STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
We're going to hear now from a religious leader revered by Tibetan Buddhists and admired by countless others - the 14th Dalai Lama. A year ago he stepped down as the political leader of Tibet's government in exile to devote himself to spreading a spiritual message of compassion and peace. Still, he's been drawn into talking about violence since a wave of deadly protests swept through the Tibetan areas of China.
MORNING EDITION's Renee Montagne sat down with the Dalai Lama to talk about these events in Honolulu, Hawaii. He's been speaking with young people there as part of a visit called Pillars of Peace.
RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
When the Dalai Lama appeared on stage at a student rally at Kailua High School, he was greeted with cheers and a royal Hawaiian welcome.
(SOUNDBITE OF SINGING)
MONTAGNE: A long line of boys in blue capes chanted. Girls in grass skirts and garlands of bright green leaves danced a graceful hula.
(SOUNDBITE OF SINGING)
MONTAGNE: On stage, the Dalai Lama told these kids they could be the ones to change the world.
DALAI LAMA: My time almost now ending. You, just the beginning. So future is on your shoulder.
MONTAGNE: Kailua High was a natural destination for the Dalai Lama. Over the past decade it has woven into its curriculum the teachings of the Tibetan leader. It's part of a school-wide initiative aimed at tackling violence, ethnic tension, and bullying. Outside, as the trade winds blew across the campus, we talked to the teacher who developed the program. Amber Strong Makaiau said the school was able to fund the initiative thanks to federal dollars made available after the massacre at Columbine High School.
AMBER STRONG MAKAIAU: What the Dalai Lama brings us back to is what is the root cause of this violence. And he's talking about fear and frustration and anger. And so I think what we're trying to do is teach the students how to work through those issues, so we don't even get to this place of violence, and that's what living and talking - using dialogue and thinking critically in a community of inquiry where you're connecting to one another - I think that's what it's teaching, is compassion.
MONTAGNE: Christian Kale-e-comma is a senior who transferred to Kaliua High as a sophomore. He found a dramatic difference from his old school.
CHRISTIAN KALE-E-COMMA: Because there is a lot of bullying and stuff over there. But when I came over here, I was very shocked. People are really nice. The teachers try to put that kind of perspective into the students over here. Our classes, they have certain things on our classes, is to spread the aloha, what you give is what you're going to get back.
MONTAGNE: When I sat down with the Dalai Lama, he pointed out that bullying is global. Countries can be bullies, which is how many Tibetans view China. In recent years, China has cracked down hard on its Tibetan areas, putting Chinese bureaucrats in charge of monasteries, detaining monks and even religious pilgrims, part of what the Dalai Lama has characterized as a cultural genocide.
At least 30 mostly young Tibetans have set themselves on fire in protests over the past year, many calling for the return of the Dalai Lama.
Why is this happening right at this moment?
LAMA: In order to know, you have to study the last thousand years' history.
MONTAGNE: Yes, it's a complicated story.
LAMA: Now same cultural(ph) revolution is returning.
MONTAGNE: Mao's cultural revolution.
LAMA: Oh yes, definitely.
MONTAGNE: From the '60s.
LAMA: That's right.
MONTAGNE: Coming to Tibet now.
LAMA: Yes. You see things become worse and worse and worse, so therefore the sad events is just the symptoms of last several decades, they are mistake. The local authorities, Chinese authorities, out of their fear they carry very unrealistic, suppressive sort of policy.
I always am telling my Chinese friend, policy must be realistic. In order to carry realistic policy, you have to find the reality. They say that, but practically just opposite. They ignore the reality and they enforce their illusion(ph) . That's the problem.
MONTAGNE: You know, China's expected to name a new leader in the coming year, and the current vice president, Xi Jinping...
MONTAGNE: ...that's who it would be. His father is not only an influential party member, although at times he was purged, but he was quite moderate towards Tibet, and I understand that he was once seen wearing a gold watch that you had given him. And that also he carried a picture of the Dalai Lama. So did you - you knew him?
LAMA: I know.
MONTAGNE: But this would be - you know, we have heard so much about Vice President Xi Jinping coming to America and his father was an admirer of yours. One might think that he would be maybe more helpful when he comes to power for Tibet. But in fact he's been quite harsh. Maybe it is the son going against the father?
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
LAMA: Just speculation. The one fact, the present prime minister, Wen Jiabao, last few years, he express China need political reform. He even mentioned China need Western-style of democracy. So seems Wen Jiabao very sincere about reforming (unintelligible) so next leadership may build a new policy. But too early to say.
Everything secretive, secrecy. So very difficult to predict.
MONTAGNE: Given this unrest at the moment, people know very well that you have said that you cannot go back to Tibet because there are certain things that China needs to agree to. You've agreed to many things. But have you considered just going back? What would happen?
LAMA: I always make clear, firstly, I'm human being. On that level I'm fully committed (unintelligible) deeper human value in order to achieve happier humanity. There are two different kinds of Tibetan sort of expression. Older people, they simply express their wish I return as soon as possible before they die.
More younger people, more serious people, they always send me message. Under present circumstances they feel Dalai Lama should remain outside so Dalai Lama can represent (unintelligible) people in free country. So of course Chinese people, we very much respect their culture. But the present system is something now actually outdated system.
Things are changing. Things are changing. So long run, I am full of optimism. Things are changing.
MONTAGNE: The spiritual leader of Tibet, the 14th Dalai Lama, speaking with us here in Honolulu.
INSKEEP: And of course that's our own Renee Montagne.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
INSKEEP: It's NPR News.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.