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Dalai Lama, in US, seeks humane capitalism

The Dalai Lama greets audience members during a panel discussion in Washington, DC, February 20, 2014
The Dalai Lama greets audience members during a panel discussion in Washington, DC, February 20, 2014

Praising China's shift toward a market economy, the Dalai Lama called Thursday for a humane form of capitalism in an unlikely encounter with US free-market advocates.

On his latest visit to the United States, Tibet's exiled spiritual leader -- more accustomed to leading solemn Buddhist rituals or delivering standing-room-only discourses about happiness -- devoted two days to the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank.

The Dalai Lama pointed to late Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping, who started the Asian power's shift toward capitalism in the 1980s, as proof that as evidence that the "centralized economy, no matter how much effort, fail(s)."

"I think Deng Xiaoping (was a) very, very realistic leader," the Nobel Peace Prize winner said. "He accepted the reality (and had) courage to change the economic system."

But the Dalai Lama also pointed to the gap between rich and poor in the United States and to the debates about economic justice in India, where he has lived as a refugee since 1959 when he slipped out of Tibet as China crushed an abortive uprising.

"We need a sense of concern toward other human beings... on the basis of the sense of oneness of humanity," the Dalai Lama said.

The Dalai Lama, with his trademark humorous tone, told his hosts that he could not form more concrete opinions "unless I spend at least a few years to study about the world economy."

"Now after listening, I develop more respect about capitalism," he said with a deep laugh, adding that his hosts have insisted that free markets are about more than "money and exploitation."

- Revered by all sides in US -

American Enterprise Institute president Arthur C. Brooks, who asked the Dalai Lama whether he supported free enterprise, described work as key to "creating value with our lives."

The Dalai Lama speaks at a panel discussion in Washington, DC, February 20, 2014
The Dalai Lama speaks at a panel discussion in Washington, DC, February 20, 2014

"If we can earn our success, if we have the dignity as individuals to do this, nothing can hold our world back. And there is no greater exemplar for this set of ideas than His Holiness the Dalai Lama," he said.

Billionaire hedge fund manager Dan Loeb said it was an "incredible honor" to spend time with the Dalai Lama and explained that he has practiced yoga since the start of his career.

"Contemplation and meditation, they are not just for monks and for hermits," Loeb said. "It can really improve all of our lives - and can really improve (lives) of businesspeople as well."

The Dalai Lama enjoys wide support across the political spectrum in the United States, although even at the American Enterprise Institute he spoke out against war and urged action against climate change -- issues more associated with the left.

The White House has not stated if President Barack Obama will meet the Dalai Lama, who returns to Washington next month after visiting Minnesota and California. Obama met the Dalai Lama in 2011 at the White House, triggering angry condemnation by China.

New York University professor Jon Haidt voiced hope that the Dalai Lama could help bridge Washington's deep partisan divide over the role of business and government.

"This is such a wonderful day when a revered religious leader, who is particularly beloved on the left, comes to a free market think tank," Haidt said.

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