In October 2019, I visited Dharamsala, a small town in northwestern India where the Dalai Lama and other Tibetans have made their home. I consider myself blessed not only to have eaten momos, grilled vegetables, bananas and bread with the Dalai Lama, but also for having shared those moments with 22 other youth leaders who came from countries like Syria, Iraq, Myanmar, Afghanistan and Somalia, among others. I met the Dalai Lama and other youth peacebuilders as part of the U.S. Institute of Peace’s Generation Change Fellows Program. Everything I heard from them and the Dalai Lama touched me in a profound way.
I was raised in a privileged area of Bogotá, Colombia during the 1990’s, when violence was part of daily life and ever present because of narcoterrorism and the conflict between the Colombian government and leftist guerrillas and paramilitary groups. As a result, I inherited collective narratives of fear, desire for revenge and the use of violent language. However, during my anthropology studies I realized this story was incomplete. In fact, it was biased against people identified as “poor,” “indigenous,” “black,” “farmer” and “leftist,” without acknowledging what had shaped conflict in the first place. I promised myself to actively learn from those who society and politics had marginalized. I started working in remote and stigmatized areas of Colombia developing eco- and post-conflict tourism narratives to inspire unity. Being mentored by wise indigenous leaders through my work made meeting His Holiness a unique opportunity for me to learn from another ancient tradition.
1. Analytical Meditation
According to the Dalai Lama, the problems we face in the world are mostly caused by humans. For him, they have their origin in the crisis of our inner selves. However, just as these situations are of our own invention, we also have the capacity and responsibility to generate solutions. When we face challenges, it can lead to new ways of thinking about the world as we consider how to solve them.
Instead of only trying to calm our mind through meditation, His Holiness suggested we do it in an analytical way. “The most important thing is to maintain a peaceful mind that serves as an example for others, especially in moments of confusion,” he said. “We need to analyze the root causes of problems and act accordingly, not only have faith! If we only pray, we are wasting the capacity of our mind.”
2. Personal and Collective Resilience
When asked how to maintain our inner strength amid crisis, uncertainty or helplessness, he replied: "There are many global problems yes, but are we going to be demoralized because of that? No! As long as we work with genuine altruism, there is no reason to lose hope.”
He also discussed the harmful impacts of impatience. When we start working for peace, obstacles inevitably arise. Impatience can generate frustration and even violence if not handled properly. Applying analytical meditation can help us overcome the anger caused by the challenges of building peace amid violent conflict.
He explained that cultivating inner confidence and accountability in the face of difficulties benefits both the individual and their community. "If the mind tries to be too clever or tricky, doubts emerge because deep inside there is a selfish desire while showing a nice face to others,” said His Holiness. “Then it is very difficult to keep determination. Then it becomes easier to use a weapon.”
Ultimately, thinking about others helps us reduce our self-centered attitudes. Most of our disturbing emotions (fear, jealousy and hatred) come from within. Altruism makes selfishness dissipate, increasing our sense of connection with others.
3. Diversity of Thought
In a globalized world, it is vital to appreciate humanity’s diversity and interconnectedness. When people have extensive contact and more information, they begin to see things differently. “We need more talks, more exchange to help traditional leaders to open their minds,” said His Holiness.
He insisted that we must respect and even pray with each other, no matter how different our beliefs are, and promote interfaith harmony. Going beyond religion, the Dalai Lama presented the concept of secular ethics, explaining all human beings are social animals who search for love and shun suffering. That provides a fundamental commonality between people regardless of beliefs or identity.
"People are tired of violence," he said. For him, choosing nonviolence and compassion is not only the right way to resolve conflicts — but a means of cultivating inner peace. “That is true courage … Choosing compassion makes us stronger.”
4. Women, Teachers of Humanity
The Dalai Lama constantly affirmed that compassion and kindness can revolutionize the world. He said our mothers are the best example of how a compassionate society looks and is built. Remembering the way they take care of us gives us an idea of how to put these values into practice in our daily lives, irrespective of our gender identity. “This makes them models for humanity," he said.
He made a special call for all women to use their ability to connect to other people's feelings to lead the compassionate revolution the world urgently needs. His Holiness also invited us to extend our capacity to care on a family level to society at large, keeping in mind we are one human family.
During a morning walk through the forest that surrounds the Dalai Lama’s temple, I ran into a Tibetan grandmother, who bent down in front of me for no apparent reason. I watched with curiosity, realizing she was saving an earthworm from being stepped on, lifting it with a stick to set it aside in the grass. Then she stood up, gently smiled at me and restarted her prayers. Stunned, besides thinking of all the poor insects I have killed, I recognized the level of respect Buddhists have for all life.
Overall, meeting the Dalai Lama reaffirmed the importance of holding on to my inner discernment, remembering that “nothing exists as it appears.” His way of analyzing conflict through the lens of fundamental human values significantly transformed my personal and professional life. For instance, during a storytelling workshop with former FARC combatants who are conducting rafting and historical tours in their reincorporation basecamp, I invited them to think in terms of oneness and compassion. Doing so helped the community (including the local tour guide group) reframe questions, conversations and tour scripts in pursuit of “laying down mental weapons” and transforming stereotypes about “them” and the “enemy.” In my case, as someone who grew up in an intellectual environment wanting to look clever before others, developing a closer connection between my heart, mind and soul through analytical meditation and yoga has allowed me to experience a different kind of intelligence and determination. Without a doubt, this has made me a more effective peacebuilder.
Whether it’s Latin Americans, Americans or anyone else, we must all understand that all lives are worth the same. We should embrace our differences as reasons to learn from each other. I close with the beautiful advice the Dalai Lama used to say goodbye: “I am you and you are me. We are the same human being. Be a Dalai Lama in each of your countries."
Lorena Gómez Ramírez is a USIP Generation Change Fellow and founder of IN-Spire, a transformational travel agency connecting world leaders with Colombian's local wisdom.