The "simple Buddhist monk," as he calls himself, was clearly the darling of the public session on interfaith dialogue. Behind the scenes, the Dalai Lama was intensely curious about his surroundings and those around him. In private discussions, he eagerly engaged some of the world's leading religious thinkers on questions of extremism, tolerance, and faith.
"All religions have both negative and positive."
Displaying an almost childlike interest and wonder, he listened attentively to Rabbi Michael Melchior, a member of the Israeli Knesset, talk about his efforts to bring together Muslims and Jews in Jerusalem; and to Zaid Ibrahim, a Muslim leader from Malaysia, who lamented the misuse of Islam by terrorists. But he never got the chance to speak of his own personal mission to see Tibet independent from China.Last Dalai Lama?
Revered by many of the world's estimated 230 million-500 million Buddhists, the Dalai Lama considers himself the rightful ruler of Tibet, now under Chinese control. His followers believe he is the reincarnation of previous men who have held the position, and who represent Avalokitesvara, a being who embodies compassion.
Born on July 6, 1935, in Tibet, he was named Lhamo Thondup, which means "wish-fulfilling goddess." In 1940, after an extensive search, he was officially installed as Dalai Lama. But he has warned that because of China's control of Tibet, he may be the last reincarnation. Overcoming Religion's Negatives
In the pubic sessions and especially behind the scenes, the Dalai Lama was quick to smile, joke, and enjoy spasms of muffled laughter with those eager for a glimpse into his soul.
"Religion does have its negatives," he confessed, standing on a sun-drenched terrace of the Zofin Palace and surveying Prague's Vltava River. "The question is how can we overcome the negatives."
"If you truly believe your religion comes from God, then you have to believe other religions are also created by God."
Faith must be combined with "reason and common sense," he said. And religious leaders should be "demanding" tolerance, of their followers. But he also quietly conceded, "This is not easy."
He said he has dedicated himself to promoting tolerance and improving relations among the world's religions as a way to help fight the "negatives" of religion. Extremism Not Representative
During an interfaith "mediation" service at St. Salvatore Catholic Church, the Dalai Lama even defended Islam, claiming that a "few mischievous Muslims" should not represent the whole religion. "All Islam is not militant," he said. "This is totally wrong...totally wrong."
"If you truly believe God created you, then you have to believe God created others."
And he readily admitted that Buddhism, like all of the world's religions, has its problems.
Buddhism, the world's fourth-largest organized religion, is based on nonviolence that abhors killing any living thing. Yet Buddhism also has to contend with its own extremists. A group known as the Armed Front for the Defense of Sinhalese has been connected to violence against Muslims in Sri Lanka. Many Sinhalese, who are mostly Buddhists, see themselves engaged in a struggle for political and economic power against the minority Tamils, who are mostly Hindus. This has led some to resort to violence to advance the cause of Buddhists in the region.
Dalai Lama at Forum 2000 (RFE/RL)
"Extremism is connected to human emotions," the Dalai Lama said. "And some of these are very destructive emotions." Because of extremists, religion in general suffers from a negative image in today's world, he said.
"The majority of people in the world are nonbelievers," he said. "And there are some people who want to ban religion. But religion is useful...it is connected to the human being...to bettering the human being...to producing more compassionate human beings."
All faiths, he said, are paths to God. "We are all the image of God."
In keeping with Buddhist concentration on the importance of developing inner peace, the Dalai Lama spoke repeatedly of the human quest for "happiness" and "contentment," which he said is not connected to wealth or materialism. He urged people who find their contentment in religion to be "sincere and serious," about their faith.
"It shouldn't just be in name," he said.