s universalism. It is significant that our speaker is someone who represents a non-Western culture, and who has done more than any single individual in the world today to transcend the divisions, and to find that which is common, among the vastly different cultures and civilizations that comprise the contemporary world. His role as a spokesman for universal moral and human values is, in an important way, not one that he chose freely. Had the people of Tibet been allowed to live a normal life, free of cultural and political oppression, His Holiness would probably have lived peacefully among them as a spiritual and cultural leader without extensive contacts with the other religions and civilizations of the world. But in a cruelly ironic way, he has become a citizen of the world as a result of the invasion and occupation of his homeland by the Chinese communists. With his exile to India in 1959, along with 80,000 other Tibetans, he began to reach out to all of the world’s political and religious communities to support the Tibetan people’s struggle for survival.
In the process, he has drawn upon the rich heritage of his people, and the “ocean of wisdom” that his title signifies, to offer a message of profound relevance to all the peoples that today make up our fractured and conflicted international community. His message is that violence can be answered by nonviolence, as he has demonstrated in his own leadership of the Tibetan struggle for freedom and survival; that in suffering one can find a way to the liberation of oneself and others; and that arrogance and hatred may eventually yield to tolerance and understanding.
Some have suggested that in the complex world of politics and policy, it is simplistic to think that good can ameliorate evil. His Holiness is not unaware that political issues are complex and must be dealt with through negotiation and compromise. He has made specific proposals to resolve the issue of Tibet that have addressed the interests of both Tibetans and Chinese. He deserves a constructive response from the Chinese authorities, who perhaps underestimate the depth and breadth of international respect that His Holiness enjoys.
A token of this respect is the Nobel Prize for Peace which His Holiness was awarded in 1989, the very year that communism collapsed in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. Who can doubt that the attempt to impose an alien and oppressive system on the people of Tibet will also fail, and that the message of truth and compassion that His Holiness preaches will endure long after the communist system of China itself succumbs to the innate human aspiration to freedom?
We all pray that the resolution of this question will come swiftly and that the Dalai Lama will be able to end his exile and return to his people and his native land. Until that time, we are blessed to have him with us, a source of wisdom, of light, and of hope. It is my honor to present to you His Holiness the Dalai Lama.