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When “Jeb!” Bush Met the Dalai Lama

It happened at Florida International University in a previous century. The Dalai Lama had come to offer “A Message of Peace.” Then, as now, the world desperately needed that message. War and genocide in the Balkans filled the newspapers that announced his talk. The Buddhist leader’s pleas for love and non-violence moved the crowd to frequent applause.

Florida Governor Jeb Bush was on the FIU stage to present the Dalai Lama with an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree, “for his moral example.” He applauded the exiled Tibetan leader’s admonition that “compassion should be alive in the classroom” as well as in the home. But Bush pointedly withheld affirmation whenever the Dalai Lama decried violent methods of achieving peace as “short-sighted and narrow-minded.” The governor appeared to revere the Nobel peace prize winner’s stature, while remaining aloof from the implications of his beliefs.

Gentle and smiling, the Dalai Lama said that happiness is the goal of all human beings. “Self-cherishing is perfectly right,” he said, “but not at the expense of others. Without a strong self, we will lack courage and confidence. But extreme feelings of self may lead us to exploit or harm others. The concept of ‘we’ and ‘they’ is no longer true. We live in an interdependent world of interconnected humanity. To have a happy life, we must take care of one another.”

Neither Bush, nor FIU Acting President Mark Rosenberg, nor the Dalai Lama himself ever mentioned China. But it was China’s
actinglikeforcible occupation of Tibet, its destruction of Buddhist temples and its brutal policy of ethnic cleansing that drove the Dalai Lama into what has become an exile of more than half a century from his own land. Perhaps no one is more entitled to anger or sorrow at the plight of his people than Tensin Gyatso. But he voiced only humor and calm.

“Non-violence may not solve problems easily, so more patience is needed. Only dialogue in the spirit of reconciliation can solve problems. With violence, you may solve one problem but you create another, with immense side effects,” said the Dalai Lama. He might have been addressing the Clinton administration, whose policies in the Balkans, purportedly to stop Serb oppression of Kosovar Albanians, had only caused greater suffering and massive regional instability.

A Miami Herald editorial that day acknowledged that “war is ugly, messy and unpredictable” and regretted the “unfortunate, horrifying” NATO bombing of civilians. While the editorial admitted that “the campaign had clearly failed” its political and humanitarian objectives, it counseled “patience with NATO’s aerial campaign.” The Tibetan Buddhist would strongly, if gently, disagree. “Non-violent does not mean indifferent,” he told the university audience.

“The concept of war is outdated. Our ultimate goal should be demilitarization.”

Jeb Bush did not join the applause for that remark. As a 2016 presidential candidate he said he relies on his brother, George W., for foreign policy advice. Demilitarization is not on his menu.

“First get rid of nuclear arms. Then chemical and germ warfare. Then the military establishment itself can be reduced.” The Dalai Lama pointed to Costa Rica as an example of a demilitarized country that is “better than its neighbors,” spending its money on education and social services.

“Americans speak of democracy, liberty, freedom and the respect for law. This is wonderful,” said the Dalai Lama. “But when you deal with international conflict, you are still old-fashioned.”

“So many people eagerly await the New Millenium. But these great expectations are foolish without a new concept, a new transformation from within.” His Holiness acknowledged that such goals could not come quickly, especially because the minds of the older generation were hard to change. (But earlier, apologizing for his erudite, more-than-competent English language ability, he said he had only begun to study English at age 47.) He appealed to the younger generation to let values of compassion and non-violence inform their lives.

The Dalai Lama said he saw no contradiction for persons with strong religious faithe a a sens of One Truth tolerating the greater community of religious pluralism. He spoke of his own spiritual exchanges with Christian and Jewish leaders. “As a Buddhist, it is my responsibility to develop harmony and respect. Destruction of your enemy is destruction of yourself.”

Governor Jeb Bush did not join the applause for that line either. But he and we should take it to our hearts and stop making war in the name of peace.

James McEnteer’s most recent book is Acting Like It Matters: John Malpede and the Los Angeles Poverty Department.