[iPhone snapshot above: Xeni Jardin; illustration inset, Shepard Fairey.]
His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, was in Long Beach, California this morning to accept the inaugural edition of a "Shine a Light on Human Rights" award from Amnesty International. My notes from the event follow.
He accepted the award with characteristic humility and good humor, saying, "I am just a single monk; no more, no less," later adding for the Amnesty volunteers and human rights advocates assembled, "Your work is good. Please continue."
Addressing the crowd before the spiritual leader spoke, Amnesty International's U.S. executive director Larry Cox said the award honored the fact that he has "tirelessly and peacefully defended the rights of people everywhere" for over 50 years. This month will also mark the 50th anniversary of the human rights organization's own founding.
The Dalai Lama took questions from Amnesty volunteers for more than an hour, and spoke of the imperative to protect those who are engaged in human rights work, as well as the need for freedom of information and expression in Tibet, China, and around the world.
Speaking through a translator, he described a Tibetan concept of generosity that encompasses not only material goods or comfort to those in need, "but also protection from fear."
"Individuals in some ways have more power than governments; the individuals, the artists, the activists who are compelled to change society—we must protect them."
Despite the white stubble he pointed to on his shaved head, the 76-year-old monk said he was optimistic that he would witness Tibetan "reunion" and peace with China in his lifetime.
"If you start a noble effort and encounter problems, and just stop— it is wrong," he said. "You must persist. If you believe that the goal of your work must materialize in your lifetime, it is wrong. It's still worthwhile, even if you never live to see it materialize."
The internet's enabling of increased access to information, and the increasing velocity of information, he said, is a good thing. "Because of new media, the news [of human rights violations] reaches us immediately."
Censorship and seemingly ever-tightening restrictions on internet flow are a predictable response from the Chinese government, he continued, but they are fundamentally unsustainable.
"More soldiers, more [surveillance] cameras, they build mistrust and fear. Harmony is based on trust... so this is totally the wrong method. Censorship should not be there; there should be free information, a free press, and then an independent judiciary and gradual government change can follow. That will develop trust and harmony within China, and with the outside world. A closed society with no transparency creates suspicion."
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